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The Ends of the American Experiment

The Biden Inauguration coincided with the end of the first year of the SARS/COVID pandemic. Lost in the chaos of January 6th was an observation on the Capitol Mall commemorating the landmark of 400,000 dead in that year.

My dreams over that year had been impacted by the trauma. I was confronted by vocal denialism in my community – one resident commanded, “Take that stupid mask off!” Unlike them, I watched news programs that shared video testimonials from health professionals. Trying to catch them up in my heart was bracing. On the other side of the political spectrum, I bore witness to the sorry state of a Democratic Party whose political success depended upon that pandemic to defeat a criminal president.

I eventually realized that I needed to externalize the tension. This manifested in the project pictured here: a wall sculpture title “The Ends of the American Experiment.” The initial inspiration was the paired ribbons, familiar from many memorial programs. The red-white-blue evokes patriotic pride; the rainbow evokes the power of diverse perspectives and responses. There are 400 of them – each representing 1000 dead of COVID/SARS in the first year, becoming 2500 dead (1 million total) at the end of the second year.

The ribbons were formed into chains with pop rivets. The surrounding frame was welded by my son Kevin, and evokes the threat of limiting beliefs (becoming prejudice in the worst case). Bronze chain, held taut by white and black cable ties, was used to build a mesh into which the ribbons were woven to form the field of the presentation. The ribbons are held in place by paracord. To the right on each side are sun and moon medallions, representing the masculine and feminine principles.

On the Oppression side (shown below), paracord was used to support beads that list the oppressive practices that suppressed the virtues of diversity, starting with ethnic minorities but broadening eventually to include the natural order.

The Privilege side, the beads describe the practices that allowed the social and financial elite to suppress the just aspirations of the voting public. These start with forced contract and voting suppression, broadening to suborning of the government to the benefit of the economic elite.

The field is almost overwhelmed, with only a few rows left unblocked. On the last few links of the framing chain, I have attached the names of those that I believe best exemplify the vision that inspired the Founders of the Republic. Politicians such as Washington and Lincoln. Religious figures such as Martin Luther King, Jr. Social activists such as Clara Barton and Rachel Carson. And from the arts, representatives such as Ailey and Winfrey.

I am not entirely satisfied with the geometry of the presentation – I haven’t been able to prevent the sagging of the paracord. I also need to finish of the lower edge of the field. But the major goal has been accomplished: focusing the psychic struggle that wracks our nation in this era. I hope that it is useful for others. Those of us seeking to serve love need precise insight to prevent a collapse of the moral order. I have tried to cut through the noise to reveal what is essential.

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