American Values

Bailey Quinlan

2021 - Ongoing

New York, United States

America has a story it tells itself. That we’re somehow exceptional. That we uphold democracy. But in reality, our cities and towns are rife with inequities, historical trauma, and government neglect.

We value guns over human life.

We prioritize unborn fetuses over the rights of women to have autonomy over their own bodies.

Our corporations claim land and its bounty as “natural resources” for the taking, contaminating land, air, and water without regard to its inhabitants and ecosystems.

400 years after the first enslaved Africans set foot on American soil, our government has failed to acknowledge and correct for the harm done by chattel slavery and the pervasive systemic racism resulting from it.

Colonizers murdered and displaced indigenous people of this land with the goal to systematically erase them.

The remnants of these atrocities are everywhere. Oftentimes they go unnoticed. There’s a banality to them that doesn’t correlate to the magnitude of what took place there.

A school. A movie theater. A street corner. There’s no escaping the dark history that’s left its traces all around us. This is the American landscape.

Every unarmed Black person shot by police, every mass shooting, every government attempt to chip away at the human rights of its citizens gets drowned out by the next atrocity in the news cycle. Trauma and violence is normalized. We’re convinced this is just the way it is.

So we look away. We don’t question. We don’t learn. We keep our heads down so we don’t have to hold ourselves accountable to what it means to be an American.

racism. xenophobia. violence. recklessness. entitlement. greed. theft. This is the story of our country that people don’t want to face. But this is what America truly is.

If we don’t learn from our past how can we expect to move into the future without making the same mistakes?

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  • Weldon Spring Nuclear Waste Site - Defiance, MO

    The US army in a state of emergency acquired the land that is now the Weldon Spring Site to build explosives for WWII. The residents of the three small surrounding towns were permanently displaced. There they processes uranium and other radioactive chemicals and dumped contaminated debris into the nearby quarry. In 1987 it was designated a Superfund site on the EPA’s National Priorities List due to the threat of contamination to drinking water to residential wells nearby. The disposal cell, designed to isolate the contaminated material for at least 1000 years, covers 1.48 million cubic yards of contaminated waste, and spans 45 acres. The rest of the land has been reacquired and now hosts a wildlife refuge and public high school.

  • Remaining foundation from housing barracks at Amache Japanese Internment Camp - Granada, CO

    In response to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the US government rounded up Japanese-American citizens, forced them from their homes, land, and business with only what they could carry, and sent them off to remote “war relocation centers.” In the 3 years Amache was active, roughly 7,000 people were incarcerated there. Despite being persecuted for their race, hundreds of Amache residents volunteered to fight in WWII, and 31 of them were killed in combat.
    In 1948, the government compensated a mere $1400/claimant, which did little to make up for the losses of personal property and land that was taken from them.
    Not until 1988, after decades of activism did Congress officially apologize and grant $20,000 to each living survivor of the internment to make up for lost freedom and violated rights. It's one of the only instances of reparations paid by the federal government.
    Amache is currently maintained by a group of student volunteers from the neighboring high school.

  • Century 16 movie theater, site of 2012 mass shooting - Aurora, CO

    On July 20, 2012 during a midnight screening of the film The Dark Knight Rises, James Eagan Holmes dressed in tactical clothing, set off tear gas grenades and shot into the audience with multiple firearms. 
    Twelve people were killed and 70 others were injured, 58 of them from gunfire. It was the deadliest shooting in Colorado since the Columbine High School massacre in 1999. At the time, the event had the largest number of victims in one shooting in modern U.S. history. This number was eventually surpassed by the 107 victims in the 2016 Orlando nightclub shooting.
    Gun sales increased in CO as a result.

  • “Cemetery of the Innocents” installed by anti-choice activists to memorialize aborted fetuses - Gibson County, IN

  • "Black mayonnaise" in the Gowanus Canal - Brooklyn, NY

    The Gowanus Canal is one of the most contaminated waterways in the country, and has been on the EPA’s Superfund National Priorities List since 2010. For more than a century industrial manufacturers, chemical plants, and slaughterhouses routinely dumped pollutants and waste into the canal without any thought to the environmental impact. Its toxic sediment layer (sometimes described as "black mayonnaise") reaches 20 feet deep, and when tested for bacteria, it was found to include typhoid, cholera, dysentery, tuberculosis, an almost total absence of oxygen, as well as huge amounts of raw sewage, grease, oil, and sludge. The EPA restoration is required to be paid for by the more than 30 entities deemed Potentially Responsible Parties (PRPs) for the pollution, including Brooklyn Gas and Electric (now doing business as National Grid), the City of New York, and the United States Navy. The total cost of the cleanup is currently estimated to be in excess of $1 billion. Although the Superfund program was created to to do exactly that- fund the clean-up of the contamination- the federal funding has run out, and according to a 2017 Washington Post article, “Over the past 20 years, American taxpayers have spent more than $21 billion in cleanup and oversight costs for properties polluted by dangerous wastes, known as Superfund sites, while hundreds of companies responsible for contaminating water paid little to nothing, an analysis of congressional budget data shows.”

