A Piece of My Mind: Silver linings – and storm clouds

I read the disheartening news articles at the end of May about the George Floyd protests gone awry. I read about looters standing with crowbars at the ready as peaceful protesters marched down the streets of San Francisco and Oakland. They were waiting for the right moment to turn and smash a window for plunder. I read about rubber bullets and tear gas and arson and professional criminals driving up in vans to strip computer shops and appliance stores of their goods.

But amid the turmoil of the end of May and early June, I took heart from the signs and banners spanning the streets and decking the lawns in Los Altos and Mountain View: “We are in this together,” “We will come out strong together.” During the COVID-19 lockdown, I have used Zoom and Skype to form new bonds with neighbors, exchanging news, congratulations for milestones, produce and garden info. We are a community, safe together.

A few evenings after the weekend of protests-turned-violent, I heard laughter from across the street. The family whose children are normally in camp or in nanny care while their parents are at work were outside in their front yard, parents and children playing volleyball with an invisible net. Work-at-home families are playing together. The hills across the bay stood out sharp and clear, despite the earlier 90-degree heat.

My neighbors weren’t driving; no driving means no smog. It seemed that even in hard times, divisive times, there is an upside.
A few days later I heard helicopters, then saw a few circling seemingly right over our back porch. I checked online – there was a protest march going on from San Antonio Road down to Castro Street, led and followed by police escort. It was peaceful, no violence. We are standing together.

The next day, I drove up Foothill Expressway and noticed that Main Street was closed. Another peaceful march circled downtown, protesters carrying placards, all carefully masked.

It was pretty much a white or light-skinned crowd, marching to show solidarity with people whose experiences most of them had probably never shared. The protests seemed like a way to express community, to meet for something positive. My secure little bubble seemed a good place to be. We are in this together.

Days later, on June 8, we entered Phase 3 of lifting restrictions. Retail stores are allowed to open, allowing only a few customers in at a time. I drove down El Camino Real again and saw a line of socially distanced people stretching almost a block up the street. What could it be for? A restaurant? A liquor store? An auto supply shop?

They were lined up for the Gun Vault.

Allyson Johnson is a longtime Los Altos resident. For more information, visit allysonjohnson.com.

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