This Independence Day Is A Time For Reflection

Jul 2, 2020

  Commentary: Independence Day approaches amidst tough news about the spread of COVID-19 in New Mexico and across the U.S.


Meanwhile, there are continuing protests over white supremacy and its roots in our institutions; and some of these demonstrators – citizens, human beings - are still being answered with tear gas and pepper spray by officers sworn to protect them.

There is a lot of rain coming down on the fireworks displays this year, and civic leaders are pleading with us to enjoy them from our homes. The city of Las Cruces won’t even say where they are launching them. Happy 4th of July: please stay home.


State officials and Gov. Lujan Grisham had much to say this week about individual behavior and its role in New Mexico’s turn for the worse with the new coronavirus. To wit: as soon as the state reopened businesses a little bit, too many people went back to normal and refused to follow the advice of health experts (which, admittedly, has evolved as we learn more about a new disease).


It turns out there are a lot of people with whom we wouldn’t want to share a lifeboat. In survival movies, there is often that character who endangers everyone else because they are secretly hoarding food or even colluding with the predator alien that’s killing the heroes. Well it turns out that guy is a lot of us.


But it’s not all about individual behavior, and this is important not to forget. There are ways in which our systems of production are forcing us into that lifeboat with the tiger in the first place. Many people have to go to work outside their home, and there is still not enough protective equipment for them because our supply chains and distribution networks haven’t produced enough supply. And the outbreaks in prisons across America reflect the extent of mass incarceration in the land of the free.


We could make similar observations about how we argue about race. Much of it focuses on individual behavior rather than systems that maintain class power and weaponize our ideas about race. The symptoms matter, but if you have a virus, you can’t just treat symptoms.


So happy 4th, indeed. All week long people have been celebrating their freedom by lighting off fireworks late at night, waking me up, like every year. Maybe, just maybe, this year there will be less activity and more time to reflect on independence along with personal responsibility: How we behave in the lifeboat; but also to reflect on the forces that sank the ship and decided who gets a seat on the lifeboat in the first place.