election anxiety countdown

68 Days: Exodus

Today I began reading True Grit as the next book in the #APStogether quarantine reading series hosted by A Public Space. At the opening of Charles Portis’ 1968 classic (the basis for Joel and Ethan Coen’s 2010 film), the narrator’s father has been murdered by a scoundrel and she must tend to the mundane tasks of the next of kin: sign papers and bring them to town, talk to the sheriff and the undertaker, arrange for the body’s return, convince the toughest U.S. Marshal she can find to bring the scoundrel to justice. Her ability to carry out these tasks is slowed because her father had the misfortune to be murdered the day before a triple-hanging at the courthouse. Tourists from three states have flooded the city, and everyone she needs to talk to is at the hanging.

A pattern has appeared this summer reminiscent of that nineteenth century tradition of making a day trip to see and take part in state-sanctioned violence. White men with time on their hands, enough disposable income to fill their basements with high end gas masks, emergency rations, and assault rifles have been grabbing that equipment and driving to neighborhoods like mine hoping they can witness, take part in, accelerate destruction.
A man who fits that description ambushed a Federal security officer in Oakland during the wave of protests following George Floyd’s murder in late May.  
A man who fits that description calmly broke a plate glass window with a hammer while holding an umbrella in the other hand to avoid security cameras (though he was surrounded by phone cameras) during early moments of the uprising in Minneapolis. The building was the first to burn.   
A seventeen-year-old child who fits that description walked around the edges of the Kenosha, Wisconsin uprising two days ago with an assault rifle. Police accepted this as normal and helpful. Soon the child killed two people. The police did not pursue him with deadly force as they did Jacob Blake, the Black man who was shot seven times in the back as he left the scene of a domestic dispute on Saturday in Kenosha, as they have with countless Black teenagers and men. The child who killed two adults was apprehended at his comfortable Illinois home the next day. He will be tried for homicide (as an adult) in Wisconsin. No charges have been filed against the police who shot Blake.
These are three examples. There are plenty of others, and an exponentially higher number of followers of these ideas lurk in the dark corners of the internet.

I am wondering if I have let these sad, dangerous men become bigger than life gangs of villains in my mind, or if there are more than I think traveling to big cities in moments of pain to inflame tensions. Umbrella man haunted me for weeks thanks to all my Minnesota friends and a good many others around the country sharing the footage of him. But he is one person. It’s come out that he is part of a white supremacist Hell’s Angels group (another tie to my reading about Hunter S. Thompson’s late 1960s reporting). Each of these men has ties to different militias and white supremacist groups.
I cannot identify with such hatred, with a desire to burn everything down. Surely the number of people who have given up on the project of working together for a common purpose is tiny. A light should be shined on them. We should keep an eye on these extremists, but we should also keep in mind that they are outnumbered.

In the past few days, I have seen posts from a surprising number of my favorite New Yorkers describing the new lives they are embarking on in rural elsewhere. “New York is over,” is a topic being discussed with seriousness. I can’t help but think of the late 1970s era of “Ford to City: Drop Dead”  when NYC was bankrupt. This was also the era of Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe, of the birth of Hip-Hop, of low rent and punk rock and the freedom to experiment. The New York that also included “a paradoxical combination of elitism in aesthetics and an egalitarianism bordering on socialism and utopianism in politics,” according to Edmund White
And here in D.C. too, a dear friend — an impulsive traveler before the pandemic — is leaving town. Three months is her initial plan. But there was an air of permanence to the announcement. I know these are small samples from a few already transient and privileged voices. Heavy social media sharers each, their declarations of self-exile seem much larger for the volume of New York posts that promise to be replaced with rural dispatches. They do not represent the majority any more than umbrella man and his kind do. The metropolis is always changing. The tourists who come to witness its demise will be disappointed by our loyalty to common purpose. 

election anxiety countdown

69 Days: Salvation

Today was a busy day. I wrote for a client in the morning and finalized a book layout in the afternoon. I was settling in to read and zone out with the comforting background noise of masked, quarantined, socially isolated baseball when I remembered that I hadn’t written today’s post.

