Pandemics and Protests — The State of the Union
The World Has Always Been A Scary Place But There Is Still Hope Things Will Get Better
There will be wars and rumors of wars states Jesus in the book of Matthew when asked how the disciples will know when the end of the world is near. We are warned of famines, natural disasters of global proportions as well as earthquakes and all manner of ungodly behavior we’ve long thought was never possible again. Despite all these dire predictions, we are told that the end, though coming is still not here. These things are meant to make us aware of what is coming. Like the blooms on a tree predict the coming of spring, we are given a warning or a message and it is up to us to prepare for what is to come with no surprises that it – “snuck up on us”. While it may seem like small comfort to know we are not at the end of a short rope –which pessimists might say leaves us with more cord with which to hang ourselves – we still have a long way to go before we destroy life-as-we-know-it, but the new normal may not be so bad if we learn to work together and learn from our mistakes and stop blaming others for causing them.
The Beginning of the Pandemic and the Panic
In early March of 2020, a friend and I were debating whether or not to join our running group for the annual watching of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Savannah. My friend really wanted to go, but I wasn’t really feeling in the party mood and had so much to do that I did not want to be stuck downtown for hours. How could we know that just a week later, the parade – one of the largest in the nation – would be cancelled as were all of our group runs and races for which many of us had trained for months.
There were rumors of people running out to buy toilet paper, milk, water, bread. We laughed and joked that they must have confused the then monikered Corona Virus with the impending hurricanes predicted later in the season. Why would anyone need to stock up on bottled water? Were they expecting the electricity to go out, the water supply to be contaminated and what was the deal with toilet paper? Why would anyone need 60 triple rolls for possibly two weeks of quarantine? We thought then that in another month, this whole thing would be history and we would get back to doing our regular routine. We were wrong!
As a precaution I went out and bought a two week supply of groceries including toilet paper which I did not need, just because everyone else was buying it. I did not know why I felt compelled to buy it, just that everyone else was, so it must be important. I like to consider myself an educated person, but the news and social media seemed to flame that little spark of uncertainty in me that took a lot of effort to control. I kept feeling like I needed to do something to prepare, but how do you prepare for a pandemic?
Like many, I did not agree with certain rules and regulations that did not make sense and watched as dozens of friends lost their jobs permanently while others participated in risky behaviors and laughed at those who were too “sheep-like” to join them in group activities with some even denying stay-at-home orders and traveling outside the state or hosting backyard picnics with neighbors. I am kind of a stickler for the rules when they are fair for all and designed to keep people safe and am always shocked when people behave in a risky manner or do things that encourage others to follow their example, so I had to figuratively bite my tongue on social media as people sought ways to eat-out and get their hair and nails done when we were supposed to be staying at home and only going out to exercise briefly in the neighborhood or to resupply needed groceries if we could find anything we needed in stock at that point.
Lock-Downs – Quarantines – Covid 19 Testing and Shelter-In-Place Orders
For two, maybe three weeks, most people complied and followed CDC guidelines for social distancing and reducing contact with those outside the household but at the end of March after two weeks of sheltering in-place, the natives got restless and amassed in droves at parks and public boat ramps after beach areas were closed. It was madness even with no threat of a virus lurking and the blame- game continued as local cases of the now Covid-19 began to rise and people were advised to start wearing face coverings after being told earlier they should not. Governors fought against the President’s advice and Mayors fought against the Governor’s mandate with many thinking they knew what was best and that others were trying to control and manipulate them for political reasons and that was when all hell broke loose, almost literally.
For a long time now in the United States, we have seen warring factions. They may not have been firing metal bullets, but their words were sharp and wounding and their game-plan designed not to keep a balance of power, but to gain power for themselves at the expense of others. We have seen this war in businesses where owners get rich at the expense of the people who do the work for them and if anyone complained about it, they were fired or maligned as a “disgruntled worker”. I guess if you are being paid eight dollars an hour and told you can be easily replaced and that even a monkey could do your job, you have a right to be a bit on the disgruntled side, but I digress.
