How I Ended 2016 in the Twilight Zone

On the morning New Year’s Eve, 2016, I sat on my bed and opened Facebook. The first post I encountered was a picture of the Twilight Zone’s Rod Serling in the Oval Office. Behind him sat Donald Trump at the President’s desk.

What a strange, outlandish idea, I thought. Frightening. I showed it to Darcie.

“I posted that picture,” she said. Sure enough, she had. “I thought it was funny.”

“That’s just too weird,” I said. She looked at me funny. I switched to the Times front page, and there was an article about “President-elect Trump.”

I looked up at Darcie. “Is this a joke? What’s going on? That’s a crazy idea…Trump is a lunatic…”

“Uh, Mark, who won the election?”

I thought hard. “Obama, but that was a few years ago.” Trump hadn’t won an election. That wasn’t possible.

Darcie looked scared now. “Do you remember who lost the election?”

I remembered that Hillary Clinton was running…then…”Oh my god, she lost? She lost! Trump won the election? Oh damn, we’re screwed!” I was shouting now.

This is a true story.

I was recovering from a weeks-long fight with bronchitis, and I had been having trouble breathing. On New Year’s Eve, I decided to exercise. I needed it. And then I was sitting on my bed.

There’s a medical condition called Transient Global Amnesia. (Look it up.) It can happen after intense exercise, especially if the brain doesn’t get enough oxygen. You forget everything that’s happened  for the previous months – in my case, a whole year.

“Where do you work?” asked Darcie.

I told her I worked at the company I left a year ago. Now she was really freaked out.

I wasn’t. Because this happened to me once before, years ago. Then, it was terrifying. But I knew the feeling. And I knew that it was transient – I was certain it was the same thing and that it would all come back. I explained this to Darcie, and she looked it up on Wikipedia. “Yikes, that’s it! That’s just what you’re…doing.” She said “doing” as if I was standing on my head and singing in Hungarian.

I went back to the Facebook picture. “This Twilight Zone picture, it’s real?” I felt very much like I had entered The Twilight Zone.

Darcie looked a little flummoxed. “It’s not real…but…it’s a thing. It’s kind of real…sort of. I guess this whole election could have been on the Twilight Zone.

I was hearing this for the first time, it seemed. All of it. Darcie explained, almost apologetically, about the election, Hillary’s electoral college collapse, about the tweets, the cabinet appointments, the Russian hacks. I learned it all at once. I looked at the Times again, which confirmed it all. I still didn’t remember any of it.

I went through denial, anger, pleading, depression and acceptance in a few minutes. Actually, the acceptance took a while, and I only accepted that it was all true, not OK.

That was the most remarkable feeling: Hearing all this at once for the first time…how can this be OK?  How can anybody be OK with this? It’s preposterous!

And gradually my memory returned. All of it. Nothing is missing, so far as I know. But the feeling of rediscovering the events of the last few months haven’t left me. It’s raw. It’s very, very upsetting.

As one friend told me, “You, of all people! I don’t know anyone who would be more tortured by having to go through all this again, all at once. This is cruel!”

But I challenge him, and you, dear reader, what if this happened to you?  Would you see the madness of the campaign, of Brexit, of the FBI director’s intervention (I really had trouble believing that happened), of the cabinet of right wing billionaires and generals…what would you think if you found your world transformed like this?

Remember the boiling frog? Put a frog in a pot of water and turn up the heat, and the frog will stay there as the water gradually boils. I had become the frog who is tossed into the pot of boiling water, and felt the heat. I wanted to jump out.

If you can’t arrange an attack of Transient Global Amnesia for yourself, begin the new year with an imagination attack. Force yourself to consider what your year-ago self would have thought about what’s happening to us. We’re slowly boiling, my friends.

It’s not OK.


During the Nixon years, young people struggled to find creative ways to stop an out-of-control president. Read about it in Some Way Outa Here.