I was unsure if that baseball game would be played tonight. In fact, I was hoping it wouldn’t be. The Milwaukee Bucks of the NBA staged a wildcat strike in the afternoon, staying in their locker room, not playing their playoff game, after the shooting of another unarmed Black man — Jacob Blake — in Kenosha, Wisconsin. My Minnesota Twins have a George Floyd banner hanging in right field this season. Minneapolis is not so far from Milwaukee and Kenosha. I thought — hoped — they might be among the first MLB teams to express solidarity, but as I write this their game in Cleveland is well underway (tied at three in the seventh inning). MLB games in Milwaukee, San Francisco and San Diego, and NBA and NHL games have since been called off in solidarity. MLB is slower to respond. It is far less Black than the NBA. Players from Latin America, the Caribbean and white Americans dominate most lineups, including the Twins’. In recent years, NBA players have taken more ownership in their league (literally and figuratively) and have stepped up in their calls for social justice.

You’ll notice I am again not tuning in to the Republican Convention. But I’d been thinking all day about the images I did not tune in to see last night that stand out to me second-hand from email newsletters and occasional glances at the web and social media today. President Trump and Melania Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo all used taxpayer resources to make their political case (in violation of the Hatch act). Past administrations have followed this separation carefully — if not because it’s the right thing to do, because it is an anti-corruption law — and campaigns should rightfully take a hit when they publicly engage in a violation of an anti-corruption law (otherwise known as corruption). Pompeo’s violation was egregious. He was traveling abroad in Israel when he appeared via video — it is expensive to taxpayers and against diplomatic norms to represent domestic partisanship while abroad.

But the fact that he was in Jerusalem seems to have been the point. Trump’s moving the American embassy to Jerusalem was done to please Evangelicals. Trump having his man in Jerusalem shows they aimed the programming at that singular Trump audience.

I’d been thinking about Evangelical images even before making the Jerusalem connection. The strongest image I didn’t tune in to see last night was the image of Trump performing Presidential acts: a pardon for a Black man and a citizenship ceremony for a diverse group of Immigrants. Official government business on political time. Some reports described this as trying to soften his edge and show he cared about Black Americans and Immigrants. But I read it as his performing the role of a preacher at the front of a church. The laying on of hands. Theatrical acts of healing and salvation. It’s a role that Evangelicals would recognize, subconsciously if not explicitly. The power of the man in authority granting new life to sinners and heathens.

A helicopter is circling my apartment with a spotlight now. I haven’t seen helicopters circling the neighborhood low like this since the protests following George Floyd’s murder at the start of the Summer. The searchlight is an aggressive and fresh development. Is it a coincidence that I heard protest chants in the distance an hour ago? A news alert on my phone tells me tonight Trump’s crew is talking about law and order.

D.C. activists are organizing a new wave of protests this week in solidarity with Kenosha, in memory of Jacob Blake, to defund the police. Trump has a permit for fireworks near the White House tomorrow night at the end of his nominating speech. Trump might get more than he bargained for. But I’m worried that’s exactly what he wants. Fireworks.

election anxiety countdown

86 Days: Learn Anti-Racism

On Sundays, I interrupt this improvised narrative with a short post on a course of action. One concrete thing I’ve done, or that I pledge to do to help defeat Trump in the fall. It’s a sacrosanct tradition that dates back to last Sunday (we’re only 14 days in).

It has not escaped my notice that the authors and friends and colleagues I’ve mentioned so far have been mostly white. And while I’m hardly living in luxury on my design and writing income, it is a luxury to sit safely at home and write for 100 days as others — predominantly people of color, here in D.C. — work in frontline health, service, and delivery industries with an increased risk of exposure to Covid-19. 

Though I have worked for progressive advocacy and cultural organizations in the past and have taken on histories of systemic oppression in past art projects, I know I have more work to do and the work does not stop.

The murder of George Floyd on Memorial Day in Minneapolis, walking distance from where my grandparents, parents and I lived through much of the twentieth century, has been a moment to reflect on systemic injustice. My family and well-intentioned white people in Minneapolis and across the country have benefitted from — and continue to benefit from — systems that excluded Black people, Indigenous people and people of color (BIPOC) just as much as overt racists who raise the confederate flag. 

I will have more to say on all of this in the weeks to come. For today, one concrete step you can take is to pledge to keep educating yourself. As the election nears, discussion of racism, the racially coded language used by Trump and his allies, and of policies that disproportionately and systemically impact BIPOC are sure to remain part of the conversation. 

There are many books and resources I might point you to. But the best resource is the one you actually use. Anti-Racism Daily, a newsletter published by Black wellness entrepreneur Nicole Cardoza arrives each day in your inbox in an easy-to-read and use format. It takes just a minute or two to read that day’s issue. Related stories and resources are always a click away to explore further. Sign up here.