Friday, 8:25 a.m.
It's been a relatively quiet week here at Writing Boots. After months of frenzied writing during coronavirus because whatever it was, it was new—I've felt less interested in writing about George Floyd because whatever it is, it seems old. As do all the defenses, accusations, poses, dodges, caveats, cries of pain, dark jokes, rants and threats I see on Facebook (and hear in my own head).
Maybe something is happening that will make this different, and I just can't hear it because I'm so attuned to sounds made familiar by Do the Right Thing, Rodney King, There Are No Children Here, O.J. Simpson, Laquan McDonald, Ferguson and all the other increasingly repetitive chapters of my generation's racial education that never seems to do anybody any goddamn good.
God, I hope so.
I think I'll leave us this weekend with this photograph, taken by my 16-year-old daughter off the back of my motorcycle, on Chicago's Michigan Avenue last Friday evening, as the sun went down.
Thursday, 12:43 p.m.
Deep in his cups one night at the White Horse Tavern, Dylan Thomas interrupted himself and slurred, "Somebody's boring me. I think it's me."
Thursday, 12:09 p.m.
Come to think of it, increasingly life itself seems less a journal and more a time capsule.
Thursday, 7:56 a.m.
Increasingly this blog becomes less a journal and more a time capsule.
From my daughter's high school trigonometry teacher:
Upon reflection of current events, I want to help lessen the stress and demands students may be facing. In Algebra 2/Trig, we have two assessments left.
For some students, school and school assignments may no longer be a priority, which I understand. Therefore, if you feel unable to complete our two remaining assessments, please email me and let me know. Your email to me will count as your CPS engagement and you will retain your current grade in our class.
For some students, focusing on school may be a good distraction. Therefore, I will still offer the assessments.
I will continue to make the exams available over the summer, if in the future, you are in a better position to take the assessments. I will not be able to count it towards your class average, but it can be helpful for you as you prepare for our return to school in the fall.
Wednesday, 11:04 a.m.
A distant Facebook friend posted this morning:
I've been silent during the events of the past couple weeks, because I don't really think of facebook as an important part of my life, and because since 2016 I've gotten really aggressive about removing people with shitty opinions from my circles.
Pretty much everyone who's still my friend on here has a sane and moral view of the way this country is heading right now (and for a long time prior), and there's no point in me preaching to the choir.
So instead, for those of you with a more…permeable friend group, if there's someone on your wall being fascist/racist or even genuinely ignorant in an innocent way, and you don't feel equipped to argue with them, I will gladly step in and check them for you.
Maybe you're too tired, maybe talking back to that person would have negative repercussions for you in the real world, maybe they're arguing in bad faith, and you're not used to that because you didn't grow up online and haven't been arguing with crazy strangers since you were ten. Maybe that person won't listen to you but is willing to hear from a generic white guy. Maybe your head is just too full of rage and sadness to articulate yourself right now.
Whatever the reason, I'm happy to be your proxy. Just message me with the person's name, and tell me whether I should be polite or not, and I'll swoop into your feed and donate my time to MAYBE getting through to that person, or at least making them feel bad about their awful world view.
For all the rest of you, stay safe.
Wednesday, 9:14 a.m.
A furniture-making collective in suburban Chicago sent an email to customers, "'PLEASE STAY SAFE!' from the continuing exposure of the coronavirus and now the civil unrest of the thugs pillaging our cities."
PLEASE: WE NEED ORDERS to provide work for our Craftsmen! Our craftsmen are mostly self-employed family men and women and a combination of post COVID19 and now the civil unrest recession period without orders will require these craftsmen to abandon their craftsmanship and find work to provide a reliable income.
This is why Fair Oak Workshops has always prioritized supporting the American Craftsmen and now it has become especially critical!
‘PLEASE STAY SAFE!’ from the continuing exposure of the coronavirus and now the civil unrest of the thugs pillaging our cities.
Tuesday, 5:35 p.m.
My pal, corporate attorney Jason Green, just texted me: "In a cacophony of vapid, pointless corporate statements on current events, it is Ben & Jerry's—Ben and Jerry's!—that finally offers something thoughtful."
WE MUST DISMANTLE WHITE SUPREMACY: SILENCE IS NOT AN OPTION
All of us at Ben & Jerry’s are outraged about the murder of another Black person by Minneapolis police officers last week and the continued violent response by police against protestors. We have to speak out. We have to stand together with the victims of murder, marginalization, and repression because of their skin color, and with those who seek justice through protests across our country. We have to say his name: George Floyd.
George Floyd was a son, a brother, a father, and a friend. The police officer who put his knee on George Floyd’s neck and the police officers who stood by and watched didn’t just murder George Floyd, they stole him. They stole him from his family and his friends, his church and his community, and from his own future.
