2020
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Monitor Daily Podcast

July 02, 2020
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TODAY’S INTRO

Of face masks, charity, and hope

Michaela Munyan runs the Friendly Chupacabra Face Covering Company in Oakland Township, Michigan, which makes face masks in five sizes, using colorful patterned fabrics.

Customers have included a home health agency, a local restaurant, and family and friends. Production is in the hundreds.

Did we mention Michaela is 9-years-old? 

In many places in America face masks have become political flash points. Their use – or nonuse – sparks arguments about COVID-19 and the best ways to respond to the current pandemic.

An ice cream shop in Ohio, for instance, has had to ask customers to please refrain from yelling at scoopers who wear masks mandated by the state. It really slows up the customer line.

In that context it’s important to see that masks can also be a symbol of charity and hope. That’s where the Friendly Chupacabra comes in.

Home from school on lockdown, the girl heard her mom, Kristen, a professor of nursing, talking about a shortage of personal protective equipment at a hospital.

Michaela had already learned basic sewing in a class. “I think I can make a mask,” she said.

Her mom helped her look up patterns online. She watched a YouTube video about batch sewing. Soon she was able to turn out 50 masks in two hours. 

The masks she made for a local pizza shop featured pizza-printed cloth. Kids like “Paw Patrol” and “Frozen” masks, she says, according to a Washington Post story. Her own mask is printed on cloth with a Harry Potter Slytherin house symbol. (The company name comes from Michaela’s hairless cat, which looks a bit like a Chupacabra, a mythical predatory animal.)

Her parents help with the production line. They’ve also set up a Facebook page so she can communicate with customers and fans.

“It helps to share kindness in my community and encourages people to do the same,” Michaela says.

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A deeper look

As society relies on gig workers, will they see a boost in stature?

The pandemic has prompted some soul-searching about how society treats people who deliver our essentials at the push of a smartphone button. It is also prompting new assertiveness by many of the gig workers themselves.

Peter

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The U.S. unemployment rate fell in June to 11.1%, amid a gradual reopening of the economy. Yet in a sign that the pandemic is far from over, Wednesday saw over 50,000 new COVID-19 cases reported nationwide, a new high. 

So-called gig economy workers are among the most affected by 2020’s challenges. The current pandemic has prompted many Americans to rely heavily on app-based platforms for things like grocery delivery. At the same time, other workers in the gig economy are among the most deeply hit by job losses.

That very juxtaposition – the burdened Instacart shoppers and the sidelined Uber drivers – could create a moment ripe for reassessing the rules underlying the gig economy. 

Several trends may already be pointing in gig workers’ favor. They are more organized than ever. Legislation or legal actions have begun to make it harder for companies to treat their workers as disposable. And some new digital platforms are emerging that give workers a bigger share in profits and decision-making. 

“We just want to be heard and acknowledged and appreciated,” says worker Sharon Goen in Las Vegas. “We are the face of Instacart.”

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1. As society relies on gig workers, will they see a boost in stature?

As more than 17 million American workers are out of a job, Sharon Goen, a former hospitality worker in Las Vegas, is having the opposite experience.

“I work six gigs,” she says.

These include delivering meals for Grubhub, moving parcels for Amazon Flex and Shipt, picking up groceries for Instacart, and, before the COVID-19 pandemic arrived, pouring drinks for Tend. 

And yet despite all the options for work that populate her smartphone screen, Ms. Goen like many gig workers is still feeling squeezed financially.

“We’re not making a living wage,” she says of gig workers. “With the pandemic, the pay is just lower and lower and lower.”

Editor’s note: As a public service, all our coronavirus coverage is free. No paywall.

The coronavirus economy isn’t providing any easy answers. Yes, a gradual reopening from lockdowns has partially reversed this spring’s historic spike in joblessness. But even as the Labor Department reports that the U.S. unemployment rate fell to 11.1% in June, many places including Ms. Goen’s home state of Nevada are seeing COVID-19 caseloads rise. On Wednesday, over 50,000 new cases were reported nationwide, the highest since the pandemic began. 

