LISTEN TO NO PLATFORM RADIO – DAY ZERO:
JACKSONVILLE – At the flea market, hundreds of people milled around in the heat, sipping off giant sodas to keep cool. These are hard-working people. Most of the people manning the stalls here end up working seven days a week. A whole family spent their Memorial Day weekend together in a sweltering booth spooning out delicious Italian ice to passersby. A man selling second-hand ties and belts complained loudly about the heat. A sign advertised that for just a dollar, I could take a photo with any reptile on display – though another sign warned that they all bite. Other vendors sold bootleg DVDs and old records. A giant sign said everything on display sold for a dollar to finance a move to California.
The atmosphere was generally festive, despite the heat, with music playing and little kids running up and down the aisles. People were generally friendly. I was invited to sit with several groups and people spoke openly about their situation.
The majority of people here seemed to have been born in other countries. They were Latinos, Caribbean, and Arab. The ones I spoke to told me that while they had more opportunity here in the United States than abroad, things here were going from “worse to worst.” The only people I spoke to that seemed to have no illusions about opportunities available in the US were African-Americans.
“There’s no more morality here, no more compassion,” said a vendor who ran a repair shop. “The rich have to get rid of God so that people feel better stabbing each other in the back, climbing on top of each other to get to the top.”
“Do you think everyone in this country has the same chances to succeed?”
“If you’re rich you get to start with more education and more money. You gotta keep everyone else down. This place is becoming like Latin America. I’ve been working here for ten years, but I’ve never been able to move up. I think I need to move somewhere else to make it happen. There’s too much competition here.”
Another man, from Jamaica, disagreed. “There’s no country on earth better than the US,” he said. “It’s easy to make money if you hustle 24/7.” He told me he’d been involved with two separate ventures in the past year – selling used cell phones and used cars. He chalked up his success to being a good salesman, but declined to reveal anything about his current situation.
People from different stalls seemed to know one another. Many stopped by a taco stand to wish the owner a happy birthday. She was from Colombia, wore camo pants, and was proud of her former service in the Navy. “I think the best way to help people without papers is to let them join the military, if they have good grades. When they finish boot camp, they can get citizenship.”
“There are tens of millions of people here without papers. How can they all join the military?” I asked.
“One at a time!” she said.
“But what if they don’t want to join the military?”
“Then they don’t get the papers!”
She works at a cafeteria during the week, but told me she sees her time at the taco stand as a fine way to spend the weekend. Three women in their teens work for her, shuttling tacos from the window to the tables nearby. “These girls have to be in school or else I won’t let them work for me,” she said. “The kids nowadays have nothing to do; they sit around and learn from their parents it’s okay to live off government money. Their parents have to push them more.”
She told me nobody helped her when she was pregnant – that as a single mother, she worked at a hotel. When asked about the anti-Hispanic sentiment in the US, she chalked it up to Americans being lazy. “I’ve done every kind of job you can imagine, I’m a workaholic. I worked hard to give my daughter a good life, but she just wants to give everything away to people who don’t have as much. She’s like me in this way.”
Down the road at the gun show, dozens of vendors lined up to sell everything from AR-15s to right-wing t-shirts. The thing that stood out most immediately was the Nazi flag on display. There were hot pink shotguns, confederate memorabilia, and many interesting tattoos on display. But nothing puts you on edge like seeing a swastika in public. I decided to give it a wide berth while I settled in to the environment.
“What’s this mean?” I asked, approaching a table selling shotguns with a tiny sign reading “PRIVATE SALE”
“It means I’m just a person and you’re just a person, and under the law I can sell it to you without a background check.”
“Everything on the table?” my companion asked.
“Yeah. You’re not supposed to be a felon, but you don’t seem shady — you know what I’m talking about.” My companion was white.
The last time I was in this hall was for a chili cook-off a dozen years before. The crowd seemed roughly the same – older suburban white people with a smattering of crew-cut former military types – albiet this was a bit more menacing. Not necessarily in a physically threatening way, but the tension was there. I felt at any minute I would be revealed as what the man selling the swastika flag deemed to me as “worse than the Nazis” – a commie.
Without thinking too much about it, and as an effort to fit in, I hastily bought a pair of earrings made out of .38 shells from a vendor. This vendor also sold rhinestone-tipped bullets. “Do women buy a lot of these?” I asked her.
