It’s important we realize how this virus hasn’t just created new problems; but poured gasoline on the crises we’ve long had. It’s okay if you didn’t see the extreme urgency of our healthcare, housing, wage, carceral, foreign policy, etc. crisis before. But I hope you don’t unsee them later.
John Kennedy was not the first to say that the Chinese character for “crisis” was composed of two Chinese characters, one meaning “danger” and the other meaning “opportunity,” but he certainly made the idea popular.
I got it from Scott Peck, whose wife was Chinese. Peck really should have asked Lilly about this but, he didn’t ask her about much. It isn’t true, though it has a certain logical appeal. The characters that make the word “crisis” in Chinese do, however, imply the danger of the present moment. . . when you are standing right on the threshold of major change . . . things could change for the better, or they could change for the worse.
That is where we are right now. The virus, through mere circumstance of human events, has been unleashed. Markets are crashing. Capitalism, the free market, alone, will not save us. Things are going to change, and they will likely change dramatically and quickly. And that change does simultaneously present us with a fantastic opportunity for progress while also presenting us with world ending dangers.
Crises Open the Door to Both Opportunity and Calamaty
When you trace the way civilizations have been run during the modern era, from absolute monarchs, feudalism, colonialism, slavery, industrialization, socialism, capitalism, and now we have this complicated blend of tyranny and democracy, socialism and Darwinian capitalism and we are seeing how each nation’s unique divisions of government authority, economic distribution, and healthcare rationing is standing up to the test of a pandemic that threatens to shut down the marketplace and kill off large portions of the elderly population.
I took a tweet from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, one of the bright spots on the American political horizon, as our wisdom lesson today because I believe that she is spot on in this observation. The occurrence of a world threatening pandemic is that existential moment, the crisis, in which we stand on a precipice . . . suddenly, the collapse of the status quo, the world as we have known it, or at least, as we have been distracted by it, has suddenly been stopped. We don’t eat out, we don’t go to bars, theaters, or retail shops. Just going to the pharmacy or the grocery store is a matter of literally risking our lives.
In this environment, the problems that have plagued our society come into sharper view. With the failure to have some kind of working universal healthcare, and now the lack of employment or income guarantees, what do the hundreds of thousands of people who are told to “stay home” do when they do not have a home? How do you quarantine when you have no house, no food, no medicine?
What AOC means by “carceral” is the whole universe of incarcerated people. You have often heard me bemoaning the family separation policy and the literal caging of tens of thousands of children by our Immigration officers . . . but what about now? Now when we are supposed to be staying separate from one another? Now when the prospect of having a church service or a music concert could get thousands of people deathly sick… what do you think the virus will do in those detention centers? And honestly, it is almost like the web has been scrubbed clean of information about them. Where are they? How many of the 37,000 currently detained immigrants are children? If you wanted to go and protest, where would you go?
Amy Goodwin, with Democracy now, recently interviewed the former director of ICE in the Obama administration, John Sandweg, who has published an article in the Atlantic entitled, “I Used to Run ICE. We Need to Release the Nonviolent Detainees: It’s the only way to protect detention facilities and the people in them from COVID-19.” That’s quite a title but pretty descriptive of the situation. You think the virus spread on cruise ships quickly, imagine how it will spread here:
The media has been indignant with Florida’s governor for allowing spring breakers to congregate on Florida’s beaches . . . which, as dumb as it is, those kids are doing on their own free will, but the media has been all but silent about these kids, forced against their will, to live in squalid, crowded conditions in cages… and not just for spring break. They have no soap with which to wash their hands. No showers. No sanitary conditions . . . and they will be released . . . and what then? We have been talking for years about the 2 million Americans in prisons and jails.
I can’t show you pictures from the Greene Co. Jail because no one is allowed to visit there anymore. Even family members can’t visit. But we know that they have been putting three and four people in tiny two person cells so that two sleep in bunks, one on the floor, and one sitting up on the toilet. How are they going to keep from spreading the Covid-19 virus? Our incarceration system is a nuclear bomb of virus infection that could go off anytime in the next couple of months, undoing all of our best efforts as social distancing and business closures.
This is not hypothetical. Prisoners have tested positive for Covid-19 in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Leesburg, Georgia, Waupun, Wisconsin, Oakdale, Louisiana. In New York, especially on Rikers Island, numbers are beginning to climb. At least 38 people involved in the New York City correctional system have tested positive for Covid-19, including Harvey Weinstein but I’m not going to comment on that.
We have needed massive criminal justice reform in this country for 40 years but now, our evil practice of caging human beings like animals is going to come back and bite the whole society with a potentially uncontrolled spread of this virus. It has been moral blight on this nation for two generations . . . now it is a medical emergency.
Now, throughout our country, states and municipal governments are shutting down all but essential businesses during this crisis. Locally however, gun shops are considered to be essential. The insanely lax gun laws we have somehow endured as 40,000 Americans, including toddlers, like the 3-year-old who died near my ancestral home in Lexington, KY when he shot himself in the head.
I can almost hear the father saying, “I didn’t know it was loaded,” or “I always keep that gun out of reach, how did he get it?” And now, here in Springfield, ammunition sales are reaching new records as our neighbors arm themselves for the coming Toilet Paper Wars here in Missouri. Our gun addiction is stupid, it is evil, it is lethal, and they must be changed.
Men and women, our society has had some serious illnesses for generations. The covid-19 virus has driven us to a crossroads where we are going to have to make some very important decisions in very short order.
Our first round of decisions have not exactly filled me with hope. Recognizing what an extended shut down of the marketplace would do to their population, Canada immediately announced that they would send $2000 per month to every adult in the country for the next 4 months, giving businesses the assurance that there will be a renewed market waiting for them when August rolls around.
England voted to pay 80% of the unemployed’s salaries during the layoffs, Denmark voted to pay slightly less, 75% of workers’ salaries while the United States managed to give over a trillion dollars to corporations and to give citizens a one-time incentive of $1200. So, if you wanted to see the difference between our nation and what a democratic socialist nation is…. This is a good example.
In this aid package, the senate had the congress over a barrel. They had to agree to a massive transfer of wealth to the top 1% in order to get this small bit of aid out to the poor and the middle class.
The people of this nation are literally being held hostage by corporate control of our government. But, we can see, at least by contrast, what the difference is between a country that saves its people in a time of crisis and a country that saves the airlines, hotels, and the cruise ship industry in a time of crisis.
Suddenly, Medicare for all doesn’t seem so crazy does it? A Universal Basic Income seems almost necessary, certainly more necessary than maintaining our more than 800 military bases in 70 different countries . . . or am I wrong about that?
Who is going to save us in the midst of this medical crisis? Will it be executives at Boeing, American Airlines, Hilton Inns? No. They are about to get to give themselves huge bonuses but the people who stand between us and death, between us and utter anarchy and chaos, are nurses and doctors. Reparatory therapists. Pharmacists, and EMS workers. And, do you know who else? The guys who still pick up our garbage once a week. The low waged employees who risk their lives to restock the shelves at grocery stores. That kid working at the drive through window at Sonic.
Before I close today, I also want to add that this crisis will end. It certainly won’t several months rather than several weeks. The ultimate solution is a vaccine and vaccines typically take one or two years to develop. We have a head start on this one thanks to the Chinese researchers who began genetic testing on coronaviruses in general because they have suspected that the next pandemic would be some kind of coronavirus.
Covid-19 Crisis Brings Opportunity
Researchers in Boston took the work of the Chinese labs and they have a vaccine that has already begun in animal laboratory testing. As many as 34 other research groups are also working on treatments and vaccines. Scientists are uncommonly sharing research data to speed this work along.
In short, one of the upsides of this pandemic is that people around the globe are starting to act like they should have been acting all along. As wicked as this 2 trillion-dollar relief bill* was, we have to take some solace in our Senate voting 96-0 for the first time in recent memory.
This body of self-serving plutocrats could hardly agree on the sun coming up in the east until this virus showed up. That they reached unanimous agreement on this does not mean that the battle has been won but it does mean, in the right circumstances, even senators can act like grown-ups and I find that to be encouraging.
Compliment the staff at the grocery store and in the pharmacy. Tip the kid at the drive through window. Find a way to help support gig workers like musicians, Uber drivers, and everyone who is now unemployed. Remember to support your favorite clumsy, corpulent, cleric, and be kind to everyone you meet because they are just as worried as you are. Peace to you, my friends.
Rev. Roger L. Ray
The Emerging Church
*Since the writing of this post, Congress authorized additional funding. This link provides more information.