A series exploring the relationship between writing, art and voting in the run-up to the 2020 election. Start at the beginning with Day 100. Or scroll down for the most recent days.
Early in the Trump administration, it irritated me to read that high-level officials felt comfortable have a nice relaxing dinner out in the city I call home: people implementing the “Muslim ban,” militarizing border communities, separating Immigrant children from their parents, discriminating against Black people and trans folks, people enabling carbon profiteers’ while valuable seconds disappear from the climate emergency clock, people who are eroding faith in democracy.
I was not alone in this feeling. There were frequent stories of outraged diners and restaurant staff recognizing administration officials, confronting them at their tables or — in only one case I know of — refusing service.
I thought about making a list of the establishments in these stories, spreading the word through street art and organizing boycotts of the restaurants. But what would that accomplish? It would hurt restaurant workers more than anyone else. Besides, as a writer-artist with little budget for dining out, it is no sacrifice to say I won’t eat at places I can’t afford. A boycott of Goya, the canned bean company that supports Trump, is more practical.
The hospitality industry prides itself on civility and service to all (in 2020, to the extent that discrimination is outlawed). Capitol Hill steak houses and Georgetown eateries have been safe havens for politicians with despicable beliefs — and those who enable and profit from their policies — for generations. I fantasize about a world where there are no quiet places to sit for these types other than a gray cafeteria in a secure undisclosed location. But, do I really want to live in a world where ideology dictates where you can go freely, where you can be served? Of course not, but I don’t want Nazis to feel welcome on my block either. There is a line somewhere. Degrees of offenses, degrees of tolerance for each of us.
Dating on the other hand is a bit more personal. Most of the dating apps either allow you to disclose and filter by liberal, moderate, or conservative labels. Reporters have interviewed young single Trump administration staffers about the experience of dating in D.C. For the most part, it sounds like D.C. is swiping left, saying “no, thanks.”
Over the weekend, I talked to a Trump supporter. This is someone I’ve met before. I didn’t know he was a Trump supporter until now. We’ve both been regulars on a video social I’ve joined often in the past few months.
It came out when he mentioned a date with a political appointee. In Washington insider-speak, that means his date was chosen for their taxpayer-paid job directly by Trump’s circle rather than through a traditional merit-based H.R. process. And so, his date supports Trump in words, deeds, and probably with campaign donations.
Finding out that a date is a Trump supporter had previously come up in our video chats as a definite deal breaker. The debate was not whether to run away, but how fast. Perhaps he was not on the call those days.
I’ve thought about our conversation nonstop for the past two days. All this time, I’ve been writing these posts as though I might not talk to a Trump supporter at all these during the 100 days. I’ve discussed the idea that I’m reasoning with an undecided voter in these posts, though I know I’m doing nothing to draw undecided voters in to this project: I’m writing in a long-form style that plays poorly online, that repels all but the most loyal or adventurous reader; I’m wandering off into books and memories that have little bearing on the life of my hypothetical undecided post-agriculture Wisconsinite. But here I was, in conversation with a Trump supporter.
Everyone on the call had questions. He was slow to admit his support. Initially, he said, “well, I don’t support Biden,” with derisive emphasis on Biden’s name. Perhaps he was trying to change the subject to Biden’s imperfections. None of us went down that road, instead pressing on with incredulity over his desire to see four more years of Trump’s havoc.
We never got around to what he liked about Trump. His reasoning was a quagmire that permitted every one of Trump’s scandals to slide because something in the same category could be checked in Biden’s column. As though a bull and a mouse — or the rumor of a mouse — were equal problems in a china shop:
- Trump celebrates sexual assault in crude language! He used campaign money to silence his mistresses and accusers! To this, he hinted at Biden’s past, as though Biden and Trump in 2020 are not miles apart on respect for women, on issues like equal pay for women, family leave, health coverage for women, and the right of women to make choices about their body and future.
- Trump has many credible corruption allegations pending against him! In response, he described a conspiracy theory that no journalist has found credence in, one that Russia is actively promoting. He said this was just as bad for Biden as anything Trump did. My heart sank to hear that an employee of his government agency — one whose staff ought to especially wary of Russian influence campaigns — would openly accept and proudly voice such a theory.
