As I was busing back from the plaster casting of the wrist I fractured slipping on snow-covered ice while walking my dog, I had the time and lack of responsibility necessary to truly take in my transformed city. I had planned to meditate, but the maskless folks drinking coffee too close to me in an enclosed space stressed me out enough that surveying the scene became my best option, and the best option.
The streets were still pretty empty, COVID has changed the city here, as everywhere. Lots of folks are still working from home. Familiar businesses have failed or closed temporarily or transformed entirely, and many simply aren’t there anymore: burned down in the protest, riots, post-protest that was forced into a riot by reactionary law enforcement and a small group of mostly non-local young White people who didn’t seem to have any investment in or concern for the cause – however you classify it, many of the businesses and service centers that lined the main East-West artery of the neighborhoods I’ve lived in for the whole of my 16 years in Minneapolis are gone or damaged beyond repair. What’s left are nearly universal plywood pleas for justice, love, recognition of the humanity of Black people, and appreciation for George Floyd who brought us together through his pain, through his people’s pain. Many of these expressions are beautiful, colorful, and creative; some are simple and raw.
And beside these communal recognitions of grief are reminders, sometimes in neon, but more often in spray paint, that “we are open!” or “open for pickup,” sometimes with an arrow showing you where to find the door among the covered glass, or the ordering window that keeps a COVID barrier between employees and customers. It’s far less formal, and far more human, than the way businesses usually signal us in the cities I’ve lived in, and is more of a reminder that there are people behind that glass, who are working to keep themselves and you clicking along.
It’s these latter visuals that touched me most as our near-empty bus rumbled along the near-empty streets. I’d seen the tributes before, and as inspiring as they were I was now more attracted to how, for lack of a better word, foreign this all looked. We are a country of regulations and uniformity, and the necessarily slapdash reinvention of businesses and neighborhoods, the simple methods of communicating basic information, made my lifelong American citydweller brain … excited. In the same way I was excited when Minneapolis started seriously discussing police defunding – apart from my support or opposition, it acknowledged that real, tangible, system-shaking change was not just needed, but possible. This didn’t look like the United States, where the government had been more or less “stable” for 250 years; this looked like Sudamérica, where a revolution or dictatorship seems possible at any time. And of course, it is possible at any time, we just paper it over with votes and rules and complacency so it doesn’t seem possible. But the last 5 years have shattered that complacency, and for that, I am thankful to that … let’s say “person.”
Because, honestly, the Capitol riot not long before that bus ride set the stage for this revelation. As horrifying as that was to watch, it too shattered that illusion of stability, of infallibility. And that illusion does not sit at some point on the political spectrum. It was everywhere (except with anarchists, I suspect, but I don’t know that they’re on the spectrum either). And now, for those who aren’t afraid to recognize it, it’s nowhere. Our democracy is not inevitable, capitalism is not inevitable, and neither are the socio-political-economic rules we have tacitly agreed to live by. The fragility of our system of government, or our government itself, is as inspiring to me as it is frightening. Political, social, and environmental “disasters” clear space for change, opening up opportunities for both fascists and Beloved communities, for increased military strength and increased grassroots power.
My hope is not for a return to normalcy after Trump, after COVID, after the long overdue recognition of racist institutions in the US, but a blooming into consciousness. I think that means not only recognizing the fractures in the systems we perceive as impenetrable, but digging away at those cracks to see what potential lies therein. Cracks in society don’t heal like wrists – we can’t just cover it up and wait for it to heal itself. That only produces infection. Change is inevitable and unpredictable, but we can plant the seeds for the community that emerges out of that change if we are awake to see the opportunity, and brave enough to embrace it.