 

It’s Time for a Main Street Movement

My pal Darcie Lamond just published a call to beat Trump at his own game, with a message and a movement. It’s a call for the majority – yes, a clear majority voted against him – to band together around our shared values.

A Main Street Movement to Challenge Trump’s Brand

by Darcie Lamondmain-street

Post election divisions continue to grow deeper and more pronounced, yet this trend does not seem to be motivating our president-elect to broaden his appeal and heal the wounds. With each passing day and each announcement, the battle lines are being drawn and we are being asked to choose sides. The Trump team is either determined to inflame or is just tone deaf with picks like Steve Bannon as strategic advisor. Forget Lincoln’s Band of Rivals favored by Obama, the Trump team is willing to float the likes of Sarah Palin as Secretary of the Interior. While these lighting rod characters keep the Trump team in the news, now that the election is over, the shock-jock tactics that helped elect him only fuel resistance and serve to remind us that we are bitterly divided.

Without a candidate to rally behind and without a majority in congress, there are few paths left open to the opposition. For many, the stakes seem extremely high with policies that will result in irreversible damage to the environment, women’s reproductive rights, universal healthcare and immigration reform. Such core principles do motivate people to action. Joining a resistance takes tremendous energy, drive, and deeply held commitments. Election campaigns have funding to maintain key staff and to run effective communication efforts that are required to brand and define a movement. Still, movements do come out of moments like this. The Tea Party is an extremely successful example of a movement that managed to brand itself and amass tremendous political power.

An anti-Trump movement could be quite successful, if it were to align with positions that actually enjoy majority support – abortion rights, responsible gun control, reasonable immigration, sensible environmental protection and tax cuts for the middle class. The movement could brand itself as The Main Street movement and lay claim to the mainstream values that it supported.

Read the whole article…

The Unforgettable Image

Ieshia Evans
I can’t get this picture out of my mind.

It was in Baton Rouge, after the death of Alton Sterling at the hands of police, and the killing of five officers in Dallas.

The woman is Ieshia Evans, a nurse from Pennsylvania who traveled to Louisiana to stand up – literally, it turns out – against police attacks on black people. (The photographer is Jonathan Bachman.) The image is surreal, a frozen moment. Evans has been characterized as a superhero, as the statue of liberty, and the small crack in the street between her and the police has been likened to the opening chasm that divides us.

Such is the power of an image.

Images have made Black Lives Matter possible. Shamefully, they didn’t seem to matter so much until cell phones began recording the deaths of people like Sterling. Finally, the deniability that protected racist police evaporated. The world could see and remember the images of people dying…and of people standing against injustice.

Pictures have the power to reframe the world. It happens all the time.

In the 1960s, the onslaught of gripping images, published by news magazines and newspapers, helped drive the Civil Rghts movement, with images of Southern lynchings, demonstrators being attacked with water cannons and dogs, and the iconic March on Washington in 1963. The pictures of brutality shocked us, but the images of courage, like that of Ieshia Evans, gripped us and wouldn’t let go.

Consider one of the iconic images from the 1968: Olympics – the award ceremony for John Carlos and Tommie Smith:
Smith Carlos 1968

The Civil Rights movement was transitioning to the Black Power movement. The demand for “power,” not just “rights,” made a lot of white people uncomfortable. Carlos and Smith had the gall to bring the movement to the Olympic podium, and the nation was shocked. This photo had an impact that is hard to imagine now – horrifying many, inspiring others. It captured the fears and hopes of the country in a single frame.

Vietnam brought a deluge of unforgettable images. Three are so memorable that most people recognize them, even now: The photo of a young girl, naked, fleeing a napalm attack; bodies stacked at My Lai, massacred by American soldiers, and a young woman bending over a student at Kent State, blood streaming onto the pavement. Each told the story that had to be told. No words were needed.

