In a different world, a long time ago, a little girl and her family were experiencing a country in crisis.

In this country, there were long lines in front of grocery stores, with people waiting for hours, often only to be told that the food in the store had run out.  The government issued ration cards for how much food each person could receive, and there was real anxiety about where our next meal was coming from.  There were tanks on our streets, and Soviet tanks waiting on our border, just in case they were needed to come in and help crush anti-government resistance.

And there were many, many people out on the streets protesting the government, including members of my family.  The protesters were met by the military and the police.  They were tear gassed and clubbed.  Some of them were shot.

This was life in the Communist Poland of my childhood.  But you would never know any of this was happening if you watched official state television.

We had only two channels on our black-and-white TV, but if you turned one of them on, you would see cheerful citizens, who would never even think of complaining.  You would see interviews with farmers who were excited to work for the socialist state.  Speeches from government officials about our glorious future, during which everyone in the audience clapped enthusiastically, because they knew they had to.  And of course, proud military parades, accompanied by much flag-waving.

And the protesters?  Their existence was rarely acknowledged, but when it was, they were described in no uncertain terms.  They were anarchists.  They were violent troublemakers.  They were drug addicts and criminals.

I made the mistake last week of watching parts of the Republican convention.  What I saw gave me a sinking feeling of the worst kind of déjà vu.

Once again, my family and I are living in a country in crisis.  Thousands are dead of a badly mismanaged pandemic.  Our economy is on the verge of collapse, with mass job losses and business closures and evictions looming on the horizon, or already here.  We see example after example of violent police brutality against Black Americans, and people are out on the streets protesting systemic racism.  And armed militias are now showing up at those protests, threatening and, at least in one case, shooting and killing protesters, with seeming support or indifference from the police.

But you would never know any of this was happening if you watched the RNC.  Here, the pandemic was mentioned in past tense, and since it’s practically over, the economy is about to bounce back!  The convention was full of happy nurses who were not experiencing PPE shortages, and happy people of color who don’t get discriminated against.  We got the requisite moving story of the prisoner who had repented and reformed, and the cop who became his lifelong friend.  And then there was the parade of shiny-faced Trump family members, telling us about how caring and compassionate this President is, how much he respects women and loves to put them in positions of power.  All this accompanied by many uniforms and much flag-waving.

According to the RNC, the biggest danger in our country right now is the “cancel culture” ushered in by liberals, which might cause a few people to unfollow you on Twitter.

To my American friends, please take this as a warning from someone who would know:  YES.  This is a tipping point.  Every time you hear another speech about how Trump is the “only one” who can protect America, you should be very afraid.  That is pure dictatorship talk.

If Trump wins re-election, that really could damage what remains of our democratic system beyond repair–or damage it so severely that it will take generations to fix it.  There are also fundamental problems with American society that have existed for a long time, like systemic racism and big money in elections, but we will not be able to work on any of them if our country slides into full-on totalitarianism.

My family was able to survive a totalitarian state once, and we don’t want to have to do it again.  We need to work to get Trump out of office like we have never worked before.  I’m ready to do my part.  I don’t want any more of this kind of déjà vu.

I’ve been pretty frustrated about this.  The End The Shutdown protesters do not represent the majority of America.  Poll after poll shows this.  In my own state of Oregon, 80% of residents support the Governor’s stay-at-home order.

Yet the vocal minority which opposes these safety measures gets lots of attention and camera time because, well…to put it bluntly…. they’re willing to be stupid and risk their health and life by getting together in large crowds.

While those of us who are doing the right thing and staying safe are not about to start attending rallies any time soon.  So it’s harder for us to have our voices heard…but not impossible!

Here is my one-woman, stay-at-home protest!  Be well, everyone.

DontEndTheShutdown

 

 

 

 

The young woman had been camped out in front of City Hall for over a month. Her hair was straggly, but she had a smile on her face and she was holding a donut.

“Can you tell us why you’re still here?” the local news interviewer asked.

“I’m here because of my deep commitment to equity and fighting the oppression of marginalized communities,” the woman said. Granted, she looked like she wouldn’t recognize a marginalized community if she tripped over it on her way to her local co-op vegan cafe, but I loved her anyway.

I was obsessed with the protests. Every afternoon, as soon as I got home from work, I dropped onto my couch, slipped off my shoes and watched the latest. The campers were opposed to the Mayor’s harsh treatment of the homeless. Their encampment was supposed to be a reminder to him of how those without a home were forced to live. It sprawled out from City Hall into the nearby park, littering it with insulting signs, red flags and communal kitchen pots.

