The Problem with Monuments

Columbus’ Last Appeal to Queen Isabella, by Larkin Goldsmith Meade, in the California State Capitol. Photo by Callen Harty.

Today is the traditional Columbus Day holiday, which in many places is now being celebrated as Indigenous People’s Day or Native American Day, among other names. For years, Christopher Columbus was celebrated as the person who “discovered” America. The reality is that indigenous people were already settled here long before any Europeans came and Columbus never set foot anywhere on the North American continent. He landed on islands in the Bahamas and explored a bit of the coasts of Central and South America, but never North America. Nevertheless, his voyages opened the door for European colonization of the Americas, so he was considered the one to discover this part of the world from a white Eurocentric view of the world.

His voyages also opened the doors for enslavement of the indigenous peoples and decimation of their population through European diseases. His part in American history is being reconsidered and his legacy is at best problematic. In addition to the problems of disease and his enslavement of other humans, he was accused by his contemporaries of brutal treatment of the native population.

Because of this reassessment of Columbus, some cities and states have started using the traditional holiday as a way to honor Native Americans, who lived on this land long before European settlement and colonization. Statues of Columbus have been removed by some governments and in other cases citizen protestors have forcibly taken them down.

In the last several years, there has been a push to take down statues honoring Confederate leaders who led an insurrection against the United States to protect the institution of slavery. Some governments have voted to remove them and others have again been taken down by citizens. Since the death of George Floyd and the protests against police brutality in the United States, many other Confederate statues and monuments have come down and others, including statues of Union Civil War heroes, Presidents, and other leaders have been toppled or questioned, many of them causing consternation among some members of the majority population.

But those who question why we should honor our founding fathers with statues have reason to question their heroic status. George Washington owned over 300 slaves. Most of the founding fathers were slaveowners. They also created a government in which African-Americans were considered 3/5ths of a person, simply for taxation purposes and voting representation in Congress. They created a nation in which white male landowners held all the power and kept it that way through much of America’s history.

Of course, an argument for continuing to honor them is that they were products of their times, and that is true. But we are products of our times, too, and in our time in the course of history, we don’t believe that slavery is a good thing, we don’t believe that women should have no power, and we don’t believe in honoring those who promoted or supported those beliefs. The same people who argue that monuments honoring historical figures should remain standing because we need them to remember our history were likely the same people who celebrated the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s statue in Baghdad, even though he represented a part of Iraqi history. They were likely the same people who celebrated the destruction of the Berlin Wall or the removal of a statue of Stalin in Budapest during the Hungarian Revolution.

Nothing created by man is permanent and historians and the people are constantly reevaluating history and its heroes. When by modern standards or new politics, those put on pedestals by previous generations are no longer considered heroic, it is likely time to take them down. In some cases they will be replaced with those who more closely resonate with our modern conceptions of what heroes mean, though the likelihood is that at some time in the future, perhaps generations removed, those newer statues will be taken down by even newer thinking.

The problem with monuments is that all of our heroes are human. We all have flaws. While a person may be heroic in one aspect of their life, they may fail miserably in others. Thomas Jefferson was a great thinker and leader of the Revolution, but he also owned slaves. Charles Lindbergh was the first to fly solo across the Atlantic, but he was also an anti-Semitic fascist. Joe Paterno was the winningest coach in NCAA history, but he did nothing to stop an assistant coach from sexually abusing young boys. No person can claim that they have lived a perfect life, that they have not hurt others in some way, whether intentional or not.

The other problem with monuments is that we as human beings cannot always agree on what heroism means. And if we take human heroes out of it and decide to erect only statues honoring great ideals, we also cannot agree on what those are. What is considered an ideal government today may be anathema to tomorrow’s citizens. In addition, what is considered beautiful art by one may be reviled by others. Who gets to decide who is honored and how? The majority? And what happens when they become the minority?

Perhaps the answer is that we should not erect public statues and monuments at all, though it seems as as though it is in our nature to do so. If it is something we feel compelled to do, perhaps we have to work our way to an agreement about who or what deserves honor at the moment. Maybe we can keep some that honor great contributions, but that are problematic, but can also add plaques that give some more context to who they were. Maybe we should agree that it is simply okay for us to remove the monuments which we deem as not aligning with our current agreed upon values, such as statues of Columbus, and then erect monuments which honor our beliefs and morals at this time. Future generations can decide if our choices were right for them.