  • Site of People’s Grocery lynching - Memphis, TN

    In 1892, Thomas Moss, Calvin McDowell, and Will Stewart, all Black co-owners of People’s Grocery were arrested in connection to a disturbance near their store, during which a white grocery store owner (and struggling competitor) was injured and went to the police blaming the men for the violence. Racial tensions and violence rose in the following days, and in the wee hours of March 9, rather than being brought to trial, the three men were dragged from their cells and lynched by a white mob. Moss’s dying words were, “Tell my people to go west- there is no justice for them here.”
    Many lynchings targeted Black community leaders whom whites perceived as having too much ambition, property, talent, or wealth. Often, the lynchings were justified under claims that they had either sexually assaulted white women or committed an unspecified barbaric act against whites.
    Over 100 years later, the street corner is now home to several small businesses in various states of disrepair and abandonment.

  • "Protect the Sacred" mural, part of the Painted Desert Project - Navajo Nation

  • "Black Lives Matter" mural in parking lot of Vernon AME Church - Tulsa, OK

    The Vernon AME Church is the only standing Black-owned structure from the Historic Black Wall Street era in Tulsa, OK that withstood the government-sanctioned looting and arson of the Greenwood neighborhood in 1921 in what has come to be called the Tulsa Race Massacre. Hundreds of Black residents were killed by deputized whites and thousands were displaced. Property losses are estimated to the equivalent of $33 million today. Deemed a “riot” at the time, none of the material damage to the buildings and residents’ belongings was covered by insurance. Survivors and descendants have yet to see any reparations or compensation from their government. For decades, the event was absent from Oklahoma history books, and even family oral histories. The centennial has garnered national news with talks of reparations. Searches for mass graves are on-going.

  • Columbine High School - Littleton, CO

  • "Shoot a machine gun" - Page, AZ on border of Navajo Nation

  • Glen Canyon Dam - Page, AZ

  • National Beef meat processing plant - Dodge City, KS

    The smell of meat and death can be smelled for miles. Here cows are crammed together in large holding pens, standing in their own feces with large fans blowing the air out onto the street.
    They are given antibiotics to prevent them from getting sick in the dirty environments they’re kept in. This results in resistant bacteria multiplying, spreading, and exposing people who consume the meat and breathe the air. When those people get sick and are prescribed antibiotics, they don’t work on the resistant bacteria. According to the CDC, 2 million people contract antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections each year, and approximately 23,000 of them die. 
    The methane gas emitted from cows and their decomposing manure is 26x more detrimental than CO2 as a contributor to global warming. Beef by far contributes the most over any other form of livestock in greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution, and deforestation which have detrimental effects on the environment.

  • "Got cancer yet?" - private property on Highway 160 in Mancos, CO

    On private property of a former Sinclair gas station

  • Porta potties outside Toadstools trailhead - Kanab, UT

  • Border fence at Amache Japanese Internment Camp - Granada, CO

  • View from Woodland Street Bridge, site of Henry & Ephraim Grizzard lynchings- Nashville, TN

    From plaque posted on-site by Equal Justice Initiative & Metropolitan Nashville Davidson County Community Remembrance Project Coalition in 2019: “In the spring of 1892, one of the most violent public events in Nashville’s history occurred at this site. One April 24, 1892, two black men were accused of assaulting two white women near Goodlettsville. Henry Grizzard and Ephraim Grizzard, brothers, were arrested on suspicion, along with three other black men. During this era, the deep racial hostility that permeated southern society burdened black people with a presumption of guilt that often focused suspicion on black communities after crimes were alleged, whether evidence supported that suspicion or not. without a trial, Henry was lynched the next day by white residents of Davidson and Sumner county at Mansker’s Creek. Ephraim, however, was taken to Nashville’s jail to await trial. On April 30th, leaders of an angry white mob violently abducted Ephraim from the jail and hanged him from Woodland Street Bridge before piercing his body with hundreds of bullets. Thousands of ‘well-to-do, respectable citizens’ supported lawless mob violence that threatened the black community. Ephraim Grizzard’s body was taken back to Goodlettsville, where it was burned publicly to further terrorize black residents. Black community members who sought to protest and complain about racial terror lynchings were themselves threatened with violence and forced to flee the community, adding to the trauma and tragedy surrounding these lychings.”

  • Headstone of "Abe Lincoln, son of Antelope Cheyenne," Carlisle Indian Boarding School Cemetery - Carlisle, PA

    Over 10,000 indigenous children attended Carlisle Indian Industrial School from 1878-1918. In the cemetery lies the graves of 186 children who died there. The school served as a blueprint for Native American boarding schools across the country, which systematically ripped indigenous children from their families, changed their names, and forced them to abandon their languages and cultures in order to assimilate to the colonial culture, considered by many to be cultural genocide. The boarding school system was also rife with physical and sexual abuse, for which hundreds of former students have filed lawsuits. The entirety of the site is now home to the US Army War College. According to the guards at the entrance, the only remaining sign of the Indian school's existence is this fenced-in cemetery, sandwiched between a main road and a grocery store parking lot.

  • Diesel station and wind turbines - Kansas

  • Installation of memorial for 100-year Anniversary of Tulsa Race Massacre - Greenwood District in Tulsa, OK

  • "Thank you come again"