Black Votes Matter: The Red State COVID Strategy

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As with anything, there are endless opinions, facts, and alternative facts about the pandemic upon us. Depending on who you are, where you are, where you get your news, and who your political leaders are, your perspective on this crisis falls anywhere on a spectrum of viewpoints about the virus. New rules of social engagement from wearing masks and staying inside, to economic futures have become the latest ideas that amplify political divisions within the country. 

Washington State, California, and the tri-state area between New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut led the beginning of our current wave in the United States between February and mid-May. The simplified logistical explanation for this is that international flights from Europe landed at John F. Kennedy International Airport (New York City) and flights coming from Asia landed at international airports in California and other hubs throughout the West coast. All of these states approached the pandemic in their states by enacting strict social distancing measures, closing down nonessential businesses, and enforcing stay-at-home orders. 

Experts now assert that community spread of COVID-19 within the United States started as early as January. Epidemiologists predict that Houston, Texas will soon become the new epicenter of this disease, and it’s difficult to even the most optimistic of citizens, to imagine Governor Greg Abbott matching the leadership of New York’s Governor Cuomo, who held daily press conferences held on national news every day to keep New Yorkers apprised of the situation in their state. 

Governor Cuomo also played extreme political hardball with the current administration to bring national attention to the plight of New York. Negotiating with the federal government for federal funding and support for essentials like PPP and ventilators will prove difficult for a Republican governor like Greg Abbott. With a fervent Trump supporter in his lieutenant governor, who infamously said in May that “there are more important things than living” when asked about the potential for unnecessary loss of life in Texas should they reopen too soon. Texas’s Republican-controlled state legislature will make it difficult for Governor Abbott to establish any leverage nationally or within the state in support of Texans. 

Since January, the virus has inevitably spread throughout the interior of the United States and new spikes of this wave in the United States are now in Texas, Florida, Arizona, Nevada, Oregon and Oklahoma, all of which reopened in May without meeting the CDC guidelines for reopening [1]. The political leaders of these sunbelt states are not attempting to mitigate community spread of the virus using the proven strategies of social distancing like the first cluster of Democratic-led states did before reopening, despite increases throughout their states. On a minimal level, many of these states aren’t enforcing mandatory mask-wearing in public, which is proven to substantially reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Like with so much else about our government’s response to this pandemic, it has been left to private industry and businesses, to enforce these rules on a company by company basis. While many governors have paused their plans to continue on into advanced phases of reopening, many have declared that they will not roll back openings that have happened since May. In conjunction with all of this dysfunction, the premature hope that this virus would follow the pattern of other Coronaviruses by winding down with the Summer has been disproven. The summer heat in the southern states is driving people indoors for reprieve or into outdoor pools and waterparks where little to no social distancing is possible. Indoor gathering is one of four key factors that catalyze the spread of the disease. 

All of these states are so far into their phases of reopening and so unsupportive of enforcing strictly the guidelines set by the CDC, it is not likely pausing their reopenings will be enough to mitigate or contain the spread of COVID. In a state like Texas for example, which boasts the largest medical center in the world, ICU bed availability has already reached capacity. Texas also continues to set daily records for new cases every day, adding close to 7,000 on Saturday alone. For context, Texas averaged a daily new case count of 1000 in May. New York’s experience taught us as early as March, that the metrics of new cases reported and hospitalizations are the first metrics we can use to determine the depth of community spread. The final and lagging metric is the number of deaths, and this number will inevitably rise in the weeks to come, following weeks of tens of thousands of new cases and hospitalizations across these states. 

Today there have been over 2.5 million positive COVID-19 tests and almost 130,000 deaths in The United States. A majority of cases are in the age group between 18-44 years, which is at 893,600 cases. Experts now believe that community spread of the disease could be 10X the 2.6 million reported cases. This means that it is possible that there are actually 26 million cases of COVID-19 in The United States. Our national government first acknowledged this pandemic in March, after months of the president reassuring Americans that it would “like a miracle, disappear”. As Rachel Maddow put it in her broadcast on June 16, 2020, “100,000 Americans died from COVID in the first 129 days of the pandemic, and the next 100,000 will die within a window of 127 days.”

Washington University’s IHME Model for tracking the pandemic now predicts that 201,129 Americans will die before October 1, 2020, an increase from initial forecasts that considered necessary mitigations strategies of social distancing which The United States has all but abandoned on a national scale [2]. The official second wave of COVID-19 in the United States begins on September 15, 2020, which is also the beginning of the flu season. 

The United States’ approach to crisis management and pandemic mitigation, from how to support citizens with testing or how to support businesses also varies depending on all the variables previously listed. This is problematic for all of us in this case because of how contagious this Coronavirus is, but this is particularly problematic for minority and lower-income communities that are both on the frontline as “essential workers” and grossly under-engaged, and thereby underrepresented with and by the Republican-led state governments and governorships. 

In the absence of national leadership, these governors are filling that vacuum and reopening against CDC guidelines. None of the southern States currently setting daily records for new infections and hospitalizations related to COVID-19 waited for fourteen days of decline in their number of new cases. Waiting for fourteen days of decline in the number of new cases is perhaps the most vital stipulation for going into phase one of reopening according to CDC guidelines because it takes the virus fourteen days to incubate once someone has become infected. This is the point of contagion when people begin to show symptoms of having COVID. It’s important to note that not all people infected with COVID show symptoms, but they are just as contagious to others as those who do exhibit symptoms. Republican lawmakers understand that moving forward without a decline in cases means putting the health of the economy before the health of Black and LatinX lives, who are dying at ten times the rate of White Americans. 

