Standing Ovation

I awoke today wondering which America I was going to find, only to discover that the small green bug who was living in my sunflower through these last few fraught days and to whom I’d grown attached and then unduly saddened by when he’d vanished, had simply pulled a Jeffersons and moved on up to the penthouse sunflower a few feet higher.

Oh happy day! Made even better by the actions of Muriel Bowser, the Mayor of Washington DC and their DPW, whom she smartly employed in painting ‘Black Lives Matter’ in street-spanning letters a bright traffic yellow for a few blocks of 16th street leading directly to the White House. Clearly in response to having their city overrun by unidentified, unmarked storm troopers sent by Trump toady William Barr, despite all wishes and entreaties to the contrary. 

In military parlance, this is called seizing the initiative, pwned if you speak fluent internet.

If the administration wishes to continue demonstrating its highly militarized oppression tactics, particularly on that  fraught stretch of “battle space” as they choose to define any US territory exercising its First Amendment rights, then they must now do so with all the cards quite visibly on the table, so to speak.  The president loves a photo op but I don’t think this is one that even he would want, although I might have said that about any one of his previous propaganda blunders, so who knows? He only seems to deploy the double down, even when he’s burning himself.  There’s no basement too deep for him to “inspect”, no excavator that can beat his rapidly lowering bar to the center of the earth.

Some sourpusses panned the move as just one more empty performative gesture but I think the sight of an American Mayor retaking the initiative and spelling out, in hazard yellow, the fundamental point of contention underlying this entire conflict directly on such highly visible, contested ground, is a brilliant and powerful statement, politically savvy, and a most satisfying response to such heavy-handed federal interference in her city’s own security affairs, interference that’s entirely an ugly and inappropriate prop to showcase a retrograde “law and order” campaign slogan.

So I bask for a bit in something quite beyond just being a well-executed piece of public theater. Instead, rather searingly, a simple action has been turned into a powerful statement of empathy and humanity in the face of empty fascist posturing. Combining this with an infinitesimal bit of private joy (a joy out of all proportion to a tiny bug), I think about this Wallace Stegner passage, an old favorite, that I found in yesterday’s NY Times Literature Section:

‘We weren’t indifferent. We lived in our times, which were hard times. We had our interests, which were mainly literary and intellectual and only occasionally, inescapably, political. But what memory brings back from there is not politics, or the meagerness of living on $150 a month, or even the writing I was doing, but the details of friendship — parties, picnics, walks, midnight conversations, glimpses from the occasional unencumbered hours. Amicitia lasts better than res publica, and at least as well as ars poetica.

‘Crossing to Safety’ by Wallace Stegner

How lovely, how true, but then I immediately imagine how many of us would dearly love to be able to say that right now, only for us, mid-pandemic, all that amicitia has been heavily curtailed, with so many of those parties, picnics, intimate conversations and glimpses in abeyance, so that we’re forced to spend our more frequent unencumbered hours alone, if at least together in that and thus without all of the beautiful memory-building distractions of that amicitia, it is far, far easier to see when res publica is not acting in the best interests of ex publico.  Therefore, any time any portion of it does, with any poetica, I simply must applaud.

Andrew Sano was born in Montreal Canada, raised near Seattle in the Pacific Northwest and has spent half of his life in the San Francisco Bay Area in Oakland.

About the contributor

Andrew Sano explains his joy at seeing 'street-spanning letters a bright traffic yellow for a few blocks of 16th street leading directly to the White House' and why it should not be regarded as an empty performative gesture.

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