- Trump is a racist! He dismissed Trump’s racism as Trump just saying what his base wants to hear, as though that was a quality acceptable in politicians. As though Trump following a large misguided crowd was the same as leadership. As though Trump were not actively harming communities of color every day, making it harder for them to vote, removing environmental protections that harm communities of color, cutting programs designed to create a level playing field.
How does someone come to believe such things? Why has no one else in this person’s life confronted him about these ideas? At one point, I asked about reading habits. He offered The Atlantic and two conservative think tanks’ websites. But none of those three would have published the conspiracy theory he described.
Our arguments were not so well-structured as this in real time. They mainly served to express our disappointment and alarm. Or rather, I felt disappointment and alarm, and sensed it in the others on the call. Our appetite for hearing more arguments faded. There was awkward silence and we tiptoed towards other topics.
Are there more people to have this conversation with in my midst? Am I surrounded by Trump supporters I find myself wondering as I look at the increasingly expensive houses and condos around me. Maybe everyone here who I haven’t talked to is a Trump supporter.
As if answering that thought, a Biden-Harris sign appeared in the window across from me today. It is visible only to my apartment and the garbage-hauling crews in the courtyard below, should they happen to look up from their work.
Today, I’m circling back to Occupy Wall Street. Thursday was the ninth anniversary of its beginning at Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan. I stopped myself from posting a version of this on Thursday because I wasn’t sure how it fit in to my story, or whether the stories of others were mine to tell. These are questions a memoir with a longer gestation period might wrestle with at length. Today I’ve picked up the threads and present three sketches I associate with Occupy for Thursday, Saturday and Today’s countdown posts:
Part I: K Street
In the days after the takeover of Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan, Occupy Wall Street would inspire sister camps in cities around the globe. These camps would make news the rest of fall and winter. Capitalism run amok was the idea being protested in the early calls to Occupy that were put out by Adbusters. A decade and a half prior, the glossy magazine that turns commercial culture back on itself had been one of my inspirations for teaching myself how to use design software. Now I managed a bunch of designers in a well-appointed building in Washington where we used that software to poke at capitalism in meaningful, if not exactly scrappy and risk-taking, ways.
When the Occupy camp in D.C.’s McPherson Square (Occupy K Street) began, my boss suggested our team visit the nearby park at midday to pay witness and give encouragement to the activists gathered there. One of our number was especially excited by what he saw there and joined an earnest conversation about the camp, the issues, the work being done to build a sustainable system of support for a large camp there. He went back to the camp after work and would sleep there and spend much of his free time there for the next couple of months. His work (and hygiene) suffered, but I envied his dedication. He was relatively new in the job, and I could tell he valued his creative freedom more than the newfound safety his job in big anti-capitalism offered. I had a sense of this when I hired him. I hoped he’d push back against the design clichés of our world: megaphones, silhouettes of crowds with fists raised.
As the weather turned cold, Occupy K Street erected a wooden structure in the square. The police had warned them against it. They were willing to overlook tents, but anything more would require a permit. Our guy was one of a few activists defending the wooden frame when the police brought in equipment to remove it. He balanced atop the structure for hours with no bathroom, no food or supplies. A colleague who’d been following the developments on Twitter and arrived on the scene phoned me to raise my alarm. He was worried a Fox News camera would have our guy all over the network the next day. So what? I thought.
Part II: Pilgrimage
That October, I made a pilgrimage to Zuccotti Park. Pilgrimage may not be the right word. I knew I wanted to see Occupy, but I wasn’t there to participate since I wasn’t of the NYC community. It wasn’t spiritual.
New York has always been a novelty to me, and even the shortest trip there has me hungry to do as many things as I can: museums, visits with old friends, long walks. My girlfriend was often in New York for meetings, and so she was not as filled with the need to walk from one end of the city to the other and back. She had work to do and knew when she needed breaks. Sometimes her meetings covered the hotel. Other times we found deals for ourselves. We both made enough in those days to not think much about a bill at a nice hotel and meals at the legendary restaurants she’d read about in food magazines.
