To my great relief, the ones I spent last Thursday morning worried about as I was making my way across Memphis are all safe.
On business travel all week, my days have been packed quite full, even so that I had to fly out on Monday – Independence Day – at 5am. Across the desert and over the plains, 2,369 frequent flyer miles to Memphis: home of Sun Studios, Beale Street, the world’s largest cargo hub and the pork BBQ capital of the world (I am a vegetarian so you can only imagine how profoundly exciting this was for me). Memphis is a typical Southern city in same the way that the platypus is a typical mammal. But statistically it represents well the modern day Southern town. Like its neighbours, it is home to a large (~50%) community of black people who overwhelmingly live in poverty. The average individual African-American income in Memphis is about half that of the average white person’s. Up on the twelfth floor of the Downtown Marriott, I was only blocks up Second Avenue from one of the worst areas of unemployment and homelessness in the city. Driving West toward the freeway, sun just beginning to glimmer off the Mississippi, I crossed over streets with names like Crump and Forrest; names shamefully reminiscent of the slavery and Jim Crow days that set the stage for the city’s current racial divide. And I, Whitie from the great white North, was happily exploiting, as I do, the business amenities offered to Whitie by just about every modern city. Memphis doesn’t hide its past though, so I guess I just noticed this time.
Anyway, there I was, in this strange anachronism of a city, as the USA turned 229 years old. Unfortunately, in Memphis, like most places in America, Independence Day isn’t about freedom from state-sponsored religion or the true meaning of democracy, or really anything more than trite nationalism, endless loops of “God Bless America” and unabashed pyromania (I was, sadly, cheated out of the last by a particularly ill-timed thunderstorm). I observed all of this; a tangential distraction from the purpose of my visit, but all the same a reminder of the profound iniquity that exists in this country that has spent trillions of dollars creating and then fighting the Taliban, Saddam Hussein, al Qaeda while letting its own live this way. The worn-out hollow platitudes about freedom seemed to me just preversions of something that once had meaning but now are just tools of the religious-military-industrial complex to rally any heretofore bench-warming flag-wavers around more of their dirty little wars. So I settled, eyes-forward and of singular purpose befitting my corporate whoredom, into my week. And so it went. Until Thursday.
Now, back at home in Seattle, I am catching up on the stories of spods, Raindogs, and co-workers from across the pond. I am relieved at their rational, mournful, hopeful and angry responses to the attacks. I am relieved that they didn’t react like Americans: the emergency response was flawless; people continued, resolutely, with their modern lives; Tony Blair went, briefly but immediately, to the injured city. It was all very impressive. I must say I do quite like old London. Their biggest failure appears to be that in the 229 years since the USA declared its independence, they have developed an utter and inexplicable loyalty to the foreign policy of the U.S. government.
So, what I have learned in the last few days is this: London doesn’t need my sympathy. It doesn’t need the inane prayers of empty-headed Floridians. It doesn’t need Mr. Bush’s resolve. It doesn’t need to be another battlefield of the “war on terror”. What it needs is independence from the United States.