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Journal of the Plague Year (#13)

From the headlines:

“Ailing Nations Push to Reopen, Accepting More Illness as the Price to Pay”

“Despite Growth in Cases, Easily Distracted Washington Moves On”

“Fed Chair Sees Years of Economic Woes”

“Heaps of Complaints, but Police Resist Change”

“Troops Shaken by Warlike Tactics in the Streets of Washington”

“From the Boss: Sign a Waiver to Go To Work”

“To Achieve Real Justice, Only a Drastic Overhaul Will Do, Some Say”

“Trump Says He Opposes Police Chokeholds, Maybe”

“Munitions Considered ‘Nonlethal’ Often Maim, and Sometimes Kill”

“On at Least One Thing, Americans Can Agree: Future Appears Bleak”

“Why Does Trump Lie?”

It’s easy not to notice, but there is no new information widely disseminated these days about our triple crises. Virus, economy, racism. Throw them in the air, no matter what order they land in, it’s hard to let them into whatever part of ourselves we compartmentalize voluntarily or not, for such matters.

I see pretty much the same people from my south Berkeley porch perch, every day. Walking at my disabled pace around my neighborhood, the same. Maybe half the people wear masks. Sometimes there are couples or small groups of people, mixed on mask use. Almost everyone is carrying a phone, and a big percentage are texting/talking while walking.

Widen your input to the never resting media and it can get overwhelming pretty fast. So much suffering! So much anxiety! So much raw emotion!

More or less accidentally I’ve watched a YouTube of Dave Chappelle. I’d never even heard of him. But now I’m enthralled (it’s called “8:46”).

Someone suggests I click on the website if I want to see a powerful statement in an unlikely place. I do. It is. Try it yourself.

And then an old friend sends me a long poem, which he wrote nearly 50 years ago, about his home town, Tulsa,, and the “race riots” there in 1921. It’s sort of about that event, or sequence of events. But it’s more a story in poetic form, about what was going on in another era of supposed transformative technological change. And how beyond that change lay an unchanged, horrifying landscape of bigotry and violence. (See for a full account.)

That ugliness is still with us. And intentionally or not, may serve as a template for bloody conflict between the mostly white, heavily armed MAGA maniacs who show up at Trump rallies and mostly non-white, mostly unarmed Black Lives Matter crowds who are out there, too, with very different agendas.

Tulsa is where President Trump was supposed to speak this week, on June 19th, a date commemorated in African-American communities as marking the end of the Civil War and slavery. There hasn’t been such an insensitive choice as Trump’s Tulsa since another grossly insensitive President, Ronald Reagan chose Philadelphia, Mississippi, where three young civil rights workers had been killed in 1964, for a major campaign speech in 1980. (Reagan followed up with an “unofficial” 1985 visit to a German cemetery with a special section for Nazi Waffen SS division dead. The Waffen are remembered as the worst of the worst of Hitler’s vicious gangs of murderers torturers, rapists and looters.)

If he is unable to bring about civil strife as an electoral tactic, the future of organized, effective opposition to the plutocrats and plunderers Trump has brought to Washington is far from clear. Much energy now seems ready to “pivot” to the November election. Some of those most involved in marches and protests will seek to have “police reform” be the signature issue in all campaigns. How will this play (as they say) in Peoria? The always timid national Democratic party doesn’t want to find out, by getting wholeheartedly behind “Black Lives Matter.” Although they have certainly noticed that not only Peoria, but 28 other Illinois cities, large and small, which have seen marches and vigils for and about George Floyd.

This is not 1921, however, and what’s going on is not nearly limited to one unfortunate Oklahoma city. We now have to contend with “false flag” propaganda being disseminated to disorient and discourage protests. Ranging from quotations from nonexistent ‘”black leaders” urging violence to allegations that a nationwide conspiracy (“anti-fa”) exists to confront Trump’s purportedly “populist” followers. A conspiracy supposedly funded by George Soros, the Jewish financier and human rights activist who narrowly escaped death at the hands of the Nazis and their Hungarian collaborators in World War II. (In reality, Soros is a relatively modest human rights activist whose money has served to promote democracy and human rights throughout the world.)

Those who serve the powerful have been enlisted, since time immemorial, to try to weaken, if not destroy, anti-authoritarian sentiments and uprisings. Part of how it’s playing out today can be read in Franklin Foer’s cover story in the June 2020 Atlantic (“The 2016 Election Was Just a Dry Run”). Foer sees Vladimir Putin, Mark Zuckerberg, and Rudy Giuliani and others working to promote propaganda that will discourage voters and/or discredit the November election result. (Spoiler alert: their current target is Joe Biden, whose polling lead over Trump has continued to grow as protests and virus cases have continued to escalate.)

Another article in the same issue of The Atlantic does a deep-dive into the nut crowd who infect “social” media with baseless tales of conspiracies to take away guns, close churches, and of course defeat Trump (“Nothing Can Stop What is Coming” by Adrienne LaFrance).

How effective are the platforms described in these two articles? The next time you run into someone who says they don’t pay attention to current events, but seems to have opinions about lots of current hot topics, see if they’ll tell you what newspapers and periodicals they read. What TV and radio they consume, Or if they’ve ever heard of Candace Owens. You’ll soon see a pattern. Delve into it (and her) a little, and you’ll wish you hadn’t.

If the November election takes place with only scattered and relatively inconsequential irregularities a lot will be possible, and necessary. Including major campaigns to defund militarized police and re-purpose jails and prisons. These need to become realities, not just words, as in the mission statement of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, “to enhance public safety and promote successful community reintegration through education, treatment and active participation in rehabilitative and restorative justice programs.”

The speed and impact that the current “Black Lives Matter” campaign has displayed should be seen as encouraging as a means of breathing life into that statement. Mariame Kaba, director of Project NIA (Swahili for “with purpose”) puts it this way. “People like me who want to abolish prisons and police envision a society built on cooperation instead of individualism, on mutual aid instead of self-preservation. What would this country look like if it had billions of extra dollars to spend on housing, food, and education?”

There are a lot of powerful people, politicians, and institutions that don’t want to go there. There are many among them who can be, and have been, reached recently as they haven’t been for almost a century. If humanity can survive to reach it, the next century can be very, very different. Hope is much better than depression and morbidity, in any case. As Bob Dylan puts it, in a rare recent interview, “I think about the death of the human race. The long, strange trip of the naked ape. Everybody’s life is so transient. Every human being, no matter how strong or mighty, is frail when it comes to death. Maybe we are on the eve of destruction. Maybe you just have to let it run its course.” 

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