(Pictured: Madison, last Saturday, before it hit the fan.)
(Life on Lockdown returns today with political content ahead. Read it or don’t, be offended or not. It’s up to you.)
We read about George Floyd’s murder, and we react to it in horror. Then we read about the riots and other protests around the country, and we react in horror to them as well. It makes us sad and angry. We wish none of it was happening.
But here’s something lots of well-meaning people are saying: From comfortable living rooms—and comfortable privilege—they want to take the moral high ground above the fray. “Both sides are at fault. The cops shouldn’t have killed George Floyd, but the people of insert big city name here shouldn’t have burned shit down in response. How can America hear what they’re saying when all they see is people on TV breaking windows, starting fires, and looting stores? That’s not the message they should be sending.”
If I had a dollar for every time I’ve seen that, drinks would be on me until time should be no more.
But guess what, Mr. and Mrs. Respectable White People? The riots are the message. People of color have been trying for decades to get privileged white people to see and hear and comprehend the injustices they face and to help do something about it. But nothing ever changes. Asking peacefully hasn’t changed anything. Colin Kaepernick tried it, and some of the same people decrying the current violence turned him into a pariah for it. Voting hasn’t changed anything either, and organized voter suppression efforts aimed at minorities make clear that for them, it isn’t supposed to.
What else would you have them do?
If we have reached the point in this country where people have exhausted all the lesser options, and burning shit down is the only way to effect real change, there’s a great temptation to say that we ought to let it burn. But there’s a broader issue that has nothing to do with burning shit down. After watching police in city after city abuse the legal, civil, and human rights of their fellow citizens night after night—citizens whose only crime, in the vast majority of cases, is exercising their Constitutional right to free assembly—and with the President of the United States ready to unleash the military for the same purpose, it’s hard to argue that the current system is worth saving.
An automatic default to “all violence is bad” without trying to understand why certain people might find violence to be a legitimate response to repression plays into the hands of Donald Trump, who is weaponizing the violence for far more nefarious and destructive ends than broken windows and graffitized buildings. And eventually, not even the moral high ground will save you. Today it’s people of color protesting brutal policing. Tomorrow it could be privileged white people fighting injustices that burst through the doors of comfortable homes in respectable suburbs.
But Jim, can’t you think of something else to write about today? Well, sure.
I haven’t done one of these Links and Notes things for a while. I will resist the temptation to highlight stuff about our current national moment and direct your attention elsewhere:
—I always intended to research the Kickapoo Creek Rock Festival, held in central Illinois in 1970, but I never got around to it. The 50th anniversary was this past weekend, and this story, with photos, will take you there.
—In 1975, David Bowie appeared on Cher’s CBS variety show and performed a medley of pop songs with her. Good on him for going along and giving his all, but perhaps cocaine deserves some of the credit.
—Check this incredible performance of “Rhiannon” by Fleetwood Mac on The Midnight Special in 1976. That night, few people would have known who Stevie Nicks was, but after seven minutes, they could see that a new rock goddess had been born.
—Rosanne Cash, who is a marvelous writer as well as a singer and songwriter, wrote about how it feels to hate touring and then miss it when it’s gone.
—In 1977, KISS donated vials of their blood to be used in the ink for a comic book based on their adventures. (The story is told that the ink was accidentally used to print Sports Illustrated instead, and if that isn’t true, it ought to be.) The printing plant was in Buffalo, New York, where one of the local TV newscasts reported on the blood “donation” with withering condescension.
Thanks for reading. Stay safe. Wear a mask. Fight the power.