Museum of America in the Pandemic Year, 2020

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Jul 19: Florida reports more than 10,000 COVID-19 cases for 5th consecutive day. Trump hints that he might not accept election results if he loses. During an interview with Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday, President Trump calls Fox’s Chris Wallace “fake news” after the two debate the U.S. coronavirus mortality rate.  Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, says COVID-19 tests are taking too long to be processed in the U.S. Officials in Oregon demand that federal agents, including tactical teams from Customs and Border Protection and the U.S. Marshals Service, leave Portland after several documented cases of unidentified agents in military outfits grabbing people off the street and putting them into unmarked vans. 

Jul 20: President Trump defends his administration’s deployment of federal law enforcement agents in Portland, Oregon, to target protesters, and threatens to send agents to more cities. “We’re looking at Chicago, too. We’re looking at New York,” he says. “All run by very liberal Democrats. All run, really, by the radical left.” Missouri prosecutors file a felony charge against Mark and Patricia McCloskey, a St. Louis couple who made national headlines by pointing guns at a group of protesters walking past their house in a gated community. Trump calls masks ‘patriotic’ after resisting wearing them publicly. The next several years could bear witness to thousands of additional deaths from cancer that could have been prevented through routine diagnostic care that was delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Notably, delays in referrals and screenings for breast, colorectal, esophageal, and lung cancers were indicated in a pair of studies published in The Lancet Oncology to potentially lead to almost 10% (n = 3291-3621) more deaths in England over the next 5 years.

From the Cutting Room Floor ...

Unlabeled paramilitary forces led by commanders who have not been approved or elected by their civilian governing body, are now pulling people off the streets with no more than a loose suspicion that they may have lit fireworks or sprayed graffiti on a federal building. According to acting (there’s that title again; so little respect for protocol) Homeland Security Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli, these actions that seem a lot like state-sponsored counter-terrorism kidnappings deployed against American citizens, are completely fine.[1] The officials involved are Federal Protective Services agents, who are being supported by both Customs and Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers. It is hard to understand what these sorts of government agents are doing arresting people in the middle of Portland. It is a violation of ordinary Constitutional rights — an articulation of state-sanctioned intimidation?[2] As Mark Morgan, Senior Official Performing the Duties of the Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, —an Orwellian title if ever there was one—intimated, these paramilitary forces will not be individually identifiable so that “Antifa” cannot seek them out for retribution. Nevermind that the looting is minimal, that BLM marchers are not a part of the limited vandalism that has happened, and that there is absolutely no evidence that any government official is being targeted for retribution. It feels as if Fox News-pedaled conspiracies are driving government policy.[3] Then again, wasn’t it Herbert Hoover who said back in the 1920s that justice is incidental to law and order? It does not appear that our current policing system is interested in justice.

Strangely, the very crowd that was decrying their loss of individual freedoms earlier in the pandemic—who have been yelling about government over-reach for months—remain conspicuously silent about federal and local violence against American citizens in Portland. Police are arbitrarily kidnapping peaceful protestors off the streets and deputizing agents from the border to beat unarmed, middle-aged mothers. For those who are claiming to take a principled stand against government overreach, these would seem to be issues worth fighting over. This is a moment for the Shelley Luthers of the country to stand up and say, “Just as I condemn the government ordering me to close my business and wear a mask, so too do I condemn this intimidation and violence by the government against protestors who are exercising their first amendment rights.” Instead, these folks continue to arm themselves with semi-automatic rifles to protest the injustice of mask orders, like the one put in place in Ohio.[4] One might be tempted to think that in fact theirs is not some sort of principled stand about governmental power after all. That in fact it is law and order and the maintenance of the status quo that they are most interested in defending.

Meanwhile, the internet is filled with film showing federal troops beating and gassing military veterans and even yellow-t-shirt-wearing moms chanting “Black Lives Matter.”



