When this was just a medical crisis, sheltering-in-place was the fix, because it would protect our healthcare system from being overwhelmed. Then we realized that just having enough ventilators wouldn’t keep us from getting sick, so we acknowledged that, great, the healthcare system is OK now, how about us? We’d probably be wearing masks until a vaccine was discovered and distributed to everyone — in the world? Hmmm. (Ebola is still moving in the Congo.) Then there was a lot of talk about how going back to traffic, pollution, gasoline engines, air travel was something normal that we didn’t want to go back to — we’d want a “new normal” that allowed people to work from home, and that might include really getting a Green New Deal. So with masks, vaccines and a Green New Deal we could get a “normal” that would let us get back to business.

Then George Floyd was murdered in Minneapolis by a police officer and all hell broke loose. I truly hope that these protests will continue. This may be the day when we do not go back to normal.

The American Conflict

The book that has shaped my view of America the most this year (and that’s saying a lot) was published in 1864. It’s The American Conflict: A History of the Great Rebellion in the United States of American, 1860-1864, by Horace Greeley. Greeley was editor of the New York Tribune; the book is written as if it was a collection of feature articles, starting with the first sentence:

The United States of America, whose independence, won on the battle-fields of the Revolution, was tardily and reluctantly conceded by Great Britain on the 30th of November, 1782, contained at that time a populations of a little less than Three Millions, of whom half a million were slaves.

In the second chapter Greeley tells how, at the Ninth Continental Congress ins 1783, the states of Rhode Island, New Jersey, Delaware and South Carolina, which did not have charters granting them as yet unsettled lands extending westward, engaged in negotiations with the states that did, such as Connecticut, Massachusetts and Virginia, to get those individual states to cede their claims to unsettled land (or most of it) to the United States itself.

The expectation was that ultimately this land would be formed into new states. Land that was affected by this had become, by the time that Greeley was writing, Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi. One of the terms of the agreement (the “Ordinance”) was that, as of 1800, “there shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in any of the said states, otherwise than in punishment of crimes, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted to have been personally guilty.”

If only.

The idea was that this Ordinance would be form part of the “fundamental conditions between the thirteen original States and those newly described.”

Greeley continues:

When, on the 19th of April, 1783, Congress took up this plan for consideration, a Mr. Spaight of North Carolina proposed that the article prohibiting slavery be stricken out.

Greeley, as he does throughout this book, reports the vote. Each state, with two representatives, had two votes. Those in favor of keeping the prohibition were from New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York and Pennsylvania. Those in favor of striking it out were the delegations from Maryland, Virginia (including Thomas Jefferson), and South Carolina. North Carolina’s vote was divided. The member from New Jersey was not in attendance.

Thus individual votes were 16 in favor of the interdiction against slavery and 7 against it (in favor of striking the interdiction out). The states stood 6 for it and 3 against it. But the Articles of Confederation (which is what bound the States together at that point) required “an affirmative vote of the majority of all the states to sustain a proposition and thus the restriction failed, through the absence of a member from New Jersey, rendering that vote of that state null” (page 39). One vote.

From that point forward, both in history and in chapter after chapter of this enormous but readable book, we see arguments, proposals, laws, votes, elections etc in rising intensity as we draw closer and closer to the Civil War. What was in 1783 a matter of someone showing up at a meeting and casting one vote became, 80 years later, thousands dead on the battlefield.

I have heard of a play or something called “The Gentleman from New Jersey,” referring to this guy who failed to show up. I googled it and found nothing.

So, same story, 160 years later

And today, it’s George Floyd and mass protests all across the country. The protests are almost all peaceful, with people kneeling (Colin Kaepernick’s gesture) en mass in public squares. The protests continue day after day. The sick, insane guy in the White House used “smoke bombs” (tear gas) to clear a path to St. John’s, the church across the street, to pose with a Bible, then hurried back to his bunker to tweet things like “When the looting starts, the shooting starts” and calling for the National Guard to step in. There is now an 8 pm-5 am curfew in the East Bay; the same places that were just starting to open for business (pizza places like Zachary’s) are closing at 6 so that workers can get home before the curfew. The people in the photos of the demonstrations are very mixed — white, black — lots of white people, young people, and they’re wearing masks. They look very disciplined and very serious.

Eight states hold primaries

Nonetheless, eight states and Washington DC held elections yesterday, 153 days before the national election. People are still voting for Bernie — in Pennsylvania he got 19.1 per cent of the votes and in South Dakota he got 23.6. Although for some reason quite a few delegates to the convention are yet to be allocated, right now it’s Biden 1922 to Bernie 1013, with 1991 necessary to claim the candidacy. Biden has made some public (media) appearances recently, which is…. well, about time.

The protests have even reached up into our very white, very quiet neighborhood.

Our grocery store has never been cleaner, though, and the shoppers more disciplined:

Comedians

A final thought before the next onslaught of news lands: today, the people who are wrapping the situation up into a narrative that is recognizable, credible and — ok –inspiring, are comedians. Comedians?

Trevor Noah, for example, on the Daily Show.

Has it always been comedians? Maybe that’s not the right word for them. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v4amCfVbA_c#action=share