Fall 2017 brought long weeks of bearing witness to destruction.
It felt like a literal fall, and a steep drop.
White supremacist rallies and violence. Communities leveled by hurricanes, floods, and wildfire, ripped open by inexplicable blood shed at an outdoor concert, in a church, across a rural county. Twitter invective from a president who governs like it’s 1959 and never sees a white face when he’s looking for the cause of the country’s problems.
And that’s just in the U.S.
The intensity of nature’s power is one thing, the white elitist hatred was more than I could bear. I went to rallies for inclusion, relieved to see they dwarfed the population of white supremacists intent on turning the local tide to their maniacally limited views. Views euphemistically marketed as free speech.
Sure, you’re free to speak your mind, just be honest about what’s on it. The Charlottesville rally was named with a little less sleight of hand: Unite the Right. But don’t call it a rally for speech rights when the segment of the population that’s protesting is white and predominantly male, coinciding with the segment of the population that runs just about everything in the country.
And, of course, the presidential tweets kept launching, like spitballs through the national discourse.
By the middle of October, I’d been silenced by it all. I didn’t have the words to turn these events or anyone’s responses to them into a perspective that would clarify anything, a picture that would make the fine points and interconnections visible or tangible.
We found out local governments had allowed development in unwise―to put it mildly―places without ensuring developers complied with laws and building codes. Floodplain maps weren’t revised to reflect changes in the environment and the effects of building on that environment. Hurricanes increased in breadth and power. Western forests showed us what can happen when they are depleted, dried out, and vulnerable. People scrambled to survive storms, fires, and bullets. And now mudslides, from rains following the fires.
All this after decades of a slower building but equally destructive storm: rising living costs and sinking or stagnant income levels for most of us.
On celluloid, George Bailey won his checkmate stand-off with Mr. Potter. On the ground here in the U.S., Mr. Potter has taken the highest office of the land, and like many in the nose-bleed elevations of upper income, he is only interested in more. To give anything, as Bailey did to keep his community properly housed and thriving, was soft-headed foolishness to Potter’s wealth-addicted eyes.
If that’s not a familiar tale, we can look to All The Money In The World for a modern film version of the same addiction.
Spread across all of that is a sizzling layer of American entertainment and news (whether it’s actually news or just more entertainment) that seems focused on getting people agitated, angry, and eager to vent, or to open that pressure valve onto someone else. Like a church full of worshipers, or a plaza loaded with country music fans.
So where’s the ballast, or the balance, if you believe people and community are more important than walls and wealth, if you’ve felt silenced, as I have, by this nine-alarm hot mess delivered to us daily via our news sources of choice?
I’ve come to realize it starts with showing up, standing up, and speaking up. So that’s my assignment to myself for 2018: no more being shocked into silence, it’s time to get shocked into words.