Over and over people tell me how lucky I am to have the 'fun' job in the Mission. "It's great that you do cultural stuff and don't have to deal with politics," I was told at my welcome party.
I do my best not to take offense at the obvious subtext ('The rest of us do real work; your job is just fluffy'), but stranger to me is the assumption that "cultural stuff" is somehow apolitical -- that PD is safely and comfortably separated from policy issues. I don't believe that's the case.
If cultural arts are so 'cute' and apolitical, then why do governments feel the need to ban films and books? Why was theater state-controlled in East Germany? Why would my friend Dave and I be inspired to turn to each other spontaneously during the Amman Comedy Festival and both say at once "This is democracy!"?
If I'm doing my job right, then our Cultural Affairs shop should be dripping with policy. I don't want to waste U.S. tax dollars on just entertaining sideshows. I want to leave people talking about universal political values like freedom of expression and civic engagement and tolerance of minority opinion. I want them to have that same 'A-ha' moment that Dave and I did -- only I want it to be "I am a part of this democracy!" Because the one thing I learned in Jordan is that democracy has very little to do with elections. It's all about freedom to share ideas -- and the capacity to think critically about things. I feel that good PD programs could advance that freedom and that capacity. We'll see how far I get.
And if anyone thinks it's good apolitical 'fun' answering university students' questions about "violations" of Pakistani sovereignty, issues of aid, and U.S. support for LGBT rights, then come join me. They'd be happy to talk to you, too.*
*Honestly, it is a blast. But it's not easy.