Despite the widespread slogan “we are all in this together,” the coronavirus has widened many class fissures. It has also prompted some soul-searching about how our society treats the gig workers who bag our groceries and deliver our essentials, often with no sick pay, protective gear, or job security.

As one Instacart customer put it on Twitter, at the very least it may be time to tip generously, given “the risks they’re taking to bring you food.”

Even as socially distanced lifestyles prompt Americans to rely heavily on some app-based platforms, many others in the contingent workforce are now jobless. That very juxtaposition – the burdened Instacart shoppers and the sidelined Uber drivers – could create a moment ripe for reassessing the rules underlying the gig economy. 

Several trends may already be pointing in this direction. Gig workers are more organized than ever. New laws are being drafted that make it harder for companies to treat their workers as disposable. And new digital platforms are emerging that give workers a bigger share in profits and decision-making. 

“In moments of great upheaval, things that seem unimaginable suddenly become commonsense,” says Trebor Scholz, an activist scholar at The New School who studies the digital economy.

Forming a movement

Ms. Goen herself epitomizes one of the labor market trends – growing collective action by workers themselves. A year ago, along with 10 other women around the United States who work for Instacart, Ms. Goen founded the Gig Workers Collective to advocate for stronger worker rights and protections. Now the GWC boasts 17,000 members nationwide. 

Instacart is perhaps the most iconic gig platform of the coronavirus era. The app works by connecting customers with “shoppers,” that is, gig workers who go to supermarkets to buy groceries on their behalf in exchange for a fee and, usually, a tip. The platform experienced a massive surge amid the coronavirus outbreak, hiring some 300,000 shoppers between mid-March and mid-April. 

Courtesy of Sharon Goen
Sharon Goen, a former worker in the hospitality industry, makes an Instacart delivery in Las Vegas on April 16, 2020. She says that her earnings with Instacart have declined by 60% to 70% over the past three years.

For the workers, one particular sore spot is the default tip setting. Instacart sets it to just 5% for first-time customers (it subsequently defaults to your last tip; if you tipped below 5%, it resets to 5%). Ms. Goen, a former Las Vegas bartender, is well aware of the psychology of tipping. She knows that the default setting plays a huge role in how customers will behave. “For Instacart to ... leave it at 5% is just crushing.”

On March 30, in response to its members’ concerns over low tips, no sick pay, and the lack of protective equipment, the GWC organized a nationwide walk-off, an action that drew national media attention. To protect workers from retaliation, the GWC doesn’t keep track of how many people participated.

Instacart said the work stoppage had “absolutely no impact” on its operations, but the company did begin offering more resources, including reusable face masks and hand sanitizer. Earlier, the company offered 14 days of sick pay for shoppers diagnosed with COVID-19.

“As part of our unwavering commitment to prioritize the health and safety of the entire Instacart community,” read a statement from the company, “we’re working closely with the CDC, public health officials and retail partners to make sure we’re taking the appropriate precautionary measures to keep our shopper community and customers safe.”

But according to a report by CNET, Instacart shoppers have faced steep bureaucratic hurdles getting their sick pay approved. As of May 20, just one worker is known to have been approved for sick pay.

“There is absolutely zero transparency,’ says Ms. Goen. “Every time we have a strike action, they would act like they are giving us something, and [then] they would take it away.”

Still, Ms. Goen remains hopeful that actions by the GWC will bear fruit.

“We just want to be heard and acknowledged and appreciated,” she says. “We are the face of Instacart.”

Past work stoppages by gig workers have also shown results. The Uber and Lyft strikes of 2019, for instance, resulted in higher wages and improved working conditions for some drivers. 

These actions are occurring in a larger context of labor flexing its strength. The past two years have seen remarkably forceful worker revolts, from teachers protesting benefit cuts to tech workers walking out over law enforcement and military contracts. Indeed, the 2018-19 government shutdown finally came to a halt thanks to the efforts of a handful of air traffic controllers.

Legislation and legal battles 

A parallel trend: Lawmakers and judges are increasingly influencing the gig landscape, in some cases affirming the idea that contractor status doesn’t offer enough protections for gig workers. 

