If a picture is worth a thousand words, the violent images out of Berkeley this weekend didn’t speak well of California’s response to these frightening times.
As divisive elements tore at the nation’s social fabric, peaceful protesters in a city famed for free speech were overwhelmed by black-clad thugs looking to crack heads in the name of hating hate. Or some such.
It was hard to know what the masked anti-fascist or “antifa” demonstrators wanted, exactly, as they pushed past police and mobbed straggling Trump supporters. Thanks to social media, though, every incoherent shout and kick got maximum airtime.
It’s too bad, because California is such a very big place, and that fringe – “on all sides,” as the president might put it – is, in every way, so small.
Not shown, for example, was what a far bigger swath of California did over the weekend as epic floodwaters inundated Texas, that legendary red rival of this blue state.
At the Capitol, the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services deployed some 330 urban search and rescue specialists, including swiftwater boat rescuers, dog handlers, command staff and search dogs, said state Fire and Rescue Chief Kim Zagaris. By Sunday, teams of Californians, including one from Sacramento, were in Houston, saving lives.
In Goleta, at the headquarters of the nonprofit Direct Relief, program manager Martha Angeles told a Sacramento Bee editorial board member that “people have been just walking in and dropping off checks, saying they saw what happened on TV.” Staff members from the charity were dispatched to the Gulf Coast to oversee logistics at clinics throughout Texas; some literally outran the storm shuttling emergency medical supplies.
Cupertino-based Apple made a $2 million donation to the Red Cross and San Ramon-based Chevron kicked in $1 million. San Diego-based GoFundMe created a landing page to aggregate Hurricane Harvey donations. San Francisco-based Airbnb waived service fees for those affected by the disaster.
Dozens of Red Cross volunteers from across the state boarded free Southwest Airlines flights to Texas, readying for an onslaught of traumatized, displaced flood victims. In Sacramento, the nonprofit Red Rover sent out volunteers to care for displaced pets and livestock. Faith-based organizations went into high gear. Celebrities stepped up. Even the Southern California-based Church of Scientology mobilized.
These gestures occurred despite California’s own natural emergencies, which worsen with every summer: Southern California is in the grip of yet another record heat wave, and at least four wildfires now stretch emergency services from Yosemite to Oregon.
They also occurred despite deep political differences that recently prompted California to ban official state travel to Texas, a ban that was naturally waived and forgotten with lives in the balance. Compassion was automatic, hence the lack of publicity around it – news is about the exception, not the norm.
But if a picture is worth a thousand words, the last word shouldn’t go to idiots in costumes, squabbling in the street while fire and rain destroy the planet. There is more to us, all of us. So much more.
Pan out, past the “sieg heils” in Charlottesville and the black hoodies in Berkeley. Yes, they are us, but so is the bigger picture. This is not the time to lose perspective. Keep sight of who we really are.