Anne Lamott, a popular soul-searching memoirist, live-Zoomed a teaching on writing recently. She emphasized two major points: 1) stop not writing, and; 2) no one cares if you’re writing, especially your family and friends. Anne told us to be likable narrators, never vengeful and don’t antagonize the reader.
I risk being an “un”likable antagonistic narrator in writing about the looting and violence in my downtown Chicago neighborhood, the Gold Coast. An amalgam of landscaped mansions, row houses and mixed income highrises, the Gold Coast rose in the wake of the 1871 Great Chicago Fire. Wealthy industrialists built North Lake Shore Drive to front their new mansions. In the late 1980s, the Gold Coast was the second most affluent neighborhood in the United States, behind Manhattan’s Upper East Side. I’m neither affluent nor near-affluent. I live in the Gold Coast to be safe.
In the early morning of May 31, I walked out the back door of my building to Oak Street with Henry the dog. Oak Street is a block-long high-fashion retail museum where the haute couture show off their latest trendsetting wardrobes in oversize clear glass windows. The Chicago uprising stemming from the George Floyd murder turned Oak Street into a comic book version of a visit from Godzilla. Within hours shattered glass lay strewn on the streets and sidewalks, dismembered mannequins lay naked on the curbs, paper and cardboard boxes lay shredded everywhere. A U-Haul truck perched on the curbside by the shattered window of Dolce & Gabbana. Scavengers foraged through smashed-in Armani’s looking for remnants of the organized looting that had just ended. The street recovered somewhat over the next few months and then bam! On August 10 Godzilla came through again and not only sacked Oak Street, but unloosed a reign of violence and looting all over Chicago’s retail corridors.
Black Lives Matter, a radical national organization became a mainstream darling after the gruesome George Floyd murder. Yes, white people said, we finally get it! We value Black people and their right to self-determination. We want to fight for equitable systems too. We might even support reparations. We’ll try to understand what you mean by “defund the police.” We pledge to learn more about white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy. Ending criminalization of Black communities is our goal too. We’re with you.
A BLM spokesperson stood in front of the police station that held 100 arrestees from the August 10 uprising and announced that BLM considers looting “reparations”, and that downtown attacks will continue until there’s justice and equality in their neighborhoods.
Activist Michael Pfleger appeared hangdog on TV mouthing a familiar plea including words like, “decades of disinvestment and abandonment,” and begging city leaders for a strategy.
“I’ve never seen things worse.” He said.
In 1968 I had an autographed copy of Eldridge Cleaver’s “Soul on Ice”. I have no idea what drew me to anti-racism then or what draws me to it now. But I sure do feel as defeated as Father Pfleger sounds.
And I miss walking Henry through the Oak Street fashion museum.