Chicago Guy

Patriotic Songs

On the first cold, gray November day between the up and the down escalators in the Food Court of the Thompson Center in downtown Chicago, there is an empty space where the sign to enroll in the Affordable Care Act used to hang. Beneath the sign, behind the table sat two people. Navigators. They helped people sign up for a chance, first chance, maybe only chance to be healthy. Now that’s all gone. The pretense that we are one nation under God, cracked like a mirror with a gaudy cold frame. Healthy is a privilege. Not a right. The sneering dog whistle message underneath it all. Even when spoken in soft, baffled tones is “I got mine. Why can’t you get yours?”

I sit down to eat, a little New Orleans Chicken and Rice. And a Marine Choir lifts up disciplined voices in “God Bless America.” Instinctually, I look up from my Kindle and my chicken, poised to swell with quiet pride. But then I catch a glimpse of the bare space where the ACA Sign up table used to be. Yes I know it’s not gone, but its been maimed. Just like the man right outside in the cold, bent at the waist, styrofoam cup shaking like a death rattle rhythm. It’s been maimed.

The Marine Choir sings of mountains. But I can hear other songs rising. And I silently cheer.

The love for the song rising up and out by that transgender victory in the Virginia State House. By the loss of that guy in New Jersey who wondered if a woman would be home from the historic Woman’s March in time to fix dinner. And then thought that was OK.

I silently cheer for the new Mayor of Helena, Montana. The Liberian refugee. The governor’s of Virginia and New Jersey.

The pride in country starts to come back. If only for a moment. I silently cheer thinking about other songs and poems, other winter days, like the one about when Woody Guthrie moved into the Beach Haven Apartments in Brooklyn owned by slumlord Fred Trump.

In the empty space where health care was once for everyone. Not just the rich. In that space, I hear echoes of Woody through the ages.
Getting stronger through the songs. I can hear those songs.

And the pride starts to grow again. One nation. One people.
One pride in the music.
One quiet, strong cheer for the songs.