Smiling and Dancing

Today is Monday June 8th. Kia ora katoa.

I started writing this blog last Thursday, June 4th.

Back before then, the main item of news was the continuing devastation wrought by the novel coronavirus pandemic and its multi-faceted responses; the effects on communities, on air pollution, on the world’s economies, and how people all over the world were complying with, or resisting, the various lockdown restrictions imposed by their governments.

Since George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police on May 25th, there have been, and continue to be, marches and mostly peaceful demonstrations not just in all fifty American states, but in many cities of the world, protesting against racism. The main slogan is “Black Lives Matter”, but secondary to that comes “I can’t breathe”, “Justice for George”, “George Floyd”. Other countries such as Britain, Australia, and New Zealand examine their own records with regard to racism towards their native peoples (Aboriginal Australians, Maori and immigrants). In the US, police have continues to demonstrate just what people are protesting about – their seemingly natural reaction, for the most part, to quell any uprising with violence, sometimes extreme. Now some police have joined those marching, but for the most part reactions by those in authority have been violent and excessive.

I have listened to story after story about the dread experienced by black people in the US, the fear of police, the almost constant mourning, the ongoing sense of frustration, and being unable to win or  succeed against the largely white militarised forces against them.

I have also heard a number of republicans saying “I had no idea this discrimination and treatment was so bad”. One is tempted to ask: Where have you been?

The marches continue. There is no sign of this “unrest” stopping, any time soon, in spite of fears of the coronavirus.

The Rev. Al Sharpton spoke at one of the first memorial services for George Floyd in Minneapolis. His eulogy was extremely moving, as he spoke of white America collectively having its knee on George Floyd’s neck. The Rev Sharpton is normally not this emotional. I also heard Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson on Chuck Todd’s Meet the Press, and he (normally so buttoned-up), echoed what Al Sharpton had said – “Get you foot off our neck!”

The protests seem to be intensifying, after Trump’s aggressive response. His “photo-op” last Thursday was widely condemned, with many military leaders including James Mattis very upset at the idea of using the military, including unnamed men (“little green men”, anyone?) to put down peaceful protests. The fundamental right of Americans to march, to protest, is being stressed, and the apolitical nature of the armed forces. There is shock and horror at Trump being “walled in” at the White House, and at the military at the Lincoln Memorial. Today Senator Mitt Romney is pictured marching with Evangelicals at Washington, and Colin Powell (George W. Bush’s National Security Advisor) has said he will vote for Joe Biden in November’s presidential election.

The marches now seem more focussed on being peaceful, although a reporter said that this was ever so, but the media like to portray more violent responses, which I believe are isolated.

There was a haka in New Zealand, a mark of respect for George Floyd. There have been other very moving moments. I just watched some footage of a protest in London. The UK police handle protests very differently from their US counterparts. In the US, there are challenges to defund police departments, whatever that means; it transpires that the police unions are in many instances the main force standing in the way of progress in how the police treat people. I say people, because although their violence is mainly against black people, white people too have experienced violence at the hands of the people who are supposed to protect them. The marches go on, still, and this feels different.

While there have been marches before, to protest gun violence, these actions carry on, and many of us hope for change. None of these folk are armed. We hope that they stay safe, and there won’t be an upsurge of Covid 19 cases as a result of these protests.

In New Zealand, there have been no new coronavirus cases for days now.  Today, there are no active cases. Today the Prime Minister announced that at midnight tonight, we will go to Level 1; i.e., the borders will remain tightly closed, and we will concentrate on rebuilding the economy, and industries such as tourism that have been so hard hit by Covid 19. New Zealanders are encouraged to travel and holiday locally, mindful of the fact that people are keen to travel to Australia and the Pacific Islands again. Jacinda Ardern and Dr Bloomfield acknowledge that there will be more coronavirus cases here, but we will be in a better position to manage them. Jacinda did a dance with her daughter; Dr Bloomfield allowed himself a broad grin. So that is great news, and something very special indeed.  We have moved through this crisis, and now we can rebuild. There has been no destruction here. It is now winter, but the weather was kind during the level 4 lockdown; it is now cold, but there are some fine days, to enjoy the sunshine, for a few hours in the middle of the day.

There are no more feijoas at the supermarket, but there are still raspberries.

I have finished reading “Stalingrad” (at last!). It was a great novel, although (spoiler alert), I did know the ending. It seemed appropriate, somehow. Thankfully, we have come through this war relatively unscathed, and our rebuild should be much easier. Let us keep New Zealand relatively untainted.

Nga mihi nui.          

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