Why can a very large group of protestors, several hundred strong and in very close proximity to one another, gather in downtown Gunnison while traditional local events are being canceled left and right, retail stores are allowed only 10 people at a time and restaurants can seat to only half capacity?
Why, early on in the pandemic, were some businesses deemed essential while others were forced to close?
Why are some people required to wear masks and others not?
These are all fair questions and you could sit around a campfire or conference room for hours coming up with many more about the state of our lives over the past couple months. And you’d find no answers that are absolute — either totally wrong or 100 percent right.
We are living in a confounding time. Unease and uncertainty are higher than I’ve ever experienced in my 30 years of calling Gunnison home.
Is it understandable that people are afraid?
Is it justifiable that people are angry?
Are fear and anger the solutions to the challenges that face us — either locally or across the country, concerning the coronavirus or deep-seated racial inequality?
Tuesday night’s peaceful protest in Gunnison was a powerful display of unity. It was great to see young people inspiring old ones to get out of the house. It was wonderful to see our local black community, brought to this mountain hinterland thanks mostly to Western Colorado University, show up and be supported as part of the cross section of our community.
It was hopeful to see that, even here in Gunnison, the cause of equality matters perhaps more than any other.
The image of Danny Lefebvre, a Minneapolis native, and Conny Maxwell, a black student-athlete at Western, marching hand in hand down Main Street and the crowd spontaneously encircling them and then kneeling for eight minutes and 46 seconds of silence, is an instantly iconic moment that will forever be etched into the history of our community. What a beautiful display.
Now, of course Tuesday’s protest also broke the social distancing and no large gathering rules that have been preached since the outset of COVID-19. Some are taking exception to that.
I understand the irony. I get the frustration over the inconsistent response to the current crisis.
But some things are bigger than even a pandemic. And, if anything is, it’s the lingering affects of a foundation upon which our country was in so many ways built: Slavery.
Further, I’d ask of those who are critical of Tuesday’s gathering, what would have been a better response from local law enforcement and other governmental leaders? Break up the crowd? Prevent the gathering in the first place?
Absolutely not, is my answer.
Let’s not forget, the Save Our Summer group was allowed to gather — rightly so — and was also in violation of public health recommendations of the time.
That’s the thing: If you want to find fault or unfairness in our collective response to coronavirus, you can. There’s no doubt about it.
But, again, I’d reiterate that there is no perfect solution to the challenge of balancing a legitimate public health threat with the insatiable social and economic considerations we all share.
Would it be wise to say, “Well, I guess the demonstration shows that we can just do whatever we want, so let’s throw out all public health precautions and get back to 100 percent open for everything!”
That doesn’t seem reasonable to me and I’d venture a guess that the majority of our community wouldn’t agree with that approach — not to mention that it’d be in violation of state orders that we are legally bound to follow.
Nothing about coronavirus is fair. It’s not fair who gets it and who doesn’t. The impact it’s had on all of our lives is not fair.
But just throwing stones at the unfairness isn’t going to help. Working together to move toward a return to normalcy will — even though it’s more difficult, time-consuming and doesn’t lend itself to quippy social media rants.
The fabric of our community is being tested. Will we tear apart, or will we grow stronger?
I know which answer I’m hoping for. And I think Tuesday night’s remarkable gathering — despite its imperfectness in regards to coronavirus — was yet another example that, in Gunnison, we can rise above.
(Chris Dickey can be reached at 970.641.1414 or email@example.com.)