Another heroic image gripped the world in 1989. The world was in turmoil as Communist countries began to collapse. It seemed that China would be next, as demonstrators converged on Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. When the army responded, a single man challenged the Chinese army, stood his ground, and stopped a row of tanks in its tracks. One person, armed only with unfathomable courage.
1989-Tank-man

Images like this tell stories that can change how we see the world. They can change how we think and what we do. They make us question what we assumed to be true, and they can give us courage to act in ways we didn’t know we could act.

As a teenager, the act of John Carlos and Tommie Smith not only gave me new respect for the Black Power movement – they inspired me to similar actions (documented in Some Way Outa Here). Likewise, the photos from Vietnam and Kent State spoke to every American, and drove many of us to action, fueling the antiwar movement.

Of course, pictures never tell the whole story. How many people know what happened to Peter Norman, the Australian on the podium with Carlos and Smith? The silver medal winner, Norman wore a Black Power patch on his uniform in support of the Americans, for which the Australian sports federation banned him from competition for life. It’s easy to forget that the brief victory of Tank Man was followed by the massacre at Tiananmen Square that ended the reform movement. And a few days after Ieshia Evans confronted (and was arrested by) Baton Rouge police, several officers were killed by a gunman who sought to avenge Alton Sterling’s death.

History is never simple.

But now we all carry cameras with us. All the time. Everyone has the power to record events, to report (or even make) news, and to change how we see the world. To change our minds. And our hearts.

You have a powerful tool in your pocket. Use it well.

Mad as Hell

“I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it any more!”

That’s a line from the movie Network, but it’s could be from the script of the Brexit referendum. Or the Trump campaign.

You know the feeling. Things aren’t going well, we desperately need a change, and we need to make a statement. Now.

So along comes a candidate or proposition that gives us a chance to tell the world how angry we are. Easy choice – I vote for it! That’ll show ’em! But then…oops, it passed, or we elected a bigmouthed know-nothing.

What have we done?

The people of Britain have some serious problems, beginning with a stagnant economy (especially outside London), and a massively uneven distribution of wealth. (Does this sound familiar, America?) The Brexit vote gave them a voice. But did they really want to leave the European Union, and risk an even greater economic dislocation? Unlikely.

Google UK has seen a huge jump in searches like “what happens if we leave the EU?” It’s a good bet that a lot of those who voted to leave didn’t know or care what would happen…they never expected to actually win.

For Americans, that’s the scary part. Few people actually want Donald Trump to be president, but voting for him is a great way to say you’re mad as hell. And a lot of Americans are mad as hell. It’s not just unemployed, old southern white guys, either. Many of us are furious about income inequality and guns (Trump used to be for gun control, right…?), and big banks – so why not send a message?

I once knew some people who were actually bomb-throwers. They were part of the Weather Underground (not the forecasting app), and they believed that blowing up (empty) buildings was a good way to get people to change things. Surely the Vietnam war would end if America started exploding!  They succeeded in damaging a few buildings, accidentally killed a guy and a couple of themselves, and did a lot of damage to the antiwar movement. There are always unintended consequences to blowing things up.

Trump voters are often quoted as wanting to “tear it down” or “blow it up.” I get it. So do a lot of Brits. We want to yell and make our voices heard. We want to scare the bastards so that they’ll fix things.

But we didn’t really mean it about tearing it all down, did we?

Oops.


One of the big questions of the Vietnam-era antiwar movement was how to make our voices heard. Sit-ins, marches, breaking windows, blowing things up? Writing? That’s what I was trying to figure out in the year of Some Way Outa Here

bomb

Bernie Isn’t Going Away

Bernie Sanders has sharp elbows. I know – I used to play basketball with him in Vermont. He’s a tough opponent who never, ever gives up.

Sharp elbows are even more useful in politics than in basketball, and Bernie has used them, gently, on Hillary Clinton. As it becomes clear that he will probably not be the nominee, he shows no signs of letting up. Don’t expect him to.

