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’m learning how to use a gun.

I’m not thrilled about this.  I wish this wasn’t the reality I was living in.  But reality is what it is, not what I wish it would be.

Now, I’m about as far away from a fanatical gun nut as you can get.  I was raised in Europe, and there were almost no guns around when I was a kid.  The countries I lived in had very strict gun control laws, and I’m glad they did.  I continue to be a strong supporter of strict gun control laws.

But the American culture I live in is full of guns.  My neighborhood is full of guns–almost all of my neighbors have them.  Even though Portland is very progressive, there’s a strong gun tradition here in Oregon.  It doesn’t seem smart to be the only one without.

And there’s something scary brewing in this country.

Maybe this feeling has come over me because I’ve been watching the BLM protests, and the armed militias which have started showing up–and which seem to be supported by the police.  There is, of course, 17-year-old (!!!) Kyle Rittenhouse who killed two people and injured one person at the Kenosha protests, after having been given water and thanked for being there by the local cops.  In my own neck of the woods, Portland police basically allowed Proud Boys and other right-wing groups to run wild last weekend, to beat people up and point guns at them, including one guy who had a warrant out for his arrest…but was permitted to show up at the protest and then walk away.  Once the right-wingers were gone, the police declared a riot and tear gassed the protesters who remained.

Maybe I’m feeling this way because I’ve made the painful mistake of actually listening to the Republican convention this week.  I’m hoping this grave error doesn’t cost me my marriage, by the way.  Every time my poor husband walked into my office and heard one of the Trump-bots talking, he would clutch his head in horror and flee.  Thank goodness it’s over.  But it didn’t improve my mood to hear the President’s fans making hysterical speeches about how he is the only one who is standing between America and the country’s destruction by the radical left.  That is cult of personality talk, that is dictatorship talk.  It raises the temperature, and it makes me suspect that even if Joe Biden wins, we will have crazies on our hands who will be on a mission to “save America” from the rest of us.

Back in the day, when I was a bit more naive, I was one of those people who would have said “Well, if anything happens, I’ll just call 911, right?”  Unfortunately, everything that has happened recently has made me question how much we can trust our policing system.  Obviously, I realize that since I’m white, I don’t even know the half of it.  And I’m also pretty sure there are individual police officers who are genuinely wonderful people.  But when I see that instances of police brutality against black people just keep coming, and then when I see the police seemingly taking the side of armed vigilantes at protests, that worries me.

And if you visit any Facebook group or other online forum where these militia-type groups gather, you will see them discussing, with great excitement, the possibility of civil war and violent conflict in our near future.  This certainly didn’t start with Trump–I remember these same types threatening secession and armed insurrection all through the Obama years.  And I’m sure there are many big-bellied keyboard warriors involved, who may talk a lot, but would never get off their couch long enough to start a war.  Still, one theme is repeated over and over again in these discussions–it’ll be great when the shit hits the fan, because we’re the ones who have all the guns, and the “libtards” will be sitting ducks.

I used to dismiss that as idle chatter from incels stroking their own egos, but now that fanatical Trump-worship has been added to the mix, my perspective has shifted.  If the fascists ever decide to come for me, I don’t want to be defenseless.  Now, I’m not about to start doing stupid, showy things.  I’m not going to start showing up in public places or at public events wearing large machine guns.  That is just plain dumb and it’s asking for trouble–kind of like that St. Louis couple who decided to come out of their large mansion and wave their weapons at protesters, with their finger on the trigger.  But I will have a chance to defend myself if anyone ever enters my home with ill intentions.

I’m interested to hear opinions from others about this.  More and more, my point of view is shifting to the belief that the left should be armed, so that if the country slides into some ugly form of totalitarianism, we’re not completely helpless.  Or is that something that will just cause more problems and stoke more violence?  Obviously, my preference would be that we just vote Biden into office and the Trumpster phenomenon quietly dies away.  And that is what I will be working for all this upcoming fall.

But at least for now, I’m a reluctant gun owner.

 

 

 

 

So, it appears my lovely little city has been in the news lately.  It feels kind of strange for us to be in the national spotlight like this…we’re usually a bit more under the radar.  Now, everywhere I go…my Facebook newsfeed, the newspaper sites…it’s Portland this and Portland that.  So, how are things here in Portland?

It’s been a bit difficult for me to get around to writing this, because the events of the past weeks have been giving me unpleasant flashbacks to my childhood in a totalitarian state.  Those flashbacks actually started even before things were going down in Portland, back when Trump gassed the protesters in DC to get his photo op, when he was speculating about putting tanks in the streets.  I have memories of things like tanks in the streets, living under martial law, secret police.  The more I see this recreate itself here in the States, the more I become paralyzed and quiet, and the harder it is for me to write and talk about it.  It’s like I’m hoping that if I remain silent enough, it will all go away, like a bad dream.  But we all know that’s not how nightmares like this go away.

