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General News    H3'ed 6/15/20

Tomgram: Nick Turse, A Breathless Moment in America

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This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

I'm almost 76 years old, in Covid-19 isolation, and -- though I've been to many demonstrations in my life -- haven't been to one since George Floyd was murdered. I haven't even been near one and that will, I suspect, be one of the regrets of my life. Thank goodness Nick Turse, TomDispatch's managing editor, has been (as he describes in his post today). Somehow, even at one remove, it makes me feel better, as does the latest poll showing that, in Donald Trump's America -- of all places! -- 74% of us actually support those protests still occurring in hundreds of cities and towns across the country. I mean, in such a deeply splintered Trumpian land, who would have guessed that 74% of Americans could support much of anything these days? And that's one of the points Turse makes today: just when you've hit rock bottom, this world of ours has a way of surprising you.

I don't mean to imply, however, that this latest movement of the young has gone unopposed. It hasn't, not in a White House that's transformed itself into a fortified, Baghdad-style Green Zone; nor in the mind of a president who came into office as the birther-in-chief, riding racism like a bucking bronco to the White House; nor in a Justice Department that has been turned into his enforcer (and little more); nor among predominately white police forces that, in these years, have been transformed into the equivalent of occupying troops in black and brown communities and have recently been whacking away at protestors nationwide with a brutality that, given the new age of instant video, has been on display for all to see. It hasn't even gone unopposed by some citizens in a land of civilians more heavily armed than any on earth (Yemen comes in a distant second) -- where trucks, cars, and conventional weapons have been wielded against protestors by right-wing extremists of various sorts.

It's a deadly, dangerous world out there, no question about it, which leaves me even more awed by those now protesting in the streets of our country. Still, surprising as these developments may be, the urge to breathe is such a natural one that it couldn't be more sensible to demonstrate for everyone's right to do so in a world that seems ever more breathless. The unexpected, as Nick Turse writes today, is sometimes the saving grace of our all-too-often unsavory world. Tom

Will the Death of George Floyd Mark the Rebirth of America?
A Man Forced to Die with His Face Pressed to the Ground May Yet Shift the Earth Under Your Feet
By Nick Turse

They were relegated to the protest equivalent of a ghetto. Their assigned route shunted them to the far fringes of the city. Their demonstration was destined for an ignominious demise far from any main thoroughfare, out of sight of most apartment buildings, out of earshot of most homes, best viewed from a dinghy bobbing in the Hudson River.

Those at the head of the march had other ideas. After a brief stop at city hall, they turned the crowd onto the main drag, Washington Street, and for the next few hours, a parade of protesters snaked through Hoboken, New Jersey.

"Whose streets? Our streets!" is a well-worn activist chant, but for a little while it was true as Hoboken's motorcycle cops played catch-up and the march turned this way and that -- first, uptown on Washington, where a conspicuous minority of businesses were boarded up, expecting trouble that never came. Then, a left onto Sixth, another onto Jackson. Monroe. Park. Finally, back to Washington and onward.

All the while, the voices of the mostly white marchers, being led in call-and-response chants mainly by people of color, rang through the streets and echoed off high-rent low rises.

"Hands up! Don't shoot!"

"No justice! No peace!"

"Say his name! George Floyd!"

As an ever-more middle-aged white guy who, a decade ago, traded covering U.S. protests for reporting from African war zones, I have little of substance to add to the superlative coverage of the Black Lives Matter demonstrations that have erupted across the country in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd. For that, read some of the journalists who are on the front lines innovating and elevating the craft, like the great Aviva Stahl's real-time eyewitness observations, incisive interviews, and on-the-fly fact-checking, while marching for miles and miles through the streets of Brooklyn, New York.

Instead, bear with me while I ruminate about something I said to Tom Engelhardt, the editor of this website, TomDispatch, at the beginning of March when our lives changed forever. Instead of simply bemoaning the onslaught of the Covid-19 pandemic -- however devastating and deadly it might prove to be -- I uncharacteristically looked on the bright side, suggesting that this could be one of those rare transformative moments that shifts the world's axis and leads to revolutionary change.

I bring this up not to brag about my prescience, but to point out the very opposite -- how little foresight I actually had. It's desperately difficult for any of us to predict the future and yet, thanks so often to the long, hard, and sometimes remarkably dangerous work of organizers and activists, even the most seemingly immutable things can change over time and under the right conditions.

A Latter Day Lynching

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)
 

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