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Journal of the Plague Year (#12)

Berkeley, CA June 8, 2020 — “Trump called the May jobs report a ‘tremendous tribute to equality’ although it showed that African American employment actually declined last month. And he suggested that George Floyd would be pleased at the news. ‘Hopefully George is looking down right now and saying “This is a great thing happening for this country”,’ Trump said.” (Associated Press, 6/6/2020). 

There is in fact “a great thing” happening in this country, and indeed in the world. It has nothing to do with virus abatement. It has everything to do with the man whose name was so casually and inappropriately used in passing. By the President. 

The President doesn’t begin to understand the phenomenon, of George Floyd, any more than he would understand Floyd and his family if he knew them. He does get the sense of widespread governmental and public weariness with the situation. But for Trump, as always, he draws the wrong conclusions. It’s all about him, not about us. And so we have, once again, the headless and heartless nominally leading the heedless. Leading us to more illness and death.

Among President Trump’s recent ravings: he insists on a “full” Republican convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, this summer. Meaning a descent of around 40,000 delegates, workers, relatives, journalists et al. For his coronation he expects a full house - 19,000 people indoors, cheering and yelling and expelling tiny droplets of possibly contaminated breath. Among those expelling the most would be his “faith based” zealots, who practice full throated cheering and yelling every Sunday. Unless these “people of faith” have magically developed “herd immunity” their “herd” will be inhabiting a slaughterhouse in Charlotte.

How well do we slaughter in this country anyway! Mostly out of sight, of course, but occasionally in full viral view. But then we return to hiding it and its repercussions again. As in the tragic, disgraceful case of George Floyd.

It isn’t as if such incidents aren’t routinely happening to people, mostly African American people, regularly. And it isn’t as if Minneapolis had been exempt from the list of perpetrators. But that it had been happening there, I can personally attest. 

Minneapolis was a stone racist town when I was there five decades ago. The racism, however, mostly had as its victims another all-American persecution target: Native Americans. 

My first job out of college was as a part time reporter, sometimes assigned to the overnight police beat, for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. Every morning, during my “cop shop” weeks I would find on my desk a carbon copy of the typed (we’re way pre-computer here!) overnight incidents and arrests. The “incidents” were the usual: accidents, fires, lost dogs, burglaries. The “arrests” were almost always of Native Americans, alleged to have committed alcohol-related offenses. 

A large, filthy cell called the “drunk tank” was full of men passed out or half awake. A disgusting toilet was filled to overflowing. Those who were ambulatory stumbled around, holding up their pants (their shoe laces and belts had been confiscated).

When court opened around 9:00, a black robed judge (one the only African-American regularly visible in the jail/courthouse) entered. A row of unsteady men came before him one by one. The charge, in almost all cases, was “public drunkeness,” sometimes with an additional allegation, like “urinating in public.” A single public defender represented all of them. One by one they were sentenced to time served, shown the door, asked to sign a paper (most couldn’t write even their names), given five bucks, and were gone. Some had arrest records for the same issues going back many years.

The daily, ritual abuse of Native Americans in Minneapolis slowly generated an opposition, which became, the American Indian Movement, led by Dennis Banks and Russell Means. Major confrontations with lethally armed local and federal authorities resulted in countless injuries and incarcerations, leading up to Wounded Knee, in 1973. (Native American activist Leonard Peltier has been in prison since 1977 in connection with Wounded Knee, despite abundant evidence that he did not receive a fair trial. Numerous national and international bodies have pleaded for his release. In one of his more disgraceful actions, President Obama, just before leaving office, denied clemency to Peltier, now 75 and in poor health.)

We now have a situation where one of the largest, angriest most widespread series of marches and protests in U.S. if not world history is continuing to unfold. Few in this country or abroad had much contact with Native Americans decades ago. Tens of millions are, or have contact with, African-Americans today. That’s very bad news for Trump and his ilk world-wide.

In this country, the same week as the Floyd demonstrations escalated, a little noticed primary election took place in six states. As has been happening since Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s victory two years ago, there were significant wins for progressive voices including in Arizona, Iowa, New Mexico, North Carolina and, most extensively, in Pennsylvania. All of which are “battlegrounds” for electoral college votes this November.

Therefore, at least for the next few months, the attention ever more widely paid to the electoral industry needs to focus on what can be a winning issue for the anti-Trump movement. Would an early announcement that Stacey Abrams or Anita Hill will be his vice-presidential nominee help his momentum? How about Kamala Harris as Attorney General? Susan Rice as Secretary of State? AOC herself as Secretary of HEW? There are many more lesser known women and people of color equally well qualified for Washington work. 

A party in transition, as are the Democrats right now, will have difficulty selecting these women, and uniting behind them. But more in danger is a party in dissolution, as are the Republicans. They’ll have even more difficulty attracting votes and turning out voters when the street is no longer “tea” but “we.” Even the Republicans continuing machinations to dilute or interfere with the right to vote can be expected to generate a huge backlash. 

At the large “Family Friendly” protest march Saturday in Berkeley, outrage at George Floyd’s nine-minute murder was obviously on the minds of those thousands who jammed the streets. As I hobbled along among them, alongside me I felt the spirits of the tens of thousands I’ve been among all my adult life, protesting such outrages since the 1950’s. I can only make it a few blocks now. But I can make it, will be taking those few steps until I can’t. 

Berkeley protest (photo by Jerome Paulos)

In his 1963 “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote eloquently about how all should be welcome at protests. And he said how disappointed he was that when protests were attacked by jeering racists and violence-prone police, white liberals, who spoke supportive words, failed to realize they had the power to change the brutal situation. He would have been heartened to see Saturday’s Berkeley march. Diverse in age, ethnicity, gender expression, we were all together. Similar gatherings drew millions around the world. Energies released from the COVID-19 quarantines were free, and people knew where to take them. It will take more than anti-voting legalistic machinations on the part of Republicans to keep that energy from voting out Trump and Trumpism in a few short months. 

One Comment

  1. Joe June 11, 2020

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