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.

 

 

 

They wouldn’t send real Americans away to be stored.  Radical Muslims, sure.  Illegal immigrants, yeah.  Maybe welfare queens.  But not just…regular Americans.

That’s what Judy had nervously told herself for that entire six weeks, between the day she was first called in for questioning and the day when she was, in fact, sent to one of the country’s resident storage facilities.

She was young and stupid when she took those pictures.  Since then, she had turned her life around.  She was born again and regretted the things she had done when she was lost.  She was no longer that woman.

But in President Pence’s America, that didn’t matter.  Pictures “of an inappropriate nature” like hers meant she was a defective citizen.  A friend found the pictures somewhere and submitted a complaint…because of course they did.  Everybody did that.  If the situation were reversed, she would have done the same.

Defective Americans went to storage centers, where they could be stored away from society–and, most importantly, where they could be used for free labor.  Because hard labor was the one sacred thing which made America better than any other country in the world.

The customer service representative whose job it was to interrogate her grinned when he saw the printouts of her photos.  “You should’ve known better,” he admonished her, the grin still in his voice.  “Don’t worry, ma’am.  The place I’m sending you is a great deal, and you’ll only have to stay for four years…”

***

She remembered how she wanted to scream at her neighbors:  “I’m not a bad person!  I’m just like you!  I voted for Trump and Pence too!”  But she was suddenly on the other side of the fence, and they didn’t really want to talk to her or look her in the eye.

How she had wished back then that they would see her side of the story.  Now it was four and a half years later, and she didn’t care anymore.  She was tired.  This was her old neighborhood, but it didn’t feel like home.  She limped slowly up the sidewalk to her house.  There was a child she didn’t know playing in the driveway.  His mother stood nearby, watching.

The house had been confiscated and sold while Judy was locked up.  The walls had been newly painted a bright pink, and a magnolia tree had been planted by the front steps.  There was another, smaller house being constructed in what once was the backyard.

The mother finally noticed Judy and started walking towards her.  “Can I help you?”  Her question was made softer by her accent.

“I used to live in this house,” Judy said.

The woman’s face hardened.  “We don’t want any problems.  We bought this house all legal.”

“Right.  I know.  I was in a center.”

The woman shrugged.  “So was my brother.”  She picked up her child and went inside, locking the door behind her.

***

A couple days before, Judy had gone to see Mr. Rodriguez, an attorney who was working with storage center survivors.  Just a few years ago, she would have viewed him with suspicion–was he in the country legally?  Now she only wondered if he could help her.

Mr. Rodriguez shook his head sympathetically.  “It’s going to be very difficult to get any compensation for you.  It’s pretty obvious from your online record that you were an avid supporter of the Pence regime in its early years.”

She fidgeted with her paperwork.  “Well, I believed him when he said he would bring back the jobs and all that.”

The lawyer sighed.  “I don’t want to get your hopes up.  The new government has focused on specific groups of Americans which were harshly targeted by the Pence administration.  It will be hard to make a case for you.  I will file an application…but I doubt you will get any results.”

She did not argue, as something in her sensed he was already being kinder to her than he needed to be.  She picked up her papers and stood up to go.

But she felt a twinge of desperation and bent down to him again.

“You had friends in…the resistance?  Yes?”  she whispered.

“If I did, what makes you think I would tell you who they are?”

***

Her nephew, Nick, lived at his mother’s place, in a suburb on what used to be Judy’s side of town.  Their last conversation before they fell out of touch was on Facebook, and it had ended with Judy mocking him for being a “snowflake.”  He had been whining about his gender identity or some such nonsense.

She thought about all of that again on the long bus ride to see him.  She hadn’t called or texted him about her visit.  What if he didn’t want to talk to her at all?

But Nick gave her his usual quiet, easy going nod when he opened the door.  “Hi.  Mom isn’t here right now.”

“That’s okay.  How are you doing?”

He let her in.  He was still very pale and very skinny.  Maybe a little skinnier.

“I’m fine.”  He perched on the side of the sofa.  “I should be asking you how you are.  Mom said you got locked up.”

“Yes.  They let me out not too long ago.”

“That’s rough.  I was arrested a few times.  I never went to a center, though.  I guess I didn’t have much they wanted to take.”  He chuckled.  “Was it bad?”

“It was…”  She found that even after all this time she didn’t want to talk about or think about what it was like.  The house–that was what she wanted to think about.  Her house.

Nick’s dark eyes squinted a bit.  “Do you still believe the people in the centers brought it on themselves?”

“No, no.  I was wrong, and I understand that.”  She was lying.  It had all been a mistake with her.  She only took a couple of pictures.  She wasn’t like those types who protested every week–she never blocked traffic or burned anything.  And she wasn’t a terrorist.

“We should put it all behind us, anyway.  I’ve forgiven you for what you said about me,”  Nick announced.  So full of himself, she thought.  “You’ve always been my favorite aunt.”

She hesitantly accepted a hug from him.

“If you need any help…Mom sometimes gets extra stuff from the church pantry.”

She tried not to sound too eager.  “Thanks.  So, there’s that group of anarchists…they’re liberating homes, is what they call it…”

“No worries.  I don’t hang out with them anymore.”

“I actually wanted to meet with them.”

“Wow.”  Nick raised an eyebrow.  “Not a good idea.  They would hate you.”

Her face flushed with anger.  “Why?  Is this because of how I voted again?  Most of America voted that way–deal with it.”

“But you realize you hurt yourself with your vote, right?”

“Not true.  President Pence wanted to help the country.  The bureaucrats are the ones who came up with the centers and they made it all spin out of control.  It wasn’t his fault.”  She realized her voice had become shrill.

“I sense some unresolved guilt there in your response…”

God, how she hated it when the millennials went into their psychobabble.  Next, he’d want to talk to her about her self-esteem.

“I’m not guilty of anything,” she snapped.  “I’m one of God’s children, and He has washed my sins away.”  She turned and left before he could say anything else to her.

***

It was on the way back, the ride to her tiny rented room, that it hit her hard.  She would never get her house back.  It was so unfair.  All because of one mistake she made.  One little mistake!

And, for the life of her, she would never figure out what that one mistake was.