Ignorance can be bliss, however, that bliss will be short-lived because of the long list of comorbidities within the Black community, including but not limited to, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and lung and heart disease. In the absence of a national policy and accountability, state governments are left to adhere to or completely disregard the guidelines put together by our nation’s top experts at the Centers For Disease Control. The disorganization and chaos of our nation’s response to this crisis have meant that instead of mitigating community spread of this disease through intentional and consistent social distancing and restraint, our nation is now plateauing at a very high place in our curve. Currently, between 600 and 1,000 Americans are dying of complications from COVID-19 every day. 

There is a litany of historical and social explanations that account for the cognitive dissonance of oppressed peoples in this country and the world over. The longer we bury our heads in the sand, the longer we are sacrificed on the frontlines of post offices, meat packaging plants, retail warehouses, fast food restaurants, grocery stores, police departments, fire departments, and perhaps mostly consequently, hospitals. All without our conscientious consent, like sheep to slaughter. Depending on where they live, our grocery store, retail warehouse, and fast-food workers are risking their lives for a national minimum wage of $7.25. How can those who are so essential be worth so little? 

Formally known as “low-wage workers”, these workers have a tremendous amount of leverage over their employers and consumers. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for the newly coined “essential workers” to organize to lobby companies for higher wages, better benefits, including health care coverage and paid leave and to lobby congress for hazard pay. None of the bills regarding COVID have included hazard pay for essential workers, because essential workers have not demanded it.

Think of the famously known Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1956, when the Black community of Montgomery, Alabama boycotted the Montgomery Bus system following Rosa Parks’ refusal to give her seat to a White man. Black citizens boycotted the Montgomery bus system for an entire year before the Supreme Court ruled that segregation of public transportation was unconstitutional. If just 50-70% of grocery store workers strike, it will not take even one week to bring this country’s grocery store companies to the negotiation table. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said in his Letter From Birmingham Jail, “Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored.” [3]

To be clear, COVID-19 remains central to the discussion about Black justice and Black liberty. Because of chattel slavery, the largest populations of Black people are in the Southern states of our country. Most of these states are led by Republican governors, with the exception of Louisiana and North Carolina, and in those states, the Republican majority state legislatures make it difficult for Democratic governors to enact policies that support vulnerable citizens. Based on a 2010-2011 study of healthcare coverage in the US, Black Americans in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina, made over 30% of their state’s populations but are disproportionately under or uninsured.

Ten years have passed since this study was done, but the highlighted trends persist. None of these states extended access to healthcare coverage by providing a special enrollment period or reopening of the Obamacare healthcare exchanges. None of these states established a standard for widespread reliable and equally accessible testing for citizens. All of these states reopened their states’ economies without meeting the CDC guidelines for reopening. As of June 18, 2020, 90% of patients on ventilators and 70% of new hospitalizations in Montgomery, Alabama were Black. There are enough African Americans in all of these states to elect Democratic majorities statewide.

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Figure 1

The publicized slaying of African Americans by police, weeks of protests and civil unrest has catapulted the civil rights (or lack thereof) of African Americans to the top of a long list of campaign issues for the national election of 2020. The Nation’s attention is on Black economic justice, social justice, and the nation’s future depends on Black political engagement. Black voters have yet another pressure point from which to parlay public officials and larger society as we approach voting this November. With just 128 days until November 3, 2020, and little else to discuss besides COVID-19, the issue of OUR rights and freedom are at the forefront of the debate on police reform in The House of Representatives, The Senate, and The White House. How thoroughly we inform ourselves, how well we organize, how hard we flex at the polls will mean the difference between the action and accountability principles of the Democratic Party, or the inaction and after the fact review ideas of the Republican Party.

No matter which way we come to the discussion about our political system or civil rights, the road leads to one place, and it’s the ballot box. The right to decide one’s political leader is a privilege on Earth and a right guaranteed by the constitution. What the mandatory mask ordinance of Montgomery, Alabama, which failed along racial lines in a 4-4 tie, tells us about the nature of race and politics in our country is that, if you can’t be bothered with the political system, then the political system will not be bothered with you. One day after the city council failed to pass a mask ordinance, the African American Mayor of Montgomery signed an executive order requiring its citizens to wear face masks beginning Juneteenth because when we elect leadership in our name and indeed our race, we raise our name and our race up into the light of democratic discourse. At the foundation of every discussion in the fight for equal justice under law from emancipation to the right of African American women and men to vote, is the need for representation of African Americans so that we might decide our fate. Let not that fight be in vain. Our lives depend on it. 

Featured photo: Mary Long

Shanique Perez is the Mom of two elementary-school-aged sons. She is a college student with a Journalism and Public Relations concentration. She has been writing, editing, and proofreading for over six years. Her previous career in recruiting and client retention has sharpened her outreach and public speaking skills. She has written resumes and cover letters for clients. Shanique was born in New York City and the self-identified Afro-Latina American is of African American, Puerto Rican, and Panamanian descent. Shanique Perez grew up in Southeast, Washington, D.C, and attended The Madeira School in McLean, Virginia where her innate ability to communicate through writing evolved into a tool for political, social, and economic activism. She lived in Houston, Texas for six years before relocating back to D.C. after Hurricane Harvey in August of 2017.

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