Déjà vu all over again

I got news recently that another friend had been hospitalized with COVID 19. They told me he was on a ventilator and had only a 10 percent chance of surviving. He is not the first of my friends to get sick, and I suspect won’t be the last.

I am reminded of the dark times of the 1980s, when friends were wasting away from the newly-diagnosed human immunodeficient virus — HIV — and the ensuing complications that made up the diagnosis of AIDS. I watched far too many friends become ill and die and this latest pandemic is very reminiscent of the previous one.

The big difference is that, in the 1980s when friends were dying in hospital beds hooked up to IV lines and machines, we could at least be with them. We could hold their hands; we could hug them. Now we are relegated to saying our goodbyes over Zoom or social media. The pain of this isolation is palpable for all of us still; we ache to touch and hold and comfort physically, not as a disembodied voice on a cell phone or face on a computer screen.

I suspect I am not the only one who is experiencing this melancholy déjà vu. And it doesn’t end with the COVID-19 pandemic. The weeks and weeks of marches and protests and police brutality are playing out like the 1960s and 1970s again. I was one of those who marched in the streets back then — marched against the war; marched in support of civil rights; marched for LGBTQ Liberation.

I would never have imagined back then that today, these decades later, we would still be marching for the same reasons!

Apparently, our country has a hard time learning from its mistakes.

Here in Dallas in 1973, a young boy names Santos Rodriguez was murdered by police who were playing Russian roulette while interrogating him. It was a horrible example of racist hatred and police brutality, and Dallasites marched in the streets, demanding justice.

You would think our city and police would have learned a valuable lesson from that tragedy. Apparently not.
Instead, police have become para-military squads that resemble an invading army rather than men and women sworn to protect and serve their own community.

Jim Crow laws were designed to extend the disparity of rights that was left over from slavery. And even though millions marched in the streets — all the way to Washington, D.C. — and even though the segregation of the 1950s and 1960s ended, the economic segregation did not. Still today, beyond the police actions against people of color, we have an underlying undercurrent of racism in employment and economic opportunity that works still to suppress black and brown Americans.

America is slow to learn from its mistakes.

If there is any good news to be found today in this miasma of déjà vu, it has been the recent Supreme Court ruling affirming the rights of LGBTQ Americans and protecting us from workplace discrimination. It is a landmark ruling that will have far reaching effects, though it may take some time before effects truly become evident.

The other dim light of good news comes from our Dallas County judge, Clay Jenkins, who instituted mandatory wearing of masks in Dallas County businesses. Studies have shown that if the population wears masks and practices rigorous hygiene practices COVID-19, transmission rates drop drastically. It is, again, a little bit of déjà vu for me, since my father was an immunologist and microbiologist, and he always taught me that hand washing could prevent a multitude of diseases.

In the meantime, though, this pandemic is not over, not by a long shot. Though the state and national governments are pushing to reopen shops and businesses, the engines of our economy, we still do not have a viable vaccine or a universally accepted treatment for COVID-19. I sincerely hope our country can respond to this crisis with some common sense and put every effort into finding not just a cure, but a way to mitigate the spread and minimize infections.

That means we will have an important choice to make on Nov. 3. That election might be the most important one in our lifetimes. I hope we have learned something from our past and that we get it right in November.

In these historic and chaotic days, I am reminded of a quote from Winston Churchill: “You can always count on Americans to do the right thing — after they have tried everything else.” I hope we don’t have to wait that long.

Hardy Haberman is a longtime local LGBT activist and a board member of the Woodhull Freedom Alliance. His blog is at DungeonDiary.blogspot.com.

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