Instacart found itself under pressure on this front, too. Early in June, as part of an agreement with the attorney general of Washington, D.C., the company agreed to offer its workers paid sick leave nationwide.

In another important case, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the National Labor Relations Act does not prevent a state from adopting its own collective bargaining law, one that includes provisions for independent contractors.

Last September, meanwhile, California passed Assembly Bill 5, a law that classifies app-based gig workers as employees, entitled to minimum wage guarantees and other basic protections. 

The law codifies the so-called ABC test, which sets three criteria to determine whether a worker ought to be classified as a contractor or an employee. According to this standard, a worker is a contractor if (a) “the individual is free from direction and control,” (b) “the service is performed outside the usual course of business of the employer,” and (c) the “individual is customarily engaged in an independently established trade, occupation, profession, or business of the same nature as that involved in the service performed.”

This law was tested in May at the California Supreme Court, with the state prevailing against Lyft and Uber. 

“A huge landmark deal,” says Brian Chen, an attorney at the National Employment Law Project. “Other states are going to look at that, and hopefully these state laws will be a model for the federal government eventually.”

In January, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo hinted that his state would be pursuing a law similar to AB 5. Speaking in his State of the State address, Mr. Cuomo said, “A driver is not an independent contractor simply because she drives her own car on the job. A newspaper carrier is not an independent contractor because they ride their own bicycle. A domestic worker is not an independent contractor because she brings her own broom and mop to the job. It is exploitive, abusive, ... and it has to stop here and now.”

Mr. Chen describes the battle over worker classification as a first step, not an end goal. “That fight really is to set a floor,” he says. “Strong employment laws are a precondition for workers building power.”

Rise of the co-op platform

In addition to what’s happening in the realms of labor activism, legislation, and the courts, some experts see another trend that could help reshape gig work: the rise of new, worker-friendly structures for digital-platform businesses.

Platform co-ops are worker-owned entities that rely on shared ownership and democratic decision-making. These include Up & Go, a cooperatively owned housecleaning platform in New York City, Stocksy United, a stock-photo platform based in Victoria, British Columbia, that’s owned by nearly 1,000 photographers, and Green Taxi Cooperative, an 800-person enterprise that has made significant inroads into Denver’s ride-hailing market.

The concept of platform cooperativism was introduced in 2014 by The New School’s Dr. Scholz, who was researching the digital economy. 

“I don’t think I’ve met anyone who does not think this is a good idea,” he says. “It’s a question of do you want cosmetic change or do you want structural change?” 

Owned by the workers, who guide their businesses democratically, platform co-ops typically take a much smaller cut for overhead costs than do their Silicon Valley counterparts. For instance, the housecleaning and handyman platform Handy says that it takes about 20% from each transaction; Up & Go takes just 5%.

Dr. Scholz sits on the board of a co-op called Fairbnb.coop, an Airbnb alternative that sends half the booking fees from short-term rentals to projects that promote social welfare in the host communities. 

“It’s not about destroying Uber or about destroying Airbnb,” says Dr. Scholz of platform co-ops. “They can coexist with corporations.” But, he says, “it shows you that it can be different.”

Shifts in public opinion

Even before the pandemic struck, public attitudes about digital gig work – and Silicon Valley more generally – were beginning to sour. When apps like Uber gained popularity in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crash, they were seen as an opportunity for workers to make money via their smartphone apps while setting their own schedule. 

But by 2018, workers were reporting feeling squeezed. A study that year by JPMorgan Chase found that for Uber and Lyft drivers, monthly earnings fell from $1,469 in 2013 to $783 in 2017, a decline of 53%. Also that year, a study by the Federal Reserve found that 58% of full-time gig workers said they didn’t have an emergency $400 on hand, compared with 38% of those who didn’t work in the gig economy.

Ms. Goen’s experience reflects this downward pressure on pay. She says that her earnings with Instacart have declined by 60% to 70% over the past three years.

Instacart shoppers can make as little as $7 for a grocery run, but Ms. Goen doesn’t accept every run that pops up on her phone. “It’s 110 degrees in Vegas. I’m not starting my car for less than $20,” she says.