Politics have always been bad, but in recent years both republican and democratic parties have swung far right and far left, like the parting of the Red Sea waiting to close in again and drown everyone caught in the middle while those who remained on opposite shores still hurled insults and injury not caring who they hit in the crossfire. The party leaders block any intelligent moderate candidates from office, choosing instead the most likely to make the other political side look the worst rather than do what is best for the country. If you want to run for president, you must be faithful to the tenants of your chosen masters or will be booted out so fast you won’t know what happened and will be branded a traitor to the cause which these days seems to be doing everything humanly possible to make the other side look like incompetent idiots living in a fantasy-land while ignoring the inevitable demise of their own rights in order to give way to rights of those in charge, which we will see in just a moment has a very close relationship to all the protests going on against perceived unfair treatment of blacks verses whites. I say perceived because if you talk to police officers or hang out with a bad crowd, you will soon learn that certain behaviors and attitudes can get you in deeper trouble than the color of your skin, though injustices based on racial prejudices most certainly do exist.
As frightening and forewarning as it is to see the political polarization and the negative impact it has on society – instead of joining hands and singing Kumbaya in an effort to find common ground which protects all without requiring any one group to give up too much freedom – we see an alarming increase in the marginalizing of people who aren’t like Us, saying people are poor because they are lazy or rich because they take advantage of the poor. Children who can’t afford to go to college to become doctors, architects, nurses and educators are encouraged to go to trade school to become house keepers, cooks, seamstresses or run pipes and dig ditches and clean gutters because these jobs are more fulfilling and offer better pay than being a lawyer or dentist and you don’t have to pay as much for the training. Who really needs scientists and mathematicians anyway, right? Just a few years ago we were complaining that we could not fill jobs that required advanced science and mathematics degrees and had to hire people from foreign countries because our graduates were too dumb to measure up and now we are encouraging high-school graduates not to go to college and learn those skills because it costs too much and they are unlikely to get a job to be able to pay back their loans to universities which over the past 20 years now charge for one semester what we paid for an entire year, including parking, books and other fees. What’s up with that?
Instead of Making America Great Again, We Have Demonized Other Nationalities as Undermining Life As We Knew It Which Has Also Given Rise to Racism Among Our Own
We’ve outsourced jobs to foreign countries and most of our products are now made in China and yet we want to put America first, but what does America or the United States have to offer when we owe trillions of dollars in debt and fight about who should get health care and who should not and whether we really need to have highly educated kids or just decent workers to take care of the tasks we find tedious and boring? When Covid-19 began peaking in early April, my social media feed was full of people urging their friends not to buy anything made in China not realizing that over 85 percent of American goods were made there from tooth brushes, umbrellas and hair brushes to cell phones, TVs and appliances. If you took everything that was made in China out of your home, you might not even have a chair left to sit on or a television to entertain, but it sounded so good to say you were going to avoid buying or using anything made in China, including the replacement part for your car or bicycle or the elliptical at the gym and ironically the computer or smart phone you are using to type or video your protest upon. Not too many of us are willing to be so austere as to give up our Garmins, Fitbits, computers, stereo systems and iPhones to make a point, but protesting against cheap products made in China somehow seems to placate the masses who swear to look at every label before buying anything and reject it if it is not made in the good old US of A. Good luck with that. You might have to build a weaving machine from scratch, buy an alpaca and start knitting your own knickers to comply with that promise, but it never hurts to support local, small businesses if you can afford to do so Still, if it comes down to buying six pair of long-lasting comfortable underwear for $12 made in Taiwan or one pair of USA made underwear at $24, most of us are going to have to go the cheapest and best route out of necessity for our own financial survival.
As our hatred for foreign invaders grows, so too does our hatred among races. Blacks blame whites for all their troubles and whites blame blacks for the increase in crime and decline of the public school system. Mexicans and Muslims immigrating to the US are viewed as a threat to democracy and freedom and often referred to as illegal aliens even if they are legal Americans or have authority to be here for school or work. If you don’t look and act like one of us, you are one of them and we all know that “THEY” do not belong here and “WE” do, or so the theory of racism and exclusion goes. Whites point to the high crime rate, gang mentality and low education of many black youths as the problem whereas blacks point to the unequal distribution of wealth and opportunities for blacks who are often treated as second-class citizens and told point-blank they are not as good as others.
