By Al Stankard, a political dissident and novelist living in New York City.
The death of friends due to Covid lockdowns and political persecution won’t discourage us – instead, they plant in us new seeds of resistance. Crappy movies and books can’t distract us forever.
Since the Taliban’s unexpected success in reclaiming their country, the one thing I’ve been losing sleep over is, well, why can’t we have what they have? Are we Americans really so gaslit and demoralized by the self-anointed “adults in the room” that we dare not challenge their presence? Things are already bad and getting worse for too many of us. The ongoing improperly motivated Covid lockdowns and vaccine mandates are backing many of us into corners out of which we have no choice but to fight.
Just the other day, I was riding a public bus to purchase a vehicle in a distant town. The driver refused admittance to a scraggly man who had clearly been waiting for too long under the scorching sun. In all but America’s greatest metropolises, to ride the bus is to be a member of the nation’s underclass. It means you are carless, and might as well be shoeless.
On this particularly sweltering day, the scraggly man was told there was no room on the bus for him, and he would have to wait a half-hour more for the next bus. Our bus was almost completely empty, yet Covid restrictions were such that 75% of seats had to remain empty. Swerving, the driver barked into his mirror at another passenger to pull his mask up over his nose.
My mind drifted to my best friend, Alex Häkkinen, the father of my godchild. Alex had supported me both artistically and politically since I was in college, both before and after I dropped out in 2009, three years into a physics degree. He supported me both financially and emotionally, both when I was riding the rails and when I was writing and producing avant-garde dissident plays in New York City.
Alex is the only person I know to have died as a result of Covid and its lockdowns. In his case, he took his life this past April, aged 37, with a massive, deliberate dose of an industrial solvent. Alex, a cosmonaut and lifelong advocate of responsible drug use, had always embraced such substances for their powerfully hypnotic, sleep-inducing qualities.
On the bus was a worn-out man hiding a puppy in a paper bag – puppies, like maskless faces, are not allowed on the bus. But the puppy’s presence brought me and my fellow passengers out of our respective shells. We chatted. A particularly flustered young man on the bus, I learnt, was on his way to a drug-related court appointment in the state capital. We spoke of his reliance on the bus, and how he had had to reschedule his court date due to some bus-related logistical dilemma he had faced. I could not help but wonder about the scraggly man who had been denied a seat on the bus, how badly his day might have been screwed, and how much further he would be pushed off the chessboard of American society.
At yet another stop, a man with a pronounced juggalo aspect but sharp eyes got on. He was visibly resistant to having to keep a mask up over his nose. When I noticed his eyes darting around at me and the other passengers as he reluctantly dug into his pocket for one, I felt the ageless spirit of insurrection sweep over me. “I don’t care if you don’t wear a mask,” I volunteered. A handful of us, even a middle-aged lady seated nearby, burst into discussion. The cure was worse than the disease, and our compliance with the ruling class’s agenda was not only destroying our individual lives, but, in doing so, eroding all of mankind’s dearest hopes of a better world.
I vocally tinkered with the idea of all of us refusing to wear our masks. The middle-aged lady gently pushed back on my words, certain that such a mutiny would attract police intervention. “No, you don’t understand,” I explained to her. “If everybody were to refuse to comply, then the authorities would lose all power over us.” She acknowledged this fundamental point, yet I quieted down all the same. Today would not be the day. But I felt a newfound optimism about the possibility of revolution in an American population so thoroughly inoculated against the very notion of collective group action.