Fear And Loss In A Time Of Plague

The anniversary of the loss of my first-born has, by coincidence, landed right in the middle of this time of fear and pandemic.We have witnessed, over the past weeks, a President of the United States who perpetrated denial and lies about the overall situation, allegedly in an effort to calm us; more likely to calm the markets.

Our collective fear rests largely in facing the unknown. We have no idea what to expect and how severe the situation will become. The results of this plague may

ultimately be no worse than a very bad flu, but all indications are that, at a minimum, it will place severe stress on an already problematic medical system. And, yes, people will die.

For far too long as a country, we have lived in denial regarding the ever-present threat of pandemics. Trump was not alone in that self-deception. Scientists have warned us that these dangers existed and, in the context of environmental catastrophe, the dangers associated with viral pandemics have increased. Yet, too many of us have thought that we personally, or we-the USA, would be immune. We have

assumed that others would suffer and die but that somehow there was a wall or force field that protected us. Denial is easy and innocent; and seems safe.

When my wife was first pregnant, thirty-five years ago, there was nothing that would have led us to believe that there would not be a happy ending. Yes, we knew that there were such things as premature births and other complications. But we were both healthy and took the pregnancy seriously. With each month, our excitement grew. And then the unexpected happened and our first-born emerged alive but too young and too undeveloped in order to survive. Three days later she was gone.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not blaming us for being naïve. I am saying that the shock of reality threw us in ways from which we have never fully recovered. There is a level of insecurity that emerges out of such a crisis that never completely vanishes because you have faced a disturbing reality: tragedy can hit in the most unexpected ways and the pain is excruciating.

This planet— and not just ‘America First’—is living through yet another crisis. We regularly face wars, poverty and pestilence. But for many of us in the so-called global North— the more developed countries— there is a tendency to believe that immense tragedy is exceptional. Yes, it can happen, but it usually happens to someone else. And even when it is bad, it is temporary and well ‘they’—whoever ‘they’ is— will get over it.

We are facing a different reality with Covid-19 and economic collapse. Both are affecting everyone, in one-way or another. We now know that all of us can be shaken, very directly, by global tragedies. And, no, this situation is not something that someone can just ‘get over.’ This is a situation that will take time to heal and will necessitate a full break from denial. It will also necessitate, as Senator Sanders and others have so eloquently articulated, solidarity rather than exclusivity.

The pain resulting from fear and loss does not completely vanish in time. Rather, we get used to it and adjust to it. But it leaves us with a sense of insecurity that also does not easily disappear because we have had to face a daunting fact: it can happen here and, yes, it can happen to us.

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is the executive editor of globalafricanworker.com and a past president of TransAfrica Forum

Marvin Miller Gets To The Baseball Hall Of Fame…But No Curt Flood

When it was announced on December 8, 2019 that the late Marvin Miller, the first executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA), had finally been inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame I let out a yell of glee! Finally, an individual who did so much for baseball and knocked down so many walls has been recognized.

Transforming an organization—the MLBPA—that was barely functioning into one of the most important labor unions in the USA was no small feat. And opening the door to free agency, which he and his leadership team mastered through brilliant strategy, fundamentally changed baseball.

What was missing in all the excitement was the recognition of the first ‘soldier’ out of the foxhole who, in an act of great courage and sacrifice, laid the foundation for the victory that Miller was able to bring about. Of course, I am referencing the late Curt Flood.

Curt Flood, an African American outfielder for the St. Louis Cardinals, was faced with a forced trade to the Philadelphia Phillies. This was in the late 1960s when baseball players were de facto owned by their teams (due to the “reserve clause”). Flood refused the trade and went to Marvin Miller seeking support. Miller and other leaders of the MLBPA asked Flood some tough questions, including whether he was truly ready for the risks associated with taking such a stand. Flood convinced Miller, as well as player leaders such as Roberto Clemente (Pittsburgh Pirates), that he was ready and he then received their full support.

Flood fought a multi-year court battle, ultimately ending in the Supreme Court, trying to end the reserve clause and institute free agency (the ability of a player, after a specific period of time, to offer his services to the highest bidder). He was ultimately defeated in one of the strangest US Supreme Court decisions ever recorded. Flood was exiled from baseball; went into a tailspin; but, with the help of his second wife, actress Judy Pace and other key friends, was able to reestablish his life. He passed away in 1997.

Flood’s case, though going down in defeat, shook up the baseball world and discredited the reserve clause system. It laid the foundation for the strategy employed by Miller a few years later to crack the system and introduce free agency. It is as a result of the courage of Flood and the strategy of Miller that Major League players were able to gain the incredible salary improvements seen over the last four decades.

I have, for quite a long time, felt that both Miller and Flood should have been admitted to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Both of them, in different and related ways, changed baseball as an industry. Miller’s induction was a great victory, hands down. Flood, however, was the first soldier out of the foxhole; a Rosa Parks-like figure in baseball who knew that though the odds were stacked against him, he was prepared to stand firm.

How could that not merit being admitted into the Hall of Fame?

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is the executive editor of globalafricanworker.com and the former president of TransAfrica Forum.

Becoming Numb To Mass Shootings

Each time we experience a mass shooting, we repeat the pattern— a point I have made in previous columns. Shock, grief, prayer, throwing up our hands, and proponents of unlimited gun ownership arguing that this is not the time to discuss sensible gun control; instead we should restrict ourselves to prayer.

And then nothing ever happens. Except for one thing. We become increasingly numb to the impact of gun violence, which I have come to conclude, right-wing gun fanatics wish to encourage. When we no longer see mass or just random killings as outrageous and uncivilized, the demand for sensible gun regulations diminishes in importance. Gun fanatics would like us to accept that this violence will happen and that the best that we can do is to further arm US society, e.g., arm teachers in schools.

There is no easy way to avoid becoming numb to mass shootings and random violence.

When you read about it or hear about it or witness it nearly every day and you conclude that it will not change, your mind searches for safety. That “safety” plays itself out in our becoming less shocked and—to be blunt—more accepting of the reality that our children may get killed at school or that our family or friends may get shot at a parking lot or by an outraged former employee at any number of facilities. The mind says to us that we cannot exist on a permanent level of tension and anxiety.

Except, we do harbor that tension and anxiety. It’s just that we may not display it. Rather, it eats away at us in our insides.

Is there any way around this, in addition to legislation? Yes. First and foremost, it necessitates community organizing and community organization. As simplistic as it may sound, our youth need to be forced to confront the finality of death. Death is not an action video game. Nor should it be the immediate recourse when someone feels emotionally injured. Thus, the victims—including families—of gun violence need to be at the center of discussions about the ramifications of gun violence.

A second route is the establishment of legitimate gun clubs. This may sound strange but hear me out, and this is especially important in African American communities. Guns are not going away so, there needs to be training and discipline associated with the use of fire arms. Just as with martial arts, the younger members of our communities must understand when, where and how to utilize firearms, and when not to.

Platitudes and prayer are nearly meaningless when one is up against a combination of a multi-million-dollar gun industry linked directly with a fanatical, right wing movement opposed to sensible gun ownership. At the end of the day, the barbarians must be out organized.

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is the executive editor of globalafricanworker.com and the former president of TransAfrica Forum.

Plastics Are Strangling The Planet

On my morning walk, I pass a tree every day that has a long plastic bag stuck in the branches. I keep wondering whether my neighbor realizes that the bag is strangling the tree. I am not exaggerating. The plastic is not simply sitting on the branches but is cutting off air to the tree. Over time, that branch could die. Think about that the next time you are driving and see plastic bags flying around landing on bushes and trees. This is not a neutral issue.

I thought, again, about this matter of plastics when I read a fascinating piece in the Guardian concerning the global glut of plastics and the role of the USA in the proliferation of plastic material. It is not just that we, in the USA, are producing an abundance of plastic material. It is that we are shipping the waste overseas to the global South for, alleged, recycling or, in other cases, for simply dumping. A global version of “not in my backyard.”

You have probably heard about islands of plastic (and other garbage) inhabiting our oceans. The impact of this is the dying off of entire segments of oceans. In addition, many countries in the global North, including but not limited to the USA, look at the countries of the global South as a massive garbage dump. What we use and use-up, we then send to the global South to be disposed of.

A recent global conference on plastics was stymied by the Trump administration which wished to take little to no responsibility for the proliferation of plastics and blamed the current glut on Asian countries. What was so disingenuous about this is the historical role of the USA in promoting the use of plastics and paying no attention to disposal. Instead, the Trump administration acted as if there was no dirt on its shoes, or perhaps, no plastic sticking to its shoes (?), and that the blame lay elsewhere.

It is critical to highlight this issue to remind ourselves that the environmental challenges facing the planet are not solely about climate change, as critical as that happens to be. There is environmental catastrophe unfolding, much of which is playing out in our oceans.

In this context, the notion of “America First,” in addition to having been a slogan of pre-World War II U.S. fascists, is the slogan of idiots. The USA does not exist on planet Earth by itself. The planetary crisis in plastics is one that no one nation-state can resolve alone. There must be a collective pact, and this necessitates a shift in the attitude of an arrogant US administration. This, of course, will only happen through a combination of mass pressure and the electoral removal of those who think that one can ‘make America great again,’ while watching planet Earth die.

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is the former president of TransAfrica Forum. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and www.billfletcherjr.com. Look for his murder mystery, “The Man Who Fell From the Sky.”

Watching A Father And Son

You may have seen the video of a father speaking with his pre-verbal son about the season finale of tv show, Empire. The video went viral at warp speed and DJ Pryor—the father—was overwhelmed by the outpouring of emotion that the interaction with his son evoked.

I have watched the video several times and love it. What especially struck me— and continues to— is that Pryor does not speak “baby talk” to his son, Kingston Jierre. He is holding a conversation and his son is attempting to do likewise. The son looks back and forth between the television and his father, moves his hands around and offers commentary. It doesn’t matter whether his words make any sense. This was just the sort of interaction that needs to happen with a child at that age.

This video stands in contrast to what I frequently see with parents who ignore their children in favor of a cell phone call or listening to music, on the one hand, or yelling at their children on the other hand.

When my daughter was about the age of Pryor’s son, I distinctly remember being out of town and calling home. I would always make a point of asking my wife to put my daughter on the phone so that she could hear my voice and so that I could hear hers. One evening I called, and my daughter got on the phone. It was remarkable. It was just like the Pryor video. My daughter held a conversation with me…in gibberish! But she did it so well with changing intonation, chuckling and seemingly asking me questions. I realized in that moment that she was on the verge of talking.

It is not just that the Pryor video is adorable. It reminds the viewer of the components of love that must exist between a parent and child. Pryor was not holding his son in any particular manner; in fact, he was not holding him at all. The two of them were looking back and forth between each other and the television. Pryor was taking his son very seriously and you could tell that the son felt that in a very deep manner.

The sort of interaction between father and child as seen in the Pryor video should remind us that our work to raise our children is communicated through actions, words, gestures and the look in one’s eyes.

Pryor and his son, Kingston Jierre, are lucky to have one another and, although she is not in the video, I am sure that the child’s mother contributed immensely to a situation whereby the son was ready to engage his dad.

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a proud father and grandfather. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and www.billfletcherjr.com. Check out his mystery thriller, “The Man Who Fell From the Sky.”