It hit me immediately, a kind of muddy feel in the air, fraught with anxiety and anger, a resignation mixed with boredom. As I looked out the window of the rickety train, moving along at 19th-century speed, I knew I was back. Riding through the Northwest, south to my home in Oregon, I was interrupted occasionally by the drunk woman across the aisle talking loudly on her phone in what I perceived to be a desperate attempt at avoiding herself. I noticed how few people were smiling or even seeing the beauty passing by our windows. One young woman smiled at me and commented on my nose ring (to be honest, it felt like 1985 for a moment because, I mean, they're as common as earrings now, aren't they?) but, besides her, there was a somber quality to ride.
No, this was a country in crisis and it was palpable. While waiting for the train in Seattle in a lovely--yet strangely empty--rail station built in 1906, I just sat there in my jet-lagged stupor and watched people. You could see the weight of the last year in America bearing down on everyone, stoop-shouldered and bland so they became a blur of earth colors, interspersed with florescent green or orange. I had been drinking coffee to keep me going on my journey home, so sleep was not going to happen, even if it had been more than 24 hours since I woke at dawn in a comfy bed just south of London. With the exception of a couple of people since arriving home, this feeling of anger and sadness in those around me has continued.
Maybe I'm more sensitive to it right now. Months with minimal exposure to the spectacle (horror?) that is American politics right now has been a salve to this poor sod's soul. Maybe we're just losing our collective mind. Whatever the cause, it's downright frightening. About a week before I returned, the Parkland, Florida school shooting had occurred and our youth had started what I believe to be the tsunami headed our way. Failed by the adults running things, "adults" who have utterly failed them, they have begun to speak for themselves, are registering to vote as soon as they turn 18, and are walking out of schools in droves. Good on 'em. I, and many of my friends, have felt we were living in a Twilight Zone, yelling into the wind, our voices lost in the brain-numbing hurricane of the corporate behemoth now running this country. And the kleptocrats are playing the long-game, have been playing this game for a very long time. Although by no means the beginning of this trajectory, when it became public knowledge that Ronald Reagan was in bed with Jerry Falwell and the Moral Majority, I had a nascent feeling that things were taking a turn for the worse. When they all but disappeared from public discourse around the time of Clinton's presidency, I knew they hadn't gone away, but had instead gone underground, drawing out the blueprints for a plan that has led to our current "situation." Compound this with the growing power of corporations (read: Citizens United, Big Pharma, Big Agra, etc.) and the complete destruction of public education, you've got a perfect storm of greed, ignorance, and religious fanaticism.
What we have now is an over-medicated, under-educated, consumption-focused population too over-burdened with debt to do a damn thing. Most of my generation (and the previous one) are lost and many of them have raised children who are following in their footsteps. But thanks to changing technology and a growing awareness of my generation's (as well as that of my parents') failure as stewards of this planet, our youth are stepping up their game and saying ¡Basta!
The racism we are so aware of now is nothing new. It's an integral part of America since the first whites invaded and colonized this land. What is new is our public discussion of it, our ability to share that information, and to build networks of resistance against it. It may be hard to imagine as things are, but the time of those Americans aligned with white supremacy and corporate greed and who are emboldened by the current climate is ending. It will take more time than is comfortable and it's liable to get worse before it gets better but, in case you hadn't noticed, time is moving much more quickly now on account of the rapid flow of information and those of us working for justice are being heard louder and clearer than ever. This gives me hope in a time of chaos.