Nurturing creativity with art, animals, and science fiction

Tag: COVID-19

the logo for Archon science fiction convention

Because Archon’s Doing it Right

By Jan S. Gephardt

I am happy to report that I’m going to Archon 44 after all. Why? Because—and only because—Archon’s doing it right.

The Email That Changed Everything

At left, a vaccination map of the US, shows Missouri’s vaccination rate is less than 55%, and Illinois is less than 70%. At right, the most current chart available at publication time shows that on Sept. 20, 2021, there were 207,974 new COVID-19 cases in the USA.
The vaccination map at left is by Josh Renaud, courtesy of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The chart at right is from The New York Times, via Google.

You may recall that a few weeks ago, I very reluctantly decided to withdraw from this year’s FenCon, a Texas science fiction convention that my son and I have come to love. I had been watching the COVID-19 trends in the St. Louis area and growing more and more convinced I’d have to do the same with Archon. But then I got the Email That Changed Everything.

“The Archon Chairs have decided to require vaccination OR a negative COVID test within the previous 72 hours,” the email said. “Documentation is required for both. . . There are no exceptions to this policy.” This is such an unusual and—sadly—BRAVE position to take in this part of the country that I actually gasped.

Archon 44 Co-chairs Alan DeVaughn and Scott Corwin are boldly going where many regional convention chairs have feared to go. And while they’re at it, they’re going “all the way.”

The state of Illinois has mandated masks for indoor public spaces for anyone older than 2 years old,” they wrote. “The mask must cover your nose and mouth, unless you are eating or drinking. If you are asked to put your mask on by an Archon staff / committee member and choose not to comply, you will be asked to leave. There are no exceptions to this policy.”

At left, protesters hold up signs with slogans opposing vaccine requirements. At right, protesters from a different group hold up signs with anti-mask slogans.
At left, protesters demonstrate against vaccine mandates (photo by John Lamparski, via The Atlantic). At right, anti-mask protesters in Kalispell, MT (courtesy of the Flathead Beacon).

Archon’s doing it right.

Yes, Archon’s doing it right, and I couldn’t be more pleased. I plan to honor their commitment to follow both science and good sense in the best way I know how: by coming with my books, my artwork, and my work ethic. I’m scheduled for nine events and panels—and I plan to show up for all of them as well-prepared as I can possibly be.

I’m also going to do everything in my power to promote their event—for example, on this and my other blogs, and on every social media platform where I have a presence. Because Archon’s doing it right, they have earned my heartfelt gratitude and loyalty.

If anyone reading this was on the fence and wavering about coming to Archon, please make this policy your deciding vote for going!

Oh, and a word to the wise: book your hotel reservations (use the link on their homepage to get the convention rate) as soon as possible. Historically, they fill up fast!

This montage shows views from Archon 42 and 42, held in 2018 and 2019. Above are two art panels. Below, two views of the Gateway Center, one in sunshine and the other in rain.
Top L, artists Brent Chumley, Rachael Mayo, and Allison Stein discuss creating fantasy creatures in 2019. Top R, Rachael Mayo and several attendees discuss art materials at a 2018 panel. Below, R-L, we had much sunnier weather at the Gateway Center in 2019 than 2018. (All photos by Jan S. Gephardt).

I Have History with Archon

As I noted in the article on my Events Calendar, Archon has been around for a while.

The “44” in Archon 44 means this annual convention has been around for a while. G., Warren, Pascal and I all went to earlier Archons when we were just starting in fandom. And a few years ago, Ty and I started going to them again. If you follow my blog, you might remember posts I’ve written about hall costumes at Archon 42 and 43, and the Art Show.

It’s a well-established convention, run by people who generally know what they’re doing and find excellent ways to make it a good weekend for attendees.

After years in the funky, rambling, since-demolished Henry VIII Hotel in St. Louis proper, the convention has found an excellent new home in the Gateway Convention Center and DoubleTree Hotel in Collinsville, IL.

Throughout my career, I’ve had some great moments, and met some wonderful people at Archon.

Photos from the “writing side” of Archons 42 and 43, held in 2018 and 2019. These photos show a variety of people engaged in panel discussions, readings, and demonstrations.
At left, EMT Kevin Hammel conducts a highly informative 2019 presentation on gunshot wounds, for writers who want to get it right. Top center, a 2018 panel on Diversity in SF, which included, L-R, Jennifer Stolzer, Kathleen Kayembe, Camille Faye, and Debbie Manber Kupfer (M). Top far right: I prepare for my reading in 2019. Below center L-R: Donna J. W. Munro, Marella Sands, and Christine Nobbe chat with the audience before their readings in 2018. Below R, Jennifer Lynn discusses Shamans, Druids, and Wise Women in a 2019 presentation. Photos by Jan S. Gephardt, with the exception of one (guess which) by Tyrell Gephardt.

But that was then. What about Now?

ecause Archon’s doing it right, I’ll have an opportunity to show off my new book (readers who’ve followed this blog in recent weeks probably noticed I have one) sooner than next February (looking at you, Capricon 42). And I’ll get to display my artwork in an in-person display for the first time in almost 2 years.

“A Bone to Pick” by Jan S. Gephardt, envisioned as an ebook on the left and as a trade paperback on the right.
Jan’s new book A Bone to Pick became widely available in a variety of formats after Release Day, September 15, 2021. Cover artwork © 2020 by Jody A. Lee.

I’m scheduled for an autograph session on Friday, a reading on Sunday, and seven panels (several of which I’m moderating). I love doing those things, because they give me opportunities to have great conversations with other panelists and audience members. I get to meet creative, interesting new people (and so can you, if you’ll join us at Archon). And I also get to re-acquaint myself with people I haven’t seen for a while.

I’ll come equipped with an expanded collection of S.W.A.G., badge ribbons and bookmarks for all (or—if that last order doesn’t arrive in time, at least most) of the books and stories Weird Sisters Publishing has produced so far. If you’re a subscriber to my monthly newsletter, and you tell me so at Archon, I’ll even have an exclusive-offer “I’m a Member of the Pack” badge ribbon for you.

Here’s Jan at her Autograph table, surrounded by S.W.A.G.
Jan at her Capricon 40 autograph table (photo by Tyrell Gephardt).

Introducing “Stripped ‘Scripts”

Also because Archon’s doing it right, my son Tyrell will have a first opportunity to present his new service to authors, called “Stripped ‘Scripts.” Through it, he’ll bring his skills as a developmental editor to a new audience.

What’s a developmental editor, and why would a writer need one? In the movie industry they’re sometimes called “script doctors.” While that name gets applied to services from high level plot-revision to hands-on rewriting, the idea is basically that when a plot or a manuscript has gone off the rails, dead-ended somewhere, or developed another kind of structural dysfunction, all hope may not be lost.