Those of privilege may never see the unfair treatment of people not like them and may be clueless at how hard poor people really do work and resent being called lazy. No one deserves to be marginalized for where they were born, how they speak, different cultural mannerisms and even a desire to remain loyal or at least have a longing for the country and culture from which they previously came. Back to the opening of this story, how many people dress in green on St. Patrick’s Day and fly the Irish flag, even though they have never stepped foot in Ireland nor have relatives there? So why is it wrong for people from Mexico or Brazil or China to still feel connected to their homeland even if they do become American citizens?
We tend to have a double-standard in our world that it is okay for some people to act a certain way, but not okay for others and a lot of this is based on history. After the two World Wars, how do you think Japanese and German flags flying on American soil would be viewed? Do you think they would be seen as friendly, cultural gestures or threats to the nation or the world in general?History changes everything. If you live in a neighborhood where 90 percent of the crime and violence is perpetuated by one race or by one sex or age-group, you are going to be more cautious, more suspicious when you encounter someone who follows the appearance, action, dress, and attitude. This is an ingrained survival instinct among animals from which we are not far removed. If an animal has fangs and claws and hunts your kind for food, then you are not going to be inclined to greet them with open arms and will either run or fight if you feel they threaten you or your territory and this is common among humans as well. Is it right? Mostly it is overblown, but in order to trust one group, you have to know that they trust and respect you and if they do not, then tensions may cause behaviors that would not otherwise exist if there was mutual respect and concern for the well-being of all parties, not just one at the expense of another. It’s a cruel world and the whole point of governments and civilizations is to bring people together as one to work toward a common goal. If that goal does not fit your agenda or you perceive it to be a threat to your peaceful existence, then you will most likely rebel or fight-back to protect your rights which should be protected by law but are often abused by those upholding the law.
Why Is There a Growing Distrust of People Who Are Supposed To Keep Us Safe
Many of us have a built-in distrust of systems we feel are trying to abuse or prevent us from reaching our full potential as humans. We notice discrepancies like when we are told we should not wear face masks and that they will not prevent the spread of disease and we are doing a disservice to health care workers and essential workers if we wear one, then two weeks later are told we MUST wear protective coverings over our mouth and nose and are shown videos on how to make one out of a t-shirt as if material that thin will keep a sunburn out, much less a microscopic disease whether we carry the infection or someone we meet does. When this happens we tend to distrust the information and ignore good advice when it is given.
We judge others for not listening to safety regulations and judge others for blindly following unfounded regulations. Masked people give the stink-eye to those not wearing masks and those not wearing masks smirk and make fun of those who do wear them. Some people posted that they would go to jail rather than wear a face covering and that it violated their rights and put them at risk of carbon dioxide poisoning which could damage their lungs more than Covid 19. It’s enough to make your eyeballs roll in the back of your head and stay there as you shake your head sadly that such seemingly intelligent beings can be so unseemly lacking in intelligent thought. As someone with aging parents who can easily become overwhelmed by full-blown Covid 19 symptoms, I chose to be extra cautious about going out in public while friends posted memes about how fearful people needed to lock themselves away and let the bold and the brave run freely without giving up their rights to purchase hot donuts at midnight if they so desired. To close down bars and prevent festivals was cruelty at best and no human should have to endure such harsh conditions of life. Again, my eyes rolled and like many, I wonder why people think it is okay to ignore common sense and behave in ways which not only endanger themselves, but those around them. Yes, I would like to go to the beach and running with my friends in the park and shopping for fun again, but my life won’t end if I put those things aside for another month or even two. As for businesses, smart managers found ways to sell online and provide curbside customer service to keep their businesses afloat, though many providing services like dentistry and hair-styling could not. It was definitely nerve wracking to see people lose their jobs, but many churches and organizations stepped up to the plate to help out with groceries, provide internet access to kids so they could keep learning online and provided meals and necessities to those who could not go out and get them for themselves. Local fire departments and police did drive-by happy birthday greetings for kids who could not host parties and invite friends. High School seniors gave graduation speeches on the radio and posted banners in their yards as friends drove by at a safe distance. We found ways to make it work without endangering others and all was good or so we thought.
