LIFE OUT OF BALANCE*
Peaceful protests against the Minnesota murder of George Floyd and systemic racism spiraled out of control on the streets of Seattle on the night of May 30, 2020. Vandals smashed storefront windows, looted the downtown retail core, and burned police cars, hijacking the protestors’ legitimate message of outrage. Who these vandals were is still unclear though it appears they were a combination of locals and nonlocal: some protestors, others opportunists. Police tear gassed peaceful protestors and vandals alike, seeming not to discriminate.
The next morning, hundreds of volunteers descended on downtown with buckets and cleaning supplies, wiping away the graffiti, sweeping up glass, cleaning up the streets.
[ As an aside, I have to say that the damage caused by looting and vandalism is minor compared with murder and bodily harm. Let’s keep this property damage in perspective.}
The demonstrations that have followed have been overwhelmingly peaceful; yet, their message is loud and clear. Public policies must change. White culture must change–including those of us who consider ourselves “woke” but still live in the luxury of white privilege. Now is a time for both reflection and action.
The final awakening to the injustice of racism gives me hope. At the same time, a sense of dread and foreboding overwhelms me.
I have been saying since the beginning of the pandemic that it was the perfect recipe for civil unrest. COVID 19 has laid bare the systemic racism that permeates our society and results in racial injustice and inequities in health outcomes, education, employment and policing in America. When the pandemic first began, I felt oddly optimistic that this had become so undeniable that it was an opportunity to address these wrongs in positive and constructive ways. But then the Trump Administration and his collaborators unleashed unrelenting and unjustifiable attacks on Democrat Governors and Mayors who were keeping science and health at the forefront of decision making. The killing of George Floyd on top of the murders of so many other unarmed African Americans at the hands of the police has been used by them to sow the seeds of division further. At the same time, this vicious murder awakened outrage that we have not seen in a long time and finally White people joined in the demonstrations and demanded action alongside Blacks.
Yet, what action will be taken is still unknown. The entire Republican party enables and perpetuates racist policies while the so-called President fans the flames of racism with every breath. Their wealthy and ideological supporters have not only stood in the way of progress but also have doubled down. The so-called President continues to lie, agitate, divide and antagonize. His followers continue to drink from the fountain of Fox News and Talk Radio. The rich among his supporters believe they are immune, counting their money in gated communities. Too many of the working class he has deceived for so long continue to be supporters, as he stokes the flames of racism and grievance politics. And, all along Mitch McConnell continues to ram through judicial appointments that will negatively impact our civil rights and our environment for a generation to come.
I fear that the movement toward autocracy is advancing much more quickly now and that the future of our democracy hangs in the balance. Given that Trump only needs 46% of the vote to be re-elected because of the imbalance of the electoral system and the efforts to suppress the vote will escalate as election day grows closer, it feels like it is a real possibility. I have re-read The Autocrat’s Playbook and see that he is following every step to a T. Lather, Rinse and Repeat. I don’t think I was prescient in writing it more than 2 years ago, just observant of what was already happening.
So, now I am engulfed with anxiety and dread. I am sitting uncomfortably between the threat of COVID19 that has claimed the lives of over 110,000 Americans thus far (an overwhelming number of them Black and Brown) and the knowledge that the plague of racism that has robbed African Americans of their lives and their dignity for centuries continues. This is life out of balance. What will it take for this country not just to find peace since that simply implies the absence of war but to find justice, equity and respect for all? This is a tall order. It will take continued vigilance for change.
I am struggling with many questions, the answers unknowable at this juncture. Where will we go from here? What choices will we make as a society? Is America so frayed and so broken that we are unable to seek a more perfect union? Will this moment prove to be a turning point or will we slide further into chaos and division. What is my role? How can I contribute positively?
I am, as Rebecca Solnit has said, looking for hope in the dark. But, looking must be accompanied by acting. It seems to me that in order to bring about positive change in this country the most important thing we can do right now is protect the upcoming election and get out the vote. But it is more than that, along with changing political leadership, we have to change priorities. Reallocating resources away from law enforcement and toward education, public health, and homelessness (as well as to the arts which can uplift all of us) will take political will and pressure. It will require that sacred cows of funding silos be changed and redistributed. This is the hard work ahead.
*This is the translation of the Hopi word Koyaanisqatsi