A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature
America rages, reels, mourns. Brutal police violence – tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets, batons – blazes across the country, in Minneapolis, Atlanta, Houston, Denver, Chicago, Detroit, New York, possibly inflamed by white nationalists seeking to accelerate the carnage. In a leaderless D.C., where thousands of protesters caused the White House to go into lockdown, the clueless fascist clown Mr. Very Fine People hid briefly in an underground bunker before emerging to alternately threaten siccing “vicious dogs and ominous weapons” on the “thugs” who are millions of angry citizens and blurting things like “MAGA loves the black people.” Still, there are slivers of light. So many have come together, poignantly, powerfully. Some police nationwide have begun to break the longtime blue line of silence, condemning their murderous brethren in Minneapolis and declaring, “They failed George Floyd.” In long-suffering Flint, Michigan, empathy and dialogue bloomed as the sheriff joined protesters; police in Ferguson, Kansas City, Santa Cruz and elsewhere likewise joined in, took a knee or laid down their arms to declare, “We’re all part of one race – The Human Race.” Vital alliances have formed: In New York City, a bus driver refused to drive arrested protesters to jail, and in Louisville, Kentucky, where thousands protested the racist murders of both George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, shot by police in her own apartment in a botched drug raid, white women locked arms to form a barricade between black protesters and rubber bullet-shooting police. Declared Kentucky’s NOW, “This is what you do with your privilege.”
The alliances, and the reaching out for them, go both ways. A black dad explains why he feels he has to walk his dog with his daughter for safety, poignantly adding, “We have a lot of work to do.” A black athlete argues why, at this moment in history, there is no acceptable reason for white people to be neutral or silent, because “your silence is a knee on George Floyd’s neck.” A 12-year-old aspiring gospel singer in Florida posts a searing a cappella performance of a song he wrote to describe how it feels to be him in America today. “Just singing what’s on my heart,” wrote Keedron Bryant on Instagram. “Hope this blesses someone.” “I’m a young black man/ doing all that I can / to stand,” he sings. “Oh, but when I look around / and I see what’s being done to my kind / every day, I’m being hunted as prey…I just want to live / God, protect me / I just want to live.” Bryant’s harrowing song has been widely shared, including by Barack Obama and David Oyelow. The heartrending truth, notes Lupita Nyong’o: “He should not have to sing this song.” For people of color, the Rev. William Barber reminds us, the current crisis is part of all that’s come before, “a reflection of the fissures of inequality that run through every institution in our public life…that systemic racism that has taken untold souls from us for 400 years.” He offers a hard truth of the moment: “No one wants to see their community burn…but if we take time to listen to this nation’s wounds, they tell us where to look for hope. The hope is in the mourning and the screams. Only if (they) shake the very conscience of this nation…can we hope for a better society on the other side of this.”
First published in Common Dreams.