A good developmental editor can look it over and offer an analysis. They’ll often have a better idea of what’s wrong and how to turn it into a structurally sound story than an author who’s “written themself into a corner” and run out of ideas. I’ll freely admit that my stories have benefitted from Ty’s “big picture” view. I also appreciate his fresh takes on cultural adjustments to varied technical innovations, and his martial-arts expertise.

Here’s a photo of Ty, along with his business card for Stripped ‘Scripts
Photo and developmental editing business card design are both courtesy of Tyrell Gephardt.

Because Archon’s Doing it Right, We can Relax and Have a Great Con

I know I’m not the only science fiction fan who has missed going to conventions. I’ve blogged elsewhere about why I love science fiction conventions. Not rubbing shoulders with other writers and the fans who keep us afloat has been disappointing, but necessary during the pandemic.

But although it seems as if it’s taking forever, it’s now in our power to make this fourth wave the last one. It’ll be a bit longer, no thanks to the purveyors of an unprecedented flood of misinformation. But we can do it. Spread the word. Speak up in support of those who are doing it right. Kindly (if possible) help to educate those who are sincerely confused.

Science, technology, and government services (sometimes government really isn’t the problem!) have given us the tools we need. They’ve placed research, growing understanding of this virus, and three phenomenally effective vaccines within our grasp. We’re the taxpayers who’ve underwritten much of this historic work. We now have the right and privilege to avail ourselves of these new tools and understandings.

And because Archon’s doing it right, we now can do it at a science fiction convention!

IMAGE CREDITS:

Many thanks to Archon’s Facebook Page, for the logo header image. The map showing vaccination rates in the United States was created by Josh Renaud for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The chart of COVID-19 cases in the United States is regularly updated by The New York Times, accessed 9/21/2021 via Google.

The montage images from Archon 42 and 43 are all by Jan S. Gephardt except for one, taken by Tyrell E. Gephardt (of Jan’s reading). Ty also took the one of Jan at her Capricon 40 autograph table. Moreover, he provided the photo of himself, along with the image of his “Stripped ‘Scripts” business card.

Many thanks to all!

I’m so sorry to have to write this! Change of plans: I won’t go to FenCon after all.

One Schedule-Change

By Jan S. Gephardt

One schedule-change. That’s all it technically boils down to. One simple scratch-out on a calendar. I’d planned on going, but now I’m not.

Except, it’s not a simple thing at all. Not simply one schedule-change. No, it’s actually a whole end-of-summer tipped upside-down in a cascade of if-this-then-that change, after change, after change.

I’m so sorry to have to write this! Change of plans: I won’t go to FenCon after all.
This is one schedule-change I didn’t want to make. (Credits below).

Deciding not to go to FenCon, it turned out (as I knew it would), led to way more than one schedule-change.

I Love FenCon

Okay, so, what’s the big deal? Well, several things. First, I should explain that FenCon is a regional science fiction convention that’s been held in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area since 2004. It’s a friendly, fan-run convention that’s been the subject of several blog posts since Ty and I decided to try it out in 2018. We tried it, and agreed we didn’t want to miss out on any future FenCons!

It quickly become one of my favorite cons. Not that I go to any bad ones, mind you. I love going to science fiction conventions. But there are just some where the appeal is like instant chemistry, and going back each time is a small version of “coming home.” For me, FenCon is one of those special conventions.

Glimpses of past years’ parties, places, art displays, and panel events at FenCon.
Glimpses from FenCon in 2018 and 2019. (Jan S. Gephardt).

FenCon also has the added attraction of being in my sister’s neck of the woods. Each FenCon I’ve attended so far has been followed up by a “Corporate Summit” of Weird Sisters Publishing LLC. That means G., Ty, and I get to hang out and eat, schmooze, and then G. and I discuss, face-to-face, our plans and ideas about where our little publishing venture goes from here.

So, there are lots of reasons why I love going to FenCon. And lots of reasons why I did not want to make that one schedule-change.

This Year was an Extra-Special FenCon

Of all the years I didn’t want to miss FenCon, this year I especially didn’t want to miss it. Above and beyond “I love FenCon.” In addition to the Corporate Summit opportunity. This year’s FenCon was going to be my first con “post-COVID.”

And this year,  Chaz Kemp is the Artist Guest of Honor. How could any con be more perfect for my big return to con-going? Chaz has become a Very Important Person for Weird Sisters Publishing. He’s the man who’s created the Deep Ellum covers. He’s the illustrator whose work will give Warren’s Windhover series a vastly improved set of covers when we release them in 2022. Chaz created G.’s official Author Portrait. So, yes. I wanted to be there to celebrate Chaz.

Covers for “Deep Ellum Pawn,” “Deep Ellum Blues,” and G. S. Norwood’s Author Portrait.
Artwork made for Weird Sisters Publishing, © 2019-2020 by Chaz Kemp.

On top of all that, this year I was going to debut A Bone to Pick at FenCon. If a book’s release is anything like a debutante’s first cotillion, FenCon was supposed to be A Bone to Pick’s “coming out party.”

It’s not as if book releases happen all the time for either me, or for Weird Sisters. This is my first book since before the pandemic lockdowns started. This is the first Weird Sisters release since last September.

I literally timed the release date to coordinate with FenCon!

So, Why this One Schedule-Change?

Of all the conventions, in all of the places, with all of the Guests of Honor—FenCon XVII was the one schedule-change I least wanted to make!

But I made it anyway. Why? Well, if you have to ask, perhaps you’ve lost your Internet connection to your hermit cave for most of the summer. (I mean, everyone fortunate enough to afford to self-isolate has been living in a hermit cave for more than a year, now. The hermit cave is kind of a given).

But just when we were all looking forward to leaving our hermit caves, people started opting out of taking the free, widely-distributed, highly-effective COVID vaccines that had been giving us grounds for hope. They tore off and burned their masks, declared premature victory, and went to Sturgis for a motorcycle rally (or to some other super-spreader-event).

A crowd at the Sturgis ND motorcycle rally.
Many came to Sturgis. Few wore masks. (CNN/Photo by Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images)

And they did this just as the Delta variant of the virus was getting a solid foothold throughout the United States.

The Delta Variant (and its Proponents) are Messing with Texas

Personal responsibility matters. Lack of personal responsibility kills. Regular old COVID-19 had already killed more than 600,000 of us before the vaccines were widely distributed. But those high death counts had plummeted . . . until recently. Once people stopped getting vaccinated, and once Delta took root, the numbers did a U-turn and started to skyrocket.

This is especially true in Florida and Texas. Those two large, populous states seem to have been perversely extra-cursed. They have governors who, in the face of Delta’s surge, appear hell-bent on killing or compromising the health of as many of their citizens as possible.

Outside the Texas Supreme Court building, anti-mask demonstrators hold up signs.
In Texas the anti-mask contingent has gubernatorial support. (Click2Houston).

Texas Gov. Abbott isn’t the only homicidal maniac on the loose in Texas, unfortunately. The Texas Supreme Court recently sided with him. They’re incited and cheered on by certain parents, sad to say. This hamstrings school districts, such as the Dallas Independent School District, that are trying to avoid killing the children who attend their schools.

Does my Language Offend You?

There may be readers who think I’ve used hyperbole, or judged Gov. Abbott and his friends too harshly. But how else should I describe the situation and stay on pace with the facts? There are no available pediatric ICU beds in the Dallas/Fort Worth region, and many smaller, rural hospitals have reached capacity. In the face of these facts, it’s hardly hyperbole to say children are dying. Others may try to be more polite, but I’m sick of that.

Anti-mask, anti-vaccination rhetoric and misinformation inevitably results in more people dying. Hundreds and thousands of people dying. Children are dying in ever-growing numbers. Young, healthy adults are dying. Even vaccinated people are suffering breakthrough infections, and some of them are dying.

A chart from the New York Times shows how Texas COVID cases are climbing steeply in August 2021.
Recent weeks saw a sharp spike in Texas COVID cases. (Chart from New York Times).

This is last year’s movie. We were supposed to be done with this by now. Last spring, when the organizers decided to hold FenCon and I signed up to go to it, we all thought we could see the light at the end of the tunnel. We thought we’d soon be in the clear.

But the “light” is a headlamp on a locomotive called Delta Variant. And the train is driven by anti-vaxxers and anti-maskers. I speak for many when I say that the responsible folk who locked down, masked up, and got their vaccinations as soon as we could are furious.

Don’t anyone dare tell me I’m overstating this situation. Honey, I’m holding back how I really feel.

Ripples from That One Schedule-Change

I had been eagerly designing and ordering new S.W.A.G. for FenCon. Guess there’s less of a rush on that, now. I’d been worrying about getting print-edition copies of A Bone to Pick ready to publish in time to have physical books at FenCon. Don’t need to sweat that one, either, I suppose.

I’d been updating my wardrobe, trying to produce new artwork, starting to make checklists and signs. Guess those aren’t as urgent now, either. The party’s canceled. I’m grounded again. Gotta take my ribbons and my bookmarks and my shiny new copies of my happy new book, and go schlump on back inside my hermit cave. Dammit.

But wait! There’s still Archon!

Yes, I’m still scheduled to go to Archon 44 in Collinsville, IL on October 1-3. At least, so far I’m still scheduled to go to Archon. But it’s six weeks away. Six weeks ago, I was still planning to go to FenCon. So, we’ll see. I’m growing more dubious by the day, but I still hope that’s one schedule-change I won’t have to make.

IMAGE CREDITS:

Many thanks to FenCon XVII for their logo, from the header on their website. The “Raindrop” background is from Facebook. The “COVID-Canceled” symbol is a combination of symbols from “uspenskayaa” and “bentosi,”obtained via 123rf.

All of the photos in the FenCon montage (also assembled by Jan S. Gephardt) are from Jan’s 2018 and 2019 archives.

The covers for Deep Ellum Pawn and Deep Ellum Blues, plus G. S. Norwood’s Author Portrait were all commissioned for use by Weird Sisters Publishing and G. S. Norwood. They are © 2019-2020 by Chaz Kemp.

We appreciate CNN for the photo by Michael Ciaglo of Getty Images, taken at the 2021 Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. Much gratitude to Click2Houston, for the still image captured from a video of anti-mask protestors outside the Texas Supreme Court in Austin. Many thanks also to the New York Times for its chart showing the rise and fall of COVID-19 cases in Texas. This post wouldn’t be the same without you!

A montage of public events in Texas

What’s it Gonna Take?

By G. S. Norwood

With the number of new COVID-19 cases dropping, and Memorial Day in the rearview mirror, what’s it gonna take to get you out of the house and back into large entertainment venues this summer? I’m thinking specifically of movie theaters and concert halls, but that’s just me. What about sports arenas and churches? County fairs, rodeos, and festivals? Are you prepared to dive back into public pools and farmers’ markets? Just how comfortable are you going into public spaces, indoors or out, where a lot of people gather, with or without masks?

Montage of public events in Texas.
Texas, like the rest of the country, offers a variety of crowded events (see below for credits).

Let’s Take it For a Spin

My youngest granddaughter graduated from high school a couple of weekends ago. She was home-schooled, and the home school association that sponsored the graduation ceremony aligns with the evangelical Christian movement. All of which is to explain why I found myself in a crowd of happy people, celebrating their children’s rite of passage without a mask in sight, and—at a guess—not many vaccinated people in attendance.

But I love Warren’s daughter and her family. My granddaughter wanted me to be there. So I went. Never mind that, only a few months ago, the whole thing would have been a prime candidate for a super-spreader event. I decided to take my fully-vaccinated status, and the latest CDC guidelines, out for a spin.

Go Live? Or go Livestream?

But that was family, and I hadn’t seen any of them in quite a while. What’s it gonna take to get me out to an event that doesn’t involve relatives? Well . . . Maybe money?

Crowded concerts by The Dallas Winds.
Will you be ready to return to concerts like these at the Dallas Winds? (see below for credits).

July Fourth is a big day for the Dallas Winds. Every year, except for last year, we have a concert at Dallas’ Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center. Lots of patriotic music. Lots of fun. A giant flag drops from above the stage. CO2 cannons fire streamers into the air. A delightful guy in maybe the best Uncle Sam costume I’ve ever seen hands out flags to kids and grownups in the lobby. He used to do it on stilts. It’s a big, old fashioned celebration of patriotism and American music. The concert usually sells out the 2,061-seat house.

As Director of Concert Operations, I’ll be involved in it up to my eyebrows. It’s my job, and I’ll be paid for it. You can bet I’ll be there. But will you?

You will have the option to attend in person, whether the city limits us to no more than 500 socially distanced ticket holders, or lifts the limits and lets us sell the whole house. You’ll also have the option to purchase a pay-to-view livestream of the concert. Are streamer cannons and flag drops enough to get you out of your house after a year without the magic of a live concert? Or will you be content to sit back and watch it on a small screen at home?

200 piccolos and Uncle Sam on stilts join the Dallas Winds on July 4, 2016. (see below for credits).

Two Hours in the Dark With Your Dreams

Speaking of magic, what about movies? As much as I adore a live concert, my idea of the perfect getaway is to sit in the dark for a couple of hours, watching somebody else’s story unfold in front of me on a giant screen. With popcorn, of course. But I haven’t been to a movie theater since November 2019, when I went to see Knives Out.

