We know better. Outdoor party plans don’t guarantee sunshine and soft breezes. We can hope for the best, but best be prepared for rain and thunder. We can wish that just this one time, the weather gods will spin the right number so our guests can enjoy walking and talking in the gardens. Feels like wishing and hoping might be what’s left as what regular people can do about more and more truly large decisions or actions that impact their lives. With masks and vaccinations, many hope to escape sneaky Covid variations. Powerful men chose to scrape other people from the face of the earth although everyone hoped the threat was just that. Partisan hatred locks decision making amidst the people we elected hoping they might work together. They tie up the executive branch where folks are wishing things would start improving. Then what was once the most solemn of our nation’s institutions spits out a hateful decision on all those who hoped the laws of the land would be upheld or wished for a miracle from the stacked bench. Sure seems like miracles have followed the Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus to fantasy land. Appeals for contributions to protect the environment, protect freedom of speech, protect women’s health, or many other threatened values mostly keep people employed in the gigantic rat race called the great democratic experiment with no guarantee of positive results. So many groups stand outside, disenchanted and disenfranchised, hoping for a sunny day in Washington, D.C. when the politicians and policy makers might come out of their buildings, shake off whatever protects them from the stuff normal folks deal with and breathe in some real air. I’m wishing they would come live with regular people for a couple of months, sit in a public school classroom for a full day, plan two weeks of meals before grocery shopping on a budget, deal with the endless impersonal bureaucracy everywhere from making a doctor appointment to asking about a bill. That’s just a start. And hope they could walk city streets safely among those tired of disappointment in government and feel the strength and anger of their action. Not hoping for daily sunshine and soft breezes or wishing for more than our fair share. Just reminding those who govern that it is at the will of the people who expect some respect for what we hold as truth.
Guest blogger Rosemary Ann Davis is a memoirist, poet, travel writer, photographer, and member of the original WordSisters writing group.
It started with a cough.
As the numbers of those sick and dying from Covid 19 mount, I continue to have flashbacks to a different time. Forty years ago, another health crisis was just beginning in America and I found myself drawn to the chaos and denial. Having just left San Francisco, I began to hear about a “gay cancer,” and started warning my men friends back in the Bay Area to be careful.
The panic I felt that morning reading the sketchy details about HIV AIDS in the Star Tribune is similar to the disturbing feelings I had when going into quarantine for the coronavirus this past March in Minneapolis. The similarities don’t end.
While uncertainty gripped me in the early 1980s; I learned more about HIV AIDS with time, and many visits back out West. As I learned how HIV was spread, I modified my sexual behavior; and now in 2020, I wear a mask, wash my hands, and keep 6 feet of distance.
Protests then and now have echoes of familiarity. Current marches around the world about government responses to Covid 19 remind me of San Francisco and D.C. marches in the states long ago. Dr. Fauci was in a key leadership position both times, now putting his AIDS work on hold to wrestle with the coronavirus. I remember AIDS marches where the doctor was vilified because the science wasn’t working fast enough for a cure. At one point I flew to Washington, D.C. to participate in a die-in at the White House. Laying on that hard ground surrounded by like-minded folks from across the country gave me a safe place to reflect on and mourn the one thousand young men who had died in my San Francisco neighborhood in one year.
People dying in both health emergencies remained isolated. AIDS patients were abandoned by parents in droves because of their gayness, while Covid patients’ friends and relatives are kept out of hospitals to avoid infection. If they were lucky, people with AIDS were taken care of by their lovers’ mothers, the ones who were accepting. These days, some dying of the current virus can speak on the phone or other electronic media with their family members if medical people have the time to accommodate them.
I’m still grieving my friends who have died, and wrote a book, Before They Left Us, to honor them and those times before and after AIDS took them. Although there have been many improvements in the fight against AIDS, I still donate to the cause, attend memorial events, and deliver food on the holidays some 40 years later. My friends are still with me, whenever I visit the Bay Area, am back in the Midwest, or wherever I am. That’s the kind of effect the AIDS crisis had and continues to have on me.
While we are now nearing 175,000 dead of the pandemic in the U.S., I’m sure that these losses will also affect the surviving families for years to come. Grandparents, middle-aged parents, even children, have all died from this. What changed the direction of my life and turned me into an AIDS activist, perhaps will change theirs as well. Loss can do that to you.
Our federal government has been at odds with its citizens during both of these epidemics. In the 80s, the President wouldn’t even say the word “AIDS,” much less address it. Now, it feels as if we are being told it is more important to get the economy going than to concentrate on lowering the infection and death rates. What good will the economy be if hundreds of thousands of us are dead?
So, what can we learn from all of this? To a large extent it is up to us to change our behavior to avoid getting the infection and transmitting it. We can also encourage others to do the same. Speaking truth to power—whether it be engaging in conversations or protesting in the streets, can be a form of influence. Most importantly, we can show compassion particularly to those with the virus, those who are grieving, those who want to honor the dead, those who are working towards a just and healthy society, and even those who are not.
I ask myself this as I watch her and her friends, all clothed in black, carrying cardboard signs down our street. The air has a strong scent of paint thinner and diesel fuel from the markers they used to create their signage. One sign says, Silence is Violence. I say a prayer that the teens lives this motto and that they never stay still when they witness or have knowledge of a violent act. This would bring me lifelong comfort for their safety as well as others.
The five 17- year-olds are walking to 494 and Penn where there will be assembling with others.
Is this a protest? A march? A gathering? Jody and I are not sure. The information we get is a jigsaw puzzle at best. We hope to God that they aren’t planning on walking onto the freeway. Jody and I wouldn’t support that. We tell her so. Yet, we also wouldn’t stop her.
Be Safe, Don’t Die. I want to holler after the teenagers. I stop myself, though this is not an unusual farewell that my family has given each other when we leave the house. I don’t need to heighten any uneasiness the teens may be feeling. How do they know what they are walking into? For certain, I don’t.
Why does she march?
The pandemic has allowed our family more time together. Jody and I take hour-long walks with Crystel. On these walks Crystel talks about how she wants to make a difference. She is particularly interested in making a lasting change in Guatemala, the country of her birth. She had a 3-week homestay and language school trip planned at Casa Xelaju Spanish School in Guatemala for this summer. COVID-19 travel restrictions abruptly halted her plans.
Jody and Crystel joined the mourners at 38th and Chicago where George Floyd was murdered. Crystel placed white hydrangea blooms from our garden at the memorial site. Days later, I accompanied her and her friends to George Floyd’s memorial service in Minneapolis. I wondered if there would be a food truck and porta potties. When I confessed this to Crystel, she gasped and rolled her eyes.
Why does she march?
Why don’t I march? The question intrigues me. Why her, why not me? Then, I remember why I joined the Peace Corps when I was 30 years old. I had that same feeling, the same drive, that I see in her. I wanted to make a difference.
I’m thirty-one years older now. Crystel asked if we could donate to her friend whose family business was looted at el MERCADO CENTRAL during the riots. She asked if we could donate food and supplies to the families affected by riots.
We can do that. I’m thirty-one years older. I march in a different way.