“Gig workers have been free falling,” she says. “It’s time for some laws to be put in place.”

The shift in attitudes is perhaps best illustrated by Governor Cuomo’s change of heart. Less than three years before calling the gig economy a “scam” and a “fraud,” he vigorously defended Uber against attempts by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to regulate it.

“Uber is one of these great inventions, startups, of this new economy,” Mr. Cuomo said in July 2015. “It’s offering a great service for people, and it’s giving people jobs. I don’t think the government should be in the business of trying to restrict job growth.”

Mr. Chen says the mood in 2020 is very different. 

“This is a moment when the companies’ ideological spin is starting to run out,” he says. “The bloom is off the rose.”

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify Trebor Scholz's role at The New School. He is an activist scholar. As a public service, all our coronavirus coverage is free. No paywall.

One pandemic, many safety nets

Protests, then a pandemic: Can Hong Kong tourism hang on?

How do you support people during a pandemic? Hong Kong’s approach to propping up the economy has many facets, but a perhaps surprisingly simple centerpiece: $10,000 (Hong Kong; about U.S.$1,300) for every adult resident. Part 4 of “One pandemic, many safety nets: A global series.

Peter
Courtesy of Denny Chan
Hong Kong fishponds are seen with the mainland Chinese city of Shenzhen in the background. The COVID-19 crisis and a year of protests have taken a hit on the financial hub's economy.

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First came Hong Kong’s protests. Then, the coronavirus pandemic. Now, Denny Chan’s small, student-oriented travel business has been devastated by the double whammy, with tourism falling to a trickle.

But with creativity, and a boost from the government’s $120 billion (Hong Kong; U.S.$15.4 billion) stimulus package, he is working to keep his 17-year-old enterprise afloat. For example, travel agents receive a cash incentive for each Hong Kong resident for whom they arrange a so-called green lifestyle tour to the territory’s wetlands, beaches, islands, and country parks, and Mr. Chan is exploring new streams – sometimes literally. 

Hong Kong has long had a laissez-faire market system, in which economic growth took priority over welfare. Yet amid a deepening recession caused by the pandemic and social unrest, the government announced its stimulus package, including a $10,000 cash handout for adult residents – despite its first budget deficit in 15 years.

Now, Mr. Chan is hopeful that the handouts will generate customers, as he introduces Hong Kongers to new green spots, creating work not only for his employees, but also for local coach drivers, restaurants, and tour guides.

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2. Protests, then a pandemic: Can Hong Kong tourism hang on?

Hong Kong travel agent Denny Chan hikes through lush wetlands near the territory’s border with mainland China, snapping photos as he scouts out a possible “green tourism” venue that might attract local residents to his excursions.

Mr. Chan is exploring new streams – both for sightseeing and income – as he works to keep his 17-year-old enterprise and its five employees afloat. His small, student-oriented travel business, Hong Kong Youth Cultural Exchange International Ltd., has been devastated by the double-whammy of Hong Kong’s protest movement followed by coronavirus restrictions.

“All my clients from overseas and mainland China stopped coming” after mass protests erupted in June 2019, he says. Then came coronavirus, and travel came to a standstill.

Visitor arrivals in Hong Kong, which surged in 2018 and early 2019, fell to a trickle of 4,100 in April – a year-on-year drop of almost 100%, as a result of stringent immigration control and quarantine measures in Hong Kong and around the world, according to the Hong Kong Tourism Board. The tourism industry is a major economic pillar in the Asian financial hub of 7 million people, contributing 4% of gross domestic product and employing about 257,000 people in 2017.

But Hong Kong’s government has moved to rescue the embattled industry, catching firms like Mr. Chan’s in a safety net that combines payments to companies, wage subsidies, and green tourism incentives. The industry is also benefitting from a new cash handout of $10,000 (Hong Kong; U.S.$1,290) for all permanent residents, to be distributed beginning in July.

Editor’s note: As a public service, all our coronavirus coverage is free. No paywall.

