Remembering As an Act of Revolt

Rioters in the foreground, standing before the burning 3rd precinct in Minneapolis

Critiques of Biden for his age and memory have been all the rage this year. The shocking success of eugenic ableism about the pandemic has taught the media and political classes a valuable lesson: if you want to do a fascism, attack the old, disabled and physically vulnerable. Going after Biden's mental capacity is a safe way for the media to build a case for the man who drives their clicks and intends to complete his overthrow of the electoral process. But I think there is a deeper resonance to the critiques of Biden's memory, which is that forgetting has been a core principle of the last four years of Democratic strategy.

While Trump yes-anded his way through scandals, piling one outrage on top of the other until you could hardly remember what he had done last week, nevermind last year, the Biden administration PR strategy has been pouring laudanum into the water supply. A vibes-based approach (as the Death Panel Podcast puts it) of soothing nothings, telling lies small enough they don't cause protest and scandal to stick, just untrue enough that they destabilize the debate, slowly inching the goal posts further and further to the right until you look around and realize "where the fuck are we?"

Even going back to things people said about the pandemic in 2021 can feel destabilizingly bizarre, how seriously normal everyday people took it, how angry people were at the suggestion that it was all going to be fine, how avidly people seemed to care about death and hospitalization numbers. Was that really only 3 years ago?

This narcotizing blanket of small lies, slowly nudging us toward acceptance of fascist policy, has also functioned by being distinct from the more blatant, bizarre and openly violent right wing culture wars, which have served as a convenient ideological cover for the Biden admin's slow dismantling of the Covid safety net.

The archetypal move here, I think, was the CDC stopping tracking and collating Covid data at all. After 40 years of preaching transparency, studies and "more information", liberals have made the distinctly fashy pivot to "less data, more vibes" (see also Democratic governor of New York Kathy Hochul saying that subway crime is "not statistically significant, but psychologically significant" in justification of deploying soldiers to the MTA). This has gone hand in hand with the dismantling of the journalistic apparatus, which seems to be reaching its apotheosis over the last 12 months. Not to mention the rise of AI and the collapse of internet searchability.

While the right has been busy attacking the institutions and idea of history itself, in book bans, school board and university takeovers, the liberals have been engaged in an active campaign of forgetting the very thing we're literally experiencing right now.

This mass gaslighting, this huge project of denial and erasure, also has a cruel resonance with the cognitive impairment and damage done by the Coronavirus itself, with "brain fog", aphasia, attention deficit and short term memory loss common effects of long covid.

Time is broken, no one has a good grasp on timelines and events, people joke consistently about not knowing how many years ago something happened, historicity itself is being denuded. This has lots to do with the pandemic and the fundamental reality shift it marked, it has a lot to do with the decades long ideological project of not thinking about climate change, and it has a lot to do with make believe about the economy. And as the genocide in Gaza enters its sixth month, the state and chattering classes really wants us to forget what they said about how Israel would never bomb hospitals, about how all the death is accidental and regrettable collateral damage, all the things Blinken and Biden have said in full throated support of the ongoing mass murder, Aaron Bushnell, they want us to forget about how angry and heartbroken we are about Palestine and Gaza.

A woman in a headcarf crouches beofre a makeshift shelter of blankets and rugs, a tent built on a mound of rubble in the remains of a building in gaza.

They want us to forget that, during the lockdowns, global carbon emissions dropped 6%, that bird song returned, that it was so obvious that the world was doing better "nature is healing" became a meme. They want us to forget that we overhwelmingly want to take care of one another, that we launched into projects of mutual aid, we thought carefully and lovingly about what we can do to support our neighbors. They don't want us to forget the alienation and unhappiness isolation produced, but they do want us to forget that we can cancel holiday travel and shopping and conferences and sports seasons, all the circuses of modern life, and that the world will still turn. They don't want us to remember that the "Great Resignation", a mass wave of millions quitting in vocal and often organized protest, led to the largest secular gains in wages across the economy in decades. They want us to forget that we can live a life without commutes, restaurants, bars and offices, that we can just take care of each other.

They want us to forget that all of this was made possible by a huge expansion of medicaid and we can all have healthcare, that unemployment benefits can actually be sufficient to support us when we're out of work, that they could eliminate huge swathes of poverty through changes in tax policy, that stopping evictions is as simple as politicians making them illegal, that debt payments can be cancelled or halted just as easily, that all of the things that make up our economic and social domination are voluntary products of the collaboration of market and state.

But I think the missing item here, the thing that they really want us to forget, the true object of all this forgetting, is the George Floyd Uprising.

They want us to forget that, a mere four years ago, the president of the United States cowered in a bunker underneath the White House as rioters shook the gates and destroyed the guardhouse at its entrance. They want us to forget what it felt like to take the streets with one another, they want us to forget that we fought the police and won, they want us to forget the promises to defund the police, they want to forget that ACAB became a slogan on every lips, that the burning of the third precinct in Minneapolis had higher approval ratings than either presidential candidate, that few things have ever been so beautiful as that hideous building given over to the flames.

The state wants us to forget the very things we have just lived through. They want us to forget everything we've learned and experienced. And they have a lot of help from bosses, landlords, creditors, journalists, small business owners, conspiracists, talking heads, authors and media producers. And a lot of individuals have also participated in this mass forgetting, in an honest desire to return to normal, as a necessary survival strategy in a world that would otherwise produce unbearable cognitive dissonance.

We can not afford such comfortable forgetting. In an age of mass gaslighting and mass misinformation in the name of mass disablement and death, where the state offers us nothing except the comforting lie that this is normal, the simple stating of the facts, standing up for our own memories, becomes an act of resistance.

Do not forget what you know. Do not forget who you are. Forgetting is an active process, and it's one we must resist and refuse.

a young man stands, his hands on the back of his head, in front of the George Floyd mural in Minneapolis. A huge amount of flowers and cardboard protest signs lean against the brick wall beneath it