Category Archives: democracy

Parallels to 1812 plus plants

From the DRAFTS Folder — June 2017. Mostly pictures.

I gathered the pictures for this post seven months after the disastrous 2016 election, but wrote nothing.

My city of Newton was trying to decide whether to submit a formal recommendation to the U.S. House in support of an impeachment investigation. It wasn’t openly in favor of impeachment, it’s important to note. It was in support of INVESTIGATING the possible bases for impeachment. And yet, it was controversial.

Of course, the second trump was inaugurated, both emoluments clauses were being violated due to his undivested business interests. By the summer of 2017, the abuses of power and other egregious behaviors had piled up to a ridiculous degree. I will spare myself (and you) the litany.

My small but focused Indivisible Group appeared before the City Council to support the measure. Our philosophy was to show up. Do what little thing you can. It seemed to matter. (Does it still, I find myself asking in today’s Texas-Handmaid mood).

Most people were going to tick off trump’s impeachable offenses, as if to say: HOW CAN WE LET THIS STAND? I wanted, instead, to specifically address one council member’s objection — that is, that it was not the business of states to makes suggestions to the U.S. Congress. I hunted down an example.

What I found was that the citizens of Cambridge, Mass. formerly implored Jefferson to undo the Embargo of 1807. The federal trade restrictions stopped U.S. ships from conducting business in foreign ports. The embargo was meant to both prevent war with Britain and to make the economies of Britain and France suffer. Unfortunately, the embargo hurt our economy as well, particularly the merchants of the Northeast.

The petition stated in part: “But such is the unequal and oppressive operation of the embargo that we cannot believe that any real, true-hearted American can consider passive obedience and non-resistance a virtue.”

Timeless words, were they not?

It seems so long ago. 2017, I mean.

A Remonstrance, if you don’t know, is “an earnest presentation for reasons for opposition or grievance, esp. a document formally stating such points.”


The Confederate Flag of Truce

Did you know that before Robert E. Lee met with General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox to negotiate the terms of surrender that a white dish towel was raised? A classic and yet pedestrian signal of surrender, it’s also known as the Confederate Flag of Truce.

Artist Sonya Clark wove a giant version of the dish towel and made it the centerpiece of her installation at the DeCordova Museum, in Lincoln, MA (summer 2021). She asks the provocative question, “What if this was the symbol that endured?”

You can see the historic flag of surrender here. Also, here’s an ArtNews review of the show.

A facing wall features an iconic Gordon Parks photo of a cleaning woman. Clark stitched a reproduction of the cleaner’s dress and had someone video tape her wiping a floor with a confederate flag. A proper use. A reimagined status.

There were several other rooms of exhibits. I’ll leave you to find out more about them online.

In a tangential way, Clark’s show reminded me of a popular recent television series, Watchmen. The show answered a parallel question, “What if law enforcement was serious about chasing down and punishing white supremacists?”

A historian at the site of the Appomattox surrender describes the meeting between Lee and Grant here

4/20’s new meaning

Giana Floyd, George Floyd’s daughter

From now on 4/20 will live on not just as a day to celebrate pot but as a day to remember that a murderous cop was held to account.

I cried when I heard that the jury found Chauvin guilty on all three counts. A choking ugly cry. Gasping.

While I know this is not the end of the war (Al Sharpton) and that the verdict was only possible because it was captured on video, seen the world over, followed by a year of protests and the collapse of the blue wall (Jason Johnson), I want to breathe the relief of a decision well made.

Yes. Yes we get how broken we are that the outcome was not certain here. But let me exhale with gratitude.

Thank you jurors! Thank you “bouquet of humanity” aka witnesses who took the stand! Thank you remarkable prosecution team! Thank you protestors! Thank you cops who took the stand and spoke the truth!

Tomorrow I will lament the fifteen year old girl who was shot yesterday. Tomorrow I will share my outrage at how swiftly Republicans are seeking to outlaw filming police and protests but today: relief.