The murder of George Floyd was the result of inhumane police brutality that is perpetuated by a culture of white supremacy. What happened to George Floyd was not the result of a bad apple; it was the predictable consequence of a racist and prejudiced system and culture that has treated Black bodies as the enemy from the beginning. What happened to George Floyd in Minneapolis is the fruit borne of toxic seeds planted on the shores of our country in Jamestown in 1619, when the first enslaved men and women arrived on this continent. Floyd is the latest in a long list of names that stretches back to that time and that shore. Some of those names we know — Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Oscar Grant, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Emmett Till, Martin Luther King, Jr. — most we don’t.
The officers who murdered George Floyd, who stole him from those who loved him, must be brought to justice. At the same time, we must embark on the more complicated work of delivering justice for all the victims of state sponsored violence and racism.
Four years ago, we publicly stated our support for the Black Lives Matter movement. Today, we want to be even more clear about the urgent need to take concrete steps to dismantle white supremacy in all its forms. To do that, we are calling for four things:
First, we call upon President Trump, elected officials, and political parties to commit our nation to a formal process of healing and reconciliation. Instead of calling for the use of aggressive tactics on protestors, the President must take the first step by disavowing white supremacists and nationalist groups that overtly support him, and by not using his Twitter feed to promote and normalize their ideas and agendas. The world is watching America’s response.
Second, we call upon the Congress to pass H.R. 40, legislation that would create a commission to study the effects of slavery and discrimination from 1619 to the present and recommend appropriate remedies. We cannot move forward together as a nation until we begin to grapple with the sins of our past. Slavery, Jim Crow, and segregation were systems of legalized and monetized white supremacy for which generations of Black and Brown people paid an immeasurable price. That cost must be acknowledged and the privilege that accrued to some at the expense of others must be reckoned with and redressed.
Third, we support Floyd’s family’s call to create a national task force that would draft bipartisan legislation aimed at ending racial violence and increasing police accountability. We can’t continue to fund a criminal justice system that perpetuates mass incarceration while at the same time threatens the lives of a whole segment of the population.
And finally, we call on the Department of Justice to reinvigorate its Civil Rights Division as a staunch defender of the rights of Black and Brown people. The DOJ must also reinstate policies rolled back under the Trump Administration, such as consent decrees to curb police abuses.
Unless and until white America is willing to collectively acknowledge its privilege, take responsibility for its past and the impact it has on the present, and commit to creating a future steeped in justice, the list of names that George Floyd has been added to will never end. We have to use this moment to accelerate our nation's long journey towards justice and a more perfect union.
To Jason's point, I would add only that I think a lot of us who agree that institutionalized and cultural racism goes back to slavery are overwhelmed to consider how even well-intentioned Americans might go about eradicating it. (Some cancers can't be cured, you know.) Not just the best corporate statement I've seen, this is the most substantive statement I've seen, period. (Including Joe Biden's speech today.)
And of course it, too, is just a humble start. But it's also a good note on which to end what I hopefully dreamed this morning was the first day of the next America.
An executive communication director for a major American institution writes:
It’s amazing that we now have stacking communication imperatives, which raise so many questions: Do I connect pandemic and the murder/societal unrest, or treat them separately? Do I make an internal statement to staff or also an external one to all? Do I connect the sentiment to our work, even if only tangentially related, or will that seem like a shameless pivot? How much empathy is too much and too little? Should I address the issue of protesting vs. rioting? How important is it to check in with my DEI Team (answer: VERY important).
One of the things we’re applying is the WHY test. Asking not “why not,” but “why do?” and seeing how well we can articulate the answer. This helps us make the right decisions (with meaningful goals in mind) and sets us up form framing those messages appropriately so we’re not simply band-wagoning or succumbing to organizational peer pressure. Not being able to articulate a meaningful answer to “why should we message this?” can be very illuminating.
One of the most challenging things for me is impressing on my colleagues that brevity is as important a value as timeliness and content inclusion. Too often, we try to fix by adding, when the actual fix is subtraction. Adding is about thinking “what can we say?” Subtraction comes when you ask “What does my audience most want and need to hear?” A constant mantra in our world.
To sum up: You do not want to be an exec comms director for a major American institution right now.
(Except that actually, it's the most interesting and potentially meaningful time in your whole exec comms career.)
Tuesday, 7:56 a.m.
This morning as I began to wake to leaves swishing in the sunlight outside my window, a vision came to me in a halfdream.
And like a bitter married couple trying to break each other's ears first with insults and then with decibels and then something gets thrown, or a door gets ripped off a hinge—every American stopped. And one by one, he then she then he then she, shook their head, “No.”
We have differences, terrible ones. We actually loathe each other, some of us. And we feel disrespected, and lied to and condescended to, cheated on and robbed by one another. We disagree on some of the most basic things—like the very meaning of Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness—but we will deal with all that later.
