from Brenda in Hove, UK: Another ‘Blursday’

Prof. Brenda Gourley

‘Blursday’, ‘covidiot’ and ‘doomscroll’ are in Times Magazine’s collection depicting the year ‘2020 in Language. I relate to these three particularly. In the UK we are now in the third strict lockdown in a year – but, given the risks for our age group, my husband and I have effectively been in strict lockdown since last March.

You will understand my recognition of ‘blursday’ as an excellent way of describing my life at the moment, a life where one day is so very like another that it is difficult to know which day of the week it is.   

You will pardon my exasperation at Covidiots who include the members of government here who thought letting people celebrate Christmas with their families a good idea. With family in America you can well imagine that ‘exasperation’ hardly covers my feelings towards an administration that largely ignored the Covid reality – and encouraged that same attitude in its millions of supporters. It is , however, no longer useful to merely describe them and the many millions of Americans who clearly think the same way as ‘idiots’. There are deep underlying issues here.

That brings me to ‘Doomscrolling’. Watching the news began to feel like ‘doomscrolling’ some time ago and we decided to limit the number of broadcasts we watch every day. There is just too much bad news out there. And then came the events at the Capitol in Washington last week. I was back to ‘doomscrolling’. I would think impeachment is the least of the consequences in store for Trump. We will see. One is not filled with confidence. And, given the number of his supporters and their deep and strongly held sense of grievance, Biden will have a difficult job restoring trust in the system. And it is not just the US system where trust has been eroded. The whole Brexit debate was fuelled by the many who no longer believed the establishment in power was working for them.

But exasperation, and doomscrolling and the blurred focus of the days do not cover the one overriding feeling I have at this time – and that is a sense of grief.

The grief is prompted by my concern for what young people make of all this, and what it all means for the lives of our children and grandchildren. It is not just the pandemic – although that has certainly highlighted many of the fault-lines in our society and I suspect that life will never be the same for many of us. It is that – but so much more. We are seeing almost in real time major geographic and political shifts which are already reformulating many of the premises on which so many of us in the West have built our relatively comfortable lives.

Climate change is wreaking havoc on many lives and yet we don’t see urgency in the kind of responses that such catastrophe should elicit. Governments that have been unable to come to grips with a pandemic do not fill us with confidence that they are equal to this larger and more threatening challenge. No wonder the Greta Thunbergs of the world feel they have to act. They do.

The changes wrought by technology and all that it has enabled have made the world better in so many ways with amazing innovations being announced all the time (not the least of which is the new vaccine). But it has also exposed a deep digital divide and made many jobs redundant. New kinds of jobs are being invented and yet education systems have been slow to change accordingly – and it is young people who are feeling the burden of this, their schooling interrupted and even cut short, they are to be thrust into a cruel and ridiculous ‘gig’ economy (if they find a job at all) and equipped only with the education of yesteryear. They are the future architects of a new world and the support they are given wholly inadequate.

The balance of world power from West to East, long foretold, is happening at a much greater pace than predicted and helped along by weak leadership in the West and the rise of populist cultures fed on the thin gruel of conspiracy theories, ‘alternative facts’, the importance of ‘celebrity’ and social media untethered by the laws of libel, incitement and hate speech. Some call this ‘the age of impunity’ where all sorts of behaviours including egregious human rights abuses are tolerated. Young, impressionable minds need to be strong to resist the siren calls.  It is hard.

It is true that from great upheavals there often comes great change. I do hope that the Black Lives Matter movement prompted by the death of George Floyd and others will take hold and fuel change. I am only cautiously optimistic. If those storming the Capitol last week had been black or Muslim I can’t help believing that the police response would have been a whole lot more violent. So we are not there yet. But I do believe there has been at least some change – but can young people rely on this?

The success of populist cultures has exposed the inadequacy of so-called ‘democratic’ systems of government and with the inequalities between rich and poor are more stark than ever before, no wonder there are so many angry people. Again too many people, young and older, do not have the opportunities to fulfil their potential. 