Movie posters for “The Green Knight,” “Black Widow,” and “Knives Out.”
The author is looking forward to a return to movies in theaters (see below for credits).

Oh, I’ve watched feature films since then, but that was streaming video at home. I had to make my own popcorn and get my own soda refills. Didn’t have to gamble on having time to hit the restroom during the big fight sequence in the middle. I could pause the action for as long as I wanted, go to the bathroom, take the dogs out, maybe order a pizza and wait for delivery. And I was certainly not glued to my chair, bound by time limits to absorb the whole experience right now, the way you are in a movie theatre.

Cinemark is the dominant theater chain in my area. They’ve devoted a lot of their website to detailing the steps they take to make their theaters clean and safe for patrons. You want to check it out? There’s a banner at the top of every page you can click for more information. Or read it here.

Is it enough? Maybe. But maybe it will take all that plus Black Widow. Or The Green Knight. Will Dev Patel on a horse be enough to tempt me out of the house in the middle of the summer?

The Green Knight releases on July 30, 2021. (see below for credits).

What’s it Gonna Take?

2020 was the year of the introvert. We all got to stay home, deal with work remotely, and insulate ourselves from the pandemic craziness outside. But things are opening up again now. Although only 35% of people in Texas are fully vaccinated, we’re going to have to go back out there sooner or later. You tell me. What’s it gonna take?

IMAGE CREDITS:

We have lots of thanks to share, this week. Both videos come from the YouTube channels of their originators. The Dallas Winds and the World Record for Most Piccolos Playing “The Stars and Stripes Forever,” and The Green Knight Official Trailer in HD from A24. Much obliged!

All image montages were assembled by Jan S. Gephardt.

Crowded Texas Venues

Many thanks to The Dallas Morning News, for both the photo of the Dallas Cowboys game from 2019, by photographer Tom Fox, and the Shed at the Dallas Farmers Market, by photographer Ron Baselice. We thank Second Baptist Church’s Facebook Page and Wide Open Country for the photo of people at a service. Our gratitude goes to Texas Hill Country for the photo of rides at a county fair after dark, and Travel Texas for the undated photo of the unidentified barrel racer. Thanks also to The Dallas Observer and photographer Brian Maschino for the photo from the Fraternal Order of Eagles.

Dallas Winds at the Meyerson

Many thanks to The Dallas Winds for the image of their logo, the photo of the crowd listening to a fanfare at the Meyerson, and the “Star Spangled Spectacular” concert (also used in a previous post). The photo of a Dallas Winds audience is courtesy of Culture Pass: Dallas Culture. We thank you all.

Three Movie Posters

Our deepest gratitude goes to Amazon for the posters for the movies Knives Out and Black Widow. The not-at-all-green poster image for The Green Knight is straight from A24, the studio itself. We are grateful to all!

This quote from Ijeoma Oluo reads, “Even the most virulent American racist has to wrestle with the fact that the United States would not exist were it not for people of color.”

What Black History Month means to me

At the coldest, bleakest time of each year in the United States, we observe first Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in late January, and then Black History Month in February.

I know there are non-racist reasons for this scheduling. Dr. King’s birthday is January 15. February was chosen by a Black historian for Black History Month (originally Black History Week) because Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass both were born in February (Feb. 12 and 14, respectively).

But I sometimes feel as if this is a way white people accepted so they could seem “enlightened,” get them over with early, and then move on. Like maybe they won’t have to think about Black people the rest of the year.

This quote from Chris Rock says, “Black History Month is in the shortest month of the year, and the coldest—just in case we want to have a parade.”
(AZ Quotes)

Thinking about Black people all year

In recent years I’ve observed Black History Month annually on Artdog Adventures. But we cannot relegate any aspect of our history and national culture to a shadowed corner for ten and a half months of the year.

It’s impossible to live an honest life in today’s world without acknowledging Black people’s pervasive contributions to all aspects of our society, and the incredible depth of their talent pool. Simply put, Black people make our country a better place to live.

This quote from Yvette Clarke says, “We must never forget that Black History is American History. The achievements of African Americans have contributed to our nation’s greatness.”
(AZ Quotes)

Like other meaningful annual observations, Black History Month should be a time of renewing our understanding and deepening our knowledge. The only way to truly grow in our antiracist understanding is to go back to the well of clear-eyed understanding with open-hearted empathy.

Black History Month at a unique moment in US history

If 2020 taught us anything, it should have taught us that way too many of us white folks are clueless and insensitive at best, can often be racist jerks, and may even be violent white supremacists at worst. It should have taught us to respect the massive contributions to our lives by our communities of color.

These groups disproportionately provided the essential workers who’ve kept the rest of us alive—at great personal cost. They came out to vote in huge numbers, overcoming sometimes-daunting obstacles, and literally saved our democracy (if we can keep it). In many ways, white Americans cannot easily fathom how very much gratitude we owe them.

This quote from Ijeoma Oluo reads, “Even the most virulent American racist has to wrestle with the fact that the United States would not exist were it not for people of color.”
(Jan S. Gephardt)

Of course, a lot of us white people are really slow learners, so the inequities persist. A living wage continues to elude many who are still employed. Medical professionals who should know better continue to cherish magical thinking about Black pain tolerance or ignore what their Black patients say. Systemically racist police practices continue to oppress and overpolice and kill.

No turning back now

Some powerful (and a lot of ordinary) white people still act and talk as if we could go back to “the way it used to be” after the pandemic has passed. Now that we have a new administration, they say, we should let bygones be bygones, in the name of “unity.

News flash: time marches on, just as inexorably as the Black Lives Matter demonstrators did last summer. Change has occurred. We’ve seen too much, lost too many family members, and sacrificed too much to subside into numb complacency now.

Not if we retain the smallest scintilla of survival instinct.

This quote from Sister Peggy O’Neill, S.C. reads, “Together we imagine a circle of compassion with no one standing outside of it.”
(Ignatian Solidarity Network)

If we didn’t realize it before, we no longer have any excuses. Everyone now knows how very many things can, and have, and do go wrong. When incompetent people collude with greedy people from a position of abused power, disasters ensue.

It’s going to take all of us, with all of our pooled talent, strength, and resiliency, to pull our country out of the fire. Let’s harness the understandings we gain during Black History Month, together with the spirit of genuine antiracism. Then let’s go forward to create a better future for all of us.

IMAGE CREDITS

Many thanks to AZ Quotes: first for the Chris Rock quote, and second for the quote from US Rep. Yvette Clarke. I assembled the quote from author Ijeoma Oluo with some help from 123rf. And I appreciate the Ignatian Solidarity Network for the quote from Sister Peggy O’Neill, SC.

This quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. says, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

What might Dr. King say to us today?