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The Subtle Danger of QAnon

QAnon is a dangerous conspiracy theory about the so-called deep state, or really, an entire host of conspiracy theories all mangled into one incomprehensible mishmash of aliens, worldwide pedophile rings controlled by the rich and powerful, the Queen of England surrendering to the United States several years ago, Donald Trump as a hero who was groomed from an early age to come in with his white hat and destroy the bad guys (along with John F. Kennedy, Jr., who is still alive and also a “white hat”), and much more. When it’s looked into, it’s stunning that anyone would believe that a single person (Q) hidden deep in the United States government, knows so much about so much, and relays that knowledge to followers with enigmatic posts that are translated by people desperate for answers about their desperate lives. Of course, like all conspiracy theories, those who doubt or dismiss it are simply not awake enough yet to comprehend the truth.

It would be easy enough to dismiss QAnon as a bunch of people who will believe anything, but it has begun to infiltrate into our lives and politics, and its followers are so taken in by it that they are ready to take up arms to #savethechildren, a hashtag developed by QAnon believers. It is dangerous enough that its adherents would do things like the man who traveled to Washington, DC with a gun in hopes of killing Satanists like Hillary Clinton who he believed were kidnapping children to molest, kill, or drink their blood. The poor children were supposedly kept in the basement of a pizza parlor (which, it turned out, had no basement). The man ended up firing the gun in the restaurant, but fortunately no one was killed. Other believers sent death threats to the owner of the pizza joint.

But there is also a more subtle danger with QAnon’s theory of a worldwide cabal of elite pedophiles. It hearkens back to the age-old idea of stranger danger being the greatest worry for parents of young children. It is believable enough because occasionally a Hollywood actor or respected politician will be investigated or arrested for child molestation or child pornography. Think of Great Britain’s Jimmy Savile, or the former Republican Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert. High-profile cases like these reinforce the belief that there is a worldwide ring of high-profile pedophiles. It makes people frightened that their own child might be taken in by a Jeffrey Epstein or kidnapped by the cabal.

The reality, though, is that the vast majority of child sex abusers are men (and sometimes women) who are known and trusted by the child victims and their families. According to the child sex abuse prevention program, Darkness to Light, 90% of abusers are known to their victims. 30% of victims are abused by family members. Focusing on famous abusers draws attention away from the real issue, that child sex abuse has always been with us, not as a result of some deep state conspiracy, but because we live in a worldwide rape culture in which women and children have not been historically respected, believed, or given control over their own bodies.

We are more aware of child sex abuse now because we are finally talking about it, and it scares people. It has always been there. We just didn’t really talk about it before the last couple decades.

When I was a child in a small town in southwestern Wisconsin there was an employee at our school that everyone in town knew was touching girls inappropriately. There was a store owner who hired a series of girls who were given expensive gifts and worked at his store, and everyone in town talked about what was going on, yet nobody did anything about it. I was sexually abused for almost eight years and nobody knew about it. Once when I was a young adult and drinking with friends I mentioned it and it turned out that the other two at the table also opened up and admitted they had been sexually abused as children. These were not instances of rich and powerful influencers kidnapping children to molest. They were the untold stories of millions of children. I only started talking about it publicly decades later when I wrote a play and then a memoir about it and started speaking to groups about male survivors.

Children who were abused decades ago didn’t tell anyone. They were warned about stranger danger, but they weren’t warned about their older brothers or fathers or uncles. They weren’t warned about priests or Boy Scout leaders or other trusted adults. If a boy or girl found the courage to tell someone, it was quickly covered up and kept within the family because no one wanted that shame. Often the child would be blamed for tempting the adult in some way. The cabal was a family or a community that turned the other way instead of dealing with the issues at hand.

Things have changed because we are talking now in our communities and in our country. Survivors are speaking up to let others know they are not alone and to let parents know the real dangers facing their children. We have a long way to go to end child sex abuse, but we are at least facing it now. We are beginning to peel back the layers and uncover the dark secrets of countless victims and survivors.