The rescue is unusual for Hong Kong, which has long had a laissez-faire market system in which economic growth has taken priority over welfare. Yet amid a deepening recession caused by the pandemic and social unrest, in February, the government announced a $120 billion stimulus package. This broke with a pattern of fiscal conservatism, causing the first budget deficit in 15 years. The relief package includes slashed taxes on income and profits, and – the centerpiece – the $10,000 cash handout for all residents who are 18 and older.

Together with Mr. Chan’s resourcefulness, this support has so far allowed him to make ends meet.

Courtesy of Denny Chan
Hong Kong travel agent Denny Chan photographs fish ponds along Hong Kong's border with mainland China, with the Chinese city of Shenzhen in the background. Mr. Chan was scouting out potential locations for 'green tourism' as part of an initiative to generate business during the pandemic.

“I think our business may start again next year, so we still keep our staff at the moment,” says Mr. Chan. Indeed, many Hong Kong employers – even in hard-hit industries such as tourism, food, and retail, where unemployment rose to 10.6% this spring – are taking advantage of government incentives to retain workers.

Overall unemployment in Hong Kong has increased from 5.2% earlier this year to 5.9% in May, the highest in 15 years, according to government data. Still, it is unlikely to reach the 8% high of the 2003 SARS epidemic, says Simon Lee, senior lecturer in the School of Accountancy at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

“Many companies learned the lesson [during SARS]. If they fire staff, it’s hard to get them back,” says Mr. Lee. “So they may ask the employee to take leave without pay, or to work only one or two days a week.”

Mr. Chan has been able to retain his staff, thanks in part to two government lump-sum payments to travel agencies – the first for $80,000 and the second for $20,000-200,000, depending on the size of the firm. And beginning in June, the government began paying 50% of the salaries of each of his employees for six months.

Hong Kong’s $10,000 cash handout to residents also helps his employees, Mr. Chan says.  While less significant for Hong Kong’s middle class – the territory’s median income is $18,000 a month – the payment is badly needed by the more than 1 million people in Hong Kong considered poor in 2018, or 15% of the population, says the senior lecturer, Mr. Lee. He favors a handout of $20,000 or $30,000, to add greater economic stimulus.

Summer solutions

Indeed, Mr. Chan and others working across Hong Kong’s large tourism sector, which includes about 300 hotels, are hopeful the handout will bring more spending by residents. For example, large hotels such as the five-star Hyatt Regency Hong Kong in Sha Tin, located in the vast suburban and rural northern swath of Hong Kong known as the New Territories, are offering “staycations” for families stranded in Hong Kong during the summer holidays.

Overlooking Tolo Harbor and surrounded by mountains, country parks, and hiking and bicycle trails, the Hyatt is offering creative packages such as “suite staycations” for families, says Wilson Lee, the hotel’s general manager.

“Most Hong Kong kids are city kids,” says Mr. Lee. To re-create a camping environment, the hotel is putting up tents inside the rooms, complete with a picnic basket of healthy snacks, so “the children can squeeze into the tent in the suite and enjoy the experience.”

The Hyatt is also preparing to roll out a “summer academy” offering “edutainment” classes ranging from fencing and taekwondo to computer coding and the pear-shaped Chinese lute, or pipa.

The Hyatt must no longer ask employees to take unpaid leave, says Mr. Lee. “Occupancy in every hotel is not high, but we are keeping our people. It’s not just the people working here, but the families they have to look after,” he says. “We have the duty to keep it going.”

For his part, Mr. Chan is also hopeful that the handout will generate customers for his innovative “green” tours, creating work not only for his employees but also for local coach drivers, restaurants, and tour guides.

“We have a subsidy, so we can make the tour price very low,” says Mr. Chan, speaking by phone as he pauses among tall reeds in the marshy wetlands of Ma Tso Lung near the China border.

Travel agents receive a government cash incentive of $200 for each resident for whom they arrange a “green lifestyle” tour to a local “green spot” such as the territory’s wetlands, beaches, outlying islands, and country parks, with a guide, meal, and transportation.