In the wake of the holiday that honors him, I’ve been wondering “what might Dr. King say to us today?” The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is a man whom many of us consider a moral beacon for the ages. His life ended more than fifty years ago, but we value moral beacons because their guidance transcends their own times.

We certainly could use a moral beacon right now. We’ve just lived through a year of historic tumult and upheaval. The pandemic has disrupted our lives on every imaginable level. We lived through a long summer of mass popular demonstrations against systemic racism. An incredibly divisive political season has so far crescendoed (at the time of this writing) into the spectacle of a thank-God-failed insurrection/coup d’état.

What might Dr. King say about all of this? It’s impossible (unless you believe in séances) to ask him directly. But some of the things he wrote and said point us toward his probable reading of some of today’s major recent events. If I tried to address all of today’s issues with his thoughts, this would be a very long post. Instead, I’ll focus on two top headlines of today.

What might Dr. King say about the insurrection at the Capitol?

Dr. King loved his country. Even though he opposed white supremacists in positions of power, he still could write, “the goal of America is freedom.” In his Letter from a Birmingham Jail (1963) he cited “the American dream,” and the goal of “bringing our nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the founding fathers in their formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.”

The white supremacist mob that stormed the Capitol would have looked all too familiar to him. Their (literal and spiritual) parents and grandparents created the Jim Crow South where he focused his resistance work. Of their racist laws, he wrote, “All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority.”

As seen from directly above, an angry crowd of Trump supporters beat a Capitol Police officer who has fallen on his face on the Capitol steps.
The insurrectionists attacked this police officer with a crutch, a night stick, fists, and assorted poles—including a pole attached to an American flag. (WUSA9)

He also would have condemned their violence. King decried “hate filled policemen [who] curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters,” but his whole life was devoted to nonviolence. He would have unequivocally decried assaults such as the one pictured above.

Violence brings only temporary victories; violence, by creating many more social problems than it solves, never brings permanent peace,” he wrote. Moreover, “Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.”

What might Dr. King say about the impact of the pandemic?

I think he would have been most outraged by the stark, enduring, inequalities the pandemic laid bare. The scourge of poverty, and the systemic racism he sought to dismantle all his life, roared into vivid prominence when COVID-19 pervaded the nation.

This chart, based on data from the American Community Survey of county public health departments, shows that rates of infection were much higher for Latinos and Blacks in San Francisco, Santa Clara, and Alameda Counties, and the death rate for Black people was almost double that of any other group. Latinos came in second.
This chart captures a snapshot of data from May 5, 2020 that demonstrates the uneven impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on different racial groups (Todd Trumbull/San Francisco Chronicle)

Unequal access to health care, environmental pollution in poor neighborhoods, and inadequate access to healthy nutrition in “food deserts” had already afflicted communities of color with higher rates of diseases and health conditions that made residents of these communities more vulnerable to the disease and its most virulent manifestations.

In this case, we don’t have to ask, “what might Dr. King say?” because we know he said “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” We know he advocated for “the total, direct and immediate abolition of poverty.

In 2020, we outgassed a lot of platitudes about the value of “essential workers,” many of whom are Black, Latinx, or Asian. But although they can’t work remotely and therefore court death each day they go to work, they often still don’t have adequate health coverage, and they weren’t in the earliest cohort of vaccine recipients, even though they were supposed to be near the front of the line.

A hallmark of capitalist systems is tiers of access, a hierarchy of who gets how much, of what quality, and when. As King put it, capitalism “has brought about a system that takes necessities from the masses to give luxuries to the classes.” In his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, he said, “There is nothing new about poverty. What is new, however, is that we have the resources to get rid of it.”

What might Dr. King say about where we go from here?

I think he’s left us plenty of guidance on that question, too. “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools,” he warned. He also said, “We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.”

If we do not act, we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark, and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight,” he wrote from the Birmingham jail.

A Navajo Nation food bank.
Native Americans of the Navajo Nation people, pick up supplies from a food bank. It was set up at the Navajo Nation town of Casamero Lake in New Mexico on May 20, 2020. (Mark Ralston/AFP via Getty Images and ABC News)

On a different occasion, he warned, “We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there “is” such a thing as being too late. This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.”

Let’s not be too late. After all, “The time is always right, to do what’s right.”

IMAGE and QUOTATIONS CREDITS:

IMAGES: Many thanks to WUSA 9, for the horrifying photo of the police officer being beaten by the insurrectionist mob at the Capitol on January 6, 2021. I’m grateful to graphic artist Todd Trumbull of the San Francisco Chronicle for the “Racial Disparities in COVID-19” chart from May 5, 2020. I also want to thank Mark Ralston of AFP via Getty Images and ABC News, for the May 20, 2020 photo of the relief station in the Navajo Nation. Many thanks also to Gecko & Fly, for the header image.

QUOTES: Many of these resources supplied overlapping quotes, while others offered new insights. For a deep dive into the wisdom and sayings of Dr. King, I appreciate Christian Animal Ethics, The African Studies Center of the University of Pennsylvania (complete text of Letter from a Birmingham Jail), Gecko & Fly, Food for the Hungry, In These Times, and Common Dreams.

This quote from the Dalai Lama says, “If we lose our hope, that’s our real disaster!”

After disaster, now what?

This New Year’s season feels to me a bit like climbing out of the rubble after disaster has struck. I don’t think I’ll get much pushback about whether 2020 qualifies as a disaster. The worst part is that the disaster’s not finished with us.

Those certainly are not the jolliest New Year’s reflections ever shared, but here we are. The painful joke about hitting bottom and then starting to dig definitely applies to 2021, so far.

This quote from author Chuck Palahniuk says, “Only after disaster can we be resurrected. It’s only after you’ve lost everything that you’re free to do anything. Nothing is static, everything is evolving, everything is falling apart.”
Quotefancy

Already starting to dig

COVID-19 just added two frightening, virulent mutations to the mix. Vaccine distribution hasn’t gone smoothly. The predicted spike in infections from Christmas travel has only begun to hit, but many hospitals are already overwhelmed.

Although the countdown on homicides resets at the turn of the year, here in the Kansas City metro area we had two homicide deaths on New Year’s Day alone, after a record high in 2020. Just as bad, two persons experiencing homelessness were found dead from exposure during the holiday weekend. My home metro area is not alone. Homicides are up all over the country. So is homelessness, which has been extra-dangerous during the pandemic, even before winter started.

And speaking of the weather, if you think 2020 had a high number of natural disasters (it did), climate scientists warn that things will only get worse. Gosh, have I cheered you up yet?

This quote from Mandy Hale says, “Change can be scary, but you know what’s scarier? Allowing fear to stop you from growing, evolving, and progressing.”
Everyday Power

Are we “growing, evolving, and progressing”?

