2020 had to be the longest year in history. Each week feels like a year and they are getting longer and worse. This week alone has to have set a record for the most terrible news crammed into a 7 day period ever. It’s getting harder and harder to focus on anything other than the dreadful news day after day. Optimism is especially tough to come by in this country right now, and I, like many others am having a difficult time focusing on work, family, and anything else right now.
I appreciate how good and easy I have it. As I write this, I’m sitting in the backyard in suburban Northern New Jersey enjoying the summation of the privileges that I was born unto and others I decidedly worked for, but not on a level playing field. This morning I ran for 1.5 hours on secluded trails where if I looked different, I might be reported as a threat. I’m at home safely with my family because of the privilege I have from my tech job, one decidedly harder to obtain for any other demographic than my own white maleness. Yet around the country and nearby, others cannot enjoy any of these privileges.
I’m very conflicted personally on the topic of police brutality, reform, and the systematic injustices routinely performed across the country. I’ve got a great friend who is a lieutenant in the NYPD, and while he is thankfully not out on the streets, it’s impossible to ignore everything going on with the police in the city and across the country. I know he’d never get involved this way. I also know that this country has militarized its police and completely overused the national guard, private forces, and the police to systematically combat its citizens’ right to peaceful assembly and protest. It’s also continuously furthered an agenda of systematic oppression of Black, Hispanic, indigenous, and essentially every other minority for generations. Among the reading I did this week was Between the World and Me, and White Zones, both extremely illuminating on the sheer magnitude of the small injustices people of color endure daily and hourly throughout this country. The militarization and immunity of our police against regular citizens is only one part of this, but a substantial one and one that needs to change.
But because this is 2020, it gets even worse. Beyond the senseless murders of numerous Black citizens like George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Eric Taylor, Michael Brown, and Ahmaud Arbery just to name a few, the police is now being used to silence the voices of protesters and activists, no differently than in an authoritarian dictatorship. Police are pepper spraying completely peaceful protesters and people not even protesting. Videos show officers knocking down elderly people, kicking teenagers, and it’s not hard to find photos, videos, and hospital reports of injuries from supposedly “safe” weapons like rubber bullets and bean bag rifles.
Meanwhile people are being actively suppressed from participating. Curfews in major cities are not only forcing people to stay home, but are allowing police to then arrest and detain them when they can’t get off the streets because of barricades and subway entrances being blocked just for this purpose. Even ridesharing like Uber and Lyft are preventing people from safely and “lawfully” getting home on time so that they can be arrested.
To further worsen an already terrible situation, the media is being explicitly targeted to prevent stories and information from getting out. There’s no bigger indication of things moving toward, or seemingly already in, an authoritarian regime than when the free press is intimidated and attacked. Reporters are being sprayed in the middle of coverage. They’ve been verbally assaulted and in some cases even physically assaulted with punches, kicks, rubber bullets, and tear gas for doing nothing more than reporting on the situation.
Even our vaunted medical and health workers are not safe from this. Workers who have completely lawfully set up medical tents and stations to support protester and police alike have been gassed, shot at, and had medical supplies smashed and destroyed just for intimidation. One of the only positives coming out of the COVID situation was the higher appreciation for our health care workers, and yet even now they aren’t safe.
Yet this still isn’t the only dreadful thing going on this week. Buried buy the rest of the news is that over 100,000 Americans (at least) have died from COVID and despite all the reopening and posturing, there is no end in sight. To put it one way, we have done nothing so far that actually prevents a further outbreak the moment everyone relaxes social distancing. No vaccine, no surety that antibodies are actually effective in preventing it. We bought ourselves time to flatten the curve, prevent the health care system from being completely overloaded, but 100,000 people have died and what have we really done with that time? Across much of the country, cases are actually increasing and yet precautions are being lessened.
And on the technology, though now a much bigger political and free speech issue, tech companies and internet platforms are under attack for content moderation. Somehow the Communications Decency Act, specifically article 230, which has protected forums and platforms from being liable for the content posted on their platforms by others since the days of prodigy, and has clearly allowed for the growth of online networks like Facebook and Twitter, search engines like Google, and online retailers like Amazon is now being wielded as a weapon to pressure these companies simply because they have chosen to stand up for their policies and have done something that our supposed leaders don’t agree with because they continued to abuse the platforms. Yet another case of the suppression of the explicit free speech rights companies have otherwise enjoyed since the founding of the country because our administration got on the wrong side.
Even below all of this, completely buried because of the suck factor of 2020, is a story most people probably never even saw yet would have been enough to spark outrages and online protests in any other time. AT&T is now blatantly operating in an anti-net-neutrality manner by giving preferential treatment to its HBO MAX streaming service over any competing streaming service like Disney+, Netflix, or Amazon. HBO Max streaming does not go against customers’ data limits unlike the other services. Supposedly AT&T pays itself for this service, and claims to allow competitors to pay for the same, yet according to the others, this isn’t actually possible. Even if AT&T were allowing others to pay for it, it still clearly gains an advantage as it only has to move money around internally and doesn’t actually incur any cost unlike competitors. This occurred quietly, and while clearly anti-competitive and against the entire spirit of the internet, isn’t illegal thanks to the repeal of net-neutrality rules and the continued lack of interest in this FCC administration to actually take a stance or regulate anything.
With all of this together, it’s very easy to feel small, powerless, and nihilistic. Can it really get any worse? But it is important to remember this is our time. Time for changes. This needs to serve as a wake up for everyone to take action. Whether donating time or money to worthy causes, or going out and protesting, or supporting and advocating for people around you in your job, this is the time to do something. We can’t afford to sit back and watch. Because as bad as it seems, it could get worse. But it doesn’t need to.