The more subtle danger of QAnon is leading people to believe that child sex abuse is some kind of far off danger, when in reality it is the neighbor, associate, or relative who has easy and regular access to a child. This is not to say that there is not the occasional creepy man in a van, or the rich and powerful abuser like Jeffrey Epstein who lures young people with promises of fame or wealth, but that is incredibly rare. QAnon would have us believe that the only worry is losing your child to those kinds of people and that is not the reality. The reality is closer to home. We cannot forget the lessons we’ve learned and we have to continue talking about the real issues of child abuse, or we will slip back into the denial of decades ago.

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When It Started

Hands Up

Hands Up/Don’t Shoot. Photo by Callen Harty.

It didn’t start with George Floyd

struggling to breathe under the knee

of a man in blue.

It didn’t start with Breonna Taylor

waking up from dreams and

walking into a nightmare.

It didn’t start with Atatiana Jefferson,

Botham Jean, Philando Castille

or

dozens of other names

we know too well only because

they were martyred.

It wasn’t Eric Garner, Tamir Rice,

Michael Brown, Tanisha Anderson,

or even Trayvon Martin.

 

It didn’t start with the assassinations of Martin

or Malcolm or the countless nameless

bodies

whose stories we never knew.

It didn’t start with little girls in a Baptist church.

It didn’t start with Emmett Till.

It didn’t start with the beatings and murders

in the Southern heat of the 1950s and 60s.

It didn’t start with the Ku Klux Klan.

It didn’t start with the Tulsa or Colfax Massacres,

or the East St. Louis Race War.

It didn’t start with Reconstruction lynchings

that never ended.

It has been never-ending.

It started when the first black man

was taken from his home and put on a ship,

headed toward an unpromised land.

It started with a whip on the back of the first black man

to stand up for his humanity,

on the body of the first black woman

giving birth to a white man’s child.

It started 500 years ago, before the beginning of this

country founded upon the ideal that

all men are created equal.

 

It will end when those words are finally true,

when people in the streets demand

equality for all and do not stand

down

because Black Lives Matter.

They have always mattered.

They have always mattered,

even when good people looked away,

even when God would not intervene.

They have always mattered,

but they have been beaten

down

and kept

down

by those in power

who will go

down

one day soon. One day sooner.

One day we will reach the promised land.

One day.

Soon.

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As Darkness Descends

Man with a weapon at a gun rights rally. Photo by Callen Harty.

Yesterday morning a friend of mine posted a warning on Facebook. There was an event page hosted by a militia group called Kenosha Guard. The event was “Armed Citizens to Protect our Lives and Property.” The event page asked if there were “any patriots willing to take up arms and defend our city tonight from the evil thugs?” My friend posted it as a warning with a note to Kenosha friends to stay safe.

I made the mistake of reading some of the comments on that event page and saw additional ones today. The one I saw suggested putting bodies in a pile and starting it on fire. Another one said, “When the shooting starts, make sure someone is sending a live feed of the mother fuckers going down.”  My heart sank and an ominous feeling came over me. I feared for any protesters who may go out onto the streets of Kenosha last night.

It turned out those fears were not unfounded. One of the “armed citizens” opened fire and shot one of the protesters in the head, killing him. Apparently the shooter was chased by several others and when he fell to the ground he fired and killed one more person and injured another. He then walked up to the police, still holding his gun, and they did not stop and question him, arrest him, or anything else. They drove right past him. He walked away.

Reports are coming out now that the shooter was a 17-year old from a town in Illinois that is about half an hour south of Kenosha. He was using a gun which was illegal for a person his age to even own in Illinois. After he walked away from the scene last night, it is being reported that he has now been arrested for murder. Already, right-wingers, gun rights activists, and others are speaking out on his behalf, claiming he shot in self-defense and that he was the victim in this.

There are several things wrong with this whole scenario. First, there was a huge police presence in Kenosha the last several nights because of the rioting caused by the police shooting of Jacob Blake. Videos taken at the time of the shooting show armored police vehicles a block away from where it happened. In addition, Wisconsin’s governor called in 125 National Guard troops two nights ago and doubled that to 250 yesterday. These are the people paid to protect us. We do not need armed “militiamen” to add to the chaos. To be blunt, a bunch of white men brandishing guns where Black Lives Matter protests are happening makes an already volatile situation a powder keg ready to explode.

