This past week has given us more hope for our diseased republic than any other time in 50+ years of paying attention. Observing and participating in a long-overdue peaceful uprising, occupying the streets, feeling the righteous energy of people of all ages, colors, faiths, and wealth (or lack thereof), has renewed our belief in the power of compassion and empathy.
That these two essential components in any loving human being appear to be conspicuously absent in our soon-to-be-ousted President isn’t surprising to anyone, for the man’s lack of self-love manifests itself in the ugliest ways on a daily basis. His entire reign — indeed, his entire public life — is a grand satire of “American Values” taken to their absurd end. Therefore even when he and his porcine Attorney General order non-violent protesters to be “dispersed” with pepper spray and other chemical weapons so Mr. Great can enjoy a deeply satirical photo op in front of a church he doesn’t care about, holding a book he doesn’t care about whose main character is a famously disruptive protester, one must reflexively double-check that the latest buffoonery isn’t another ingenious critique of debased values by a gifted writer at The Onion.
A few ’til-death-do-we-part loyalists continue to stand beside (behind?) the captain as his ship plummets to the ocean floor, but the facade of unified surety is crumbling more quickly than a conspiracy theorist’s credibility. When you lose George Will and Pat Robertson in the same week, a reasonable person might conclude the “conservative” wing of America is no longer buying your brand of bullshit. An unreasonable person, though, seeks out whatever sycophants he can find to confirm his lunatic world view. The President’s fear and desperation is palpable, tangible, on full display in the form of a new wall (fence, to be accurate), this one also not paid for by Mexico. When he’s gone like a horrible joke told no more, with whatever remains of his life to reflect on how someone who considers himself such a Big Winner could be viewed by so many as a total loser, professional satirists will be most grateful to have their jobs back.
In the meantime, what’s happening in the United States of America continues to make us cry. Our tears seem to be a combination of sadness and happiness, of unthinkable pain for our brothers and sisters of color, for 401 years of injustice, inequality, cruelty, broken promises, and institutional denial of their humanity. It hurts. It’s an omnipresent chronic pain that no amount of conciliatory words can ameliorate — only action. And that’s the other reason we’re crying a lot lately. Tears of joy. Of possibilities realized. Out on the streets we’ve seen and felt a unity never experienced in our lifetime. Unless we’re misremembering, there hasn’t been a single moment in all our years when every one of the 50 states had a protest on the same day, for the same reason. Never.
It’s happening now, and it’s beautiful.
Americans’ usual apathy, their usual, “well, it’s a shame, but, hey, what are you going to do?” attitude, has given way to active participation, callous indifference replaced with an impulse to do something more than nothing, even if that something is holding up a cardboard sign.
We’ve been predicting in this space for more than a decade that revolution would come to this country, had to come to this country. We’ve noted how obvious disparities in wealth and justice must eventually foment rebellion. And we’ve emphasized that these upheavals can succeed unequivocally without bloodshed. Our personal experience attending many protests in our home city confirms this view. Marches with many thousands of demonstrators pass through our affluent, mostly-white neighborhood every day, sometimes three times in a day if we’re lucky, often only one block away from our normally quiet residential street. The atmosphere is akin to a Bernie Sanders rally. We’re seeing the action with our own eyes, not through the stigmatic lens of TV news, content to keep looping footage of opportunistic thieves disavowed by protesters. The overwhelming majority of violent incidents here in Los Angeles — and in every other city in America — are instigated by uniformed bullies wielding weapons against their neighbors, hurting them, physically and spiritually, for speaking out against . . . uniformed bullies wielding weapons against their neighbors.
Police brutality is real. It happens every day, every hour, somewhere. This is not the byproduct of “a few bad apples.” It’s the byproduct of a sick orchard that consistently bears toxic fruit. That a measurable quotient of our society still insists that Colin Kaepernick is an uppity Negro disrespecting our flag [anthem; military; officers; whatever], unable to grasp once and for all the true nature of his protest, of all our protests, indicates we collectively have much work to do, many years of struggle ahead. But the rapid, substantive changes we’re witnessing — just charges brought against George Floyd’s murderers; proposed de-funding of police forces; rethinking brutal “use of force” guidelines — proves that the only way to effect meaningful progress is to demand it, not by asking politely.
Those who have hoarded power for people who look and think like them have lately opined — in the reflexively liberal New York Times, no less — that we ought to be turning the United States military on ourselves, that we ought to shoot each other in order to restore “law and order.”
This is a good time for all of us to ask ourselves: what makes someone a true patriot? Bullying the unarmed? Threatening the weak? Intimidating dissenters?
Or is it standing resolutely beside the oppressed, beside a person of color, letting them know symbolically and practically that they are not alone?
The struggle for social justice will never end. It’s been going on for nearly 7,500 years, and it will continue long after our printed yammering ceases. But the immediate future is bright, glowing with hopefulness. One day soon, it will be much more difficult than it is today to find someone willing to hurt their brothers and sisters under the guise of “the law permits me an exemption from normal human decency.” Fewer and fewer police officers will be willing to gas or beat those they’re sworn to protect and serve. Fewer and fewer soldiers will be willing to point a gun — or deafening acoustic device, or tank, or anything else harmful — at their fellow citizens, the ones who otherwise consider them American “heroes” when they’re pointing their weapons at Iraqis and Afghanis.
And fewer and fewer members of our imperfect, constantly evolving society, will be willing to stand by mutely in the face of relentless injustice. Eventually, we must all stand together, with innate respect for our shared humanity.
We consider ourselves blessed to bear witness and to participate in one of the greatest moments in American history. Change is coming. Change has arrived. We’re not going back. We’re not ever going to be “normal” again.
We’re going to be better.