Column: Beyond The Covid-19 Pandemic

April 3, 2020

[Opinion column written by Glenn Fubler]

On April 4, 1967, Martin Luther King made a transformative speech at the iconic Riverside Baptist Church in New York City, the current epicentre of the pandemic. The address, entitled ‘Beyond Vietnam’, was pivotal in galvanizing an historic, emerging movement against that war. MLK’s speech occurred a year to-the-day prior to his assassination on April 4, 1968.

Notwithstanding his physical death, there is evidence that the spirit which imbued Martin King lives on. This light has been expressed in various ways over the decades, and during these dark times of the 2020 pandemic.

King’s words that day challenged the misdirection of President Johnson’s leadership, which promoted a policy of war in South East Asia.

Today, Americans find themselves in the eye of Covid 19, on the back of misdirection from President Trump. In spite of urgent advisories from the World Health Organization [WHO] and U.S. intelligence agencies, since early January regarding the inevitable tsunami of infection, the current administration dropped the ball.

Consequently, the pandemic has made landfall with U.S. health systems drastically lacking the basics of face masks, let alone respirators.

It’s noteworthy that over the past three years, the Trump administration dramatically cut funds for health and social welfare; such as an 80% reduction of the Center for Disease Control’s [CDC] budget since 2018.

In the “Beyond Vietnam” speech, Martin opposed the militaristic policy of the Johnson administration. During the opening of that famous speech, Martin’s words eerily resonate with the current situation found in New York, as they experience the pandemic:

We are deeply in need of a new way beyond the darkness that seems so close around us.

MLK went on to express the view that while there was a need to protest that unjust war; that historic moment required a much wider agenda, to move ‘Beyond Vietnam’, for the longer term:

We as a Nation must undergo a revolution of values. We must rapidly begin to shift from a ‘thing-oriented society’ to a ‘people- oriented society’. When machines and computers, profit margins and property rights are more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

These words speak to too much of current reality across the globe; for instance, those dramatic cuts to U.S. federal support-systems, like the CDC, were used to fund the Trump administration’s two trillion-dollar tax cut for the mega-rich in 2018.

In Bermuda, like most countries; Government, the opposition and private sector have demonstrated collaboration in taking proactive steps to address the pandemic, following WHO guidance. Based on the experience of China, South Korea, Singapore and others, most countries have responded rationally.

However, even some countries following guidance have been severely challenged during Covid 19.

Our Government’s plans to transform Bermuda’s health system into one in which care is a human right, has proved to be increasingly timely, in the wake of the crisis. As the human family looks beyond the pandemic, we are all asked to consider the big picture as societies might consider King’s timeless call for a shift from a thing-oriented society, to a people-oriented society.

That spirit that imbued MLK has been evident globally during these challenging times. That spirit has manifested in all corners of the globe, including:

  • The late whistle-blowing Chinese doctor who was able to alert authorities to the emergence of Covid 19 – from which he died – in the face of efforts to conceal that reality, by corrupt provincial bureaucrats.
  • The people of Italy who began the new tradition during their lock-down of singing and applauding from their balconies for the front-line health providers at 8 pm.
  • Those local truckers and the Corporations of Hamilton & St George who voluntarily covered garbage collection.
  • The scores of local volunteers for their long-time support of those vulnerable populations with food and transport to KEMH and continue to be available, during the crisis.
  • The 50 Cuban doctors who volunteered to help the people of Italy as they experience that most damaging impact of the pandemic.
  • The three local educators – Carika Weldon, Sergio Pitcher & Kimberly Tankard – who voluntarily established a free online fun educational program for primary & middle schoolers which attracted 600 subscribers.
  • The retired-nurse Kitty O’Meara from the United States, whose viral prose captures a poignant perspective on the pandemic, which begins: And the people stayed home.

- Glenn Fubler


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