Teri Orr: TikTok. The streets are talkin’
Let’s get the easy stuff out of the way. All lives matter. We good with that? Every color, shape, size and gender-identifying label. … The sanctity of human life matters in every corner of the planet, within each country, and including all the colors of all the humans inside all those borders.
ALL lives matter.
But right now, at this exact minute, there are Black people of all ages and classes and sexes fighting for their very lives. When George Floyd was killed by a police officer on an otherwise sleepy day in May in Minneapolis, there just happened to be somebody brave enough to film his death. There was no footage when the doors blasted open in the early hours of March in Breonna Taylor’s home where she had been sleeping. Federal officers shot and killed her. When a pick-up truck with a father-son duo chased Ahmaud Arbery in February in South Georgia — where he was going for a run in a place he ran often — there was footage taken by their accomplice. They hunted Ahmaud down like an animal and videotaped him as a souvenir and imagined a potential alibi. There are minutes and minutes of that sickening video.
These are just the big stories — the obvious ones — where folks finally had to take to the streets and say, “Enough. Stop killing our wives and children and grandfathers. Stop arresting all the young Black boys in cars for the crime of DWB (Driving While Black).” There aren’t any videos of young girls pushed up against a corner in the shadows of a building being told, “This infraction will go away if you perform this sexual favor for me.” But those things happen. They all happen.
All cops are sworn to uphold the law, and all the real cops want to help people and see lives be saved. Good cops are heroes, not goats. The bad actors who want to be bullies simply don’t belong on anyone’s force. And the bad police chiefs don’t belong running anyone’s city. We need good cops to help with traffic accidents and stopping violence against persons and buildings and all the other policing jobs in between. In conversations that start with the chant “Defund the Police,” those (mostly) surround issues of bloat and misdirection. Not literally defunding the entire department. Maybe scaling back some shiny trucks and moving resources to social service providers better suited to help with emotional calls. No rational person wants to totally defund the actual police force.
And before I go any further, let me state that in Park City we have one of the best police chiefs we have had in my 40 years here. I have known each of the four who served and respected them all. Right now we have Wade Carpenter — a good man with a near-impossible job — running a force that needs to maintain and keep the peace. For most months, we are maybe 8,000 people in town and then expand to 100,000 people — almost overnight — for Sundance or Christmas week or some special event. He oversees the protection of all citizens, including a surprising number of Fortune 500 folks with second homes and high-profile celebrities who want a zero-profile life when they are here. Like most resort communities we have our share of drugs and domestic violence. His force has done much work with diversity training and with actually diversifying his force relative to our population in Utah and Park City.
For him to be successful in his job, he has to be “in the room where it happens,” not told after the fact, “We need you to bring extra guys on this day because we have an activation planned on the 4th of July, something to drive visitors to Main Street,” and not let in on the exact nature of the murals to be painted and the kind of controversy that could be ahead. He is a man who worked with gang units in Salt Lake City prior to this job. He knows the streets. He could have been helpful before the paint went down, before the paint even dried…
In Park City we have long loved surprise art installations. Right Krannie? Bill Kranstover allowed me to out him maybe a decade ago as “The Phantom Artist.” But for decades before that, his sculptures — made of old mining parts and auto parts and other “junk” — would appear on a trail or in a field unexpectedly.
In 2003, three local nonprofit arts organizations combined to create the Moose on the Loose project and had so much fun. In no particular order, we would release a new moose loose — on Main Street or in front of the Blind Dog restaurant or at the Olympic Plaza — without any advance notice. More than 20 of the life-size artist-designed creations popped up over three weeks’ time.
The penultimate surprise art installation came in 2010 when the documentary “Exit Through the Gift Shop” premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. The film was about the famed European artist known as Banksy and the “activation” happened in the middle of the night all over town. Most of the city had no idea who the street artist was, and his graffiti-style work made it look like buildings — including some historic ones — had been tagged in the middle of the night. Of the dozens of pieces he created in Salt Lake City and Park City, only a handful remain. His last public sale this past October — called “Devolved Parliament” — showed British parliament as arguing apes, and it sold at Sotheby’s for $12.2 million. But back then, Sundance had to paint over some of his art on a few buildings because it was categorized as vandalism.
I have been working with a new friend, Elizabeth, who lives in D.C. We were connected by a mutual TED friend who has us doing a virtual event in August. We were working on a conversation about pivoting during COVID, but then we quickly and organically told the presenter we were headed to a more relevant — the most relevant — topic — Black Lives Matter. Things had become so real for us both. Elizabeth, who is Black and a graduate of both John Hopkins and Harvard Business School, has watched her community come apart and together over the past few weeks. She allowed me a window into her ride. And more than that, she has been schoolin’ this old white lady about the what is and the what was and pushing me to look for ways about the what can be. She has been boots (or maybe stilettos) on the ground in D.C. And me here … I have been mostly shoeless at my keyboard.
