What are you doing on Wednesday 16 March?
An odd question to open a column with, true, but it’s a question I ask everyone living, working, hanging out or walking around Rotterdam Central District (RCD) and its surrounding streets, squares and neighbourhoods. I also pose it to the expats labouring like fugitive shadows on the other side of all those reflective office windows.
This question stems from a fury I’ve been feeling ever since 19 November. My girlfriend and I had just been to see The French Dispatch. We were strolling towards my house at the edge of RCD when we found ourselves in the midst of riots on Coolsingel. It was frightening. On my newly refurbished downtown boulevard, and elsewhere in RCD, an angry mob was going around doing – well, what?
After two years of Covid measures, we are all struggling. But that doesn’t give anyone the right to trash the neighbourhood where I live, work and go about my business or to hurl fireworks at poor police officers. A lot of talk in the days that followed centred on the silent majority. Expats are part of that silent majority too, if you ask me, and they too are outraged. Yet we hardly see or hear from them in the public discourse. Is there anything they can do about it?
I’d be happy to answer that. I’m going to vote on 16 March. How about you? In the Netherlands, we vote with red pencils and not by torching electric scooters, no matter how recklessly they may be parked on the pavement. Will everything come up roses after we tick a box red? No, because we live in a land that forges coalitions to work together in a process of give and take.
But right now, I’d like to single out the expats. There are quite a few working in and around RCD. Rotterdam is an international city, after all. Give them a voice. Maybe they can inject some novel perspectives in our deadlocked public and political debates. The handful I know are engaged, intelligent and have a different angle on our problems (or should I say challenges?). I propose setting up a special red ballot box for them in the creative heart of RCD (Biergarten) in which to drop their ideas, written in red pencil, about what could bring us all closer together. Sans fireworks, but over a round of frothy Gulpeners. That way, we could genuinely get everyone involved in RCD and Rotterdam as a whole.
Eduard Voorn is a freelance journalist with a focus on economics, and first and foremost a Rotterdammer. He lives in the villagey outskirts of Rotterdam Central District, eats his pizza at Bird, raises a pint at Biergarten or Weena, gets his caffeine fix at Lebkov, catches the latest flicks in Pathé Schouwburgplein and sees Scapino at Theater Rotterdam. His kids were born in the now-famous Mecanoo architectural firm’s first project on Kruisplein.