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Local View: Like after WWII, Duluth, U.S. need to reopen drawn drapes

My mother was born and raised in Ely, the youngest of seven children. During World War II, she worked as an x-ray technician in Duluth. She was a wonderful storyteller. One of the stories she told us was how, during the lead up to and during the war, Duluth was a blackout city. As the sun set in the west, the entire city of Duluth went under a blackout. All drapes at the hospital and throughout the city were required to be drawn closed, keeping the enemy out, she said. Duluth was a strategic port, an integral city in the mining of iron ore for steel production, so vital for the war effort. The good people of Duluth and the sturdy proletariats of the Iron Range knew who the enemy was; they were all of one spirit and worked fiercely to help defeat the enemy.

Tim DuffIn April of 1945, with Adolf Hitler's suicide and the end of the war nearing, the drapes of Duluth were drawn back open. We had defeated the enemy.

Or had we?

Recent news about the opioid crisis occurring in Duluth has been very disturbing, reminding me that the drapes of democracy may be closed again. Today, after nearly 40 years of the abject failure of neoliberalism, we have a lost America, an America that seems less a comfortable quilt of many patches of our youth and rather a rag rug now of splitting strands.

The year 1984 was a seminal turning point in our culture.

In 1984, the Olympics made a profit for the first time in history, and a decade later the games were fully professional.

In 1984, capital started to cross national boundaries, and most large corporations still dreaded debt-heavy balance sheets. A decade later, transnational capital drove the U.S. economy, and leveraged buyouts financed with junk bonds soared. The more companies laid off long-term workers, the more their corporate stocks rose.

In 1984, as states began experiencing legalized gambling, 17 states had lotteries, two had casinos, and no states allowed video poker or gambling on Native lands. A decade later, more people visited legal casinos than read books or attended Major League Baseball games, symphony concerts, or Broadway shows.

In 1984, Hollywood had just invented the tech-enhanced violent action movie, and a decade later the typical child had seen 10,000 acts of violence and TV mayhem by the age of 18.

In 1984, a surge in deinstitutionalized, homeless vagrants prompted governments to set up special shelters. A decade later, citing "compassion fatigue," communities were evicting vagrants from public areas and building prisons at the fastest rate in history.

In 1984, the crack cocaine epidemic came to Los Angeles and a decade later had spread throughout the country. Today, we see the drug epidemic, now the opioid epidemic, the peddling of poison, the marketing of violence, in cities throughout the country, distributed by the Sackler family via the sale of OxyContin, a deadly derivative of morphine, through their company Purdue Pharma. The state of Minnesota currently has antitrust lawsuits against 18 pharmaceutical companies, including Purdue.

Violence has become our new enemy. Of course, we don't condone violence, but none of us should condemn it without pointing out what produced it. Generally, it's not extremists but extreme conditions. We can't ask who lit the match to violence without asking why there was a fuse attached to the powder keg. Violence needs redefinition. It means anything that violates human dignity and human rights. Exploitation is the essence of violence, and its perpetrators can engage in it without ever drawing a knife or a squeezing a trigger.

After exploitation has been brought public, the populace tends to be repelled more by the bloodshed than by the injustice that produced it. The media is of little help, with its tendency to sensationalize rather than analyze.

Let us now draw back the metaphorical drapes of our senses and intellect so as to see who our thinly veiled new enemies are. They are the ideologues and sanctimonious politicians whose conscience has been purchased and who consistently fail to negotiate solutions to the pressing issues that secure our inalienable rights.

We must make the conquest of war, the preservation of nature, and the pursuit of social justice our grand preoccupation, our magnificent obsession. We are only undefeated because we go on trying. The newly drawn drapes can help us see and fulfill the world around, all hopes for justice so long and cruelly deferred.

Tim Duff is a writer who lives in Ely and Tonka Bay, Minn. His debut novel, "The Find," is a family saga set on the Iron Range.