“No, men usually buy them for their wives or girlfriends. Sometimes,” she lowered her voice as if it were scandalous, “men buy them for themselves. For the bling.”
Many of the people there did not seem from wealthy backgrounds. Most of the cars in the parking lot were not new – even the Trump camper there to drum up support among a crowd already to the right on the political spectrum seemed to be falling apart. While some vendors hawked expensive wares, the majority of the goods on display were priced towards mid-range or budget shoppers. Some tables seemed to just be leftovers from yard sales. Unaware of my allegiances, people spoke to me in vague terms about balancing “freedom” and “controls”. A few told me lurid stories of gang rape as a reason I should protect myself with a gun.
“I was in Iraq,” one man told me.
“Me too,” I said. “In Erbil.” He looked at me as if wondering where that was. “In the north, near Mosul.”
“Yeah, I bet you saw a lot. They talk about there being a war on women here. But you take one look over there, and you can see these feminists have nothing to whine about. If you can’t afford $10 for birth control, you should keep your damn legs closed.”
I sat with this man, as it seemed he had a lot to say. He revealed that while he had contempt for those “who buy groceries with government money”, he himself was born to a single mother on welfare and shuffled around in foster homes. He told me he has a biracial son, but that he resented the fact that his other son, with him at the gun show, would not have “special privileges, special access to programs and funding” as his other son.
He told me that to say he’d had every opportunity in life because of “white privilege” was bullshit. He stressed that while every human being cared about their children and wanted essentially the same things in life, many would die after the imminent collapse of the US when “their EBT cards [food stamps] stopped working.”
“I’ve seen what happens when governments disintegrate and people start killing each other over groceries.”
“Like where?” I asked.
“Iraq. If you were there, you saw some of the horrible, horrible things that occurred there, too.”
“But the government in Iraq didn’t just ‘disintegrate’ though.”
“It… it’s very complex,” he stammered, before explaining to me that while the US had tried to liberate the Iraqi people, the “primitiveness of Islamic culture meant that they could only be ruled over by a dictator” and that by losing a strong hand to guide them, they could only descend into chaos.
This man also told me he believed that all people in the world were much like Americans. I wondered if someone who insisted that “states rights taking precedence over federal rights” was a policy that came straight from God, thought we had the anything in common with the Iraqi people as fellow human beings. He told me that human nature was essentially bad. Like others at the gun show, he seemed to contradict himself several times. Though my questions were not hostile, they seemed to make him uncomfortable. Perhaps he had a hard time reconciling his own background, child to a poor single mother on welfare, with his adult beliefs. When he watched the news and saw Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter marching in the street, he felt excluded. The promises of American settlerism and White Supremacy seemed to leave him behind. If he did not have a job, if he struggled himself as a single father, he blamed Left-leaning professors and affirmative action while – at the same – indicating by his logic that he had only himself to blame.
The similarities between the gun show and flea market were interesting. Both venues hosted people with many grievances. Both groups assumed most other Americans were lazy and lived off of government benefits too much. Both groups also challenged the media and education system as lying to them about reality. Neither immediately saw a relationship between their assumptions of how their compatriots worked and what sorts of messages they received from the ruling class. When asked broad questions about how they thought things were going in the US, both groups said that things were going badly, but neither could pinpoint why that was except for a vague sense that a class at the top seemed to be manipulating things for their own benefit. Whether this group was identified as the Rothschilds or the Illuminati, or any other kind of cabal, few saw themselves as part of an economic class. Indeed, the one similarity I saw between nearly everyone I spoke to was a core sense of prideful individualism married to ethnic identity. Even those who knew others suffered from poverty because of forces outside their control would blame themselves for their situations – whether in a positive or negative sense.
I chose these two locations for Day Zero’s first dispatch because I thought they would present contrasting views. While they certainly had different topics they wanted to discuss, and while their grievances (high costs of goods, difficulty making rent, difficulty finding a good job) were similar, they had difficulty pinning down responsibility. As they mainly blamed others for their own situations, it’s difficult to believe they did not also blame themselves in the same way.
LISTEN TO NO PLATFORM RADIO – DAY ZERO: