Hope Amid the Ruins ~for Martin

1968: Psychedelic soul group ‘Sly & The Family Stone’ pose for a portrait in 1968. (L-R) Rosie Stone, Larry Graham, Sly Stone, Freddie Stone, Gregg Errico, Jerry Martini, Cynthia Robinson. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Let’s just say I am no Pollyanna. Starting with ‘duck and cover’ as a third grader, I have known the world can be dangerous on a regular basis. Then there was Covid-19 putting a target on me and now the protests that wrack the country I live in. But some dim awareness occurred as I was drinking a morning coffee. I was reading the Washington Post and spotted a picture of three people, two men and a woman, standing with arms raised in front of the militarized police force in Washington D.C. They were planted firmly facing down tear gas and rubber bullets. I am dammed proud of them but I noticed something. Two were white, one was black. I started to scan photos of many of the demonstrations. There is a significant white presence. Some of this driven by the demographics of the area they reside in. Minneapolis is after all majority white but still the white folks are present. It is about time.

My first experience with police violence was in Central Park. A friend and I were attending a Sly & the Family Stone Concert, we had consumed some things to enhance the experience and wandered toward the crowd which was gathered in front of the stage. We were excited, we both loved music and expected this to be a fun event. Here I will mention that Sly & the Family Stone were a mostly black group and that my friend was black, his daddy from Harlem, his mom from Jamaica. I was the wild one. His momma would have kicked him back to Jamaica if he didn’t finish college, and several years later he did.

I don’t remember who spotted the situation first. We were both vigilant. Around and above the crowd the police were gathering, they looked like they were preparing to do harm, batons out. Martin looked at me and the two of us ran out of the bowl that was where the audience was seated and up into the rise surrounding the concert area. We moved quickly. From the vantage of this area, removed from both police and concert goers we watched as the police descended with batons on the crowd. The crowd was doing nothing but listening to the music. They were not protesting, they were excited, dancing and singing along to the words of “I Want To Take You Higher.” Martin was already ‘woke,’ I was not. This was my first brush with white police going after a crowd because they were young and black. I have never forgotten what I saw that day.

As a result, it comes as no surprise to me that white police can be dangerous. If you are in a crowd they deem suspicious or problematic, or black, you might be in for it, which is why these two white people standing with the one black guy are important. They probably know what they are in for. Certainly, the young, black man knows. This is hopeful in the same way that my friendship with Martin was hopeful. I saw him as my friend, which is what he was. When it came time for him to intervene on my bad habits, he did. He saved my life.

He died a couple years ago. He was one year younger than I. He was vulnerable to pork and biology, he died of heart disease. He did get his Masters, his mother won out. I remember him with great love.

Today I am not demonstrating, I am writing. This, Martin, is my demonstration.

Finally, it has become clear to many that the current administration is not on anyone’s side but the very wealthy. The title of the Washington Post article “This can’t be happening,” is naïve. Of course, it is happening. In 1969 it was happening at a concert and then for years afterward at every demonstration against the war or in support of civil rights. A lot of people were killed over these things. They were not thugs they were heroes. They are today. An opinion in the New York Times by Paul Krugman addresses the fact that this administration has weaponized racism. That is what you are seeing play out in the response to peaceful demonstrations across the country. Most of these folks are not setting anything on fire. They are exercising their right to free speech. There are people who are setting things on fire, and my question about this is who are they and who is paying them to disrupt? This also, is an old story.

The so-called riots are a great opportunity for this current administration to call for a military response, which they have, and ultimately for the president to call for martial law to “establish law and order.” Most of the protesters who are protesting lock down orders I wager will be fine with this. They will believe that “their side” triumphed but they will not have won. As a country we will have officially descended into tyranny, which many smart people have been predicting for a while. If martial law is instituted no one has any freedom. I suspect the three young people facing off against the militarized police in Washington D.C. know this. They have grasped the fact that this country’s laws and policies have supported the very wealthy, not them and not me. The institutionalized racism is part of the way to rile up the folks that turned out with assault rifles at the Michigan legislature. Hating someone always keeps the folks busy and diverted. They can blame the blacks, the Mexicans, the Chinese, the ‘libtards’ while their country erodes, their pay stagnates and rich get richer.

Years ago, flying back from Mexico I talked with my seat mate who was an Iranian businessman. He said to me, “Watch, the US economy is going to be the very wealthy and the service workers. If you want to survive what is coming, get a good education and be one of the intellectual workers. Without this you will be in service to something and poor.” I remember at the time thinking that what he said was prophecy. I knew he was right.

In the past thirty years wages have stagnated, the service sector has grown, manufacturing has all but disappeared and the entirety of the working sector of the U.S. economy is in debt, now with Covid layoffs, they are terrified, and only very slowly waking to the fact that the wealthy have their collective feet on their necks. My income has not changed, has not gone up at all in thirty years and I am one of the lucky ones. Many people in this country do not realize that their collective rights have been reduced. Money and corruption drives our government and the War Powers Act took away many of the rights that the bill of rights gave Americans as citizens of this country. Now, if you were not white those rights really didn’t appear for you anyway much of the time. Unless you had a mother like Martin’s you did not get an education and you could add poverty to your life situation, and make no mistake, poverty is powerlessness. Martin’s mother knew this.

I go back to the pictures of the demonstrators, this is what they are, Americans demonstrating, they want a change in all this. That is a good impulse. Many of them understand that the system is rigged, and it is rigged against them and for the 1%. The guys in camo and carrying AK 47s, do not get it. They do not get that they are being manipulated. That their wages will not go up as long as Jeff Bezos and his cronies have the power. They are the disposable workers that the businessman told me about. It does not matter that they are white or have guns, they are the worker bees in a system that finds them ridiculous. The elites, who are the wealthy, know this. They will feed them someone to hate and fear and will keep them in order performing their poorly paid tasks.

But here is the hope amid the ruins, the people out on the street protesting do understand the workings of this situation. They understand that if one person is harmed, oppressed, hated, we are all at risk. There is no where to hide from the wealthy who are underpaying, not insuring and inciting racism and all the isms to maintain control. The folks out their facing the rubber bullets are my heroes. I understand you are fighting for me and for all of us. Keep it up.

8 thoughts on “Hope Amid the Ruins ~for Martin”

  1. Mary, you convey so well, the thoughts, hopes and fears of so many of us who have not been lulled to sleep by half truths and phony news. We need hope. We need every brave soul with the courage to take to the protest lines. We need good writers like you, who assure us that we are not alone (or crazy) in seeing this brutally greedy 1% for what it is.

  2. Barbara Janssen

    You are very right re service jobs. When I was young and working in retail sales I distinctly remember two occasions on which my boss explicitly told me that I was expendable. Not a good feeling.

  3. Well done Mary. You write as you talk which is to make visible your thinking which has always been eminently superior in dicing through events and finding the heart of an issue. It is a gift. Thx for sharing.

  4. Very nice tribute to your friend and a good summary of what we face now, Mary!
    Here is a brief description of something I saw earlier this week.
    There were about 100 beautiful young people, determined and strong, and hopeful, too, standing is a line along the highway that goes through the middle of Logan, UT. The gathering grew as the day went from morning to afternoon to evening to night. The people chanted and marched and made beautiful chalk statements in color on the sidewalk in front of the old courthouse. They took a knee together, in silence, while holding their hand-made signs high in the air. A young black boy, maybe 5 or 6 years old, took the bullhorn and marched down that street, accompanied by his Mama, chanting “Black lives matter.” The crowd responded. That is a moment the little boy will always remember. I don’t think I have to wonder what kind of a man he will grow into.

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