I think that’s actually on us to decide. It’s easy to let the gloom and doom suck us down. After the pandemic hit, depression in the US tripled. COVID-19 disrupted mental health services all over the globe, so you know that misery had company worldwide. And goodness knows after disaster upon disaster, we had things to be depressed about.

But some of us were able to find opportunities despite all the disruption. Some of my artist friends found they had more time to focus on larger, more ambitious projects, or on building new relationships with companies that wanted to license their images for hot new trends such as jigsaw puzzles.

People became more focused on locally-owned small businesses. Websites such as Independent We Stand, with a robust local business search function, helped us reconnoiter.

It became kind of a civic duty among some of my friends to buy local, order carry-out from their favorite restaurants more often, or order from their favorite local bookstore (and incidentally save the cost of shipping), then swing by in person to pick up their purchases. IndieBound and Bookshop bolstered those efforts online.

This quote from John D. Rockefeller says, “I always tried to turn every disaster into and opportunity.”
BrainyQuote

Some of us got newly active; let’s never be complacent again

Famously, 2020 was the year when millions of white people could no longer ignore the crippling racial disparities in our country, and when millions of people from all backgrounds took to the streets about it. Income inequality and health care disparities were part of it, but police violence riveted our attention more.

The George Floyd murder—8 full minutes and 48 seconds of despair and agony playing out on video under the knee of an uncaring white cop—provided the catalyst for protests against police brutality and racism, not just in the United States but all over the world.

This quote from Catherine the Great says, “I beg you take courage; the brave soul can mend even disaster.”
BrainyQuote

We in the US are far from the only country with a race problem, but our history means in many ways we’re still fighting the Civil War. And we’re woefully far from being “post-racial.”

No honest person could deny that fact, after the summer of 2020. How do we fix it? It won’t be a quick fix, that’s for sure. Despite record sales of books about anti-racism, there are still plenty of bigots walking around (whether they realize it or not).

And it’s not up to white people to step in and take over the “fixing.” That may surprise some of us who are not as “woke” as we think we are. It is up to us to extend a hand of friendship. To listen—really listen—to Black and brown people. And then to work in partnership with POC leaders who’ve been doing this for a long time already. They already know lots more than any latecomers have even thought of, yet.

This quote from the Dalai Lama says, “If we lose our hope, that’s our real disaster!”
Picture Quotes

Traditions in a time of turmoil

My sister wrote a great post for The Weird Blog this week, about New Year’s traditions and her unique spin on them. I think she has a good philosophy, about taking what works for you or adapting familiar ideas to new situations.

I’ve heard that a lot of people are adjusting their new year’s resolutions in response to recent events, opting for wiser, less stereotypical choices.

With this post, I’m reviving a tradition that I allowed to lapse in 2020, but I’m bringing it back in a new form. After my schedule grew too busy to continue my old practice of writing 2-3 blog posts each week, I reluctantly dropped the “Quote of the Week” and “Image of Interest” features. I simply didn’t have time. Alert followers of Artdog Adventures likely saw it coming, but I made it official in April.

Those posts got a lot of love over the years, though. And I missed them too! So I’m going to try a “Quotes of the Month” approach in 2021. That starts with this “After disaster” post you’re just finishing here. I plan, as much as possible, to make the first post of each month an essay-with-quote-images (and hope that effort won’t be a disaster). Please let me know what you think of them!

IMAGE CREDITS:

Many thanks for the illustrated quote from author Chuck Palahniuk, to Quotefancy. I’m grateful to Everyday Power for the quote from author Mandy Hale. Many thanks to BrainyQuote for the wisdom from industrialist John D. Rockefeller, and also for the quote from Russian empress Catherine the Great. Finally, many thanks to Picture Quotes, for the words of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet.

“The American Dream Game,” 2014 David Horsey cartoon

What kind of environment?

What kind of environment would enable all of my students to reach their full potential?

In last week’s post I explained that I built my fictional Rana Station’s system on ideas garnered from decades of teaching, studying history, and observing our contemporary society.

I first studied this question in grad school. Many of my projects centered on the question of what kind of environment students needed to support their success.

How can students succeed?

Schools traditionally have been held solely responsible for students’ academic success. The last part of my teaching career played out during the devastating early onset of “No Child Left Behind,” so I saw this taken to extremes.

President George W. Bush waves to a crowd. Behind him a sign reads, “No Child Left Behind.”
President George W. Bush waves from a crowd of woman and children, in front of a sign like a chalkboard, emblazoned “No Child Left Behind.” The education “reform” law instituted high-stakes testing, but did not improve schools. (Photo from Reuters, via The Atlantic).

But carrot-and-stick approaches such as funding penalties for low-performing schools or incentive pay” for teachers were foolish from the outset.

Why?

Because even without penalties, I’ve worked in schools where we ran out of supplies from lack of funding halfway through the school year.

And anyone who’s been around a good teacher for five minutes will figure out s/he isn’t in the profession for monetary bonuses.

How can we improve kids’ outcomes?

Schools alone can never control enough variables to ensure student success. We found out the hard way that a school-only approach doesn’t work.

The most brilliant teacher in the world can’t make a child pay attention if he’s hungry.

Or if her mouth hurts from an abscessed tooth.

Maybe he can’t see the materials he’s supposed to read. Or hear the teacher’s words.

Maybe she was raped last night.

Those are all examples drawn from my own students’ lives. Many (though not that last one) stem from poverty, and the chronic unavailability of services in poorer communities. Any answer to “what kind of environment could enable students to reach their full potential?” must include health care.

I stopped teaching before the advent of the Affordable Care Act. But even after its passage added millions of new first-time-ever insured, there are still holes in the safety net. Especially in states such as Kansas and Missouri, where Medicaid was never expanded.

This quote from Barack Obama reads, “You look at something like health care, the Affordable Care Act. And for all the controversy, we now have 20 million people who have health insurance who didn’t have it. It’s actually proven to be more effective, cheaper than even advocates like me expected.
(AZ Quotes)

Would better safety nets fix the problem?

Better safety nets would be a great place to start.

The Covid-19 pandemic has dramatized the gaping inequities in our society. Food insecurity, always a problem, has grown more acute than ever.

In many parts of the country shortages of affordable housing on top of other issues created a wave of homelessness even before the virus struck. Today an eviction can become a literal death sentence.

The logistics of managing “life-support basics” makes even “minor” tasks excessively hard in some impoverished communities. Affluent people easily overlook this.

Remember how people in charge failed to realize it’s near-impossible to follow an evacuation order if you have no transportation, in the 2005 Katrina disaster? That blindness pervades our society on the decision-making level. Clearly, all stakeholders—including members of the community to be served—need their voices added to the discussion.

