COVID and George Floyd Have Changed America Forever

Widespread protests after George Floyd's death did not contribute to any noticeable increase in coronavirus infections, officials say. (Photo for Cardinal & Pine by Grant Baldwin)

By Gene Nichol

June 17, 2020

The plates are shifting in the US. We can’t go back.

Our life has been altered in ways, and at a velocity, I can barely comprehend: 

A cruel pandemic kills by the hundreds of thousands – but falls heaviest, as ever, on the poor and the black and the brown. 

It leads millions into forced exposure – as essential, yet somehow expendable, front-line workers; while more highly advantaged neighbors enjoy shields of isolation. 

‘A return to life as we’ve known it is impossible. It’s also undesirable.‘ 

It strains and starves millions without reserves upon which to rely; and endangers the bodies of those callously excluded from the most unequal health care system in the world. 

And this unfolds while hapless, craven and bigoted national leaders withdraw from sworn and defining obligations, comfortable that prerogative and status will shelter them and their families from tragedies borne by others.  

An economic crisis places our intense fissures of polarization in sharp and inescapable relief. 

An astonishing percentage of the nation is unemployed – leaving families resource-less, frustrated, and riven with fear. 

Already-tragic levels of hunger and poverty explode; while the wealthiest secure even greater measures of public largesse from plutocratic politicians. 

Future prospects for many are diminished, perhaps permanently. The bottom half in the richest nation on earth faces soaring financial hardship.   

And finally, our yawning racial disparities and oppression not only deny the full dignity and humanity of millions of our sisters and brothers, but are pervasively displayed in ways that humans of even modest conscience, much less belief in our national mission, cannot longer ignore.

Brutal murder by government officers – of our members, in our names – demands more than reform. And it becomes impossible to deny that police abuse is merely the most irrefutably visible tip of a massive and historically imposed iceberg of racial subordination. A century and a half after our Constitution promised “equal protection of the laws,” we’ve yet to show, as Dr. King put it, that we’ll “be true to what (we) put on paper.”   

Any of these traumas, taken alone, would be difficult to get our arms around. As a package, they shake our foundations. The plates have shifted. They may stay that way. A return to life as we’ve known it is impossible. It’s also undesirable. 

The gap between our words and our deeds has been planet-leading. Whether in dealing with disease, poverty or police abuse, as Rev. Barber has put it: “We can’t allow people in power to be comfortable with other people’s deaths, we just can’t allow it any more.”

Millions of our fellow citizens, particularly young ones, have shown a rare, steely and unyielding resolve in taking to the streets. There have been dangers and drawbacks to be sure. But a new generation, or perhaps a couple of them, is saying: “We’ll place our lives on the line, here and now, to end the hypocrisy and subordination that dominates us.” 

They seem to mean what they say. 

I’m an old man. But I haven’t been able to get words from my youngest days out of my head:

“I heard the sound of a thunder that roared out a warning

I heard the roar of a wave that could drown the whole world

I walked to the depths of the deepest dark forest

Where the people are many and their hands are all empty

Where pellets of poison are flooding their waters 

And the executioner’s face is always well hidden

Where hunger is ugly, where souls are forgotten

Where black is the color, where none is the number

It’s a hard rain’s a gonna fall.” (Bob Dylan)

It’s falling. 


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