In Vermont in the 1970s, Bernie was a perennial candidate for state office – he ran for governor, the Senate and Congress before (barely) being elected mayor of Burlington. His persistence was remarkable, not just because he never gave up, but because his message was heartfelt and consistent: He was determined to change an economy and government that served the wealthy. He is still running on the same platform, and the events of the last thirty years have proven his critique to be pretty much right on target.

In the 1970s, Bernie Sanders’ name could have been the punchline in a Vermont joke: who will be running for president in 2016? Bernie…ha! Well, the joke’s on us.

I don’t think Bernie expected to win the presidency this year. But I also don’t think he expects to lose, even now. For Bernie, winning is about changing minds, about reframing the debate, about opening the door to the kind of change he believes in so strongly. Sometimes leaders don’t get to walk through the doors they open, but if we can build a more fair and democratic country in the next ten or twenty years, we’ll owe a debt of gratitude to Bernie Sanders’ persistence.

Bernie has already won. Now it’s up to all of us to push the door the rest of the way open, push Hillary Clinton through it, and demand real change.

Sharpen your elbows.

Bernie Sanders governor

Echoes of 1968 in the presidential race

The Donald says “there could be riots” if he is denied the Republican nomination at the July convention. Intentional or not, it’s an echo from the bizarre events of 1968.

In case you don’t remember…the election was about ending the Vietnam war, and fighting poverty and racism. Bobby Kennedy became the Democratic frontrunner for president when he beat Senator Gene McCarthy in the California primary, two months before the Democratic convention. Minutes after his victory speech, he was murdered.

All hell broke loose.

McCarthy, who had first challenged President Lyndon Johnson and precipitated Johnson’s early retirement, claimed the nomination. Kennedy’s ally George McGovern stepped in and claimed Kennedy’s mantle. And the party establishment panicked: They called in Hubert Humphrey, Johnson’s Vice President.

Humphrey hadn’t run in a primary and was nearly as unpopular as the war-burdened president, but the he was the establishment’s choice going into the convention.

The antiwar movement was determined to have a voice in the proceedings, and the Left descended on Chicago for the big event. There were liberal activists; the increasingly radical Students for a Democratic Society; civil rights demonstrators from the South; and the most colorful of the lot, the Yippies, who nominated a hog named Pigasus for president.

On the night that the convention nominated Humphrey, a huge mass of demonstrators attempted to march to the convention hall. Blocked by police, they sat down in Michigan Avenue. They mayor, Richard Daley, gave the order for the police to attack, and they did, brutally. On national TV, they began gassing and clubbing sitting protesters, who chanted “the whole world is watching!” It was.

Inside the convention hall, the McCarthy and McGovern supporters denounced the “police state” violence unfolding outside. But the nomination proceeded, surrounded by mayhem. Humphrey was so tarred by the events that Richard Nixon eked out a victory in November.

Could something like this happen again?

In this year’s presidential race, there’s one big difference: one of the candidates is threatening violence if he is not nominated. The threat of violence from a candidate is unprecedented in modern times.

Arguably, political violence in America has always benefited the most extreme right-wing candidates. Trump has shown an appetite for provoking confrontations at his rallies, and he knows how to use it to further his cause..

The havoc of 1968 was not limited to rioting. One candidate and another great leader, Martin Luther King, were assassinated by gunmen. The outcome of the election was certainly shaped by violence. The prospect of returning to that era is scary, indeed.

As much as some of us might enjoy the spectacle of the Republican Party eating itself alive, a turn toward intimidation and brute force threatens to unleash forces that may lead in unpredictable, dangerous directions.

In the year that followed the events of 1968, my contemporaries and I struggled to find the lines between peaceful dissent and violent resistance. You can read about it in my new book Some Way Outa Here.

26 Aug 1968, Chicago, Illinois, USA --- The sign over the archway leading to the International Amphitheater welcomes delegates to the Democratic Convention, but from the sea of police helmets in the foreground, it looks like only police are attending. (Sign says "Hello Democrats, Welcome to Chicago" and a bunch of police are seen from the back. --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS