This is Cleveland, as seen from above the dog beach, where happy St. Bernards and black Labs and tiny Jack Russells frolic in the water, and chubby ,sun-burnt families blast Kanye from iPhone speakers on the shell-speckled sand. It is a very pretty city, that will definitely be overtaken by the waters again someday and drowned in its own inequities, but that day is at least a couple decades off. I miss it often, I had forgotten how wonderful the summers are here, and those blues. When I’m at my happiest, my eyes are the color of the Lake at noon on a July Tuesday.
Tuesday’s child is full of grace. Wednesday’s child is full of woe. It’s not Wednesday yet, but it will be by the time you’re reading this.
I heard a completely unsubstantiated, unverified, no-idea-if-it’s-true-or-not story, from a person who will remain anonymous but who has first responder friends, that they found a pipe bomb this morning in the historic West Side Market. I’m not a journalist. I’m just telling you what people texted me.
The thing is, if there really was a pipe bomb, and they found it and removed it so early that no one is even talking about it? Then cool. They’re doing a great job. I would very much prefer not to know when there are bombs lying around places I was planning on going that day. Thank you for protecting me, and all that artisan beef jerky.
But also what if there was a pipe bomb, and the Powers That Be deliberately squelched any mention of it because the GOP is trying so hard to show us everything is normal and please stop looking at those six crazy people holding God Hates Faggots signs over in the corner there? Then it’s like, oh cool, I’m so glad you caught it, and also maybe we have a right to know even if we don’t have the desire, dearest Big Brother?
Or there was no pipe bomb.
This morning I decided not to go downtown. I looked at the photos on my feed of Public Square, and it looked dead. The theme today was Make America Work Again, so maybe everyone was at work. They’ve got the crowd control so tightly down, and the protest groups have been small and spaced out. Of course, throughout the day people kept talking about things they’d heard, and from what I can tell, the only real stuff I missed was Alex Jones yelling at some communists, and men on horses. Oh, and my friend Thea saw Karl Rove. I was just in Colorado and saw plenty of horses, so I’m cool with missing all that.
The real thing is I didn’t think I could take another five hours of watching the media ourosbouros eat its own tail over the same five crazy guys, while all the Barbie and Ken dolls were in the plastic castle, cutting each other’s hair in their sleep.
Instead, I went to The Transformer Station, a new museum in Hingetown I hadn’t seen yet. It was made out of…you guessed it! A Transformer Station? Only none of us know what that means, because no one going to events at The Transformer Station has ever worked at an actual transformer station. There could be a secret basement, and old machines down there still running, inadvertently sterilizing all the hipsters, and in thirty years there will be an economic disaster where none of the old hipsters have had new hipsters to replace them.
I really like the museum. It’s only two giant rooms, but it’s a great space for public events. They were having panel discussions about art, politics, and opportunity equality. The panelists were all artists and activists. It was, as you can imagine, mostly full of liberals. I think I needed to soak myself in some real talk using words with more than two syllables, even if the real talk was mostly about the emotional impact of the large melting ice sculpture outside. I walked in off the hot street and the bus line, and into a cool concrete gathering of old hippies, art professors, hot guys who looked like members of hip-hop jazz improvisation ensembles, and other concerned neighborhood luminaries who were all discussing the non-existence of the American Dream.
The wonderful whimsical thing about the GOP narrative is they assume every quality they want has already existed in the past. Everything is “Make America like it was before, again.” And then the rest of us are all like “pshaw, it was never like that before, learn your history, blah blah blah” and the important thing we’re forgetting to notice is that attaching a large complicated idea to the comfort that this was a state we had managed to achieve before is key to selling all this. Like, if Trump just said “We’ll make America work!” then there’s this vague idea of the future, with the possibility of failure. But saying “We’ll make America work AGAIN” means hey, listen, we already pulled this off. We just need to return to an already natural state, like a pendulum coming to rest, or a compass landing on due north. Easy. We don’t need to create anything NEW, which is an intimidating concept that seems unfamiliar and hard, because we don’t know what it might actually look like in the end, or if it will work at all. That’s our problem, liberals. We’re always asking people to imagine castles in the sky, instead of imagining castles from the past, and they’re both fictional obviously, but one seems inherently more concrete. We should just start saying things like “Make America Socialist Again!” or “Make America Nice to Black People Again!”
But we’ll never be able to, because we’re not horrible, horrible liars.
Concepts I heard expressed during the City Club panel talks that I really appreciated hearing:
- When do our efforts to “clean up” a neighborhood start to contribute to the inequity – as in when you’re bringing in coffeeshops and condos, how do you limit displacement of the poor people who also live there? Obviously not a new question in the development world, but after hearing development people in North Carolina just kinda of shrug and say “well, you know, that’s just how gentrification works, it’s kinda our job” it was such a relief to hear the voices of people who were actually really truly concerned about it, how our responsibility should be towards preserving and improving the lives of working class people more than just making an area beautiful and interesting to entrepeneurs, and I mean, right there you’ve summed up the difference between community developers and urban developers. I think I’m gonna just start asking people I meet right away which stance they believe is most effective, like asking if you’re a cat or dog person.