Second, what is a 17-year-old Blue Lives Matter fan kid doing there with a powerful weapon? Why would the so-called “militia” allow him to join them? Did he really think that the Kenosha Guard was there to protect lives and property and not to intimidate and threaten protesters? Did he understand that most of these “militias” around the country are simply fronts for racist right-wingers who want others to cower before their weapons?

Third, excuse me, Kenosha Police, but really? You provided water to the Kenosha Guard members and thanked them for being there? You encouraged them? You let the shooter walk right past you and did nothing to stop him?

Fourth, the media is irritating the hell out of me, calling the Kenosha Guard “armed citizens” instead of right-wing violent fanatic vigilantes. Meanwhile, the others are Black Lives Matter activists, demonstrators, protesters, but never called citizens or community members. We can see where the media falls on the race issue. On social media, Facebook needs to be called out for failing to take down the militia event when it was called to their attention. I’ve seen at least two people who contacted them about the event and accompanying hate speech with no action taken.

Finally, my heart is hurting because of these killings. Although the press has not yet released information on the victims, I did see a video of the young man who was shot in the head and it hurts to know that he is gone because of a trigger happy kid who fell in with a bunch of grown men who love their guns and their supposed manhood more than anything else. Both of their lives are gone, as well as the other victim, and countless others will be permanently changed because of this incident. No citizen expressing an opinion, protesting legally, or in any other way taking a stand should be shot and killed for that. And even if they were damaging property, they did not deserve to die. Property can be replaced. Lives cannot.

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The Pardoning of Susan B. Anthony

Womens March

At the 2017 Women’s March in Madison, Wisconsin. Photo by Callen Harty.

Today Donald Trump, the hero of nasty women everywhere, officially pardoned Susan B. Anthony for the crime of illegally voting in 1872.

Excuse me for laughing.

If any other President, on the 100th anniversary of woman’s suffrage in the United States, issued a pardon for Anthony it would be noted as a nice symbolic gesture to mark that anniversary. But when it is Trump the immediate reaction is that this was a cynical ploy to attract the votes of those suburban housewives he so desperately needs to win the next election and to whom he has brazenly appealed to with racist overtures about protecting their neighborhoods from the residents of low income housing.

At the signing ceremony today, he noted, “She was never pardoned. Did you know that?” And one cannot be blamed for assuming he didn’t know it either until the likelihood that some staffer recently read it in an article on the suffrage anniversary and thought it would be a grand gesture and a stroke of genius that would cause women everywhere to take off their aprons and head to the polls as soon as possible.

A known misogynist accused of sexually assaulting more than two dozen women signing a pardon for one of the earliest pioneers of women’s rights is beyond ironic. It is disgusting, especially when one knows his history with women. He is opposed to a woman’s right to choose. He has repeatedly denigrated strong women, particularly in politics, but more generally any that speak out against him. He has gone to court to fight the Equal Rights Amendment. A quick Google search on Trump and women’s rights reveals site after site listing the many ways his administration’s policies have harmed women. If he had been alive when Anthony cast her vote he would have called her a nasty woman and insisted that she pay the penalty for trying to break into the old boys’ club. Or he would have grabbed her pussy simply because he was famous and could.

The second irony is that Anthony and some other suffragettes held complicated views on race. Anthony was opposed to the 15th amendment, which enshrined the idea of the right to vote regardless of “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” While she and Elizabeth Cady Stanton both said they opposed the amendment because it excluded women, they used racist tropes to back up their positions. One can imagine the racist Trump appreciating those viewpoints if he took the time to learn anything about it. Perhaps if he knew that part of Anthony’s history, he would have also given her a medal for defending the white race.

Finally, regardless of her faults, Anthony’s fight was to expand voting rights. Trump honoring her for that at a time when he and his Republican allies are doing everything in their power to limit voting is really not funny and I am no longer laughing. They have purged voter rolls, caused the postal service to cut hours and service, cut polling locations (particularly in minority neighborhoods), fought mail-in voting, and lied about fraud and potential issues with mailed ballots. If he thought he could get away with it, Trump would likely take the vote away from women and minorities again. If he could, he would return voting only to men who owned land. It would make it easier for him to win reelection, which is really all that he is concerned about now.