Occupy Wall Street had been operating and sustaining itself for weeks under constant media (and police) scrutiny. A flood of donations of food and money from New Yorkers and global sympathizers were distributed there. The media had covered the spectacle of Zuccotti Park for weeks. I knew what to expect. We would be two more tourists among thousands, checking Occupy off our list along with Rockefeller Center and the Apple Store before going back to our fancy hotel. As we approached, crowds with black and pink department store bags swarmed all around us. The wind in Lower Manhattan was brutal and cold, and I too was tempted to go in the department store for comfort. Maybe I’d buy another scarf or hat. Sidewalk vendors sold bootleg NYPD knit caps. But those wouldn’t do. We rounded a corner and there it was. Just like it looked on TV. We followed the tourists through a maze. The pressing curious crowed kept us moving past outdoor kitchens cranking out meals, past campers trying to sleep on concrete and cardboard at midday, past groups talking on upturned buckets, past slogans on cardboard and art doubling as a privacy wall. It was more the experience of a haunted house or a crowded craft fair. Occasional human microphone shouts would ripple through the crowd. After exiting on to the other end of the square and back on to the uncrowded cold street, we shrugged our shoulders and sought our next warm place.
There was a beauty in it. In showing that there are plenty of resources to go around. That we can choose to live in public and demonstrate care for the homeless, care for each other.
Part III: Institution
By the time winter proper fell on northern cities, the camps were fading from the headlines and regrouping. My organization wanted to tap the energy of Occupy and bring it into conversation with organized national fights against income inequality: fights in Congress and in a handful of states. And so, permits for a tent city on the National Mall were hurriedly procured (as long as nobody slept there it was fine with the Park Service as a first amendment demonstration) and Occupy activists from around the country were brought together with our staff from those same cities as a sort of Occupy summit. It was December. The temperatures hovered just above freezing. Rain and slush fell all week, and the mall turf inside and around our dozen rented white wedding tents quickly turned to mud. I spent that week in my heaviest Minnesota parka, thickest socks and heaviest boots risking electrocution to staff a tent filled with rented computers run from a high end trailer-sized generator so that a few activists could check their email. It was not Zuccotti Park. It was not McPherson Square.
My boss quit not long after our visit to Occupy K Street and recommended me for his job. In the chaos of the middle of this cold mud field, I learned that his job — which I’d been doing on an interim bases for weeks — was officially mine.
All weekend, as I anticipated in my post late Friday, my neighbors in D.C. — and others who drove great distances— made pilgrimages to lay flowers on the steps of the Supreme Court. Crowds gathered in an outpouring of love and grief for Justice Ginsburg.
Trump and Mitch McConnell played their expected parts as well: villains with no shame.
Supporters of RBG’s legacy showed up to fight and make sure her replacement on the court is not named until after inauguration day. ActBlue — the website that simplifies giving to slates of Democratic candidates — set a record for donations in a single hour and then broke that record the next hour. The most active ActBlue page — titled “Get Mitch or Die Trying” — focuses on the tightest Senate races. The Senate confirms Supreme Court nominations.
On Sundays, I’ve been suggesting some small thing you can do to help end Trump. I’ve avoided mentioning giving money because it isn’t in my budget as an unpaid writer/artist, and I don’t see how speeding up the sky-high cost of running for office helps bring the concerns of people without money to the attention of politicians. Besides, I figure you’re already getting spammed by texts and emails by the progressive fundraising complex. But I like the “Get Mitch” story, so here’s the link to give if that’s within your means. You can help win these Senate races even more by getting involved in voter outreach. If you signed up the Sunday I shared my suggestion to “adopt a state,” Vote Save America offered you the chance to get involved in swing state Senate and other downballot races in addition to helping make sure those states don’t land in the Trump column. It’s not to late to adopt a state and get involved.
Yesterday and today I’ve been working on a story about Occupy Wall Street, which began nine years ago Thursday. It’s a tangled story, and I was too exhausted yesterday to think through whether Part I stood on its own. I’ll come back to Occupy.
Tonight, just as I was settling in for a Little Salon / D.C. Design Week event on Zoom, a news alert about Ruth Bader Ginsburg appeared popped up on my phone. And then another. And another. This was not one of her many health scares that have popped up as news alerts over the past few years. Her age is present in the alert, I see the opening phrases of an obituary that was put in the can long ago:
dies at 87 was a legal pioneer for gender equality the demure firebrand feminist icon second woman to serve on the supreme court cultural icon she was 87
We all hoped she could hang on another 124 days until the inauguration. I can’t bear to turn on the news and see how the political machines is spinning into motion. Can’t bear to see Trump tweet about it, to see Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell attempt to justify ramming a replacement through before the election, contrary to the blockade he put placed against Obama’s nominee in 2016 because that was an election year. Antonin Scalia died six months earlier in the year. Why would McConnell suddenly do something honorable and reasonable now?
