This piece was prompted by a Facebook post from a friend in which she described how she was exposed to the kind of behavior I describe below at her local grocery store, when she went shopping for the first time in a month or two.
One of the most extraordinary things about this time period is seeing people describe being asked to wearing a thin piece of fabric temporarily in some places they pass through as “tyranny” or an infringement upon their liberties. Even to the point of protesting by storming into grocery stores without masks and touching every product in sight and yelling at people and coughing on them.
I’ll get straight to the point.
Why didn’t we hear a peep from many of these folks when Donald Trump banned Muslims from coming here from multiple countries? Why didn’t we hear a peep from them about Trump’s family separation policy? Why didn’t we hear a peep from them when it was revealed that children in cages were changing each other’s diapers? Why didn’t we hear a peep from them when the Trump administration implemented its Remain in Mexico policy, which places asylum seekers in danger of death, torture or other forms of persecution? Why didn’t we hear a peep from them when Trump banned transgender people from the military? Some people sure have a flimsy definition of “tyranny.”
Apparently, the word only pops into their head when temporary restrictions are placed upon them during a global pandemic, not when gross, arguably unConstitutional violations are brought down upon other human beings.
Another example: If you’ve been silent about black men wasting their lives away in jail for simply buying and smoking pot, but now you’re concerned about having to wear a mask temporarily, perhaps you’re not really worried about freedom. If you’ve been silent about unarmed black men getting shot by police officers or if you thought “Blue Lives Matter” an appropriate response to black people protesting police violence, you probably haven’t really done too much thinking about tyranny.
There are subtler infringements upon our liberty, which get very little comment, too. I don’t see people griping about taking their shoes off at the airport, despite the fact that we’ve been doing this for years because one man failed to detonate a bomb in his shoe. No one in that incident died. Yet we’re passing 100,000 deaths in the United States due to COVID-19 and some people are outraged that they’re asked to temporarily wear a mask in some spaces? I also wonder how many of these people protesting masks have complained so violently about our creeping surveillance society.
I understand that most people are suffering right now, regardless of their socioeconomic status, race, religion or politics, but imagine if we channeled that sort of ferocity into addressing real problems of inequity.
Minus the sociopathic behavior, of course.
Let’s look beyond that more extreme public behavior, too, though. If people are complaining about these temporary restrictions during an extraordinary event which has killed 100,000 people so far in the United States alone, but they’ve been silent about all those other encroachments upon people’s freedoms, then I don’t think they really care about tyranny. Debate and argument are fine and welcome, but many of the folks claiming to be arguing against these restrictions “on principle” now were curiously silent as many other events unfolded in this country over the past few years. And their silence was noted long before COVID-19 ever came along.
These dynamics wouldn’t bother me so much if folks just admitted they were complaining about a personal inconvenience, but when they hope to argue they’re protesting on principle to guard our freedoms, I want to ask many of them where they’ve been the last four years. Wear a mask, don’t wear a mask. Feel free to argue your point. But don’t pretend you’re a hero for not wearing one. It’s insulting to people who’ve really made a sacrifice. And, yes, this makes the folks comparing themselves to Rosa Parks for not wearing a mask to the grocery store the absolute worst offenders.
Finally, some folks have argued that their discomfort with wearing a mask is an expression of their right to bodily autonomy, comparing their gripe to women’s fight for their reproductive rights. “My body, my choice.” Nonsense. Your rights end where another human’s nose begins. Particularly relevant where a virus transmitted via respiratory droplets is concerned. However, if you’d like to make that rather flippant stretch of an argument—which will likely offend many of the women around you—you can’t claim to be making your argument “on principle” when you’ve ignored the plight of all those other human being’s bodies for all these years, either.
Now you’re concerned about bodily autonomy?
Honestly? I think some people are looking for places to direct their very understandable frustration with the fact that businesses are closed, they can’t make money and, yes, their activities have been limited. What I hope folks will see is that this is a problem within the way we’ve built our economy and our very civilization. If we prepared properly for a pandemic like this, folks would be given a goodly percentage of their wages for a limited amount of time and be asked to stay safe until the thing blows over. That’s what’s happening in other countries. That’s not “socialism,” it’s civilization. We’ve been so programmed to think individualistically in this society and to always give hyper-capitalism the benefit of the doubt, we don’t consider that there might be alternate solutions. And, no, “alternate solutions” doesn’t automatically mean “socialism.” (The fact I even have to say that, I believe, is an indicator of how deeply entrenched that simplistic and binary thinking is here.)
I hope we’ll learn from this moment. I hope we’ll recognize not just the indignity of how our lives were altered by a simple virus. But I hope we’ll recognize the indignity of living under an administration that goads and encourages the worst sort of responses to simple compassionate actions, which can be taken to reduce harm from a virus. And I also hope we’ll recognize that this administration resists and even mocks compassionate, empathetic actions, which could be taken to meet the needs of the many at-risk populations within these United States, whether they be undocumented immigrants or asylum seekers or transgender service people or people of color or people holding to minority religious beliefs.
It’s true that the loudest of these thugs — traipsing through grocery stores touching up the goods, coughing in people’s faces — they’re a fractional minority. They just make a lot of noise via their shitty intimidation tactics and end up blazing through our social media feeds. Remember that second, much larger group of people, however, who have shrugged and remained silent as the Trump administration executed all of these other policies, since—and let’s come to the heart of the matter—those policies didn’t affect them.
We can hope that the rest of us take a critical eye to the events of the past few years and decide we’re ready for deep systemic changes, which better prepare us for future pandemics. But just as importantly, we can also hope to introduce policies which better protect human beings at risk due to deep systemic dynamics, regardless of whether they look like our immediate tribe or not. I hope we’ll channel real passion into dismantling the truly tyrannical policies that have been propped up over these past few years. Dismantle them and shove them deep into the dustbin of history.