Photo credit: National Education Association
BY MICHAEL MCDERMOTT
More hope and more horror are marks of the times. How art can respond is the mission of the Black Earth Institute. The country is deeply divided and support for authoritarianism, fed by white supremacy, and armed groups confront us. Many think civil war is likely.
More hope is found in awareness and resistance. There is a growing awareness and a growing resistance that is undeniable. Awareness that fundamental gains are being set back and a growing resistance that is evident in inspiring votes in Kentucky and earlier in Georgia. Awareness that democracy is a critical issue that will be played out in the forthcoming election. Resistance is continuing in the Black Lives Matter movement and resistance is continuing over steps to deal with climate change.
More horror is found in the reversal of Roe and what it means for setting back women’s life in even more ways. Even forms of birth control are threatened. More horror is seen in forbidding even discussion in schools about LGBTQ+, student papers are shut down and trans people are specifically targeted though all are threatened. The list of banned books in libraries and even some commercial bookstores grow by the day and includes such as The Great Gatsby, let alone those that present realities of gender and race.
Horrors abound in American history, starting with the settlement patterns that led to the death of 20-50 million Native people. Deaths continued through the expansion to the west and removal of native peoples.
The present is striking to compare to other times of reaction and destruction of gains made by peoples. What comes too quickly to mind is the defeat of Reconstruction followed by exclusion of Black Americans from voting and instead widespread murders and lynchings. Black people in the south elected local and national figures that were replaced by white racists that after the immediate horrors reacted Jim Crow laws that greatly restricted Black voting, continued lynching and the birth of the KKK.
Other reactionary times included McCarthyism after the advances of the New Deal and an alliance with the Soviet Union against Nazism. The led to attacks on union and civil rights leaders and activists. This was a widespread period of reaction funded and led in many ways by the likes of the Koch brothers using anti-communism to reverse the gains of the New Deal. The effort for school prayer and the Under God for documents came from these efforts.
Hope came again in the shape of the civil rights, anti-war, sexual “revolution”, even hippie and new age movements all created a different future. The 60s created new rights and new ways of living. Birth control and increased awareness of women’s rights and roles in society made a new way of living. The civil rights movement made major gains in voting rights and anti-discrimination laws. At the same time horror arose that began to give us the present reaction. Reagan and Nixon used race as a tool to divide and began to create a resentful population that grew and was taken even more extreme politics of division by the recent ex-president. Inequality has grown and this has been exploited to create a base for reaction.
Just how bad is this present horror compared to the past. It certainly is not post-Reconstruction violence yet, in spite of endless police killings. Yet this present horror is worse in some ways, in that the mechanisms of democracy are under attack in a way that voting itself is in danger. All these elections deniers have moved into taking control of the election process with the aim of accepting only their own candidates. Imagine Arizona with pro-autocracy governor and secretary of state, only “their” people will get the votes as legitimate.
Can we stop this process and win back those rights, reproductive and voting? Can we continue to protect Black Lives, can we remember and support Native peoples and their struggles? Can we build to protect the earth? The answer is yes. There is organizing in all these areas that is powerful.
What confronts us immediately is the coming election. Turning out the vote may be the contribution that matters most. Even moderates that we might agree with turn out to be critically more important than the loonies try to take over elections and continue to take away rights and progress.
To help the process of re-gaining rights and stop further reaction, we will be posting material this month from Black Earth Institute fellows, present and past, and friends. We hope to cover many grounds from seeking support and resilience in nature to identification of alternatives we might embrace. We will present prose, poetry, and art.
These are tough times, and we all need art to express and support. We all need to organize, for reproductive rights, voting rights, protecting the earth, and the list goes on. There is a lot of history and conditions to expose, and we will contribute to that.
Join us for the month.