Make America Cleveland Again: The American Dream(sickle)


Politics! We’re delighted to bring you coverage from the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, from which our intrepid reporter Tatiana Ryckman — who grew up in Cleveland, and whose family is still based there — will be bringing us daily dispatches on the mood of the city, the thoughts of its residents, and the action at the Convention itself.

As Cleveland — and the rest of the country — released a collective sigh of relief at how peacefully Monday’s convention went, my grandfather fell asleep in California. He was 99 years old and he did not wake up Tuesday morning. This event makes as little sense in the narrative of my life as it does in the narrative of the RNC. But it was the lens through which I viewed Tuesday’s activities. And I wasn’t alone.

While the RNC has been peaceful, five people were killed and 20 people were shot in Cleveland last weekend, including a two-year-old, making it Cleveland’s deadliest weekend of the year. Each one of the victims’ friends and family members have had to negotiate the reality that’s left. My grandfather’s death was far from murder, it didn’t indicate a division between anyone’s ideologies or political leanings, but I was faced with reconciling my sudden lack of interest in what was happening around me with my belief that this is a unique opportunity for engagement.

So it is kismet that Reverend Doug Horner was the first person I talked to. Rev. Horner works for St. Paul Community Church, and when I walked in — at noon on a Tuesday — I would have been convinced that the entire community was indeed there. A lunch line was set up for anyone who needed it, it smelled like cinnamon. A small village of tents was erected in the back of the building. I had gone to talk to Horner about where Cleveland’s homeless had been moved for the convention. The answer was clear before I found him, but his response was nevertheless reassuring.

“Social service agencies welcome them … these are places they go anyway, we’ve all just ramped up our operations.” St. Paul’s ordinary operations include everything from addiction services and meals, to helping procure housing and identification cards. “People have not fallen through the cracks,” he said, which I found miraculous. But Horner suggested that Cleveland is just like that.

“People flocked to Cleveland for the steel mills … and when work got slow they set up these little camps and worked together to make sure nobody starved. What’s beautiful is that that spirit stays, the spirit of people helping people.”

I’d woken up with the fear that we are not equipped to care about anyone else’s problems when we have our own, that we are always on the precipice of disengaging. But that fear is not so different from the one we felt collectively going into the convention Monday morning, and if one thing is clear this week, it’s that people are tired of not being available in their own lives.

Outside Transformer Station, just a few blocks away from St. Paul’s, an ice sculpture by LiGoranoReese read “The American Dream.” Inside the building City Club curated a series of panels on art and politics, panels that functioned as much as community meetings as a conversations about art.

Fred Bidwell, who co-owns the Transformer building with his wife Laura, talked about working with the city to make sure improvements to public transportation weren’t just cosmetic but would actually improve the lives of the people who use it every day. Journalist Connie Schlultz built on that idea, “I’m thrilled for downtown, I’m glad it’s shiny and new … but I live in 44105, which has one of the highest foreclosure rates in the country … and we are surrounded by blight. And I don’t want to pretend that’s not happening.”

RA Washington, a local author and owner of the Guide to Kulchur bookstore, described his own experience learning that he liked art, because he invited himself to the art community. “The city has so many events like this one, meanwhile you don’t see poor people [at them] … We want to see young people coming to things like this … we need them to realize it’s not that they don’t have access, it’s that we need to go over there and ask them to come.”

Photo credit: Tatiana Ryckman

Inclusivity has permeated Public Square with relative peace throughout the convention. Protests range from Alex Jones to the daily #NotFunnyCleveland citizen clown protests. Cathleen O’Malley, one of the clowns, told me, “From the earliest days of the Republican primary race Trump was referred to as a clown, and the Republican party as a circus, [this was] speaking to the chaos and disorder, but … what caught my attention was the idea of a band of citizen clowns taking offence at the appropriation of what is actually a very noble, beautiful, and human art form to describe … dangerous, aggressive, and outrageous opinions.”

When I introduced myself to O’Malley after her panel at the Transformer Station, she explained that part of Cleveland’s allure is the feeling of a gold rush. There’s space and enthusiasm to build and be a part of something. The trick is making sure it’s not at the expense of the people who are already there. No — that it is also for them.

During a NotFunny sketch called, “Ways that You Could be Killed if You are Black in America,” a man behind me adds to the tragedies the performers are memorializing, “A drug deal gone wrong?” He explains to his friend: “It’s a way black people die.”

I just assumed he’s not from around here.

Meanwhile, The American Dream melted in the heat, and the Republican National Convention went on without us.

Photo credit: Tatiana Ryckman