A few blocks from my apartment on 14th Street, a shop and event space called The Outrage sprung up after the 2017 women’s march. Its windows have featured an unending variation of Ginsburg merchandise alongside other feminist slogans: Ginsburg t-shirts, water bottles, hoodies. Every gift shop and bookstore I’ve been in over the past few years has featured some of the same. Ginsburg action figures, greeting cards, scarves and hats.
Is it crass to focus on merchandise sales before her legal opinions? Her trailblazing career? Merch is how we express affection — for musicians, brands, attitudes. Friends who never wear text or logos on their bodies will proudly wear “Notorious RBG” t-shirts. The army that has been buying that avalanche of merch is formidable. They will vote in November. They will be energized to win this one for RBG.
But already — an hour or so after starting this post — news alerts are coming through that confirm my assumptions about McConnell. If Trump gets another nominee on the Supreme Court, his influence will cast an even longer shadow on history than it sure to already. Would Biden expand the court to eleven? For that matter, why haven’t Trump and McConnell packed the court already given how court obsessed, and unconcerned they’ve been with the traditions that have historically keep their power in check. Not to give them any ideas.
There are too many issues at stake in the Supreme Court. Issues concerning Trump’s personal, corporate, and Presidential abuses of power. Issues that might decide the election. Issues that might enshrine Trump’s corruption as a permanent regime.
I imagine there are already stacks of flowers on the Supreme Court steps. I imagine I’ll wake up to photos of growing memorials to her around the country, to moving remembrances and stories of her life. But the only fitting memorial will be to fight for justice in November.
Yesterday I filed my quarterly taxes. It’s not my favorite part of working for myself, but taxes are part of living in common cause with 705,000 Washingtonians and 328 million Americans. Everybody chips in a penny or two, and we get things like bus service and food safety standards and national parks.
As I wrote that last sentence, I struggled to find uncontroversial things to string together (uncontroversial to the hypothetical undecided voter who I imagine persuading through a 100-part election anxiety memoir). I wanted to say that we get clean air and water, workplace safety, reliable mail delivery, reliable data about threats to public health, tireless career public servants dedicated to serving their knowledge area regardless of who is the White House. But somehow these have become controversial. Even the three I mentioned are not universally loved. “Food safety standards” might be. But try proposing a new one and see if it isn’t tagged as a “burdensome regulation” by the opposition, by whoever is currently producing the conjectured unsafe food.
As September 15 approached, I was thinking about all the things our taxes aren’t paying for right now. In the past few weeks I’ve opened Facebook again and again to see teachers and parents sharing GoFundMe pages to raise funds for school supplies in this strange time of uncertain in-school and remote learning plans. I’ve seen too many people sharing GoFundMe pages for medical expenses that a citizen of any other developed country wouldn’t have to worry about. And fundraising pages for funerals and scholarship funds in memory of those we might not have lost if the response to Coronavirus had been timely and well coordinated.
I’m also seeing fundraising pages for musicians and bartenders and bar-backs. Supplemental pandemic unemployment insurance ran out long ago for those who had service industry jobs. Full-time musicians are largely in the same boat as me — independent workers ineligible for traditional unemployment aid. Many musicians who counted on live tours as their main income this year are instead playing for meager tips online instead. Republicans in the Senate haven’t been able to come up with an extension to continue covering those out of work due to the pandemic.
These should be paid for with our taxes. Survival, education, staying in your home shouldn’t be contingent on how effective you are at social media fundraising. These are human rights.
Here are a few GoFundMe pages popping up in my social feeds today. Support if you are able. But vote in November to move our country to a more equitable one where we aren’t relying on GoFundMe for our basic needs.
- A pastor raising money for the funeral of Deon Kay, recently shot by the D.C. Metropolitan Police.
