maker of mattresses, automobiles, and underwear.
Forty years ago I fell in love
with a Kenosha girl, and we’ve lived the last 38
just beyond your city limits.
You are tough, a survivor.
Thirty odd years ago, after the cars were gone,
everyone said you were done for, you were finished;
a company town without a company, a one trick pony,
your downtown dead,
the old lakefront factory torn down and its land condemned for toxicity.
But you persevered, you prospered.
You were the perfect reflection of your country’s pure and still skies
Now those skies have grown troubled and cloudy
with pandemic and violence
and the threatening hurricane of chaos and confusion already
churning their mirrored stillness into choppy and muddled waves.
If you want to understand America in 2020,
Kenosha would be the perfect place to start,
because it’s turned out that 2020 is the year we are supposed to lift every rock
and see what’s to be found in the damp brown dirt in the pocket of their\
carved out indentations.
As difficult and heavy as the rocks might be to lift
it’s surprisingly easy to see what’s been going on just beneath their surface
There’s a gaping fault line running down the middle of 52nd street,
separating the right from the left,
dividing you in half
you rebuilt your downtown,
and it didn’t just survive, it thrived,
with a beautiful Marina replacing the formerly toxic lakefront
a farmer’s market with fresh produce and crafts from surrounding
farms and local artisans.
empty store fronts replaced with small shops, restaurants,
gathering places for mostly upscale white people to frequent,
and a new neighborhood of upscale condominiums for them to live in.
Kenosha was and is
a reflection of its country, with epic cavernous divisions
along the fault lines of economic class and racist segregation.
I’ve gone downtown and drank micro-brewed beers all night,
feeling safe in the absence of people of color.
It’s easy to be a progressive liberal, to support Black Lives Matter,
from the distance of suburbia,
as long as they stay in their red lined neighborhoods,
even when grocery stores and healthcare clinics abandon them
to chase the gold dust
lining the gutters of streets in the affluent suburbs .
Systemic racism. The poor get poorer, and more isolated.
Then pandemic hits, and we all experience, even if only fractionally,
some degree of the same isolation and uncertainty,
and finally open up our eyes
to see things that cannot be ignored.
The brutal murder of George Floyd is captured in a YouTube video,
and the outrage crosses racial lines, and even as Minneapolis became
engulfed in flames,
there was the sense that this time was different,
that real change might occur.
But soon even this promise turned to ennui
and faded from the collective consciousness
as the opportunity for real change seemed headed for the same destiny
as the Parkland mass shootings.
You remember Parkland, right? You don’t?
The one that was supposed to be so different than all of the
other mass shootings, those student activists that we admired so much that
were finally going to bring meaningful reform to our gun laws?
Well, it’s been two and a half years (feels longer, doesn’t it?),
and no laws have changed,
and those courageous young voices have gone silent.
Although protests continued, George Floyd began to sink into
the same depths of cultural oblivion.
Then, Kenosha, you happened, it was your turn.
In one of your “bad “ neighborhoods,
a 29 year old Black man named Jacob Blake was shot seven times in the
back from inches away by white policeman. It was captured on an
unambiguous YouTube video,
It was your moment, your chance to show the world what you’re made of,
and it wasn’t pretty.
Your streets were set on fire,
buildings that had over generations become institutions reduced over night to war zone rubble.
Self-armed militia groups combined with National Guard troops and
Policemen to combat the “violent”
protestors supposedly aligned with Black Lives Matter,
although the only meaningful violence came from the AR-15 of a malleable
17 year old militia member
named Kyle Rittenhouse who shot and killed two protesters and blew an
arm off of a third.
We know these things because they, too, were captured on YouTube video.
So what happened to Rittenhouse?
That night, nothing.
He walked the streets brandishing his AR-15, unmolested by police,
even though he’d shot three people, killing two,
even though it’s illegal for a minor to open carry,
even though it’s illegal to cross state lines with a semi-automatic rifle.
Then he went home and slept in his own bed.
He slept in his own bed, while about 40 miles away,
In Milwaukee, Jacob Blake was in a hospital bed,
seven holes in his back,
fighting for his life.
The President of the United States,
the white supremacist in chief, saw what was going on,
saw an opportunity to stir up the rubble into his reliable stew
of chaos and division, and decided to drop in for a visit.
In all of his remarks that day,
not even once did he mention Jacob Blake
or even acknowledge the shooting.
Instead, he focused on the handful of violent protestors,
ignoring the 95 percent that were peaceful
just like he ignored the systemic racism he’s campaigned to strengthen.
He did manage to insert some sympathetic remarks about Kyle Rittenhouse,
making clear what was already obvious: who’s side he is on.
You’ve taken some real strong punches, Kenosha,
and you were shaken and bruised,
rocked back against the ropes, your knees bent, but you never fell.
Instead, at the same time the president was spewing his hatred and vitriol,
you began to rally,
defiantly holding a block party and community building event
on the very street where Jacob Blake was shot,
countering the president’s inflammatory words of divisiveness with acts of love and kindness.
The media presence and national attention waned and left,
leaving you with the daunting task of rebuilding
not just the piles of brick and concrete,
but more importantly, the frayed connections between your people.
Today, driving by the wreckage and ruin,
you’ll find messages of love and hope spray painted across the boarded up
windows and doors.
These simple but profound sentiments won’t by themselves be enough to
close the gaps that divide us,
but they’re a start.
Love requires more strength and resolve than hate. We all knew that.
Let’s hope that all this sound and fury was enough to make us learn
that love is always worth the extra effort.
K-Town. Tough and enduring.