Anti-Social Distancing Protests Shatter the Myth That COVID-19 Is The Great ‘Equalizer’

 

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Local militia groups pictured above armed with rifles were among the many far-right groups protesting stay-at-home orders issued in response to the Coronavirus pandemic in Columbus, Ohio, on April 20th. Photo Credit: Megan Jelinginger Via Getty Images

 

Over the past week, the U.S. has seen a series of small protests occur in various states throughout the country. These protests weren’t organized demanding immediate rent freezes, universal basic income, or even better healthcare. Rather, these actions compromised predominately of white, male conservative protestors, many of them brandishing weapons, pro-Trump signs, and colonial flags have been organized for the sole purpose of openly defying social distancing and stay-at-home orders. Demanding that state governments not only re-open their economies but, that shelter-in-place orders be recalled altogether.

 

These protests come even as the country is still in the throes of a deadly pandemic. One that has already claimed the lives of more than 40,000 people and that health experts warn the worst is still likely yet to come. Through these protests, not only have we seen white conservatives blatantly flaunt the law, and ignore social distancing mandates with practically no repercussions, they are demanding that other people risk their lives for the sake of the economy. It’s the kind of privilege that only white, male conservatives could ever hope to enjoy. Even as a dangerous, highly contagious virus that spreads easily in crowds continues to burn its way through the country. While these protests highlight the disparity in how laws are enforced even in times of crisis, it has also laid bare the problems and inequities that plagued our society. Exposing the many injustices of who bears the brunt of crisis that have long been baked into the very fabric of the country.

 

Since the early days of the outbreak in the U.S., various pundits have stubbornly facilitated the myth of the coronavirus being the ‘great equalizer’. A notion that suggests that we are all equally vulnerable to the threat posed by the coronavirus and that it equally applies to everyone across the board. A threat that does not discriminate between race, gender, class, or economic standing. While viruses do not discriminate the coronavirus pandemic is by no means an ‘equalizer’, in any sense of the word. Not in terms of who gets sick, who has access to testing and treatment, who has the ability to work safely from home, and certainly not in regard to what communities ultimately are prioritized amid the crisis.

 

The reality is the disparities and inequalities that were present long before the start of the pandemic have never been equally applied, and never before has this been more apparent than now. While diseases may not discriminate, society still does. Even in the throes of a global pandemic, and now those inequities have been compounded exponentially. For weeks doctors, researchers, and journalists sounded the alarms warning that communities of color, immigrant communities, and low-income populations would be disproportionately affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Now, as data finally begins to paint a clearer picture, we see that just as many had feared, the coronavirus is ravaging communities of color at disproportionately higher rates all across the country.

 

In New York City alone, Black and Latino residents makeup just over fifty percent of the city’s population, yet accounted for at least sixty-two percent of coronavirus deaths in the city. In other cities throughout the country, what we are finding is that communities of color are not only being infected with COVID-19 at higher rates, they are dying at a disproportional rate as well. While many experts have attributed these statistics to pre-existing health issues or socioeconomic status, it is impossible to ignore the fact that structural and systemic racism in this country has largely contributed to the situation many communities are currently facing.

 

According to a recent poll commissioned by Somos Community Care, Latino communities have been particularly hit hard by the pandemic. Poll results show that two-thirds of Latinos have lost their jobs or suffered a loss of income as a result of the pandemic. Not only have Black and Latino workers been laid off or lost their jobs at higher rates during the crisis, but those still working are far less likely to be able to work from home or practice social distancing on the job. Even prior to the pandemic, Black and Latino workers were already more likely to be underemployed and as a result less likely to have regular access to adequate healthcare. Now, with many working as low income ‘essential’ service workers, thousands have had no choice but to continue working throughout the pandemic. Putting themselves at a significantly higher risk of getting sick and ultimately bearing the brunt of this pandemic.

 

It comes as no surprise, now that data has begun to paint a picture showing that communities of color are disproportionately bearing the brunt of the pandemic, we are now seeing larger factions of overwhelmingly white conservatives staging protests of stay-at-home orders. Even as cases continue to surge, with the U.S. undeniably the epicenter of the pandemic and deaths surging with every passing day, we suddenly see that conversations even among some state leaders have begun to switch from mass testing and prevention to blasé, dismissive sentiments demanding a return business as usual.

 

The fact of the matter is these protests demanding state governments rescind stay-at-home orders and re-open the economy are not truly representative of the ‘working class’. Not only are these protests just not representative of the nation’s working-class, they’re not even comprised of the people who are most likely to get sick and even die as a result of the country being opened up prematurely before it’s safe. The vast majority of the nation’s working-class are not protesting to go back to work, because many are already at work. They’ve been working through this entire disaster, holding our society together at the seams. Providing various essential services, getting sick and many even dying as a result. Not only are workers of color more likely to work these frontline jobs, but they are far also more likely to work in service industry jobs that have closed as well. But, not surprisingly Black and Latino workers are not the ones in the streets currently leading the charge, demanding a death sentence.

 

These lockdown protests are not representative of the country’s true working class. If anything, they are nothing more than poorly disguised white grievance politics driven mostly by well off suburbanites, who want access to other people’s labor. They don’t want to go back to work, they want access to services and pleasures that they think they are entitled to at other people’s expense. They aren’t protesting for the right to go back to work, they are protesting to force others to go back to work for them. When people like Donald Trump actively encourage white men to parade around in public with guns, telling them to “liberate” states, it’s not that they want to go back to work. It means they want others to go back to work for them. They want people like us to go back to work and willingly die for the luxury of the privileged few.

 

It’s hard to imagine any instance where Black and Brown communities peacefully protest (let alone protests armed with weapons) any scenario in the middle of a national emergency, and not be met with riot police, tear gas, rubber bullets, or at the very least face mass arrests. Hell, violence and intimidation have been the regular response from the state suppressing protests of legitimate grievances even in the best of times. And yet, even in the midst of a global pandemic, we see a double standard applied when it comes to conservative, white protestors. Who even in times of crisis are handled with velvet gloves and permitted to act a fool, flaunt the law and endanger public safety to protest imaginary and manufactured ‘injustices’. And all the while, not face so much as a citation.

 

As many have pointed out, these protests are obviously coordinated and clearly meant to create the impression that stay-at-home orders are broadly unpopular, when in reality the sentiment is the exact opposite. And to be clear, a majority of the public supports stay-at-home orders. Over the past several weeks millions of people across the country have voluntarily isolated themselves, at a steep financial and emotional cost in order to protect the most vulnerable in their communities. And it is important that this small outlining fringe is not normalized, especially when at the end of the day they will almost assuredly not be the ones to pay the steep price of ignoring science, ignoring facts and ultimately putting profits ahead of public health and the lives of countless others.
While the coronaviruses pandemic is many things, it is anything but an ‘equalizer’. Because as we have seen, everything from who has access to healthcare, who has the luxury of safety, to how laws are enforced and inform state response to civil-disobedience have never been applied equally. And sadly, just as it was prior to the start of the pandemic, that distinction almost always falls along racial lines.

 

 


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