You Could Not Turn on a Television Set or Visit a Social Media Site Without Being Bombarded By Covid 19 Deaths and Then The Protests and Riots Started
Every night we turned on the news to hear the death-rate of the virus and both dreaded and longed-for the reopening of shops and businesses and just as things seemed to be taking a turn toward normal, not one, but two black males were killed by white males, one of whom was an overly aggressive police officer who took a knee into the throat of a man accused of forgery and had no sympathy when he told the officer he could not breath and was in great pain. Suddenly Covid 19 took a backseat and disappeared from news feeds and protestors gathered in groups way more than 25 and hit the streets chanting for peace and justice as if they were immune from a virus that was killing thousands throughout the world in all age groups.
We watched as a human virus of hate caused massive destruction, even destroying historic buildings and monuments and stealing luxury goods while closing down more shops than the Covid 19 virus ever could and causing the return of night-time curfews to keep people safe from harm caused not by an invisible virus, but by their fellow humans who had had enough of being told what to do, when to do it without regard to their own freedom and safety. The president did not help by announcing, “ When the looting starts – the shooting starts.” Some violent groups were thought to have infiltrated raucous but otherwise peaceful protestors made up of more whites than blacks at times and mostly young people under the age of 30. Some wore face coverings, others did not. They all seemed more concerned about a more pressing issue infecting the United States – the unfair treatment of blacks at the hands of the police and white people in general.
The protestors asked why blacks were targeted more than whites for seemingly doing nothing suspicious or out of the ordinary. It is like people who chop the heads off of any snake they see because they think all snakes are bad or comment that if they found a nest of spiders in their house they would have to burn the house down rather than sweep the spiders into a jar and remove them outside away from the building. A combination of fear and hate are difficult to overcome and really the only way you can convince anyone that something is good or at least will not harm them if they remain sensible, is to educate them and expose them to the thing they hate and fear to prove that it/they are not as bad as they think.
Kids playing together know no racial bias. They just want to have fun and work together as a team and that is really how it should be for adults as well
An Insight Into Why Black Males Are Held More Suspect Than Other Groups
A number of years ago I worked at a fitness facility with a basketball court. Only members were allowed to use the facility, but a guest could come with a member and pay five dollars to use the gym for the day. Most of the people complied and paid the guest fee, but we had a limit of no more than three visits per month without joining and had dozens of mostly black teens try to sneak in or argue with us that we were racial profiling and treating them unfairly. We had video cameras and would see them angrily stalk around to the back of the building and try to sneak in a back route or get a friend to let them in or even scale an eight foot fence to sneak into the basketball courts. I am not a racist, but I noticed my attitude towards young black men became one of suspicion and I braced for confrontation and accusation every time I explained the rules and regulations and why I could not let them in unless they started a membership, which was actually pretty cheap – about a dollar a day – but most of them did not have bank accounts and we could only do advanced payments for six months or monthly bank drafts.
It got so bad, that we often had to call the police to take trespassers out of the building and break up fights and discovered several gang members were betting on the games and telling younger kids who were paid members that they could not play on the courts or they would hurt them. Now, here is what we did to solve the problem. We banned guest passes for basketball and made it members-only. This still did not totally solve the problem of people sneaking in or causing problems, but it did away with about eighty percent of the headaches. In return, we learned to be less suspicious of young black males and tried our best to treat them with the same dignity we would treat anyone else, but were still accused of racism for following the rules to keep everyone safe and keep things fair for people who paid for memberships and could not use the facilities for fear of getting beaten up or threatened. When we compared the number of white male, white female, black male, black female and other races who caused problems at the gym, over 95 percent of the trouble-makers were young black males. Those are some pretty damning statistics and while it did not give us the right to treat young black males any differently than older white males or young Latinos, it did put an added burden on us. The only other group which caused us problems was actually middle aged white and black women with children who blamed us for their child’s bad behavior and not their own parenting skills or lack thereof, but that’s a whole other matter.