No young people are sheltered from these realities. Social media ensures that. No place for innocence now. My heart grieves.  

from Shannon in Seattle, WA: the Capital Hill Autonomous Zone.

Capital Hill, Seattle

My 13 year old son, Wren, and I made a visit to the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone in Seattle,WA. It was both inspiring and peaceful with a festival + BLM protest + collectivist atmosphere. We wore masks as did most people. Groups of people sat at good distance in the park ( there were dense crowds in places). People seemed happy and supportive, just walking about.

The carport door to the East Precinct police station
social distancing taking place in Cal Anderson Park

from Anne in Adelaide, Australia: breath

June 6. Parallel worlds

Today, across Australia, there were protest gatherings in all major cities. The Black Lives Matter (BLM) protest of the USA have caught on here. Aboriginal deaths in custody in Australia has been an issue for many decades. In 1988 the Report of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal deaths in Custody recognised the ‘underlying social, cultural and legal issues behind the death(s)’. At that stage there were 99 deaths in custody that were examined.

Since 1991 there have been 432 Aboriginal deaths in custody. (note the definition of custody is specific). Indigenous people are overrepresented in prison by a factor of 10. This is a shameful situation and one that the government says they have tried to find ways to improve. The crowds today did not agree with them.

When these protest gatherings were organised in our various states, the Prime Minister took action. Scott Morrison asked people not to go. ‘Our message is very clear that the health risks of gathering in such large numbers and into close proximity are real. Let’s find a better way and another way to express these sentiments.’

The medical advice across the country was the same: don’t go, don’t breach Covid-19 public health orders. Then came the NSW’s Supreme Court decision, in response to a police application, to ban the Sydney event. The NSW Health officer, Dr Cherry Chant, said the event would increase the change of community transmission. NSW protest organisers said they would go ahead anyway. Shortly before the now-illegal gathering, an appeal overturned the Supreme Court ban.

In South Australia the Premier, Steven Marshall, reached a different decision – he did not ban the planned gathering and march through the city centre, but asked those involved to wear masks and practice social distancing.

The protests have taken place and, I am pleased to say that, so far, they were all peaceful. 30,000 people gathered in Musgrave Park in Brisbane … (this park is an historic Aboriginal gathering place). Thousands gathered at the City Hall in central Sydney and marched down George Street waving banners. One read, ‘They say justice, we say murder!’  It was obvious that ‘social distancing’ was not and could not be observed. Some people wore masks; some police handed out masks and sanitizers. There were black tee-shirts bearing the large number 432 (for the number of deaths in custody since 1991). One organiser said, ‘we are marching in pain, anger and solidarity’.

It appeared to me that the crowd consisted mostly of young people. Many of the placards carried the now famous appeal, ‘I can’t breathe’.

Its moving to see the determination of these protestors, but for us it’s also a worry. By now, we all know how virulent Covid-19 is. One person can infect many. There is community spread – although low – in both NSW and Victoria. Also, on the news tonight was the story about a fruit-picker who flew on two flights from Sydney to Bundaberg and has been found to be positive for the virus. Contact tracing is now activated.

There would have been over 70,000 people protesting today in our bigger cities. Surely, this will result in a significant increase in infections.

Indeed, the right to protest is a basic right – BUT many rights have been held back, or deferred recently. We have not been able to go to funerals, weddings, visit our families sick in hospital or visit our grandchildren – all this was the price to pay to stop the virus and to protect the vulnerable.

A protester was asked, ‘Don’t you worry about the virus? And in the excitement of the moment, he replied, ‘BLM is too important, even if there are 100 deaths from the virus…’

We are told time and time again not to underestimate Covid-19. It is a horrible virus, attacking your lungs and reducing your ability to get oxygen to fuel your organs. Many have died on ventilators, gasping, struggling for breath.

That word ‘breath’. Those images of George Floyd, casually held down by the kneeling, hand in his pocket, policeman, will go down in history. George Floyd could not breathe, nor can people dying from Covid-19.

How many more will die as a result of these BLM gatherings in Australia today? Is that OK? Is that just life? Is this the price to pay for the right to protest at this time in history? It appears that the answer is – Yes!