For those of us who are not old enough to remember the turbulent nineteen-sixties there isn’t much to compare the situation we are living in today to. Sure, we all have seen some of the film images from that time where there were raging protests in the streets of many cities in America. Some of the reasons for those protests have a similar edge to the protests that are going on at this time. For one thing, the Vietnam war was in full swing and the number of soldiers coming home in body bags was a near daily reminder that we were engaged in a war with an enemy that we could not seem to beat despite our massive advantage in military hardware.
What made those images even harder to deal with was the fact that young people all of the country were not just watching the body count pile up, they were worried that they would be forced to become one of them. Although it can be hard for young people to grasp today, the reality of the military draft was all too real back in that day. And, the fact that the possibility of being drafted into the service and sent to Vietnam fell far more heavily on young men of color certainly shows that some things have not really changed.
Looking at these facts it’s rather striking that the pandemic that struck us just a few short months ago, and which sent us all running for the relative safety of our homes has not deterred so many young people from turning out in force to protest the killing of yet another man in broad daylight by the police. It just goes to show how much pent up anger there is in the country at this time – anger that has now begun to boil over and threatens to do much more than instigate talk of police reforms.
What we appear to be dealing with here is a protest that was brought about, not just by the murder of a man at the hands of law enforcement officers, but a protest against many aspects of our society and government that seem to be failing so many of us in 2020. From the failure to be better prepared for the crisis brought on by the coronavirus to the shutdown of large parts of our economy to the costs of massive jobs losses not seen since the great depression nearly a hundred years ago to the system that provides for unemployment compensation to the system that provides Americans with healthcare, what we are seeing is country that is now, more than ever, looking in the mirror and asking whether we have chosen the right path on so many issues.
No matter what a person’s politics may be, it has become clear that the way of life as it has been known in this country may be on the verge of changing in ways that most of us would have never thought possible just a few short months ago. And how we handle those changes will likely determine what life is like for hundreds of millions of people who, up until this point, have largely been hanging by their fingernails when it comes to social justice, the need for and access to affordable health care and whether or not that will have the ability to earn a living wage or have a fighting chance to better themselves beyond just living hand to mouth.
Dealing With COVID-19
Looking at our seemingly ever widening array of issues that we must find a way to deal with, it appears that none of them will likely advance in any meaningful way until we find a way to put the scourge of COVID-19 behind us. And, even though there is a great deal of talk about the push for the creation of a vaccine, it appears as though that will not become a meaningful reality for many months or longer. At this point, what we know is that there are many private scientific firms that are engaged in a race for the cure and that they are working hand in hand with the government in order to fast track some of the most promising breakthroughs. Still, most experts agree that a cure that can be deemed to be both safe and effective will take a long time to develop, produce and distribute to the many millions of people who will need it not only in this country but around the world.
Given that prevention methods including social distancing and the use of masks, gloves and goggles to protect our eyes seems to be the only way that we can get back to something that seems close to normal for some time to come, it appears that any economic rebound will be slow in coming. Plus, if we find that the efforts at reopening the economy or the combination of that with the protests leads to a significant spike in the number of infections and deaths, we could find ourselves right back at square one with this whole thing.
What The Protesting Really Means
Given that the fear of contracting the coronavirus hasn’t been enough to seriously dampen the desire to get out into the streets and make the feelings of so many of our young people and others, it’s time to examine just what has provided so much energy to them. One quick look at our TV’s and other media platforms will demonstrate that there is a real passion behind the protests that we are all now seeing. And, as much as we’d all like to believe it is all in response to the killing of the Minnesota man at the hands of the police, it’s far more likely that it is, in part, to many issues that are plaguing our young people and the rest of us to one degree or another.
The recent protests have brought out large crowds made up mostly of young people. And, a close look at the makeup of these young crowds clearly shows that the majority of them in most places are white. This likely means that, along with their support for minorities, these young white people are there to show dissatisfaction with many parts of what is happening in our society and the economy. Just take a look at what many of these protestors of all demographics have in common. For one thing, they are the victims of a system which has increasingly put them in a position where they must subject themselves to vast amounts of crushing debt just in order to be able to put themselves in a position to have any hope of long term financial success. Yes, the problems involving the cost of college and student debt did not just come to the fore with the most recent crisis’ and they will not likely go away with them. Add to that the fact that those expensive educations are now being forced to take place via the internet and you have a situation that could be on the verge of a major shakeup which may be more painful for the educational and financial system than it is for the students, especially when we look at the very uncertain jobs market over the next several years.
The Limits Of Stress
The protests made up of largely young people of all backgrounds could be a key indicator that, much like it was in the nineteen-sixties, that we are on the brink of some kind of real change in this country as more and more people of all ages are beginning to openly challenge a number of systems that are becoming less and less able to meet the needs of the people they are supposed to be serving. For example, one thing that this crisis has proven, is that our healthcare system which is largely based on providing health insurance through employers doesn’t do much good for people who lose their jobs for whatever reason. And, when the country experiences a massive loss of jobs in a short amount of time, it also means that there are masses of newly unemployed people out there who are also now uninsured. Put that all together with the current situation and you have many millions of unemployed, uninsured people facing a once in a century pandemic. None of that makes a good case for keeping the system that allowed it all to happen.
As the last example proves, it’s not just young people who are beginning to turn away from the systems that have been in place for many decades or longer – systems that have allowed the financial disparities in this country to expand at a rate not seen in more than a century. And, that was a time which was so bad that it brought about a great deal of unrest as workers began a movement which created the rise of the power of unions in this country. And, given that a great many of the gains made by the workers movement have been slowly but steadily lost in the last thirty to forty years, we could be seeing a swing in the other direction once again.
The Financial Picture
When a system that controls the livelihoods of so many people all around the world begins to fail it can quickly lose credibility as people begin to look for alternatives. This, in turn, causes what experts often refer to as market uncertainty. And, when you have multiple factors such as a pandemic, massive job losses and civil strife piled up on top of each other, any system which does not provide an adequate support structure is not likely to survive in the long run. This is why we are now seeing a substantial push in congress to overhaul major parts of the system in order to address the fact that the vast majority of the people are now no being well-served by the existing one.
On the other hand, there is also a significant pushback against these potential changes as the most affluent segments of our society see a significant threat to a system that has benefited them greatly. And, when one looks at the fact that this current crisis is actually making the wealthiest among us even more wealthy, it’s not hard to imagine that there will be a major battle over what parts of the current system change and to what degree.
To further illustrate what is happening on a macro level with the economy at this time, one only has to look at a couple of key facts. One of them is the fact that billionaires in this country have increased their wealth by more than five hundred billion dollars during this crisis. Another fact is that the stock market has continued to rise over the last month or so despite the worsening jobs market mainly due to much of the smaller competition in most markets is unable to sustain itself which could lead to many true or virtual monopolies.
No matter how things were before this crisis, it is clear that there will be some major systematic changes coming for most people in this country. From social and criminal justice reforms to changes in healthcare and the markets, it seems clear that we are entering a new era and the struggle for what that will look like is just beginning.