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Anisa

protect children

Protect Children. Photo by Callen Harty.

I see her praying at her bedside,

on her knees asking God to stop the bullets.

Seven years old.

She should be playing outside,

skinning her knees, crying for scratches

and not for brothers and sisters who died

when cars drove by and fired bullets inside.

At eleven I see her smile, her joy

cut short when God forgets her prayers,

when a car drives by and bullets

shatter the window

and her childhood

and her smile is covered in blood.

I would pray but know that sometimes God does not listen.

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Sacrificial Lambs

Trump chicken

Trump chicken. Photo by Callen Harty.

“We have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China. It’s going to be just fine.”

That was Donald Trump’s initial response to the coronavirus all the way back in January. Since then, it has been one failure after another, with him all the while assuring us it’s going to be just fine, it will disappear, we have it under control, and countless times stating that it will miraculously go away.

It has not gone away and he has yet to admit that he was wrong all along. It was not a hoax, it was not the flu, it had no intention of just disappearing when the weather got warmer or Trump wished hard enough.

The day the death toll in this country passed 10,000 he said there was a light at the end of the tunnel. Less than a week later that had doubled to 20,000 deaths. Now we are over 135,000.

Despite this, Trump continues to undermine his medical experts, make them alter their reporting, and ignore their recommendations. He decided to officially withdraw from the World Health Organization. Ignoring medical experts at the Centers for Disease Control, he has over the course of the pandemic spouted idiotic theories about flu vaccines, injecting disinfectants, focusing powerful light, taking hydroxychloroquine, and his favorite, waiting for the virus to make its miraculous departure.

Like George Bush’s Mission Accomplished banner, Trump’s repeated claims that we are doing better, that things are looking good, that we can start reopening the country, are nothing but wishful thinking. One has to wonder why and the answer is quite clear to anyone who has been awake this whole time.

Covid-19 makes Trump look bad because people are sick and dying, the economy has tanked, and he has been clueless about how to lead. Importantly, there is an election coming up and his narcissistic ego cannot acknowledge that he might lose because he was supposed to be responsible for leading us through this crisis and failed miserably. And continues to fail miserably.

He cannot acknowledge the failure, though. Everything that has happened has been someone else’s fault–the Chinese, the Democrats, the medical professionals. His ego prevents him from seeing just how badly he has mismanaged this crisis. His ego also prevents him from wearing a mask in public and that sends a signal to others that it is okay, that they are safe from harm. It signals that the worst is over as he has promised all along.

But, of course, it is not. Cases keep rising, death tallies keep rising, and the supposed leader of this country (and formerly of the free world) keeps failing. He does everything he can in his narcissistic head to create a world of his own making, a world in which he has valiantly led us through this pandemic to the promised land of healthy people and a healthy economy. To prove it, he starts to hold rallies and tries to strong arm mayors and governors into reopening their cities and states. People can gather to see him at political rallies, they don’t have to wear masks (because those are for the weak–how did a medical issue become a political issue, anyway?), and they can sit side-by-side without worrying about getting the disease.

All of this to look strong, to desperately try to get the economy to rebound by November, and to win an election. If some want to follow Trump off of that cliff, it is their choice to do so. But now he is demanding that schools open in the fall because, again, he wants to pretend that none of this is real, that if you close your eyes and click your heels together three times we can go home again, we can go back to the lives we were leading before, and everything will return to normal. He doesn’t understand that his land of make-believe is not real, but his narcissistic need to constantly win has put him in the position of having to believe it and of being willing to sacrifice America’s children on the altar of politics.

During this pandemic, Trump has not gone far enough in what he needed to do most of the time. Now he has gone too far. Children’s lives (and their teachers) are at stake here, as well as those who may contract the virus from them. He has threatened to withhold funding for schools that don’t start back up in the fall. He is trying to bully school districts into complying with his demands–not for their good, but for his ego and his political future. This, as much as anything he has done during his presidency, illustrates his malignant narcissism. He needs to go back to school. He needs to be educated about medicine. He needs to learn empathy and compassion. And, most importantly, he needs to leave the White House in November.