But better safety nets won’t fix everything.

Equal opportunity for who, did you say?

If you look at students who succeed in school, the ones who end up at the top of the heap tend to be affluent White kids. We all know that’s not by accident. There are lots of reasons, but the most systemic underlying reason is racism. I’m not saying all affluent White folks are racist, but I will categorically say the system is.

This quote from Hillary Clinton reads, “We have to face up to systemic racism. We see it in jobs, we see it in education, we see it in housing. But let's be really clear; it's a big part of what we're facing in the criminal justice system.”
(QuoteMaster)

We are not all born with an equal chance to succeed. Centuries of disempowerment and discriminatory practices have kept minority persons of color from accumulating wealth.

This has fallen especially hard on Black families, but practices of exclusion, redlining, and violent reprisals against minority advancement (such as race riots, started by White people) have affected Latinos and Asians as well. And the entire history of the so-called “New World” has been a long, dreary exercise in conquest and genocide against indigenous people.

The myth of the level playing field

In American society today, no such thing as a “level playing field” exists.

Not even among White folks. Purely by the numbers, there are more impoverished White people than there are people of color. But that’s still only 10% of the White population.

All minorities experience higher percentages of poverty, from Asians, at 12%, to 28.3% of Native Americans/Alaskan Natives.

We must find ways to open up all manner of opportunities. What kind of environment allows all racial and ethnic groups to acquire and build multigenerational wealth? Until we find a way to build such a system, broken safety nets will remain only one part of the problem.

This cartoon shows what looks like a board game. One route, marked “Black” at the starting point, is long, winding, and includes lots of lost turns. Some of the sections say things like “Slavery, lose 100 turns,” or “Denial of Voting Rights, lose 10 turns.” The other route, marked “White” at the start is short, straight, and has sections that say “Free land from Indians, jump 2 spaces,” and (2 spaces later) “Free Labor from Slaves, take another turn.” A young White man near the end turns to his Black competitor and asks, “Are you just slow, or what?”
(LA Times, #142 of 200)

Thriving students come from thriving communities

The bottom line, I discovered, is that thriving students are the natural outcome of thriving communities. Until the entire fabric of the community is vibrant, whole, and functioning well, students remain at risk.

Physical health and the ability to accumulate wealth are vital, but they aren’t the whole story. A truly functional society needs good mental health care, freedom from fear, and actual justice for all.

Solving problems on my fictional space station is one thing. It’s easy to overhaul institutions and rework laws in a story. It’ll be lots harder to do it in real life, especially with the inevitable forces working against us.

What kind of environment would enable all of my students to reach their full potential? To more completely answer that question, we’ll need to fill additional deficits. Read more about those in future posts.

IMAGE CREDITS:

Many thanks to Reuters, via The Atlantic, for the “No Child Left Behind” photo. I appreciate AZ Quotes, for the quote from Barack Obama on the Affordable Care Act, and QuoteMaster for the quote about systemic racism from Hillary Clinton. And I love the LA Times cartoon “The American Dream Game” by David Horsey, that so beautifully illustrates the reasons why Black and White people don’t start out with an equal shot at life.

This sign, in black and yellow like a traffic warning sign, reads, “WARNING: No Easy Answers Ahead.”

Easy answers

Does it seem to you that all the easy answers have gone away? We live in a complicated time, a complicated world.

Covid-19 upends our lives with its invisible, omnipresent death-threat. The American West is burning. Women’s progress in the workplace has turned into eroding sand beneath our feet. Relentless inequities, laid bare by the Covid-19 recession, have thrown our social order into chaos.

It is terrifying. Infuriating. And exhausting.

If only things were easier

Remember the ad campaign with the “Easy” Button™ you supposedly could press to solve all your office supply needs? I wasn’t the only person who really wanted an Easy Button™ in 2005 (for me, that also was a rough year).

The iconic Staples® “Easy Button™” is a round, red-and-silver button marked “easy” in white.
A 2005 ad campaign featured the “Easy Button™” and the motto “That was easy,” to promote the Staples® office store’s services. The company now sells them as novelty gifts. Image courtesy of Staples.

I plan to dig mine out and display it prominently, after we finish renovating the Library and my new home office there (Yes, I have a library room in my house, yes, it’s normally full of books, and yes, it’s awesome when it’s in good shape). But the joke only amuses for a little while.

We can make cracks about easy solutions, but the truth remains stubbornly complicated. Very few easy answers stand up to an objective, critical interrogation.

This hasn’t been the year for “Easy”

Seems like this year we just can’t catch a break. Many of our most popular slogans turn out to easier said than done.

Defund the Police

Remember “Defund the Police”? Yeah, we knew that one wasn’t going to be a quickie, and it sure hasn’t been. Several cities actually are trying. Some look as if they might make real changes.

But the movement isn’t (yet?) popular. Polling tells us the proponents of “defund and reallocate” have a long way to go before a majority of Americans agree enough to act.

Donald Trump’s “Law and Order” message seeks the exact opposite of defunding. His opponent Joe Biden went on the record against defunding, too, although he agrees Federal funding should be tied to “basic standards of decency.” Whatever those turn out to be in practice.

When you consider the history of policing, however, and the baked-in practices and attitudes that have persisted for decades, it’s clear that reforms of existing agencies pose a challenge.

Black Lives Matter

Remember “Black Lives Matter”? That seemed pretty basic. Black people’s lives should be considered to be as important and valuable as everyone else’s. Easy, right?

Then came the inevitable pushback, as if somehow the movement was intended to shove everybody else aside. The unfortunate truth of how our society devalues Black civil rights blazes through in a drumbeat of daily headlines.

Amber Ruffin’s painfully funny skit, “The White Forgiveness Countdown Clock” dramatizes it all too well.

Climate Change is real

Can we at least agree that the forests in the American West are burning up for the same reason that we’re several letters into the Greek alphabet on named tropical storms this year? That climate change not only drives these forces, but it stems from human recklessness?

Not if you think the “Climate Arsonist”-in-Chief is right. He says “science really doesn’t know” why it’s such a bad year for wildfires. On the tropical storms, it’s not what he said. It’s what he didn’t say.

In this cartoon a signpost stands on a plateau with a cliff to the left and a winding road to the right. The sign says “ANSWERS.” Under it an arrow pointing to the left and the cliff reads, “Simple but wrong.” Next to that, an arrow above a bookcase, pointing to the right and the winding road, reads “Complex but right.” A crowd of people have lined up on the road, headed for the signpost. The vast majority of them go left, with only the occasional person choosing the right-hand road.
We probably know who’d be in which line. Cartoon by Wiley Miller/Go Comics/Non Sequitur, via the “Climate Etc.” blog by Judith Curry.

