ELEVATION RETURNS: OUR JOURNEY
ELEVATION has been idle since June 3, 2020. It was during those days of late May and early June that the social unrest in America – instigated by the heartless murder of George Floyd – erupted in earnest. The weekend of June 6 and 7 was especially tumultuous and violent across the United States. There were large-scale demonstrations in dozens of cities large and small across the nation, including Washington, D.C., Seattle, Chicago, Los Angeles, Atlanta, and New York City. Many of these massive protests were greeted by aggressive municipal and state police in riot gear, and by militarized federal agents from the Department of Homeland Security, the National Guard, and other agencies. In our nation’s capitol, unmarked, unidentified private mercenaries guarded the White House and threatened protestors, their grubby fingers resting on the triggers of large semi-automatic rifles.
A week prior, the fascist-leaning American president cleared Lafayette Square in front of the White House with an excessive show of force and brutality which utilized tear gas, flash grenades, rubber bullets, and baton beatings. The aspiring autocrat made his way to nearby St. John’s Church, where he held up a bible (at first upside-down) for a vapid photo op. To set the stage for this callous political maneuver, federal agents in riot gear launched tear gas onto the church grounds, fired projectiles at church volunteers, and even chased away the pastor.
In the three months since those stunning events, many lifetimes have seemed to transpire. Protests and riots have continued, and the ongoing conflict between demonstrators and federal forces has been unlike anything this country or the world has ever witnessed. Some 200,000 Americans have succumbed to the COVID-19 pandemic, by far the greatest death toll in the world. The United States GDP has plummeted by one-third in comparison to the same juncture in 2019. There are hours-long waits at food banks across the country. As the duplicitous president has worked overtime to discredit the democratic process (even calling for armed agents and police at polling locations) the guarantee of a legitimate election in November and a peaceful transfer of power in January has all but evaporated.
Each day brings a new repugnant scandal involving the president and his closest associates that would have utterly decimated and disqualified any previous administration. However, it is now quite clear that justice, equality, fraternity, ethics, morality, and virtue are essentially irrelevant to a substantial segment of this nation’s population. For that reason, it may well be argued that the American empire is in decline or, even, has begun its final collapse. For that reason, the American experiment appears to be burning to the ground.
Opportunity in crisis
This may all sound quite dark and hopeless. However, perhaps it is just the opposite. Perhaps this great instability, this painful crisis, these violent societal seizures mark a threshold across which civilization must pass in order to arrive at a more equitable, more prosperous, more peaceful incarnation. These may be the birthing pains of an entirely new order – a manifestation of righteous democracy that will emerge in the years to come, or, more likely, in the decades or generations to come. Is is hard to lament this transformation, for who is to say that the way things were – the corrupt world of imperial American capitalism and cronyism that preceded the pandemic – represented the best that humanity has to offer? Even prior to the current social and economic collapse the majority of Americans were living untenable lives in a system that syphons almost all of the spoils to a tiny minority of the participants. Before COVID-19, more than half of Americans could not afford a $500 emergency expense. According to a 2017 Oxfam study, just 8 men (including 6 Americans) controlled as much wealth as ½ of the world combined (3.6 billion people). And, of course, the statistics are horrific when analyzed along racial lines. Black people experience vastly disproportionate suffering in virtually every single socioeconomic category from income, to incarceration, to disease, to education, to infant mortality.
Why would anyone want to preserve and perpetuate such a system? Well, there are many reasons that include greed, ignorance, self-interest, inertia, tribalism, fear, and hate (or a combination of all). However, let us instead focus on our path forward.
The cliche is a truism: life is about the journey, not the destination. It is during the journey that we learn, and we grow, and we are tested, and we develop ourselves, and we come together to cross the difficult terrain. The path forward is not always easy or comfortable, and that is the point. Progress is earned via struggle and discomfort. True perspective comes from regularly altering one’s vantage point, scrambling to the highest peaks, and, at times, descending into the lowest valleys. For without adversity, there is no triumph.
And, during these trying times we have witnessed many beautiful moments. Goodhearted people everywhere have come together to support each other. Enterprising minds have nimbly devised new ways for us to operate within a world turned upside-down by the pandemic. Those who care have found new ways to achieve fulfillment in societies largely bereft of many of the material frills we had all become so dependent upon.
And, perhaps most importantly, a worldwide Black Lives Matter movement has emerged, one which is comprised of millions and millions of people from all walks of life, all races, all national origins, all socioeconomic backgrounds. With mass demonstrations in cities as disparate as Portland, Paris, Honolulu, Toronto, Auckland, and Tokyo, BLM is arguably the most widespread movement in the history of planet earth. The American president, whose every other utterance is fraudulent, has attempted to represent BLM as a terrorist organization. However, the reasonable people of the world, the people of good conscience, see what is really happening. Civilians are rising up everywhere to demand democracy for all, an end to systemic racism, and a reformation of the militarized regime of American capitalism that has oppressed, exploited, and slaughtered so many. Moreover, it appears that the resistance genie is now out of the bottle. BLM and its supporters will not be appeased by half-measures, will not go quietly into the night though the road is long and thorny and beset with pitfalls.
So, while the innumerable challenges we face in today’s world are both daunting and frightening, they are also the ensigns of great opportunity, the harbingers of a new phase in human history and, ultimately, the shepherds who shall usher the people toward a distant meadow of joy and abundance. Let us enjoy this journey. Let us reap what we can from every stride. And let us keep this in mind always: when the night grows darkest is when we can and must shine brightest.
The poem below is by Greek poet C.P. Cavafy, who lived in Alexandria, Egypt in the late 19th Century.
As you set out for Ithaka
hope your road is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
angry Poseidon—don’t be afraid of them:
you’ll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
wild Poseidon—you won’t encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.
Hope your road is a long one.
May there be many summer mornings when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you enter harbors you’re seeing for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind—
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to learn and go on learning from their scholars.
Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you’re destined for.
But don’t hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you’re old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you’ve gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.
Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you wouldn’t have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.
And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you’ll have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.