In order to be able to wonder, we require safety. This week, the US Capitol attack threatened our collective safety. While sadly not shocking, the events of this week have still left me, and I’m sure many of you, angry, hurt, and worried. I do not want to write about politics in this blog, but I can’t ignore the basic threats to democracy and equality we face in this moment, especially since they threaten our ability to wonder.
Wows great and small
I started this blog to help inspire our curiosity and to help us find wonder. To wonder is to be surprised in the best possible way. It’s that “Wow!” moment, and, for me at least, wonder stops me in my tracks, and it snaps me into the now.
Some wows we never forget. My first night in Budapest, I arrived at the banks of the Danube, just as the sun had set. At that very moment, Széchenyi, Parliament, Buda Castle, Fisherman’s Bastion, and Gellért Hill lit up all at once, revealing one of the most spectacular sights I have ever seen. I had no idea that this would happen, and I nearly fell over. It was all I could do not to burst into applause (which would not have been appropriate, so I just did it in my mind. I could not stop my giant grin).
Small wows, though, bring their own special joy for having found them—the very first new green leaf I see in spring, the reflection of a tree in a window, little kids tearing down the street with a look of absolute glee.
This blog changed in response to our times
I originally intended to blog about the greater wonders, those found on travels. However, travel simply isn’t safe right now, and for our safety and that of our communities, we must not travel. It doesn’t seem to make much sense to write about adventures in overcoming jetlag when I haven’t been on a plane in nearly eleven months, and, likely, neither have you. I’m renewing my passport this week in hopes for travel later this year, but for now, I wander where my feet can take me.
I did not intend to write about politics in this blog. However, I can’t ignore the world we live in, especially when the very subject of this blog—wonder—is under attack.
Wonder requires safety
Wonder requires safety, at least a degree of it, in order for us to experience it. Last week I wrote about my White privilege while walking, because it has an impact on the ability of BIPOC to safely take walks. When David Summers wrote about not being able to pay attention on his walk to the darting squirrels or the blue of the sky, the reason why he could not stop and wonder was because he was not safe to do so.
In the US, our democracy provides us with our safety. It’s unequally distributed, especially along racial lines, for which I and other White people must take responsibility for rectifying, but our rights and freedoms stem from our democratic institutions.
The US Capitol attack threatened our safety
Our collective safety as Americans came under threat this week with the attack on the US Capitol. The President of the United States incited insurrection. White, Right-wing domestic terrorists stormed our Capitol—the seat of our democracy—with the express intent of overturning the results of our election. They did not succeed in their attempted coup, but if you watch videos (please know that they are violent and deeply disturbing—I did not watch all of them), you will see that things could have gone very differently. Five people died, and dozens were injured.
Republican members of the House and Senate, even after this violent attack on our democracy, still registered baseless objections to the results of our election. They did not succeed, and Biden’s win was certified, but we cannot dismiss the fact that they did it.
Contrast Wednesday’s response with BLM protests last summer
This isn’t the first time our collective safety has come under attack in recent months. Just last summer, the President of the United States and the Attorney General used federal forces to quell Black Lives Matter protests, something which struck the very core of American democracy.
Black Lives Matter activists protest the lack of safety that Black people have in this country, with last summer’s marches ignited by the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery. Rather than address White Supremacy, the Right ginned up the Antifa boogeyman and used it as an excuse to call for martial law. Indeed, had the Defense Secretary not surprisingly stood up to Trump last summer, we would be living in a very different country right now, one where the military freely roam the streets, and that coup attempt this week might have succeeded.
Even still, the draconian crackdown on BLM protesters and the images of unidentified law enforcement officers under then-Attorney General Barr in DC and federal Homeland Security officials kidnapping people in Portland for graffiti, stands in stark contrast to the utter lack of security for our nation’s Capitol building when White, right-wing insurrectionists attacked our democracy.
Attacks on our safety rob us of our ability to wonder
Wonder requires safety.
While these attacks on our safety should not come as a shock*, it does not mean that when they happen, they do not rob us of our ability to wonder. I’ve dreaded a day such as Wednesday for decades, and especially since Trump took office. I am grateful that it was not worse, but I remain deeply concerned about what he could do while still in power and afraid of what his unleashed followers will do in the wake of his exit.
These attacks on our safety rob us of our ability to wonder.
I don’t know about you, but even though I’m not shocked, I have still wandered about since Wednesday in a fog. Instead of being able to experience the joy that comes from noticing the world around me, I am enraged (if you’re my Facebook friend, I am sorry for all the swears), hurt, and worried. Democracy is under attack (indeed, in Hungary, where I experienced such wonder, the situation is dire). I continued to do my morning rituals to ground me, and they helped, but I would be lying if I told you that my mind isn’t still spinning.
We must protect democracy
My country is far, far, far from perfect, with ugliness that goes back to our founding. Still I love it, and I love our ideals. I love that we can work toward a more perfect union, one where the rights of all us are recognized as equals. I love democracy. I want our government of the people, by the people, and for the people (ALL the people) to endure.
Wonder requires safety.
Our safety stems from our democracy. Our democracy requires our active participation. We have to pay attention and resist threats to our democracy.
Our ability to stop and wonder at the beauty of this world depends on it.
*If you do find yourself shocked, I’ve found Boston College history professor Heather Cox Richardson to offer timely, cogent analysis and historical context. I have linked to her Substack, but you can also follow her on Facebook, where she offers regular live updates.