However, I also have to make this clear–Portland is not some terrifying war zone, not a “city under siege” with violent anarchists running around and setting everything on fire.  The right-wing media has been portraying things this way to justify the federal government’s actions.  I live out in the western suburbs of Portland, and if I didn’t turn on the news or social media, I wouldn’t know that anything was different.  I went on a drive through downtown Portland recently, and except for a few blocks, everything looked normal, businesses were operating, cafes and restaurants were welcoming customers (with some COVID restrictions).  A few stores and banks in a small area of downtown had plywood up and some graffiti on the walls, and most of the plywood had beautiful murals painted on it by local artists–which…I have to admit…looked way more creative than the corporate logos you would usually see there.

Another thing that’s important to know–the vast majority of the rioting, burning and looting happened on one night back in May.  This is important because people keep conflating what happened back then with what’s happening now.  So…you will hear someone say “Well, the Feds have to snatch people into unmarked vans to stop the rioting!”  Except…umm…there really isn’t rioting anymore.  I have multiple friends who have gone downtown to protest the past few nights.  These have been large peaceful protests.  A group of Moms goes down there to form the Wall of Moms to protect the protesters from the police and the Feds.  Not wanting to be outdone, the Dads of Portland have shown up with leaf blowers to disperse the tear gas.  Last night, there was a wall of military vets.  Point is, these are nonviolent protesters, and night after night, they continue to get tear gassed, clubbed and shot with rubber bullets by their own government.

Which brings me to another suggestion.  Some of the most trollish comments I have seen about this situation have come from folks who…surprise, surprise…don’t live in Portland.  They are always the ones flapping their lips about how it’s the city’s own fault for not having things under control, and how they’re hoping Trump finds a way to crack down even harder on us.  My message to them is…if you want to live in a little Trump-worshipping cult compound, that’s on you, but please fuck off as far as my city is concerned.  Don’t tell us how you know what’s going on here and we don’t, don’t give us advice about how we should run things here, how we should vote here, don’t encourage this loser of a President to show up with his goons and try to run the city for us.  STAY THE FUCK AWAY.  We don’t need you or your fascist worship here.

Of course, that is easier said than done.  What does the future hold for us?  Who knows?  Our Attorney General attempted to stop the Feds by filing a restraining order against some of their more secret police-esque actions, but her request was turned down by a federal judge.  I know what you might be thinking…nope, this judge was not one of the many recently appointed by Trump…he was a George W. Bush appointee.

Meanwhile, the dark shadow spreads across the rest of the country…DHS agents have now landed in Seattle.  Once again, this is “to protect federal buildings”…but what we’ve seen in Portland is that this is only a flimsy excuse and their actions range far beyond that.  Also, the agents sent to Seattle are part of a tactical border patrol unit from Texas…what in the hell?  If you think Seattle and Portland are border cities, you are really stretching the concept….

So, be careful and stay safe.  This is happening in Portland right now, but it will probably soon be coming to a town near you.  I really wish this wasn’t the case.  Hang in there, everyone…we’re in for a rough time.

 

 

 

I miss downtown Portland.  I used to go there every couple of days, for work or for socializing or just my own entertainment, but haven’t been there in a while for the obvious reasons–I’m working from home full-time now, and haven’t been going out to do anything beyond the bare minimum since the lockdown started.

I miss my favorite places–our own, much smaller version of Broadway, the huge Powell’s bookstore, the Central Library, my favorite hangout Case Study Coffee, and of course, all those bridges.

Don’t get me wrong, my neighborhood is very nice.  But being in the suburbs all day long can…drive you a little nuts.

It’s been a few weeks since the last time I drove through downtown, so I have no idea what it looks like right now.  From what I hear, it’s been bruised and battered a bit.  First the pandemic closed down businesses, and then it got hit a second time by the social unrest.  Some fires were set and some windows were broken, and there is quite a lot of plywood up.

But that’s okay.  Change and turmoil happens to everyone and everything, and that includes cities.  Portland is still my city and our city, and we will clean it up and open it back up someday.  Except that, hopefully, we will not bring it back to what “normal” used to be–we will make it even better, a more beautiful and more caring and more creative place than it was before.

See you soon, PDX.

Downtown Pics BroadwayDowntown Pics SunnyDowntown Pics Wells Fargo

 

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.

A few decades had gone by, and still the war went on.  Nobody in the country even remembered who Osama bin Laden had been, although some had a vague memory of a terrorist getting killed at a televised White House dinner.