Covid-19 is dangerous

Another pesky “science thing” is the Covid-19 pandemic. Administration efforts to contain worries about the novel virus started at the beginning of the pandemic, in contrast to actual disease-containment efforts.

Nothing if not consistent in this area, these efforts have continued through the summer. The “denial” response continues even today, despite the President’s own diagnosis.

Yet all year long, people have perversely continued to get sick and die.

This is a screen-grab of a world map showing the spread of Covid-19.
Worldwide Covid-19 spread, by country, as of October 6, 2020. Go to the New York Times for a larger, better, interactive version of this map.

As I’m writing this, deaths in the world have risen past one million, and in the USA we’ve topped 210,000. The only certainty seems to be that these numbers will continue to rise.

Yet mask-wearing in the United States continues to rouse partisan ire. Flouting or following basic health guidelines remains a partisan issue. This video dates to last June, but the flaring tempers and divisions persist.

Controversy over the timing of a vaccine rollout provides another instance of science at odds with politics. So do efforts to end the ACA (“Obamacare”) in the middle of the pandemic. And of course, many want to force schools to open for in-person classes, although transmission rates in many areas remain well above recommended guidelines.

Easy answers remain hard to find

This year, more than ever, the “low-hanging fruit,” the easy answers, elude us. Yet I do think I’ve found a few, pretty basic ones, while on preventive lockdown for seven-months-going-on-eternity.

Seek your guidance and information from scientists, physicians, climatologists, and other experts trained and seasoned in their field.

Don’t share or retweet shocking things until you check the story with a factual source.

Give thanks for the wondrous devices that allow us to connect with each other, even when it’s only virtually.

Listen to others. Grieve with those in mourning. Rejoice with those who’ve found joy, and remind yourself and others that bad times eventually pass.

Wear a mask, socially distance (looks as if 6 feet isn’t enough), and vary your list of 20-second songs, so you don’t get bored and shorten your hand-washing.

Be gentle with yourself, and with others. Everyone has a heavy load, right now. Friends and family should try to nurture one another.

That’s Jan’s list. What’s yours?

IMAGE CREDITS:

Many thanks to SixDay Science for the warning sign image, and to Mykola Lytvynenko via 123RF, for the “warning stripes” background on the header. I appreciate Staples® for the “Easy Button™” image. Many thanks to Peacock and YouTube for the Amber Ruffin “White Forgiveness Countdown Clock” video. I’m grateful to Wiley Miller, Go Comics/Non Sequitur, and Judith Curry’s “Climate Etc.” blog, for the “Answers” cartoon. I appreciate the New York Times for the World Covid-19 map, and I hope you took a moment to look at the interactive one at the link.

This Muhammad Ali quote says, "Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth."

What are our priorities?

I think we all understand that life will change after the pandemic, but what are our priorities? What guiding principles will light our way and inform those changes? In the face of glaring inequities revealed by the crisis, I worry about this.

Perhaps I should explain where I stand. I believe that the proper role of government is to defend and work for its citizensAll of them, not just the rich and powerful. This idealistic view parallels passages in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, or, at least it does the way I was taught to read them.

Unfortunately, what we see unfolding in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic all too often reflects different priorities.

Priorities revealed

It’s a truism that we don’t really know what we’re made of till we’re tested. 

This quote from Warren W. Wiersbe reads, "After all, a crisis doesn't make a person; it reveals what a person is made of."
Many thanks to QuoteFancy, for this quote from Warren W. Wiersbe.

For every prediction that smart investors should migrate to renewable energy, there also seems to be a view to the contrary that “We can no longer indulge the impulses of “environmental” activists. Sanitary plastic grocery bags are safer than reusables. Mass transit and densely-packed cities spread infections. Automobiles and suburban/rural living are healthier,” as Jerry Shenk put it recently.

Other decision-making whipsaws reflect just as little consensus. Whose priorities should we value? Whose should we reject as unworthy? 

Varied views of future outcomes

I’ve read interesting stories about wildlife venturing into areas where traffic has dropped off. Others about historically clean air in places where traffic has dropped off. And one about ways to make cities more walking friendly and keep car traffic at lower levels after the pandemic (see a trend, there?).

I’ve seen several articles about ordinary people’s decimated savings. Others explore the disastrous effect of recent public policies. And a flood of new ways for creative people to grow their businesses continues as people discover new and old techniques. 

Not only that, but there are predictions about ways our minds will change about things such as social distancingwork from homechild care, and universal health care. I’ve also read more cynical predictions about how some will spin retrospectives to skew perceptions if possible.

This quote from James Baldwin says, "Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced."
Many thanks to Goalcast, for this quote from James Baldwin.

Our decisions reveal our priorities

Most of my fellow countrymen/women are pretty decent folks, as individuals. We’ve seen gallant examples of selflessnessself-sacrifice, and public spirit as this pandemic rolls out. These warm my heart and give me hope.

Some of my most-accessed blog posts in recent weeks have been those about ways to thank first responders, and how to understand and respond to their stress.

Many Americans–many people all over the world–understand the deep things. The value of honest work, the worth of a thank-you, the joy of praising admirable deeds.

This Muhammad Ali quote says, "Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth."
Many thanks to Discover Corps for this quote from Muhammad Ali.

But we’ve also seen a different spirit. 

It reveals itself in the unseemly scramble of large, publicly-traded companies grabbing up vast sums of money meant to go to small businesses struggling to stay afloat. The rules allowed it, so they grabbed. Some of them gave it back once they were caught. 

We’ve also seen banks garnish stimulus money from overdrawn customers, pre-empting what was meant to be grocery and rent money from ever reaching the desperate would-be recipients.

And we’ve seen crowds of closely-packed protestors, mostly white folk with guns, demanding that the lockdowns be ended immediately so they can get haircuts, among other things. They claim a constitutional right to liberty, plus economic insecurity, drives them. Although other motives have been noted.

What are our priorities? 

Now is the moment for us to decide. Are things more important than people?

Is our convenience more important than other people’s lives? Do we even have the right to make the decision that it is?

Who gets to decide how many deaths are “acceptable losses”–and, acceptable to exactly whom?

Do we live in a country that is of, by, and most especially for the people? All of the people? And, for this question’s purposes, corporations are not people, my friend. 

This quote from Mahatma Gandhi says, "The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members."

I very much worry how history will evaluate our true measure, based on how we order our priorities today.

How do you think we should form–and inform–the priorities that will guide us into the future? What are you doing to join that conversation?

IMAGE CREDITS

Many thanks to QuoteFancy, for the Warren W. Wiersbe quote; to GoalCast, for the quote from James Baldwin; to DiscoverCorps, for the quote from Muhammad Ali; and to AZ Quotes, for the Mahatma Gandhi quote. I appreciate you all!

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