[1] NPR All Things Considered, “DHS Official On Reports Of Federal Officers Detaining Protesters In Portland, Ore.,”, July 17, 2020,

[2] Tatiana Cozzarelli, “Trump’s Federal Police Are Kidnapping and Brutalizing Protesters in Portland,” Truthout, July 18, 2020,; David A. Graham, “America Gets an Interior Ministry,” The Atlantic, July 21, 2020,

[3] Josh Marshall, “Cuccinelli: Totally Legal and Totally Cool How CBP and ICE Now Control Your City,” Talking Points Memo, July 18, 2020,

[4] Vivek Saxena, “Anti-Mask Protesters with Armed Militia Stand up to BLM in Ohio: ‘I Will Not Wear Someone Else’s Fear,’” BizPacReview, July 19, 2020,

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Contributors' Voices

“Resilience in the Garden”

Normally, my life resembles that of a squirrel. On the move, I dart here and there, scurrying in a blur of lecture halls, trains and planes. With the pandemic my life became plant-like. Like a seed tossed on the ground I lay there inert, in shock. Slowly aligning myself in the new, grounded state, I started to reach out in two directions; down into the cool moist earth and skyward toward a new awareness of what constitutes stillness, growth, and regeneration in Washington, DC, where I have lived for two decades.  

With a friend, we got started. On a small terraced slope in front of an apartment building we planted spring crops—peas, radishes, greens. We dug into fallow beds along the grade school across the street, broadcasting seeds up the hill. We pulled out dead shrubs and replaced them with blackberry bushes, fig and paw paw trees. People were gardening all over the U.S. Seeds were sold out. No backyard chicks to be had. We propagated our own saplings and scavenged seeds from last year’s crops. 

About the time the peas blossomed, a Minneapolis policeman calmly knee-murdered George Floyd. On the first day, the Black Lives Matter protest in front of the White House was small. It skewed young and POC. The protestors faced the police and cursed them. Hoarse voices made spontaneous speeches. I remember thinking—I write this now with a wince—that the young folks on Lafayette Square could use a leader and a message. Where was MLK or Malcolm X? Who had the dream and who the light?  

Preparing for the long summer, we spaded up the school’s courtyard and dropped in seeds that can stand the heat and drought—okra, long beans, corn, amaranth. The soil was deeply dispiriting—urban ground smashed by heavy wheels, littered with foreign objects (nails, glass, plastic), poisoned with heavy metals. Driving my shovel in, I looked down to see a field of extinction—no worms, insects, fungi, little in the way of microbial life.  

The three women who founded the BLM movement explicitly rejected the idea of a single, charismatic leader. The co-founders’ names have not become household words, and that is telling. Patrisse Khan-Cullors, Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi represent Female, Black, Queer, working-class and immigrant Americans. They work behind the scenes in that nameless way that a growing majority of Americans are quietly building movements. 

Regenerating the soil involved hauling: buckets of kitchen compost, home-made microbial inoculants, leaf mulch, coffee grounds, worm casings, and wheel barrows of cooked, human manure from the DC waste treatment plant. Layered over the raw clay and gravel the organic matter worked as food for a crowd of microbes who invisibly got to work restoring topsoil to the beds. Plants have a reputation for slowness, even sloth, but soil microbes work at a good clip. They adapt  by swapping genes. Passing on whole strands of DNA, they transform themselves. Some microbes have learned not only to survive in toxic environments, but have figured out to eat heavy metals and PCBs1 for dinner! Microbes are a model of resilience. Thanks to beneficial microbes, our soils regenerated in a vegetative blink of an eye. The plants followed, emerging from the ground in the rains of early summer.  