I shared this 53 second video over on Instagram but I’ll share it here, too. Synchronicity turned the Vogue model’s outstretched arms into something reminiscent of a prone, injured body as the day went on. Unintended but fitting.

A Shithole Country

Let’s dispense with notions of race. Not as in “I don’t see color,” but as in “your color will not matter if I am a cop and holding a gun that I claim to’ve believed was a taser” and OOPS!

Can’t we just arrest these killers on the spot? Forget suspension with pay or firing them or forming a commission or building a case against the police unions. Let murderers be treated like murderers.

The slamming down and winking out of a Black man’s life is one damnation. The slow-walked consequences constitute a second damnation.

Everyone knows that if the murderer just down the road is acquitted not just one cheap-ass Dollar Store will burn, but all of Minneapolis.

Notions of race have changed. They are at once fluid and rigid. Italians used to be considered “colored,” Catholicism was outlawed. Jews, no matter their designated race, have never managed to get ahead of those who would hunt them down and exterminate them.

Exterminate is a word that intentionally calls to mind vermin, rats. And Jews. Don’t say “Jew” if you’re not Jewish. It too easily glides into insult. Listen to this or that white supremacist refer to 1/4 of the American populous as “the blacks.”

Why can’t we eradicate the haters? The bearded, insecure, gun-toting white men who by most counts seem hell-bent on destroying the America they claim to love? They carry illusion in one pocket, grievance in another, and make violent scapegoating their mission.

Let seditionists be tried for sedition! Charging an insurrectionist with trespass is a little like charging Rockwell Inc. with trespass when clouds of plutonium smoke from its bomb factory poisoned entire neighborhoods south of Denver.

But, the Colorado courts wondered, can the plaintiffs make out a case even for trespass when it’s so hard to quantify the harm? Even if the impossibility of quantifying the harm is because its magnitude is nearly unimaginable? (let me insert here that the half life of plutonium is 240,000 years and that a particle the size of the head of a pin, when breathed in, will kill).

But the residents near Rocky Flats knew. The ‘downwind scars’ from thyroid removal so prevalent as to earn that cute nickname, children dying of weird cancers, calves born deformed. It’s a little like how an entire zip code of Black people in Ohio knew they were descended from Thomas Jefferson for several generations in advance of DNA proof.

But I digress. One man yells, “This is the people’s house!” Then another. Then a chorus. I want to yell back, “And these are the people’s laws!”

Meanwhile, how is it possible that the biggest seditionist of them all is waltzing around, golfing, disrupting weddings, drinking Coke while calling for its boycott, and spouting the Big Lie, still?

Inversion of truth has a way of wearing people down. Tell me again why a Dollar Store should matter more than a Black man’s life? Tell me again why the tanks and armor and gas and shields and vests and guns and batons and more gas arrived in force instantly at a crowd protesting injustice but did not manage to show up at a full fledged riot at the Capitol. Or why the men who threatened to kidnap and kill the Governor of Michigan did not end up being convicted. Of anything.

We all remember Dylan Roof’s post-massacre cheeseburger or the near-high fives the police gave Kyle Rittenhouse.

The curfew is a catch-22 for Black people. Protest and you’ll be arrested NO MATTER HOW EGREGIOUS THE HARM you protest. So many catch-22’s for Black people and so many with lethal consequence. Stay in your car, you’ll be shot. Get out of your car, you’ll be shot.

All those who plea for Black obedience have not been paying attention. Half of the men on the Hill frame grievance along racial lines, with utter disregard for the facts, for the Constitution, for actual history. It’s truly sickening.

Vote Them Out, rings hollow when voting rights are being gutted. All those good guys swearing they’ll wait a hundred hours in line or those others saying they’ll risk arrest to bring water and pizza to voters, seem not to have read the part about the legislature now being empowered to overturn elections.