- A woman was talking about how people told her she sounded doom and gloom all the time, so she was trying to say something positive, and the closest she could get was the fact there were no economic incentives to end slavery, but it still happened. Like, the country was built on free labor, but now we were talking as a culture about living wages and tax equality, and that was amazing. That’s true, and man do I believe it’s important, if you’re trying to maintain an activist lifestyle, to constantly put things in historical context, look at the longview, remember how short a time it’s actually been even though it’s several lifetimes. Otherwise, how can you ever keep going?
- “As long as we’re fighting internally, we’ll pray to anyone for anything.” Like, boom.
After that panel, three artists talked about their work, and how art was supposed to fit into politics. The guy who got all the naked women together to take the picture outside the convention center Sunday morning, Spencer Tunick, was there. They had to call him in from the other room where he was on his phone and not paying attention, like he was a director at some small film festival he thought might be below him. He showed a video about the shoot, and at one point in the video you saw all the girls taking selfies afterwards and in the video he’s all like “Hey, hey girls, if anyone wants to take a photo with me, I will” and the hipster journalist girl sitting next to me and I looked at each other and just burst out laughing.
And there was this woman whose work is currently up at Spaces, Roopa Vasudevan. I loved her project. She used a program for almost a year to collect any tweets that mentioned any of the primary candidates, and rank the things people were saying about the candidates in terms of frequency of mention. Then she took the highest ranked ideas, and made campaign merchandise out of it – buttons and tshirts and bumper stickers. The idea was to subvert the carefully planned, cleaned, and scrubbed campaign messages with what people actually said about the candidates.
I think it’s important after this general election is over to really thoroughly examine what happened with these primaries and not let it happen again.
After the panel talks, I walked over to Spaces to see the installation, and while I was there, the guy at the desk told me I had just missed talking to this artist who ran a workshop creating cellphone interceptor blockers – little copper cloth pockets to put your phone in so the secret service couldn’t track you as you were out and about at the convention. He described the way they worked as “if you put your phone in a fridge.”
If you’re reading this in Cleveland, I highly recommend going to see Bellwether while it’s up. You can also see a bunch of political cartoons from the 70s, and the film project The Fixers, which is about people in Cleveland who are actively working in community development. Then you can ride the Red Line to see all the new photo murals of Clevelanders, hit the roaming drum installation that wants you to just beat away on painted buckets and cymbals for a minute to make yourself feel better, and fill up your Instagram feed with pictures of the huge plastic snails and birds they’ve been installing all over the city that I desperately want to try floating on in the Lake, cause I think it would work.There’s art everywhere, guys. It’s pretty great. It makes you feel better. Cleaner. More ready to face Public Square again.
The feeling you get from Cleveland as soon as you step outside the event zone is one of desperation to make sure the rest of the country knows we don’t believe this shit, guys. We’re not the bad guys. Please don’t think we like these people, we just want their money. We’re just trying to survive this whole thing same as you.
Later I went to a comedy show in the basement bowling alley of an old Slovenian National Hall, and the manager of the place took me on a tour of the big halls upstairs, where hanging in the kitchen was a picture of his grandfather sitting in one of the giant dining rooms with his family and the whole Slovenian community, and in the background, one of the white-apron clad servers is his grandmother, and the two hadn’t even met yet when the photo was taken. And while I stood on that familiar wooden stage, with the heavy pink-draped velveteen curtains, remembering terrifying auditions for plays in middle school in a similar church hall on the other side of town, the comedy hipsters drank PBRs and played pokemon and smoked cigarettes outside in the street, and the streetlights were gold, and across the street a dog barked from his porch, and a sprinkler soaked a pile of mattresses on a tree lawn, and far away down the hill the steel mill stacks were still smoking even though the building that used to house the mill offices is now for rent, and it doesn’t matter how many shiny Republicans shit in the hotels downtown, all those parts of Cleveland are eternal and concrete.
Make America Work Again is a shitty concept. It implies at some point we stopped working. It’s not Get America Working Again, which would place the blame for job loss where it belongs – on forces outside the American worker’s control.
There will be no more manufacturing jobs, guys.
There will be no more great influx of any kind of job.
While technology has exponentially grown to make human involvement in manufacturing useless and expensive, the population has also grown exponentially. So you can create as many temporary economic surges as you want, but the fact is we just have more people than we will ever have work again. However you want to tackle that problem – through population control, or expansion of social programs, or just not vaccinating your kids and letting everyone die off in a plague – that is a factual, irreversible scenario. There will just be more and more unemployed people. I don’t know what to do about that either, except look at art and think about it, and then maybe go help some poor people.