Mr. Chan hopes to arrange 20 bus tours for 50 people each – the maximum number allowed to gather, under COVID-19 restrictions – to max-out the government’s cap on subsidies of 1,000 tours per travel agent. It’s not much, and he’s only promoting the tours by word of mouth. Still, given these extraordinary times, he says, “it’s quite attractive.”

Editor’s note: As a public service, all our coronavirus coverage is free. No paywall.

Jacob Turcotte/Staff

If police on campus have guns, is college more safe?

We look to colleges and universities for their potential to be crucibles of society’s advancement and future leadership. But for today’s big questions around policing and public safety, the answers on campus seem no easier.

Peter

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This week yet another family mourned the anniversary of a Black man’s death at the hands of police. In this case, the man was killed by officers from the local university.

Four years before Jason Washington’s death in 2018, Portland State decided to arm its police – a move that many worried would result in violence against minorities. An active campus group has long called for its security force to disarm. 

Indeed, coalitions of students, faculty members, and neighbors are calling for universities to reverse what many see as a yearslong ramping up of police presence on campuses. These are not new demands. But in what feels like a new national willingness to have a deep conversation about policing, some hope these movements are paving the way for a new vision of public safety.

“When you bring guns onto school campuses and law enforcement are called to disruptions, there is a fear among Black and brown students that they will not survive the interaction with law enforcement,” says the NAACP’s Monique Dixon. “And frankly, that just shouldn’t be a concern among students and their families when they send their children off to school.”

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3. If police on campus have guns, is college more safe?

In April of last year, not long after the Maryland General Assembly gave Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins University the go-ahead to create its own police department, students moved into the main administrative building on campus, Garland Hall, and refused to leave. They demanded the university reverse course, not wanting a private police force at school.

Many faculty members agreed. A group of Black professors had already written a letter to the school’s president, arguing that an increased police presence would not improve student safety and instead create a decidedly more insecure environment for minorities. With students protesting, a wider faculty group circulated a petition opposing the university’s plans, hoping to get community backup. 

But they struggled to get attention. It was a year before the killing of George Floyd and the wave of demonstrations that followed, and, as Professor Renee Johnson, who works in the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, recalls, the faculty “worked so hard to get people to sign this petition a year ago, but they could barely do it.” 

Students, getting frustrated, chained the doors of Garland Hall, essentially turning a sit-in into an occupation. A week later, Baltimore City police came in to arrest them. The university, meanwhile, stayed its course, insisting that an increased, armed police presence on and around campus was the best way to keep students safe.

A lot has changed in a year. 

In the wake of national protests, and with challenges to the university policy growing, Hopkins administrators announced on June 12 that they would suspend development of a private police department so that the school “may benefit from the national re-evaluation of policing in society.” The move came after faculty members circulated that petition again, this time collecting thousands of signatures within days. It also came amid a growing call on campuses across the country to disarm or disband university police departments.

Indeed, from Harvard University to the University of Virginia, from Ohio State University to Columbia University, coalitions of students, faculty members, and neighbors are calling for universities to reverse what many see as a yearslong ramping up of police presence on campuses. These are not new demands. But in what feels like a new era of protests against law enforcement, and a new national willingness to have a deep conversation about policing, these movements are growing, forcing policy changes, and, some hope, paving the way for a new vision of public safety. According to the United States Department of Justice, most universities and colleges in the U.S. now have armed police on campus. 

“I am very pleased with the sustained demonstrations that I am seeing,” says Monique Dixon, head of the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund’s Policing Reform Campaign, which had criticized Hopkins’ private police force plans. “When you bring guns onto school campuses and law enforcement are called to disruptions, there is a fear among Black and brown students that they will not survive the interaction with law enforcement. And frankly, that just shouldn’t be a concern among students and their families when they send their children off to school.”

Hopkins is not alone in shifting positions. In late May, the University of Minnesota announced that it would no longer contract with the Minnesota City Police Department for security at sports games, concerts, and other gatherings. Harvard University earlier last month launched an independent review of its police department after students and others demanded to know why campus police had been dispatched to anti-racism protests in Boston. Yale University announced that it would continue to make changes to its policing policy, part of a reassessment of its department that began last year, when a Yale police officer was involved in the shooting of a Black couple during a traffic stop. 