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The Gentrification of Protest

We Hear You

We Hear You. Photo by Callen Harty.

Madison, Wisconsin has had six consecutive days and nights of protests since George Floyd’s murder became the latest episode of a black man killed by police. The last several nights have been relatively peaceful. The first several nights saw windows smashed out of 75 or so buildings on State Street, looting, and other damage. Most of the windows and doors along the entire street are boarded up–many because of damaged windows, some to try to protect from damage.

In the last couple days many of the boarded windows have been covered with art, much of it very striking and beautiful. Today I went to see it myself and was transfixed by a great deal of it. I ran into a friend, Jenny, and we talked about our feelings about it. There were many African-American artists, particularly women, working on different pieces all along the street, and it was amazing to see the works they were creating. There were also a lot of white folks working on pieces, too. At least a couple of the pieces were done by Latino artists in solidarity with Black Lives Matter. The protests have been a really nice mix of races, ages, and other characteristics, so the mix of artists is perhaps a good representation of the protests and the city as a whole.

At one point my friend said something that struck me. She said all of the beautiful artwork reminded her of gentrification and it blew me away because I was enjoying the art, but also feeling somewhat ambivalent about it and she nailed it for me with that. Many of the boarded windows had signs on them that indicated that the works were commissioned pieces. In some ways it felt like the gentrification of protest. You’re covering up the anger with flowers and rainbows, ignoring the underlying passion and demands. If you hide the harsher, more direct messages and cover the boards with appealing artwork, people may want to come downtown again and do a little shopping. It seemed likely that a lot of the original graffiti was being painted over with lovely images about peace and love. There’s nothing wrong with promoting peace and love, but it’s also important to hold onto the messages being conveyed by the protesters.

I found myself drawn to the boards that were not yet covered with beautiful images, but with the rawer graffiti and tagging, with messages like “Open Your Eyes,” “Arrest Matt Kenney,” “BLM,” “Fuck 12,” “I Can’t Breathe,” “Community Control,” “Defund the Police,” “Latinos Stand with You,” “Cops Kill,” “Breonna Taylor,” “Justice for Tony Robinson,” “Justice for Floyd,” “No Cops in Schools,” “Change the System,” and “Do You Hear Us Now?”

It’s great that the city is paying artists, particularly black artists–who tend not to be very valued in this country–to create art in the midst of destruction. It is beautiful and profound and conveys important messages to a hurting city and a hurting nation. But please don’t cover all the gut-level feelings and statements that were there first and from those on the front lines. Those messages are just as important, or more so. Those boards and buildings were marked by the protesters with their own feelings, needs, and desires. They are messages that the protesters are trying to convey to the world and we need to listen.

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George Floyd Died Today

Black Lives Matter 2

Black Lives Matter. Photo by Callen Harty.

George Floyd died today. And another piece of America went with him.

I want to believe that the racist culture in which our nation and our entire history is so steeped is in decline, and perhaps white women calling police because their privilege is threatened and police officers killing black men because their power is threatened are the last gasps of systemic racism.

But those in power do not give up power easily. Racism is so entrenched in the United States that getting to a place of equity must necessarily require years of deconstructing systems that are designed for the powerful to maintain their power.

George Floyd’s death is a result of the way things are set up and the racism that is ingrained everywhere in this county. Racism is not the domain of the South. It is in Georgia, but also in New York. It is in Louisville and also in Minneapolis. It permeates the very fiber of this country. It is everywhere. In the North it has not always been as overt, but it is just as insidious.

When an entire race or class of people is considered “other” or “less than,” then citizens everywhere, consciously or not, feel superior to that class. White people are inherently racist by virtue of years of growing up privileged in the culture. We have to struggle and work hard to overcome the racism of the culture in which we are raised. We have to consciously seek to change.