In other words, it doesn’t matter how many well-meaning allies show up with water or how many patriotic Black voters wait eons to exercise their constitutional right, the Georgia GOP can change the result. Poof! There goes Stacey Abrams’s strategy and hard work. The Republicans have enshrined into law what the Orange Menace tried to do in November with his pathetic election-tampering phone call.

They fired the guy who taped that illegal call, I don’t need to tell you.

Even with my pale and privleged ass, I’m really tired of this shit.

The through-line from slave patrollers to current policing is direct. They basically killed first, asked questions after.

There was so much extra-judicial killing of slaves in South Carolina that the Slave Code of 1740 tried to put in some limits. Imagine, even as the Assembly imposed one onerous restriction after another on the enslaved, they put the brakes on the slave patrollers. Why? Because they were costing the elite planters too much money, damaging their investments, etc.

An owner, of course, could kill one of his slaves for any reason at any time. Also, if a black person struck a white person, they would’ve been condemned to death, if not killed on the spot. But patrollers out for blood or maybe for bounties, had to be reigned in. The average healthy male African cost the equivalent of $18 to $26,000. The price of a very good used car.

White colonial governance pitted Natives against each other to help finish what small pox started. They also had no problem situating — there’s a word — various tribes further inland — west of the Edisto River, say — as long as said placements — there’s another word — didn’t occupy land where rice would grow. But wait! If a slave ran away, it was common for the aggrieved owner to hire a Native tracker to bring the enslaved back. No one knew the landscape better than the Natives! Here’s a musket!

But if not hiring a Chocktaw to find a runaway from Gambia, say, the fancy second sons from England and France might have captured a passel of the so-called red skins to sell as slaves to sugar planters in the West Indies. It didn’t pay to keep them around — Natives were too adept at melting into the scrub to make them a sound investment.

But, keeping at least one Indian on register was considered good sense, since it was believed that mixing Native with African blood would produce offspring better able to withstand winters.

For no rational reason that I’ve ever come across, Natives on the auction blocks in Barbados or Antigua fetched lower prices than Black captives. Perhaps it had to do with how theories on race were gaining traction — solidifying — theories that said that the black-skinned were particularly suited to hard labor and that their owners did them enormous favors by offering them such opportunities, etc.

Because I’m not Black or Jewish or Asian, I cannot begin to imagine what it is to receive the hate and the threats that are such common currency in this country. But I AM tired of it all. Hypocrisy, the violence, the fake patriotism, molasses-paced consequences, the unraveling of truth as something that should matter.

Let me end with one piece of good news and a prayer.

The good news: Fani Willis did not pursue felony charges against the young legislator who knocked on the door where Kemp and his cronies signed the voter suppression law.

The supplication: I pray that the Chauvin jury does the right thing. Please, please, convict the motherfucker. There’s been enough damage done.

* sorry I don’t have an attribution for the protest photo.

A really good ongoing critique of policing can be found here:

I recently learned about Rocky Flats by reading this really good memoir:

Hero of the Week — Navalny

A nugget of rock salt turns Finn momentarily gimp. I kneel. Brush the crystal out from between the pads of his snowy paw. An hour’s walk involves the tugging up and down of a mask, a half dozen street crossings. A light snow doesn’t usually deliver such quiet, but today it does. Nevertheless, my earbuds deliver news.

On Chase Street, I imagine the angels hovering above Navalny’s head when he was in a coma in Berlin. Their toes on fire, wings tinged red. It’s the bold red of passion, to be clear, and not the red of blood or Communism. The specialized poison infiltrated Navalny’s veins, his tissue, and very nearly killed him. Some devious hit man had smeared the toxin on the seams of his underwear.

Trying to kill someone with novachok is the equivalent of a serial murderer leaving a business card next to the corpse. There is no confusion, only harm.

The angels hum. They hover. They transmit messages directly to our hero’s heart, bypassing the brain where caution might reasonably prevail. “Go home,” they chant. “Go home!”