Pizza deliveries on a first-name basis

Even some police groups – including the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators, or IACLEA – are saying that it is time to reconsider the approach of university-based police.

“There have been a number of campus chiefs and public safety directors out there that have become even more outspoken in the need for law enforcement to take on a different model,” says Josh Bronson, director of training at IACLEA. He says his group is working with organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League and the Divided Community Project, a dispute resolution and mediation project run out of the Ohio State University Moritz College of Law, to develop new police trainings and programs that will help create a healthier environment for all students on campus.  

“We want to be on the forefront of this conversation,” he says. “We want to push for meaningful change.” 

He envisions the sort of student-police relationships that Noel March, director of the Maine Community Policing Institute and a professor at the University of Maine, Augusta, says he encouraged when he was chief of police at Maine’s flagship campus in Orono. There, he said, his officers treated residence halls as their neighborhood beats and were expected to know each student. He said he remembers students calling the police dispatch and asking for officers by name when something was amiss, and officers bringing pizza to the dorms. 

“Our campus police have a rare opportunity to demonstrate and model for our students what the relationship between citizens and police officers should be,” he says.

A focus at HBCUs

Administrators at historically black colleges and universities have been working on this goal for years. In 2016, students, administrators, and law enforcement representatives from HBCUs met at Howard University in Washington, D.C., for a conference on how to bridge the gap between students and campus police departments. They found that many students had negative perceptions of the police and were mistrustful of officers on campus; out of that meeting came recommendations for increased training and communication programs. A number of HBCUs have since focused intensely on the sort of community policing that Mr. March describes. 

At Florida A&M University, for instance, William Hudson Jr., vice president for student affairs, says student government, the police department, and administrators work together on campus safety issues; officers work out at the same health center as students, they are on bicycles and on foot instead of cars, and the police chief gives out his cellphone number – saying students and parents should call if they ever run into a problem. 

“I get a sense of a different relationship,” Dr. Hudson says of his students and police, compared with other universities. “That comes from our police chief, but also from students who feel comfortable. … Do all students see it the same way? No. But I think the majority of our students understand that the police are there to keep us safe.” 

Still, many campus advocates – including many at HBCUs – are skeptical about the idea that better training and relationships will improve the overall problem. The only legitimate way forward, they say, is to disband campus police departments altogether and start over.  

“Safety is framed in all of these different ways,” says Miranda Cunningham, assistant professor of practice in child, youth, and family studies at Portland State University.  

Dr. Cunningham has been involved in a growing effort to protest and then try to reverse the university’s decision in 2014 to arm its police force; a move that many worried would result in violence against minorities. In 2018, a Portland State University police officer shot and killed a Black father of three named Jason Washington, who was trying to break up a bar fight off campus. 

Dr. Cunningham says that the “Disarm PSU Now” movement has been getting more support in recent weeks; it has continued to demand that the university disarm the school police force, create a memorial to Mr. Washington, and redirect police funding to alternatives. Students have pointed to the CAHOOTS program in Eugene, Oregon, which uses the police-fire-ambulance communications system to dispatch teams of medics and counselors to calls about homelessness, substance use, and other problems. 

A feeling of belonging

In Baltimore, many advocates say they hope Johns Hopkins will do more than just delay the new police force. They believe the university must abandon the plan altogether and start a real dialogue about public safety alternatives. Even the best training, explains Lester Spence, a professor of political science and Africana studies at Hopkins, can’t take away the bias and threat implicit for students of color in the policing system.

What happens, he asks, if a white student expresses concern to a police officer about a Black man “acting strangely” in the library, as one of his students witnessed not long ago? Multiple police officers approached and questioned a Black man, who turned out to be a student. There was no arrest, no violent confrontation, but real damage was still done, Dr. Spence says.

“What does that library space now become for that student?” he asks. “That student’s whole purpose is to graduate and become a functioning citizen in the world. And if there is one place that a student is supposed to do that, it’s the library. ... How do you deal with that by training? Do you train [the police] to the point that they don’t respond? What happens then?”