Eventually we saw certain people or types of people coming and cringed physically at the thought of dealing with them because it took such a high emotional toll and we knew we were going to be berated, attacked, accused, treated as if we were stupid and even told that we were worthless and should lose our jobs for following protocol to make sure everyone was treated with dignity and respect. I imagine this is what a lot of police officers deal with daily as well and I imagine, like us, their superiors did not want to get involved with it nor provide training on how to help us problem-solve under duress and make sure everyone was treated with respect including ourselves. If you want to know what it feels like to be nice to someone who is yelling at you and demanding your job and accusing you of being racist, the best I can describe it is like a fight or flight instinct where to protect yourself from attack, you desire to attack back, like two dogs growling and barking and lunging at one another. Once you have reached that point, it is very difficult for either to back down, so you have to learn the skills to prevent confrontations from escalating to that point and that takes a lot of practice and steady nerves and humility and letting go of the egotistical self and treating each person with dignity even if they do not seem to deserve it.
So, few of us know how to stay calm when we are pushed into a corner. We fight back to protect ourselves. We learn to recognize types of people and situations which are likely to cause harm and we react almost instinctively to subdue the things we find to be threatening or we react in fear and run. When you disturb the bear, you do not stop and say, “oh, I am sorry, I did not mean to do that. Can we just be friends?” The bear is ready to attack you to protect itself and you will do whatever is necessary to protect yourself, so who is right and who is wrong? We know it is not right to attack and harm someone to benefit ourselves or hurt others with no remorse but is it wrong to defend what we hold dear in order to prevent having something we love taken away? If you perceive you are being treated unfairly, bullied and harassed, like most people you will do whatever is necessary, legal and ethical to protect your rights and claim your freedom from unjust actions and it is unlikely that this built-in survival goal will change unless the circumstances surrounding your life change.
Protests Are Nothing New But How Effective Are They In The Long-term
Do Protests Really Bring About Lasting Change Or Is There a Better Way
Protests are an acceptable way for many people to express their concerns over things they feel they have little control over, but does protesting really work? In some cases it does bring about change, but it only changes the law, not the hearts of people. Ultimately, the people in charge need to be held accountable as part of the reason for the problems. Both sides – not one or the other – need to change and it is easier to change policy than to change attitudes and long-held beliefs bolstered by experience.
If you are a person with a temper, you know you can control your temper to a degree, but it is still there. It never really goes away, but your response to stimuli that triggers actions can be changed through training and practice and unfortunately this is not something that is taught in school or businesses and often not in the military either. In business and security, aggressiveness and quick response to quell rebellious acts or potentially dangerous situations is seen as a positive force to win a battle. Schools have unending requirements of teachers and students to try to prevent bad behaviors to the point where more time is spent policing words and actions and less time spent on learning and teaching.
Our problem with race and privilege and inequality will not go away with laws and regulations, just as the Pandemic will not go away with laws and regulations, but that does not mean we should not attempt to control the spread and find ways to lessen the negative impacts on our environment. We have already seen that social isolation can only last for so long before people demand their freedom to interact and feel part of a large movement. We do not want to contain hate, prejudice and viral infections, we want to eliminate them, but we cannot. If we get rid of one disease another will pop up in its place. If we become complacent about treatments and precautions, the waning disease of hate will resume, sometimes worse than the first wave of infection.
In the book of Romans, Paul gives an example of how God created the world so that we might inherently know what was right and wrong and that while the gospels spelled this out, even those who did not know the gospel could see them play-out in everyday life by watching nature or groups of people. You know this to be true. When you see a group of kids playing and they have no hate, know no differences, just have fun being kids with other kids, it feels right, but when you see one child bully another or one group plotting to do harm to another, you get what the Bible refers to as righteous anger because you know what you see is wrong and you know that it cannot be allowed to continue.
Paul states that the sinful desires of one’s heart will be one’s undoing and while many prefer not to believe in sin, sin is really anything that separates us from doing good and helping others and living as a functional group even if we have our differences. Sin loves a good lie. Sin loves to separate. Sin loves to make you think you are right even though that little voice inside of you knows better. Sometimes it takes an outside source like a protestor or a change in politics and business-as-usual to help us see that there is a better way, but it isn’t the fault of one person over another, it is the fault of all of us collectively. You cannot tell a police officer that he cannot arrest someone who is suspected of a crime because it isn’t right for him to do so, but you can train a police officer to use the least amount of restraint and to keep a level head when dealing with a difficult and potentially dangerous situation, to some degree. When it comes to flight or fight, most military and police have been trained to fight or be prepared to do so.