He wakes, our hero. He rises. He sends videos to his followers. The multitude yearning for change, not necessarily for him, but definitely not for the thug in charge. Navalny counsels them to chant: “Putin is a thief! Putin is a thief!” I’m bowled over by the simplicity, the accuracy of the statement. For more than a generation, he, Putin, has ravaged resource-rich Russia for his own gain. A few others. A gang. A criminal operation with known links to the corrupt party in our own country (which is, as they say, another story).

(Or is it, asks Sarah Kendzior? Author, pundit, specialist on the rise of authoritarianism around the globe, she must get tired of saying, “I told you so” (though not quite tired enough for this listener, I’m afraid). The smoke steams out her ears. Being right and ignored will do that to a person.)

Navalny, recall, has already been imprisoned by Putin and now Putin has tried and very nearly succeeded at killing him. What chance does he, Navalny, have? But our hero rises. He crosses the tarmac in Berlin. He goes home.

Not a straight path, as it turns out. The 100’s of protesters gathered at the airport in Moscow, huddling together for warmth, chanting “Putin is a thief,” watch as Navalny’s plane makes a giant U-turn and disappears. A snow plow stuck on the landing strip, the laughable excuse.

But the GRU, the pilots, the boots on the ground cannot stop the protests. They throw Navalny back into prison — a probation violation, the laughable excuse. “Stand tall,” the angels now whisper. As international beings, the angels have followed him home — what does security clearance mean to them? Now their wings flutter teal with shots of yellow. There is something of a springtime butterfly about the feathered appendages. “Stand tall.”

Meanwhile, what celestial beings encourage the protestors? Many brave souls gather in northern cities where the temperature drops to 60 below. We hope the fur around their parka hoods — the Russians love their fur! — keeps the wind chill off their faces. We hope their wool socks never get wet. We hope bellowing, “Putin is a thief!” warms their lungs and the spaces between their bodies.

I wear a down parka. The hood is up, the mask on, though since no one is on the street at the moment, it rides below my nose. Turns out the cloth makes a wonderful chin warmer. The dog and I detour into small snow banks or out onto the street to avoid the strewn salt — brittle crystals the color of rotten teeth. There is nothing of hardship in this morning routine, though a certain fatigue has set in. Waiting for the vaccine, waiting to see children, waiting for good health news, waiting to launch a creation a long time in the making. The return of spring.

It’s a lot of waiting. But it’s not heroic. I’ve got the comfort of my home, the pretty snowy, tree-lined streets to walk. No, it’s a dull throb of forbearance.

Up goes a rear leg again. The dog has stepped on another large grain of salt. He immediately makes his discomfort plain. You gotta love that about dogs: how reflexive and pure their signaling of need! Finn is also the great keeper of the afternoon clock. I know when it is precisely one hour before his dinner time because there he is, sitting next to me on the couch, giving me that eager and pleading look, perhaps even going so far as to lay a paw on my arm. It never works. He never gets his dinner an hour early, and still, he tries.

Navalny goes home. He uses the internet like a Jedi master. The forbearance of a generation has turned into something else — an eager outburst demanding the end of corruption. Enough with the deprivation! Enough with the lies!

Putin walks the halls of power with that uneven almost gimpy gait, that smug expression — is it contempt or is it glee? I doubt the man knows joy. I doubt the man can even begin to calculate the damage he’s done. And yet, with a short man’s insistence that he be noticed, he keeps at it. There are records to be set — he’s a real Tom Brady of potentates.

And meanwhile, in frigid weather, the fur-lined hoods continue to gather to call for change. To decades of denial, to the absolute failure of the common weal, they say, “Enough!” The foggy condensates of their breath concur. “Enough.”

A man willing to die for them is confined to a prison cell. A man willing to die for his country left the safety of Berlin to return to his Mother Country. What is inconvenience, even pandemic-scaled inconvenience, in the face of that? And more to the point, what is despotism in the face of that?

Here’s what else you need to know today. *

* Listened to an episode of The Daily — a NY Times podcast — while walking.