There has been an incredible and frightening rise of overt and extreme racism in America, from the shooting of a jogger in Georgia to the police killing of a black man in Minnesota to the appearance of Confederate flags and swastikas in the halls of the Michigan Capitol. It feels like a reaction to the disintegration of a power structure that has been in place for hundreds of years that does not want to let go. But regardless of the reason, people of color are dying because of it, and each time that happens, a piece of our innocence dies also, our excuses for not standing up for our black brothers and sisters are chipped away, and we are laid bare as a nation.

George Floyd died today. He wasn’t killed by one policeman. He was killed by the power structure. He was not the only one. His death was in one place at one time. But people of color are dying daily, hourly, minute by minute–from a disproportionate number of Covid-19 cases, from poverty, from an unrelenting number of oppressions. It is time for all of us to rise up and say “No more!” It is time for the system to relinquish its power and live up to the unfulfilled promise that all of us are created equal.

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Open Letter to Justice Rebecca Bradley

Heart Mountain Camp

Heart Mountain Camp, the site of a World War II Japanese internment camp. Photo by Callen Harty.

Justice Bradley,

No, the stay-at-home order currently in effect is not like Japanese internment camps and there is no chance that it will be. Being asked to stay at home to protect yourself and other people is not the same as being ripped from your home and taken to a prison camp where you are not allowed to leave for any reason. Being furloughed due to the tough economy brought about by Covid-19 is not the same as losing your house and all your possessions. Not being allowed to shop or dine out for a while is not the same as being incarcerated because you are perceived to be an enemy combatant because of your heritage. Having to hear a court case over video while protecting yourself at home is not the same as losing your freedom and rights as a citizen because people are scared of your last name.

Your ignorance of history and your privilege are showing and it is not pretty.

And no, the governor and health secretary extending the stay-at-home order is not tyranny. Tyranny is Adolph Hitler killing 12 million people. It is the Chinese crackdown on Tiananmen Square. It is Pol Pot, Joseph Stalin, Idi Amin, and others imprisoning and killing their own citizens. It is not a soft-spoken Wisconsin governor who is doing his best to keep people alive.

You ask, “where in the Constitution did the people of Wisconsin confer authority on a single unelected cabinet secretary to compel almost six million people to stay at home and close their businesses and face imprisonment if they don’t comply?” The answer is simple and you know it. It’s called representative government. The people gave the legislators they voted into office the authority to create laws for the benefit of all and those legislators created laws that allow this during a pandemic. If the Republican leadership doesn’t like the laws as they stand, they can draft their own legislation. It’s in the job description.

Wisconsin citizens also gave the State Supreme Court the power to decide Constitutional questions with the expectation that justices would be objective and not partisan hacks. Republicans have been saying for years that judges–every time those judges decide against them–are activist judges who try to create laws from the bench. Project much? The laws in this state are already clear on this issue. Overriding the stay-at-home orders would simply be the court overriding the will of the people through the acts of the legislature. It would be activist conservative judges creating laws from the bench.

There is little doubt that the decision that will be handed down soon will favor the Republican leadership that skipped lower courts and brought this case directly to you and your fellow conservatives on the bench. It was clear when the court agreed to hear the case instead of sending it to a lower court that the stay-at-home order would be overturned. I sincerely hope that doing so does not endanger anyone–including you and your loved ones–though anyone with an ounce of sense and the ability to understand basic science would not bet on it.

No, the governor and his health secretary will not be sending Wisconsin citizens to concentration camps. But it is very likely the Supreme Court will be sentencing countless Wisconsin citizens to death sentences.

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Virus of the Soul

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Heart Balloon. Photo by Callen Harty.

Sitting at home reading about tens of thousands of people in my country dying of Covid-19 is hard enough. Knowing that countless more will die in the coming months is even more difficult. But reading about ignorant and hateful acts by my fellow countrymen is far more disheartening and honestly far more frightening than a deadly virus. It is a virus of the soul and I am more confident than ever that the soul of America is lost.

While we have achieved greatness in many ways, we also have a long history of horrible people and horrible acts, starting with the genocide of Native Americans, and continuing with the enslavement of African people, the exploitation of resources all over the world, and the destruction of the environment and anything else that stands in the way of profits and more profits. Money is our god and anything that stands in the way of accumulating more of it is expendable and we’ll go to war with anyone to defend that god.

