Every day, I wake up now, split between worlds. Europe, where I have made a temporary base vs my home in Portland, Oregon. USA. Portland used to be known as the Rose City, or Pot City. It was “hip” and “chill”. Now, it is The Protest City. Roiling through 100+ days of clashing emotions and ideals. Center stage in the battle of American democracy.
These are still the days of the pandemic. Winter lurks around the edge of September. Thankfully, for now, global infection numbers are slowing and maybe, just “maybe”, we are finally resisting Covid-19 as a species. The question is, what are the lasting social effects for us as inter-connected humans? How are we using this historical time to address our social and global humanity? Our joined potential.
A simply “maybe” these days can be enough to put a social media or actual target on someone’s real or, virtual head. Do we blame the pandemic for the increasing racial and economic divides? Or, did it just suddenly, painfully, rip off the band-aids we have been slapping on our social issues for the past three generations. Issues that include; workers rights, social equality, education costs, housing and health.
We are rapidly replacing our old band-aids with new distractions. Labels; Masker, Anti-Masker, Vaccer, Anti-Vaccer, Democrat, Liberal, Republican, Conservative. Proud Boys, Antifa. Red, Blue. White, Black. As if we can file our complex emotions under one tagline. Too angry to speak we are reduced to acronyms that claim to define us. BLM, ALM, QAnon, F12, ACAB. None of them resonate with any kind of love.
The names of the walls dividing us are exhausting. The list keeps growing. When did we stop being; neighbours, friends, colleagues and, just Americans? Why have we stopped talking to each other?
In January of 2020, I read a small story from China. Another wet market virus. Vaguely disturbed, I stopped riding the bus in February. I started conversations with strangers about it. The world swirled on ignoring distant page 5 news. Feeling a little crazy, I wrote; “wake up, this will change our world”.
Then came the lockdowns and job losses. In walked the fear. In July, as protests erupted in united sparks for social justice, I drove, alone, across the country to see for myself what was real vs fake news. From a blue state to a red. Oregon to Florida. Feeling a little crazy, I wrote about a country on a road to destruction.
I am a not Liberal or a Conservative. I am not a racist or conspiracy theorist. I wear a mask in shops and take it off outside. It might help, it might not. All life is precious. I lost a nurse friend to Covid-19 in Seattle. I miss him and it still hurts.
Until I know for sure, I am willing to be inconvenienced. It might save a life.
I am writing in my local Frankfurt café with Bob Marley music in the background. It’s busy. I waited 10 minutes in line to order. I scroll the US news. It’s chaos with a side of coffee. The Dark and the Light. Surreal.
After the tragedy of Italy and lockdowns, for weeks now, people here are busy with their lives. Shops are open, cafés brimming. Schools, cinemas, malls are open. Indoor, people wear masks. Outside, they take them off. I can see, this has become, just another habit. Nobody thinks about it, they just, do it. Here, life is as normal as it can get, just add an extra, annoying accessory.
There have been a few protests. But the cities are not burning, statues are still standing and people sit in restaurants together. Talking.
Meantime, back home, across the US, people are tearing each other apart. Over a mask.
I pass a graffiti wall everyday on my walk to my café. It says “Black Lives Matter”. Underneath, someone had scrawled, in a heart, “All Lives Matter”. I look for blood on the sidewalk. There is none. People walk by, chatting with friends. I went back, two days later, both scrawls are still there. I take my sharpie and draw a circle around them both and write: “Respect”.
Meantime, back home, across the US, people are tearing each other apart. Over words.
November elections are less than 5 weeks away. This election will be like no other. Some question if there will be an election. How did we get here? For now, it is a possibility of “lose-lose” as the country winds itself into a tighter frenzy of mass, illogical hate. Trump or Biden, this divided country will not accept either.
Rage and fear are fuelling both sides, equally. A perverted form of social equality. Law and order are casualties in this war of confused idealism. Mutual respect is enslaved by a rolling rhetoric of violence. A new tyranny.
Justice. Equality. Raise your fist and support “us” or else. Where is my freedom to choose? Who Are you that I should support you? What do you stand for? Your “equality” denies me. Your “rights” silence mine. Your “justice” is killing me. Who are you? I want to know. I want to hear what you have to say. I want you to hear what I have to say.
My coffee grows cold. Forgotten, as I wrestle with the conscience of my country. A father is playing with his child outside. A student studies beside me. I remember when this was my world. Now, I sit, here breathing freedom in a foreign country and thinking of “home”.
Meantime, back in the US, my country has forgotten how to breathe.