United in Love
I can’t breathe.
Slow motion words suspended in the rarified clarity of revelation. Historic the moment they became the dying words of George Floyd.
I can’t breathe.
The abrupt catalyst for a pregnant revolution so long overdue it burst forth in a massive collective gasp of horror, pain, frustration, and anger.
In a land divided by politics and goaded to the brink of despair by incendiary tweets designed to do nothing more. In a land already reeling from pandemic shutdown and staggering economic hardship. In a land where the number of dead exceeds 110,000—with people of color bearing the heaviest loss. In a land where the divide between rich and poor grows greater with each passing day. In a land where skin color still determines safety on the street.
We can’t breathe.
In the famed “land of the free and home of the brave” we are suffocating. Gasping for leadership—for truth, for justice, for inspiration.
I can’t breathe.
Very likely the last words spoken by critically ill COVID-19 patients before being placed on a respirator.
Not even half over, 2020 has already become one of those defining moments in human history. Like Pearl Harbor, 9/11, HIV/AIDS, the great depression—nothing will be the same in its aftermath.
Please God, let that be the case now! We are desperate for change. Desperate for healing—from the disease that threatens our bodies, the division wounding our hearts, and the systemic racism that tears at the soul of our country.
June is Gay Pride month—even when the president refuses to declare it as such. In normal times the world would be festooned in rainbow colors and celebrating Pride Parades.
The modern LGBTQ rights movement had its own defining moment at the Stonewall Inn in 1969. Then in 1980, that youthful revolution had to grow up fast to deal with the AIDS epidemic and shatter the silence surrounding it.
Larry Kramer died on May 27, 2020. American playwright, author. Co-founder of Gay Men’s Health Crisis. Instrumental to the founding of ACT UP (AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power). Larry inspired and offended in equal parts.
Though not the creators of the iconic “Silence=Death” poster, ACT-UP used it (with permission), and it is still associated with the organization.
We founded CAMP Rehoboth in 1991, not to mimic the in-your-face tactics of ACT-UP, but to end the silence of the closet—to put ourselves out in the open and joyfully model for the world a healthy, vibrant, LGBTQ community.
As George Floyd’s death ignited a movement around the world, the idea of silence continued to haunt my thoughts. To remain silent in the face of injustice is not a neutral act. It stands as an affirmation of injustice.
As the week progressed, I made a new Facebook cover for myself. “Silence=Injustice; Silence=Racism; Silence=Hate; Silence=Indifference; Silence=Discrimination; Silence=Inequality; Silence=Intolerance; Silence=Acceptance; Silence=Approval.” The words repeated over and over again.
As a white man, I cannot claim to fully understand the weight of centuries of oppression heaped upon our black brothers and sisters. As a gay man, I know the destructive power of silence—the power of the closet to distort the way life should be. I know I cannot remain silent until all are free—all equal to share in the promise of our American founders.
Because there have been fewer issues of Letters from CAMP Rehoboth during the time of the pandemic, this Pride issue is also the July 4th issue. But I confess, I find myself struggling with the red, white, and blue.
I am ashamed of the bitter division in our country. Ashamed of the divisive wedge our president uses to further his own self-interest. I am horrified by the extent of hate language on display every day—and the subtle way racism is manipulated in an attempt to make us fearful of one another.
With the publication of this issue of Letters, the official press announcement has now been made that Sundance 2020 will be a virtual experience this year. For the first time in 33 years we will not physically dance together at the end of the summer. The decision was a painful one, but not actually a hard one to make. The density and crowd size of Sundance makes it a social distancing impossibility.
The work of producing an event the size of Sundance is year-round. Early in the winter of 2020, I completed the theme and prepared the Host, Supporter, and Sponsor forms, as usual.
Then the pandemic changed everything.
As we tried to get a handle on exactly what a virtual event would look like, I redesigned the theme. Instead of the original Solar Powered Neon Rainbow Love-in, 2020 will simply be, United in Love.
United in Love was meant to be a statement about being together even when forced to be physically apart.
Then politics and pandemic met in a health vs. economy clash and mask wearing became a political statement.
Then George Floyd died, and the gut punch that followed knocked the breath out of us all. Two and a half months of isolation. Economic loss. Death and dying. Racism.
“Get your knee off our necks!” the Rev. Al Sharpton proclaimed at George Floyd’s memorial service.
Has there ever been a time when we needed to unite more than this? Has there ever been a time when we needed to love one another more than this? Has there ever been a time in recent years when we needed steady, inspiring leadership more than this?
Hidden behind our masks; standing six feet apart; unable to hug one another; worried about our loved ones; worried about jobs, and school, and finances, and health. We are off balance, and life is not normal.
We can do better than normal!
This Pride, this Independence Day, this Sundance, this summer—we can do better than normal. We can come out of this crisis united in our efforts to transform the world. We can rise from this crisis united in our determination that equality is a fundamental right for all people. United in our belief that Black Lives Matter and systemic racism must stop right now. United in our efforts to care for one another in the midst of an ongoing pandemic.
Most of all, united in love for one another.
United—so we can breathe.
Murray Archibald is an artist and CAMP Rehoboth co-founder. Email Murray at firstname.lastname@example.org