Our neighbor Richard had a habit of standing on his porch each evening. Richard grew up on the street and clocked fifty years watching it. As we dug, he asked us what we were planting. After a while, Richard asked if we wanted to garden his front yard. I was happy about that. I had been hoping our expanding gardens would become infectious. Plants, tended and nourished, I  dreamed, could repair bit by bit some of the social and health problems of our city. “Slow hope,” Christof Mauch calls it.2 

Two nights of looting and glass breaking. The protestors knew their history and did not repeat 1968 when crowds lit up the Black shopping district on 14th Street. This time they broke windows on Connecticut and Wisconsin Avenues in predominantly white and wealthy neighborhoods that locals call “upper Caucasia.” The next day a moat of armed, bullet-proof bodies circled the White House; hundreds of officers from dozens of law enforcement agencies. That was the day of Donald Trump’s bible walk. At 6:30 pm, a half hour before curfew, a phalanx of Secret Service officers moved from behind the blockade into the crowd. I hurried to unlock my bike and flee home.  

I watched on my cell phone the sickening thud of blows and cries of protestors “kettled” that evening. I wasn’t the only one connecting the bodies beaten by police with bodies “weathered” by stress, poverty, and environmental toxins that were falling ill at high numbers from COVID. 

The following day the protests swelled. The crowds skewed whiter and older. Like the virus, unleashed state violence threatened everyone. Again I left Lafayette Square just before curfew. As I pedaled home a steady current of resistors, their  faces set with grim determination, flowed downtown to defy the curfew.  

 My friend and I kept going, vacuous lawn beckoning. We set down more saplings. Tiny paw paw sent tap roots deep underground. Fig trees spread broad leafs up, airborne hands seeking communion, breathing. The pole beans did not require poles. The beans reached out—clearly not blindly—and found walls, sticks, and fencing to string together little, green rope bridges. A firetruck lumbered down our hill, stopping in front of Richard’s house. For two weeks Richard had been missing from the porch. From the asparagus patch I asked if everything was all right, Richard’s mother and brother slowly shook their heads no.  

The problem with slow hope is that unfolds in vegetable time, while the virus moves at the speed of jets. 

The second week the crowds on the yellow asphalt of Black Lives Matter Plaza turned their backs to the army boys and municipal police and faced each other. Black protestors shared their experience of being Black in America. Some sang and more danced, expressing joy after months of isolation. Surrounded by tanks painted beige for Middle Eastern wars, white allies came to better understand how Black survivors of systemic racism are models of courage and resilience. Like a microbial colony getting organized, inspiration and resolve passed horizontally, tiny genes encoding the DNA of the movement. 


— Kate Brown, Boston


John Oliver, “Coronavirus: Conspiracy Theories,” Last Week Tonight, HBO, July 20, 2020,


*If the pdf thumbnails are not appearing, please reload the page.

Bertrand, Natasha, Kyle Cheney, and Andrew Desiderio. “Dem Leaders Demand FBI Briefing on ‘foreign Interference Campaign’ Targeting Lawmakers.” POLITICO, July 20, 2020.
Cozzarelli, Tatiana. “Trump’s Federal Police Are Kidnapping and Brutalizing Protesters in Portland.” Truthout, July 18, 2020.
Gerber, Megan R. “The Things They Carry: Veterans and the COVID-19 Pandemic.” Journal of General Internal Medicine, July 28, 2020, 1–2.
Graham, David A. “America Gets an Interior Ministry.” The Atlantic, July 21, 2020.
Levinson, Jonathan, and Conrad Wilson. “Federal Law Enforcement Use Unmarked Vehicles To Grab Protesters Off Portland Streets.” OPB, July 16, 2020.
Lyons, Kim. “Facebook Suspends Anti-Mask Group for Spreading COVID-19 Misinformation.” The Verge, July 20, 2020.
Marshall, Josh. “Cuccinelli: Totally Legal and Totally Cool How CBP and ICE Now Control Your City.” Talking Points Memo, July 18, 2020.
NPR All Things Considered. “DHS Official On Reports Of Federal Officers Detaining Protesters In Portland, Ore.”, July 17, 2020.
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Additional Links

* Timeline summaries at the top of the page come from a variety of sources:, including The American Journal of Managed Care COVID-19 Timeline (, the Just Security Group at the NYU School of Law (, the “10 Things,” daily entries from The Week (, as well as a variety of newspapers and television programs.