Curtain Raiser

Stand For Those Who Can’t, Colltalers

These are uncertain times. Covid-19 is at calamity levels of transmission and no healthcare system seems capable of handling its ravenous expansion. Months from a vaccine, we’re all we’ve got to keep ourselves safe. While Americans die by the thousands, a lame-duck president refuses to concede.
The assassination of Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, though, fuels rumors of a desperate attempt to keep Trump in office – with a little help from Israel? Elsewhere, there were massive street protests in France and Thailand, and municipal elections in Brazil brought grief to progressives.
For a change, let’s open with some upbeat news: in Scotland, menstruation products will be free and available to anyone. Let’s turn the idea into a right in the entire world; there’s plenty of exploitation and abuse of the female body but not nearly enough support for being a woman and all that it implies.
Tomorrow is World Aids Day and speaking of epidemics past and present, the news about HIV contagion is again mixed. According to the CDC, fewer people died of H.I.V.-related causes, but survival rates for women and people of color did not improve as much. There are surely lessons to be learned from the Aids outbreak and crisis since the 1980s, the wreck it’s left in its wake, and how it came under control, including the fact that’s still around.
France is having its ‘George Floyd moment,’ as cameras captured the violent beating of Michel Zecler, a Black music producer. Thousands took to the streets to protest racial violence and the law that would’ve prevented the incident from being filmed. The graphic images, all too familiar to Americans, flooded airwaves and may be a turning point in the Emmanuel Macron presidency, already plagued by corruption claims and for spreading fake news.
In Thailand, thousands are rallying for democracy and the resignation of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha, who seized power in 2014. The pressure is on King Maha Vajiralongkorn, who supports him and is arguably the world’s wealthiest monarch while near seven million live in extreme poverty.
And in Brazil, results from municipal elections represented a blow for those anxious to see some light on the other side of the Bolsonaro presidency. Even without campaigning much, the defeat of some new, progressive leaderships in big cities such as São Paulo, Rio, and Porto Alegre, showed that the majority still supports him over change. Now there’s the fear of what a reenergized religious and conservative far-right movement may do next.
Staying a bit with this story, the fact is that since President Dilma Rousseff was ousted in a legislative coup four years ago, Brazil has become all but ungovernable. Its economy has nose-dived, it faces an international outcry for allowing the Amazon forest to burn, poverty levels have risen, but the president who’s in part responsible for it still enjoys high ratings. ‘Does it sound familiar?‘ may become an outdated cliché but for now, it’s still usable.
The Fakhrizadeh murder comes at a sensitive time in U.S.-Iran relations. Since Trump declared the 2015 historic nuclear agreement null and void and ordered the assassination of major general Qasem Soleimani, they’ve got busy trying to produce bomb-grade Uranium, the exact reason for the accord in the first place. But many see Israel, which has killed several of Iran’s nuke scientists in the past, trying to tip the balance to keep its friend in power.
Back in the U.S., President-elect Joe Biden has been equally praised and criticized for his choices to populate his future administration. While naming capable people with diversity credentials is important, critics are pushing for more nominees with a record for fighting climate change, protection of the environment, racial injustice, income inequality, and women’s reproductive rights, to face a possible GOP-controlled Senate and Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, it’s been a depressing spectacle to witness former Trump operatives attempting to extort his supporters on false claims of electoral fraud. Since no courts will entertain such claims what they, and the man himself, are ultimately doing is getting people to pay for debts and future campaigns. Some, like businessman Fredric Eshelman, is suing Trump to get back the $2.5 million he’s donated but not for that. All we can say is good luck.
The tragedy of the coronavirus goes, of course, beyond lacking healthcare for billions or science’s shortcomings producing a timely response. It also boosts already extreme world poverty, hunger (millions of Americans stood at food bank lines over Thanksgiving), and uncontrollable climate change-fueled disasters. Yes, it takes a different class of political leaders to face this crisis but it also depends on those who can get out to demand change.
Most of our fellow humans live lives of despair and hopelessness, and to them, even the right to protest is consistently denied. Some risk everything anyway for there’s no other choice. That’s why ‘lucky‘ ones living in nominally democratic societies have the moral obligation to speak up for those who can’t. That’s the ripples of change that visceral movements such as Black Lives Matter or groups fighting against the climate emergency can generate.
Often, it’s the most flawed, controversial individualist who takes upon themselves to stand up for the rights of others, even if unwittingly. When the Argentinian genius of soccer Diego Maradona passed away this week, waves of grief washed over not just his compatriots but everyone who admires the sport and have no qualms about political outburst from those who practice it. At the peak of his brilliance, he was still a rusted nail sticking out.
The game’s powers that be stepped on it and cried wolf. They’ve tried to beat Maradona into an agreeing pawn, shaming him for his big appetite for life, drugs, and for expressing uncomfortable truths. It didn’t work. His rebelliousness may have cost his life but his honor was never for sale. R.I.P.
We must close if we may by repeating the public service warnings we should be seeing all around us, even if they’re annoyingly repetitive: the virus does not recognize holidays or take into consideration the hardship we’ve all been through this year; contagion is still on the rise, and more people are dying now than even at its Spring outbreak in some places. Wear a mask and keep your distance. It’s not about you. Other Xmas will come. Be safe.

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