Protesting in the streets to implement change, burning and pillaging to show your power to hurt those whom you perceive hurt you can be viewed the same as going out in public during a pandemic and getting in large crowds wearing paper-thin masks or no mask at all. At best it is risky behavior. At worst it is spreading a contagious disease rather than stopping it. Burning down buildings and looting stores is like throwing gasoline on a fire to put it out. Romans Chapter 1 verses 18 through 28 really gets to the heart of the matter and while I do not believe that God sent the Pandemic to punish evil mankind, I do think we can use the Pandemic and the protests as a warning sign that the fruits of our actions are about to bud and we may not like the bitterness we are fighting so hard to bring forth. Paul tells us that we can all see clearly God’s creation is a good one, but that in our desire to please ourselves rather than work together to do good, we have darkened our hearts and chosen to do what is best for us without regard to others. We all have to make some sacrifices to keep others safe. We have to have a sense of community, not isolate ourselves from things that scare us or from which we do not understand. We cannot claim to be wise and act like fools. We cannot choose to worship our own kind while saying that worshiping God is for idiots. Paul states that we have exchanged the truth for lies and given up the knowledge of God for our own evil, greed and depravity. We are full of murder, strife, deceit and malice. We are insolent, arrogant, slanderers, gossips, boastful, intent on doing evil. We disobey parents and have no understanding, no love, no mercy. Does any of that sound familiar?
Paul ends the first chapter with a warning that we know what the right thing is, even if we don’t read the Bible or confess a faith in Christ. We know what the right thing to do is, but if we turn away from doing right, we choose death and worst of all, when we do the wrong thing and are proud of doing it, we encourage others to follow our practices and make life worse for everyone including ourselves. So yes, maybe our actions did bring about the Covid-19 virus. Maybe by doing the right thing, China could have contained the virus and prevented the spread. Maybe had the police department and scared white folk not treated young black males like they were all evil, intent on doing harm instead of seeing that the majority are good people who have been treated badly so long that they are just as leery of accusations and even more weary of having to defend themselves for doing the same thing other people do who are not targeted as troublemakers when they are simply walking down the street and looking curiously into an open house in the process of being put together.
The state of our union may seem disingenuous and in a major state of disharmony at the moment but you can’t play your own tune when you are sitting in the orchestra. You all have to be on the same page, learning the same notes even though you may play them on different instruments with different tones at different times, they all blend together to form a most majestic sound that reverberates and infuses the listener with a sense of rising together as one – many voices rising as one and reaching into the hearts of mankind to unite spirit and soul to one great purpose – creating and maintaining something wonderful and unique while respecting the contributions of everyone involved and I think, if I am not mistaken, that is really what all of us want. We want to come together as one and let our song be heard and inspire and enlighten and use our love to make the world a better place, not a bitter one where people are always attacking other people and blaming them for the world’s problems. If we can create a vaccine that prevents us from hating and abusing others, wouldn’t that be wonderful? As it is, we can isolate and separate and cover-up, but eventually we have to get back to a world of sharing without fear of catching some contagious disease like Covid 19 or hate.
For Christians, Christ is the vaccine. Love provides immunity and spreads that immunity to all who come into contact with it, but we have changed the formula of love and hoarded compassion for those who follow the rules that we follow and deny understanding to those who hold us responsible for their struggles as we blame them for ours. The world is a mess and science cannot solve these problems with theories and facts anymore than laws and regulations can prevent people from destroying the lives of others. While laws are an external application of an internal desire to do the right thing for the right reason, love does not need a bill, a political leader, an officer of the law. Love just needs a desire to do right not a desire to hurt and blame and hate. Vaccinate the world with love. Treat others as you wish to be treated and many of the world’s problems would heal themselves, no protests or face coverings or social isolation needed. One can only hope and pray and spread the good news like a pandemic to all who need to hear it.