Summer Chronicles 2020 #1: Hope Is in the Streets

by on June 22, 2020 · 0 comments

in Civil Rights, Under the Perfect Sun

By Jim Miller

In the summer of 1967, the great Brazilian writer, Clarice Lispector, began a seven-year stint as a writer for Jornal de Brasil (The Brazilian News) not as a reporter but as a writer of “chronicles,” a genre peculiar to Brazil.  As Giovanni Pontiero puts it in the preface to Selected Chrônicas, a chronicle, “allows poets and writers to address a wider readership on a vast range of topics and themes.  The general tone is one of greater freedom and intimacy than one finds in comparable articles or columns in the European or U.S. Press.”

What Lispector left us with is an eccentric collection of “aphorisms, diary entries, reminiscences, travel notes, interviews, serialized stories, essays, loosely defined as chronicles.”  As a novelist, Pontiero tells us, Lispector was anxious about her relationship with the genre, apprehensive of writing too much and too often, of, as she put it, “contaminating the word.”  It was a genre alien to her introspective nature and one that challenged her to adapt.

More than forty years later, in Southern California — in San Diego no less — I look to Lispector with sufficient humility and irony from my place on the far margins of literary history with three novels and a few other books largely set in our minor league corner of the universe.  Along with this weekly column, it’s not much compared to the gravitas of someone like Lispector.  So, as Allen Ginsberg once said of Whitman, “I touch your book and feel absurd.”

Nonetheless the urge to narrate persists. Along with Lispector, I am cursed with it–for better or worse. So, for a few lazy weeks of summer I will, as I have for a few years now, try my hand at the form.


Hope is in the streets.  In the midst of a pandemic that brought an economic collapse during which a series of police murders inspired an international wave of protests, a new era is being imagined, one that would rise out of the ashes of a dying, corrupt order.  And it’s a beautiful thing.

Yes, the ugliness is still very much with us in all its myriad forms, but amidst the teargas, rubber bullets, fascist tweets, and posturing, the young are demanding the impossible.  What is wonderful about this is the fact that they don’t care what those who “know better” are telling them.  They don’t care about what’s realistic or likely to move the needle in the November election.  And they certainly don’t care whether you approve of their rhetoric and demands.

After a month of watching spontaneous protests, rallies, and solidarity events pop up out of the blue, it’s clear that something is happening that is larger than this moment. Some of the biggest protests locally and across the country have been driven by teenagers or others not much older engaging in real time on social media whose response to watching George Floyd’s murder on a closed feedback loop was to insist that it not stand, that this not be their future.  Time to stop police brutality.  Time to end racism, now.  Time for a better world than the one we are leaving them.

They aren’t kidding.  You don’t dive behind a line of cars to escape rubber bullets, wash the teargas out of your eyes, and then come back for more the next day as one of my students did if you are kidding.

One of those young people whom I love put it to me this way, “This is my moment, my time to be a part of history.  I need to show up and stand for what’s right.”  So, in the midst of a pandemic, during the darkest of times, they hit the streets with masks, signs, boldness, and courage.  Then some older folks followed, inspired by the energy, earnestness, and shining clarity of their vision.

As one elderly white couple who rolled up next to my car at a red light during a recent protest caravan said to my son and me as we waited, “It’s so sad that such a simple thing like ‘black lives matter’ even needs to be said, but it does. Thanks for doing this.”  I smiled and nodded.

As we drove on, I remembered marching in a protest after the Rodney King verdict back in the nineties with people either yelling profanities at us or rolling up their windows and locking their car doors.  There was no sense of a beloved community.  Not so this time, though.  Instead, at one of the biggest demonstrations downtown, people were out on their balconies waving their own signs or cheering.  It was cathartic, like a wall had broken down and suddenly you could see a brighter horizon.

On the whole, the crowds at the protests are not just young but multiracial and open to all comers.  They are the antithesis of all that ails us at present.  So too is the joy that lives alongside the anger.  Saying no to a life where you numbly accept grave injustice as business as usual is saying yes to a life as it should be lived both individually and collectively.  Sometimes, you need to be too naïve to know that something will “never happen” to make it happen.

As we move into the heart of what may be a long, hot summer, the cynics are already beginning to emerge, and the cautious and the serious people are lining up as well to give lectures about “responsibility” and pragmatic politics.  A host of likely disappointments looms and much hard work remains to be done.  But it is worth noting that IF we are actually at a pivot point in this country and better days lie ahead, we won’t have politicians or pundits to thank for it.  It surely won’t be the generations of folks who’ve done so much to murder the future who deserve our gratitude.

The spark that lit the flame of hope came from the kids on the streets.

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