They weren’t going to accomplish anything in the end. And there was no way that I could go sit there with them, not with my job and my mortgage. Despite all of that, I fantasized about the protesters. I fantasized about ordering pizza for them, going to bring them homemade soup. Maybe I could knit scarves for them. I would hand out a scarf to each of them, give them a hug and tell them how special they were. I would be like the Mother Theresa of the City Hall camp. It was the least I could do.

I turned off the TV and went to pour myself a glass of wine. The rice was already cooking. I switched on the radio. The local leftie community station was broadcasting from the camp. I listened and the little butterfly of excitement started fluttering around my belly again.

I could feel a shift in my body and suddenly, another voice drowned out the activist on the radio. The voice was calm and logical, sounding very confident even though it was offering public testimony in front of the city council.

It’s not that we don’t want this development to be built at all. It’s just that it’s too big. It’s going to change the character of the neighborhood…

I shook my head and stared down into the sink. No matter how much I wanted it to turn off, the voice continued.

And is the building going to have sufficient parking? Where are the residents going to park? I’m betting the cars will end up on our street…

I turned off the radio. Mother Theresa. What was I thinking? I walked back to the living room with my wine glass, but the voice followed me.

We all agree that affordable housing is so important, but…

The shift had already happened to me a long time ago. I had turned into the person who testifies against affordable housing projects if they’re being planned for her neighborhood. I could indulge in rebellious nostalgia all I wanted to, but I was not who these anarchist hippie kids wanted to see at their protest, not any more than I wanted to have an actual conversation with someone who was homeless. Not any more than I would have liked to see the City Hall camp in my backyard, if I was going to be honest.

I had shifted far past what I had once believed in, floating off on the stream of comfortable daily habit until I no longer knew where I was. Was I even a progressive? I had no idea.

Well, sitting here and feeling bad for myself certainly wasn’t going to help anyone. I wiped my eyes and turned on the Lifestyle Channel. They always had the best decorating tips.

The radio is already playing Christmas carols, and Ferguson is still smoldering. And the head shaking about what happened in Ferguson is continuing. It’s sad to watch businesses that have been part of a neighborhood for years be destroyed. And I won’t lie–I’ve become an old, comfortable suburbanite, so the thought of civil unrest of any kind mainly makes me nervous. Yet even inside my middle-class bubble of safety, a question lingers…

If the protests had been completely peaceful, would anyone have cared? If not a single fire had been set, would anyone have noticed?

The news media pretty much gives us the answer. The peaceful protesters in Ferguson–and there was a large group of them–were mostly ignored by the cameras. The rioters and looters got all the attention. And the TV channels were waiting with their tongues out, panting for something “bad” to happen. That’s why it’s so galling now to see the CNN experts taking on a “tsk tsk tsk” finger wagging role. This is exactly what they wanted! Peaceful protest doesn’t make for very entertaining television.

We did have some protesters here in town who got media coverage, but only because they blocked the roads, resulting in furious rush hour drivers. And what if they had stayed out of the traffic? We have the answer to that question too. The night of the grand jury announcement itself, a group of activists gathered in front of the Justice Center downtown, chanting and singing songs. The local news anchor gave them about ten seconds of his attention before moving on to Timmy the tap dancing cat or whatever other human interest story he had lined up.

We like to tout the philosophy of non-violence, the example of leaders like Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr–who’s being quoted a lot these days–but how much respect do those who follow the non-violent way actually get? And does peaceful protest even work? I’ve been involved in a couple protest marches myself (I think you’re required to do that before you can get official Portland resident status). I was at one of the Bring Back Our Girls rallies, and couldn’t help thinking that being there was, more than anything, about making ourselves feel better. If the Boko Haram kidnappers could have seen us reading our poems about justice and sending our positive vibes out into the universe, they probably would have laughed their asses off. And, judging from at least one Youtube video, they did.

And this plays out on an even grander global scale. Vladimir Putin has been spending his free time making threatening military gestures. President Obama tried–at least at first–to establish a foreign policy of diplomacy and negotiation rather than war. Obama was dismissed as weak, whereas Putin was praised for being a super macho male, and the conservatives of the world are all but doodling little hearts on the snapshots of his bare-chested horse rides.

So is peace the way of the losers? This is an appropriate issue for me to ponder, especially as I get closer to celebrating the symbolic birth of my symbolic spiritual teacher, who preached about turning the other cheek and then got killed off by the powers that be. As a child of hippies, I would like to continue to believe in non-violence. But it’s very obvious to me which path the world I live in values more.