And yet, every Friday afternoon the same thing continued in my hometown–the old hippies came out to protest.  The real 1960s hippies had died out by then, but these folks proudly carried on the tradition.  They slouched down Main Street with signs proclaiming hilarious things such as “Troops Out Of Iraq!” and “No Money For Israel!” and “Funding For Infrastructure!”  They circled the downtown blocks, screaming at a President who couldn’t hear them, and who wasn’t listening anyway.

I could hear them, though, every week when I left the office.  The company I worked for manufactured toy drones, and I was always worn out after a long day of customers with malfunctioning drones which crashed into trees or attacked their children.  Friday was when I would treat myself — fries and a beer at my favorite downtown pub.  Even as I chewed, the hippie chants echoed in my direction.  Rain or shine, they were there.  And she was there.

I did my best to keep my eyes on my plate and avoid eye contact as she went past the glass. But on that particular day, much to my dismay, she came in to talk to me.

“Hey, Mom.”  I managed to fake a weak smile.  “I’m very tired right now, so…”

“Can’t I even say hi to you anymore?”

“Not if it turns into another crazy rant…”

“It’s not crazy.  It’s not crazy to tell you that your job is bad for you.  You’re wasting your life. You hate those stupid toys…”

“Oh, sure.  And you’re not wasting your time doing this?”

“I’m doing it for my country!”

“Look, Mom.  Nobody cares.  Your country isn’t paying attention.  This is my one reward for my shitty week–could you please leave me alone?”

“Okay.  Have a good dinner.”  I felt her move away and walk out behind me, but didn’t look back.

But once I’d finished my beer, my anger faded away.  Alcohol made me sentimental.  So what if she wanted to walk around and yell with her anti-war sign, or tell me about all the conspiracy theories she’d read on the Internet?  She was retired, and retired people got to spend their time doing whatever silly stuff they felt like doing.  Hell, maybe I’d join her at the rally.  I wouldn’t hold any signs, of course–I didn’t want any embarrassing pictures of me online–but I could applaud the speeches and pretend to chant along a little.

I paid for my meal and went to the city square, where the marches ended every week in a sparse, hoarse-throated rally.  I must’ve taken too long, because the square was empty by the time I got there.  The cops were half-heartedly arresting one or two people.  The grey-bearded little man who liked to throw eggs at them was being led away.

No rally, no protest, no chance to chant.  No chance to make it up to Mom.  It was now drizzling miserably.

I heard indistinct shouting to my right.  It was the other protester who was there every week — the one with pictures of chopped up babies.

“You’ll burn in eternal Hell!”  he boomed at me through his bullhorn.

He eyed me with suspicion as I approached.  I handed him a twenty.  “For your church,” I said.  I didn’t tell him that I felt sad for him.

He glared at me, but he did pocket the twenty.  In return, he handed me one of his anti-abortion brochures.

As I walked away, he called after me:  “Remember, God doesn’t just want your money!  He wants your soul!”

I laughed.  How sweet of him to assume I had one.

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.

Whether the protesters in Egypt are opposing Morsi or Mubarak, whether they are marching for or against an Islamist or secular state, one constant remains–women are sexually assaulted.  This last Sunday, 46 sexual assaults were reported during a large gathering in Tahrir Square.  These assaults usually consist of a mob of men which surrounds, strips and gropes the women.

And yet another female journalist was attacked:

But–naturally–it is all the fault of the assault victims themselves:  “…some conservative religious clerics and government officials blame women, saying they invite harassment and sexual abuse by mixing with men.”

No matter what the cause, no matter what the revolution, no matter which religion is involved, we are always a convenient scapegoat and punching bag.  Though it is not the same thing, I cannot help but think of the conservatives in this country, which are rallying their base by passing as many laws which are restrictive and punitive to women as they possibly can.

In the meantime, let’s give a shout-out to the heroes in this situation, Egypt’s Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment.  These very brave people patrol the protests and try to rescue the women who are assaulted.  They also frequently have to pay out of their own pocket to have the injured women admitted to private hospitals, as the public hospitals will often not accept them (arrghh).  Yay for this courageous group, working in what must be a very dangerous setting for them.

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I love the name of this protest against the G8–“They Owe Us”.  Because as the protesters also ask, “Whose Debt?”  It’s nice to see somebody still remembers those huge bailouts.

Because–at the risk of getting accused of being one of those class warfare people–isn’t it just a little ironic that the powerful of the world are discussing the weak outlook for the global economy at a posh resort with a sprawling golf course?  Yeah, the outlook for the rest of us out here *is* weak, thanks for remembering that.

And by the way, the general manager of the resort is hoping that President Obama will get in some golf while he’s there.  We certainly wouldn’t want our leaders to go without their golf time…