"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness,... it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair."
Written 140 years ago, Charles Dickens could be summarizing how we feel at the moment. There is a sense we are starting to come out of the worst of the initial impact the virus has had on our lives, our economy, even our feeling of hopelessness.
Many argue that being too aggressive in attempting to return to the way it was will only allow Covid-19 to mount a fresh assault on all of us. Several states, including mine, are showing noticeable upticks in infections and deaths. Cooler weather this fall might reignite the spread of the disease, too. But, positive signs are what we cling to. Some of the normal pieces of life are beginning to fit together.
At the same moment, just when we have hope that one type of terror is receeding, we are experiencing another: an explosion of anger and rage at something that has never gone away, but just kept bubbling beneath the surface. Riots, marches, and protests that surpass anything I remember from the the 1960s are happening in cities and towns all over the country.
Charges of police brutality and excessive violence are gaining strength, enough to prompt some calls for the defunding or reigning in the power of those who are charged with keeping us safe. This will not be an easy task. Police protection is an esential part of maintaining a civilized society. There are laws that must be enforced. No police is an unworkable option. But, how to balance enforcement with an even hand is the crux of the issue.
Images that are impossible to unsee of black men killed before our eyes, of citizens of all races, ages, and genders being tear-gassed, beaten to the ground, forced to clear a path for a disgusting photo op, of the White House being surrounded by high fences and battle ready troops.....sights in my 71 years that I never expected to see in my country.
All of this while a political season that promises to be more vitriolic, divisive, and monumental for the fate of the nation's course begins to generate its own heat, fear, and uncertainty.
Truly, the best of times and the worst of times.
But, I have a strangely optimistic take on all this. Not just the the slow movement back toward a functioning economy. Millions will struggle to find meaningful work in a permanently changed environment and that is heartbreaking. But, we couldn't continue with virtually everything on hold.
More meaningful is the spotlight that is shining on problems that have remained in the shadows for too long. Racism, inequality in so many areas, policing powers that must be controlled while re-establishing trust in local neighborhoods, a better use of economic resources to strengthen education, medical and mental health care are having a bright light shone on them.
This reality has been with us since the country was founded with slavery as part of the economy and way of life. Over time, as a society, we have addressed them with various levels of engagement and varying degrees of success. But, for some reason, this time things feel different.
Maybe it is the fact that the protests are country-wide. Or, that they weren't just a one or two day expression of anger and frustration; the demand for real reform isn't going away this time nor fading back into the shadow. A just completed poll by ABC news shows that more than 70% of Americans see George Floyd's death as part of a much larger problem..
With the virus debacle, the resulting economic shutdown, terrifying level of unemployment, even rent strikes and increased homelessness, there would seem to be enough reasons keep us occupied.
Yet, the very public killing of yet another black man was the final straw for so many. His death at the hands of men charged with protecting us wasn't a isolated occurrence. In fact, in the week since I wrote this posts, two more black men have died at the hands of the police. The death of many African-Americans has become so frequent that we had become numb to it. An incidence makes its way into the news and then disappears to be replaced by something else.
White supremacists, a lone mad man consumed with irrational hate, or people who are given power that can sometimes go unchecked and without consequences, pull the figurative, or literal, trigger. Collectively, however, by allowing this to occur with little more than a shake of our head, it makes us complicit in this deadly stain.
I may be naive, or just overly hopeful. But, this time, this focus on inequality and racism seems to have real staying power. There seems to be an awakening that says it isn't going away quietly. There is not only a possibility, but I would argue, an absolute necessity that there will be lasting change. The core issue of the way we treat our fellow citizens, who enforces the law and how, and the belief that every one one of us must be treated equally is one that must be fully faced and dealt with.
I wouldn't have said this even three weeks ago, but I am predicting that George Floyd's death will become the spark that lights the fire that helps define the upcoming election. Past efforts to change this type of egregious behavior seemed to peter out after a few weeks. Today, the determination to see it result in measurable change feels real. This time, there are too many people pushing for change to watch the effort fade away.
If I am right, then we will have moved from the worst of times, to the best of times. It will usher in a season of light and a time of hope.