It didn’t take us long to get past the pleasantries and dig into The Work, which is mostly her showing me how the streets are talking right now — if we listen. And she started sending me newspaper articles and stories from The New Yorker and video clips from TV interviews and finally those one-minute snippets of truth from TikTok. TikTok is the Chinese app that just may go public. Its valuation may be close to $180 billion. Most importantly, it is kicking serious ass over the established news sources. It is raw citizen journalism — footage of the most immediate coverage of the streets, shot by the people on the streets. And those videos are chilling. The blackjack-booted, camo-covered and helmeted men grabbing protesters and shoving them into unmarked cars and vans and taking them … just away. The bloodied faces of protesters who have been hit with rubber bullets and tear gas and night sticks form a montage of brutality you expect to see in the front lines of a war.
They are arresting the media. But, on one night, a fully naked woman used her siren self to stop the security folks cold. Her poses on the asphalt have already become the stuff of street performance legend.
And one night, at first about eight mothers showed up to link arms together to protest. And the next night, maybe 20. … And most recently, 200 mothers showed up and linked arms. They chanted “Feds, stay clear. Moms are here.” And then, just a few nights ago in a downtown Portland park, their voices — hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of voices — sang in a lullaby tune, “hands up please don’t shoot me,” to the armed men there. You can see all this on TikTok, an app we thought was about lots of people making up bad dances. And it kinda was, until it turned into an international lifeline for protesters the world over. With its one-minute format, it is quick. And it is the Chinese allowing the reporting on our country that our country refuses to do on itself. That’s the real “Kung Flu” you didn’t see coming, isn’t it Mr. President?
But the TikTok video shot from behind of the young blonde woman in the sleeveless T-shirt was The One. On her back she had written, “When they open fire stand behind me.” A human shield. She is wiling to stand up — LIKE THAT — for her fellow Black man and woman and child. Because she knows — given her implied white privilege — she won’t be shot first.
“That just broke me,” Elizabeth said.
“Me too,” I responded. “Me too.”
And for a moment we just breathed in the silence between us.
What can we do? Elizabeth talked to me about being the kind of upstander who needs to stop when you see a young person of color pulled over by a cop. Just show up. Just be there so the young person knows you are there for them and the officer knows you are watching. And if we see you, a mother pulled over trying to help your child — we will pull over and stay there with you.
And then she added …
I am not buying that people don’t know what to do. For example, in the workplace you know whether or not Black talent is being included as a routine part of candidate pools. If you’re paying attention you can see there are no Black people on any of the panels at your annual conference or in senior management or on your board. And I am not talking tokenism here. What’s powerful about this moment is that the concept of Black people as decoration is being challenged more than ever before. And I had to consider that too…
There were good intentions for the murals on Main Street here for the 4th of July. Should they have been painted by real Black folks if they said “Black Lives Matter”? Yes. Of course they should have been. It seems obvious — I hope now — to all involved.
Whoever vandalized the Main Street art 48 hours later had time and maybe cover — lookouts. Nobody just cracked open a couple of gallons of paint and rolled them down the street to spill out and damage the art. No. They painted carefully over the word Black and over the black fist that formed the letter “I” in lives. The point, as Chief Carpenter said to me, clearly was to erase the Black part so that what remained was Lives Matter.
So does it matter so much? I mean if all lives matter and right now is a tough time for Black folks, isn’t it enough to say all lives matter? I mean, brown folks aren’t exactly having a picnic down on the border these days. Here’s what Elizabeth shared with me for clarity.
“Imagine you are at the beach with your four children and you look up and they are all in the water together and suddenly you see one of them is drowning. You don’t hesitate to save the drowning child. You love all your children equally, but you immediately help the drowning one.” And that’s it. That is Black Lives Matter. Right now. That is the child who is drowning/dying under the weight of the policeman’s knee and at the hands of the officers who fired the bullets into Breonna and the men who shot and video taped the killing of Ahmaud. And those three examples have all been in the past five months. They are the noisy ones. But there are so many more.
We look like the pandemic we are facing. Our initial weak response to COVID is being matched by a series of epidemic, epic failures in leadership. And by attacks daily — across our country — of basic human rights.
So this is the long way to say that I am proud to live in a town that wants to address inequity and wants to address it with time and talents and to use the arts to make a statement. A town that has art lovers and human lovers like Jenn and Virginia Solomon who immediately jumped in and said they (and Jenn’s fellow yoga teachers) would pay to repaint the vandalized mural on Main. They knew the controversy afoot about the who and the how it had been created. For them, it was all about the what — what it said and what it meant for folks of color to see that statement painted boldly on the Main Street of this community.
That matters. The art matters. And the controversy about the who and the how matters.
Lessons learned? There is a war afoot — the new uncivil war — where words alone are enough to ignite people to stop thinking for themselves. A war that forgets we need our neighbors and all the kids at the playground together. … We are taking to the streets because leadership has failed inside the marble-domed buildings in Elizabeth’s Washington D.C. and inside the vintage brick Marsac Building here in my own Park City.
In Portland, they have taken to the streets and the parks because that’s where the fight is. This Sunday, take a moment to consider all the people in the all the parks and how you can join them.
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the founder and director emeritus of the Park City Institute, which provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.
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Columnist Teri Orr writes that on a trip to Boulder, Utah, she met a shooting star — Kael Weston, a congressional candidate in the state’s 2nd District.