- Fundraising pages for the out of work bartenders and bar-backs of Bossa Bistro, Black Cat, and Union Stage and Jammin’ Java
- A fundraiser to buy bikes for socially distanced physical education at Dunbar High School
In all, Hauer projects that 13 million Americans will be forced to move away from submerged coastlines. Add to that the people contending with wildfires and other risks, and the number of Americans who might move — though difficult to predict precisely — could easily be tens of millions larger. Even 13 million climate migrants, though, would rank as the largest migration in North American history. The Great Migration — of six million Black Americans out of the South from 1916 to 1970 — transformed almost everything we know about America, from the fate of its labor movement to the shape of its cities to the sound of its music. What would it look like when twice that many people moved? What might change?—How Climate Will Reshape America, Abrahm Lustgarten, New York Times Magazine
After publishing yesterday’s mention of climate crisis refugees before bed, I woke today up to see a New York Times Magazine story on the effects of climate change in North America. The report relies on detailed new modeling that accounts for effects beyond temperature and sea level, including agricultural production, wildfires, and livability for the human body when heat and humidity are combined.
Agriculture and livability in the south and southwest suffer the most in these maps. The prairies of the north and of Canada become far more livable. It’s hard to look at these forecasts and not think in terms of the centuries-long tensions between the north and south: free labor vs. slave labor, coördinated national government vs. states rights, regulation vs. anything goes, climate consensus vs. climate denialism. History repeats itself. Or not. The existing regional divisions in economics and politics are legacies of slavery and the resistance to reconstruction. There’s no repetition, just a long chain of repercussions. Climate change is different. Ideology can’t change it. But stories in the New York Times won’t change the culture of the powers in the south resisting action on climate change, either. Real-world consequences will.
The story goes in to the effects on property insurance, the numbers likely to move to southern cities and northern states, and the expansion of poverty among those who remain in the rural south. The full piece is worth reading.
My speculative fiction from a few years ago described a welcoming D.C. of 2215 that accommodated — and was built on the culture and strengths of — climate refugees from near and far. This report backs that prediction (the migration part; the reporting says nothing of how welcoming cities will be). I also hinted at a world of coöperation in those stories by avoiding all mention of nations and borders and including 22nd century immigrant families as characters. It might be hard to imagine welcoming international refugees when both Bangladesh and Florida are underwater, and the politics of immigration have become so toxic. Fiction plays by different rules (borders are hard to enforce when teleportation is cheap and widely available), but four years later I believe even more that addressing the global climate emergency will bring about more coöperation in the long run, not less. But it starts with having someone in charge who sees the rest of the world as human and in this together with us.
A three-foot rise in sea level would submerge almost 20 percent of the entire country and displace more than 30 million people. Some scientists project a five-to-six foot rise by 2100, which would displace perhaps 50 million people. As perspective, the ongoing tragedy in Syria has caused the exodus of approximately three million people.—The Unfolding Tragedy of Climate Change in Bangladesh, Robert Glennon, Scientific American
Today marks the halfway point of this project. 50 days now until Election Day. But today I’m thinking about another halfway point, one a century in the future.
Over the weekend, I helped my friend Monica Jahan Bose celebrate the arrival of her new book, Renew with a small, socially distanced celebration in her alley and driveway. I was honored that she asked me to work on the layout of the book, and it was great to have the final product in hand after nearly a year of discussion and work. The book is 108 pages of photos, poems and essays from her performance art and community dialogues addressing the climate crisis.
Bose’ family is from Bangladesh, one of the most populous and low-lying places on the globe. A slow-motion crisis has been unfolding there as the sea rises to swallow coastal villages and flooding encroaches on dense urban areas. And so, she brings the invisible voices of Bangladeshis to western capitals, making the consequences of carbon-guzzling known.
I met Monica in 2015 or so, and we first collaborated when I asked her to record one of Future Cartographic’s stories about D.C. in the year 2215 for an audio installation. Someday I’ll put together a clearer timeline of those speculative fictions here on this site, but here’s a summary: by 2215 we have our act together and are living in a utopian city because we started to get our act together in 2015.
But even in that rosy fiction, I couldn’t ignore the inevitabilities of the coming century. A halfway point in 2115 was a bleak one, peak climate change and a bleak period in the memories of grandparents in those the stories. Grandparents who would today by newborn grandchildren.
The culture of D.C. in those stories — and of communities around the world — is and will be shaped by climate refugees. Not just from Bangladesh, but from Florida, Louisiana and populous tidewater region of Virginia. And rising waters aren’t the only danger. The west coast is on fire, and Californians are debating their comfort level with the harsh smoke-filled air summer after summer.
Unfortunately, we did not get our act together in 2015. The bad-for-100, recover-for-100 barely plausible utopia of 2215 is behind schedule. The halfway point is bleaker now than it was five years ago. The waters continue to rise.