(And really deal with it—also like that moment in a marriage fight, when you realize that words won’t win this argument. Goddamnit, you will have to change. And you don't know if you can change enough, to save the Home.)
But this, we cannot abide. Some shit, we cannot eat.
Every American—everyone—agreed on that, all at once.
And that moment was the first moment of the first day of the next America.
Monday, 4:58 p.m.
A Facebook suggestion from a level-headed Chicagoan: "Chicago friends, our alderman recommended watering down the contents of your dumpsters, FYI. We just watered our garbage. Not sure how helpful it is, but I rather try to prevent tragedy in any way I can …."
Monday, 4:55 p.m.
A corporate communication consultant I know: “Watching today play out with my clients is like watching a bucket of fish that just got tossed into the middle of traffic."
Monday, 1:33 p.m.
Corporate CEOs don't really have anything new to say about racism. Do you? But CEOs can demonstrate a new depth of feeling, as Verizon's CEO Hans Vestberg did today in this tearful speech at a virtual employee meeting.
What Vestberg said was appropriate: “The events unfolding across the country that are rooted in hate are contradictory with our beliefs as a company and leave me with a feeling of regret and sadness. Verizon is fiercely committed to diversity and inclusion across all spectrums because it makes us and the world better. I am hopeful that the rest of the country will come to understand that valuing everyone equally is the best way forward. We cannot commit to a brand purpose of moving the world forward unless we are committed to helping ensure we move it forward for everyone. We stand united as one Verizon."
But what makes it moving is the attitude of humble, almost childlike heartbreak with which Vestberg delivered it.
Throughout coronavirus and now through this, leaders have distinguished themselves more through their emotional availability than through their strategic thinking skills.
The time for the latter will be upon us soon enough, because society's problems won't be solved by expressions of sorrow.
But this is the right place to begin.
Monday, 11:50 a.m.
A speechwriter for the head of a major American institution sent a note to other speechwriters over the weekend:
"It's 10:13 PM on a Saturday, and I'm about to go under for the third time on a draft statement about George Floyd and the riots."
The organization doesn't want to take a stance on Floyd's death, but does want to express compassion for affected stakeholders.
"I assume many of you are engaged in a version of this same folly. If so, I wanted you to know someone is thinking of you. Standing with you, even."
Another speechwriter replied, "At my most cynical, I can feel like I’m paid for two services: Coming up with a way to say nothing about something or something about nothing. Not easy and work that feels small in these moments."
Monday, 11:45 a.m.
Kent State alum catches self writing to a colleague, "I think we need to bring in the National Guard."
Monday, 10:37 a.m.
Daughter bursts out of her bedroom sobbing. "What is happening?" All the stores she and her friends always went to in the Wicker Park neighborhood are looted and trashed. During coronavirus, everyday her run took her over there, "Just so I could remember when things were normal." She's afraid to go out for a run now altogether. I almost suggested I'll go with her, but then I realized I'm just as scared. My company's UPS Store mailbox is in Wicker Park, and I normally run over there on Mondays. Not today.
Monday, 7:40 a.m.
Q. How was your weekend?
A. Friday night, a sunset motorcycle ride with my 16-year-old daughter—out Archer Avenue, back downtown on the Eisenhower, through the deserted loop all the way up Michigan Avenue, which was deserted. Saturday morning, worked on my book and made breakfast for the family. Saturday afternoon, a call with a college soccer recruitment service for my daughter, and some yard work. Saturday evening, two back-to-back social-distancing cocktail sessions in the backyard, during the second one of which an alert came to all our phones telling us about a nine o'clock curfew, just a few minutes before nine. Our guests did not comply with the curfew. (At one point we also learned that someone had stolen a police horse and was riding it around the loop; later, it was clarified that it wasn't a police horse—just a man who had ridden his own horse into the Loop.) Next morning woke up feeling pretty bad and found an empty bottle of rye whiskey in the yard. Gaped at the New York Times for a couple hours. Sat in the lawn staring at my wife, who stared back at me. She felt compelled to write something on Facebook about what's happening but didn't know what to say. I found a 1967 Martin Luther King speech for her that seemed to do the trick. Texted with friends and family asking if we were OK and asked them if they were OK. Somehow brought myself to keep a tennis date out by O'Hare with a partner who hasn't picked up a racket since early March. (The coolest customer I know, he thanked me afterward for playing and said playing again was "emotional" for him.) Back home for some more social-distancing drinking in the backyard—this one involved tears, on and off—and then a family call with the in-laws. Then some calls with my own family. Finally I settled into my dad's chair and sipped white wine and stared at a 1978 Steelers-Falcons game on YouTube while my daughter sat on the couch looking at her phone. "Dad, don't be sad," she said when she got up to go upstairs, "We'e going to get through this."