This is on my mind because the news stories that are the scariest today are not about the virus, but about fellow citizens who have no love, empathy, or concern for others. Today I read a report out of Michigan about a security guard who was killed after telling a young woman she was required to wear a face mask to enter a store. Hours later family members came back to the store and he was shot and killed after a heated argument over the situation.

The coronavirus isn’t killing us as much as it is exposing us to the horrors of who we are as a nation.

Shortly after digesting the Michigan story I saw another one about a 79-year old man in Wisconsin who was killed over an argument about a parking space. A parking space! A person’s life is worth no more than a parking space? We are so lazy or so entitled or so–whatever was in the mind of the killer–that another man’s life becomes that meaningless? This country is in more trouble from the disintegration of morals and empathy than anything else that threatens us right now.

Also today there was a report that right-wing activist Ammon Bundy in a speech in Idaho blamed the Jews for the Holocaust, another man who was told he had to wear a face mask in a store in Michigan wiped his nose on the employee’s shirt in protest, and in California a man went shopping and instead of wearing a regular mask donned a Ku Klux Klan hood.

We are a sick country. Somewhere along the line we lost the spirit of neighbors helping neighbors and returned to the Civil War circumstance of brother against brother. We lost our sense of compassion, of putting ourselves in the shoes of others, and we have forgotten how to compromise. We have also forgotten how to sacrifice for the good of all because we have not had to do so for decades. We have lost the ability to love one another because we are all so damned self-assured that our political positions are right and those who disagree with us are all idiots or evil. We have self-quarantined our hearts.

I wish I had an answer, but I am at a loss. What I know is that we need to find our souls again and we need to learn how to love one another again. This is not an answer that science can find for us. It is not up to government. The politicians are even more divided than the rest of us. It isn’t even an answer religion can find for us. It has to come from deep within each of us. We desperately need a spiritual reawakening and we need to open our hearts to the possibilities and the power of love. Simply put, we are a lost and doomed nation if we do not.

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Wisconsin Asshats

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Scott Fitzgerald and Robin Vos. Photos by Callen Harty

Dear Scott Fitzgerald and Robin Vos,

The nicest thing I can say about the two of you is that you are asshats. After years in the Wisconsin Legislature as waterboys for the Koch Brothers and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), you are somehow still in power as the Senate Majority Leader and the Speaker of the Assembly. Your service to right-wing causes has been a disservice to the citizens of this state as a whole, but because you are in conservative districts (all of which were gerrymandered by you and your party) you keep getting reelected to further wreak destruction upon the state. Vos, you first got in by running unopposed for your old boss’ position in both the primary and general election and once an incumbent, always an incumbent.

Though your constituents have been okay with your various power grabs over the years, I am hopeful that maybe this time they will find their humanity and realize that you have none. Filing a suit to force Wisconsin to hold in-person elections during a pandemic should be enough to cause voters to boot you out of office. Already, there appear to be spikes in Covid-19 cases in Milwaukee and Green Bay, two of the cities with the longest lines because they didn’t have enough volunteers to handle the usual number of polling stations. Perhaps you are okay with a spike and a handful of people dying in your attempt to help your conservative lackey Supreme Court Justice win another term. Fortunately, that failed, but people are still going to die because of it.

And now, you are filing suit again, appealing directly to the conservative State Supreme Court and bypassing lower courts to try to immediately halt Governor Evers’ extension of his stay-at-home order. How many lives are okay to sacrifice to satisfy the business interests who back you? How many pieces of silver do you need? How much more power do you crave?

Vos, you even stated that you wanted to craft the suit carefully so as not to give the governor more power should you lose. Can you tell us again that everything you do is not about accruing more power? Bullshit. You’re an asshat who doesn’t care about the people of this state. Neither one of you is listening more carefully to medical experts than to your corporate benefactors. Neither one of you has ever listened more to the citizens of this state than to the moneyed interests whose interests are the core of your agenda in the statehouse.

If you win this case (with the help of the Supreme Court that sides with you every time you file a lawsuit, and there have been many), and cause the state to open up before it should, you will be responsible for much more sickness and death. Of course, you won’t care. You will have done what you need to do to satisfy those who want to keep you in power. You will have to live with that. Unfortunately, others may not.

 

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