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Agata Popęda here, sharing a link to some political poetry inspired by the double horror of Covid and white supremacy.

Originally from South Central Los Angeles, Chris Siders moved to Monterey for college in 2011. He was first exposed to poetry in high school and has been writing poems since 2006. Locally, he built his name as a poet and activist in college, where he got involved in supporting women’s rights. Later on, he expanded his interest in social issues by working in the prison. His first collection of poems will be published by Boukra Press, the new publishing venture of Old Capitol Books in Monterey. Siders discovered the group when he heard about a poetry festival and decided to check it out. They accepted him with open arms.

The poem I am inviting you to read was originally titled “Pink, White and Blue.” Siders began working on it a few months after he was hospitalized for Covid and almost lost his life. He tested positive on Sept. 8, 2021 and was taken to ER on Sept. 18, coughing blood. “Death came knocking,” he says, calling the experience “too real.” It prompted him to discover God for the first time. He was sent home after four days with a big oxygen tank and a head full of thoughts.

“So many political themes affected my mental and emotional stability,” Siders says of the last few years. His brother died during the pandemic, but what hurt him the most was watching his father grieving that at the same time as he was grieving the deaths of two young African-Americans—Ahmaud Arbery (who was fatally shot on Feb. 23, 2020 while jogging in a neighborhood in Glynn County, Georgia) and Breonna Taylor (killed by police officers on March 13, 2020 during a botched raid on her apartment in Louisville, Kentucky). 

Most recently, he was affected by the verdict in the trial of 18-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse, who shot and killed two men during a protest in August 2020 and was acquitted of all charges against him on Friday. While both men killed by Rittenhouse were white, the riots in Kenosha, Wisconsin started as a response to another police shooting of a young black man—Jacob Blake. In a Nov. 22 interview with Tucker Carlson on Fox News, Rittenhouse expressed his support for Black Lives Matter (he also supports Blue Lives Matter, a countermovement in support of law enforcement, according to his social media content). But many Americans cannot shake off the feeling that his trial remains a commentary on race relations and that the verdict glorifies white violence as sanctioned violence. 

For me personally, the Rittenhouse trial demonstrated that legal is sometimes the opposite of appropriate. It also demonstrates the extent of American gun culture—a then-17-year-old Rittenhouse had no business toting an AR-15-style rifle around a town 30 minutes away from where he lived.

Siders’ poem is now titled “relearning how to breathe.” Maybe you’ll find themes you’ve contemplated reflected in it, too.

-Agata Popęda, staff writer,

P.S. The Monterey County Gives! campaign is currently underway through Dec. 31. Learn about the important work of 170 local nonprofits in this year's campaign, and please donate to support their efforts. 

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