In the South Korean drama Rain or Shine, (to avoid a spoiler go to next paragraph), two survivors of a building collapse, interview other survivors about what kind of memorial they want. The construction company, now rebuilding on the site, had erected a memorial. A survivor had destroyed it. One of their interviewees says, ‘End the practice of cutting construction corners to save corporate dollars. That is the only memorial I want.’

In Minneapolis, Minnesota, where I live, a bridge collapsed in 2007. The governor had just vetoed an infrastructure spending bill. Thirteen people died in the collapse and 145 were injured. As 111 vehicles, including a bus, filled with children, fell into the Mississippi River, the heroism of survivors, bystanders and first responders saved many.

A monument marking the bridge collapse now sits on the edge of the river, about a mile from the site, on a bike and walking path in downtown Minneapolis. It is an artful, poetic, somber and reverent homage to those lost. Does the monument ensure that such an accident will never happen again? I don’t know.  I suspect that depends on how we use it.

Sometimes there is a disconnect between reverence for those lost and outrage that leads to NEVER AGAIN action. Auschwitz has successfully melded the two. When I last visited my heart felt both emotions as one. Their exhibit on other genocides would not allow me to compartmentalize the outrage to one place and time and regime.

In 2011, on my bicycle tour of the contiguous perimeter of the United States, I visited a 9/11 memorial park in Middletown, New Jersey. Each person lost in this small bedroom town had a stone with their likeness etched into it, and enough biographical information that visitors could not help but feel the human toll. I don’t know about the Twin Towers 9/11 memorial. Do survivors feel comfort there? Built while the United States was inflicting retaliatory terror on Iraq and Afghanistan, can it teach us to stop being terrorist? What is the Never Again lesson?

At the end of my bike trip, on the Fond du Lac Reservation, I visited Jim Northrup, Anishinaabe writer and Vietnam Veteran. I asked him how he would design a veteran’s memorial that both honored those lost and ended war. He said, “The Vietnam Memorial has 55,000 names. I would depict 55,000 families crying.

Sarah Super, a rape survivor in the Twin Cities, worked for years to gather the funds and the political will to create a monument that honors sexual assault survivors. It is a reverent place, a healing place and one that teaches the toll that such violations take on the human soul. It is disruptive enough of rape culture that it has been vandalized and ridiculed. It  lends itself to quiet reflection, and could be the locus for protest and policy change..

Since George Floyd was murdered by Minneapolis police in May of 2020, activists have commandeered the location where he took his last breath. The intersection is a place for protest and prayer, a place to express collective outrage and a place for celebration. It is also a highly contested space. The city is doing everything it can to shut it down, so far without success.

A makeshift memorial to hundreds of people who have died at the hands of police sits in a culvert a block from George Floyd Square. Visitors are overcome by the sheer number of tombstones, the names, places, ages; the murders across the decades. Never Again is the sole purpose, yet names have been added since it was first erected in 2020.

Tonight, I’ll be back on my couch, watching the action, reading the captions, returning to Seoul, South Korea to find out if the protagonists will kiss or fight, to see what kind of monument the company builds. Will it soothe survivors? Will it protect the people from corporate greed that leads to shoddy work and tragic accidents? Will I keep my promise to only watch one episode?

 

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