Students and faculty members say that police officers on campus send messages not only to minority students that they don’t belong, but to younger city residents who might venture onto campus.

Dr. Johnson, for instance, regularly works with young city residents in her public health studies.

“They are wonderful young people,” says Dr. Johnson. “But if what they see is getting hassled by a Hopkins police officer, that will just deepen the wound. They’ll never see Hopkins as a place where they can go. We never get to benefit from all these brilliant kids in Baltimore. I don’t want to be on the side of telling them they don’t belong.”

On Independence Day, Black Americans see hope of a larger patriotism

Independence Day stirs a deep love of country. This year, it’s also stirring the hope that this love can more fully embrace the Black American experience.

Peter
Carolyn Kaster/AP
Protesters hold high an American flag as they demonstrate June 5, 2020, near the White House in Washington, over the death of George Floyd. For many Black Americans, patriotism includes a struggle to reconcile love of country with the personal pain of racial prejudice.

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The killing of George Floyd has set off protests and unrest across the United States. But as Independence Day approaches, Micah Johnson says the broad outpouring of support has also done something else. It has, to a small but important degree, reduced the tension many feel being both Black and American.

Dr. Johnson, a mental health expert, has studied the phenomenon he calls a “double consciousness.” It is the struggle to reconcile a love of country with a history of racial prejudice.

There’s a “psychological strain of being Black and also being loyal to your country, loving your country when that love for that country and that idea of patriotism is predicated upon your hurt not existing, or silencing your hurt,” he says.

But the mounting desire of significantly more Americans to be receptive to the Black experience can begin to ease that tension. Bryon Garner, who served in the military and has a brother who is a police officer, says “patriotism means a lot to us in the sense that we do love our country.” Often, it feels being patriotic “means you’re being less Black.”

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4. On Independence Day, Black Americans see hope of a larger patriotism

Bryon Garner and his wife were sitting by the beach in Martha’s Vineyard when a pickup truck filled with white teenagers rolled by, flying an enormous American flag. To the Navy veteran, the display did not evoke feelings of pride; it felt menacing. “It didn’t seem friendly.”

For Mr. Garner, the moment was a reminder of what, for many Black Americans, is an uncomfortably familiar fact: Being patriotic can mean having a double consciousness.

“From the very beginning, there has been Black blood on the battlefields for this nation,” says Mr. Garner, a contract specialist for the Defense Logistics Agency and a Ph.D. student researching what it means to be Black and patriotic in 21st-century America. “Yet when we come home, the country still does not live up to the truest part of its values.”

Every year on Independence Day, Americans of all backgrounds rally around shared ideals, surrounded by star-spangled bunting, fireworks, and flag-themed food and clothing. But for many Black Americans, the symbolism of the flag includes a struggle to reconcile love of country with the personal pain of the nation’s long history of racial prejudice.

This Independence Day, there is a glimmer of what could be, as protests for racial justice draw Americans of all races in the wake of George Floyd’s killing by police. But those cherished ideals also underline the distance that remains for America to genuinely embrace and celebrate the experience of its Black citizens.

There’s a “psychological strain of being Black and also being loyal to your country, loving your country when that love for that country and that idea of patriotism is predicated upon your hurt not existing, or silencing your hurt,” says Micah Johnson, an assistant professor of mental health law and policy at the University of South Florida in Tampa. 

“How, then, do I become a whole person, when I love this country but that country doesn’t always love me back?” asks Dr. Johnson, who regularly trains organizations in anti-racism and wrote a 2017 study, “The Paradox of Black Patriotism: Double Consciousness.”

After the death of Mr. Floyd, there has been a shift, and the world now seems able to “pay attention and learn more about this double consciousness that exists in the Black community,” says Dr. Johnson.

A nation of neighbors

Sociologist and civil rights activist W.E.B. Du Bois first described Black double consciousness in the late 1800s as the duality that comes from “looking at one’s self through the eyes of others.” During the past century, social progress has helped to alleviate the strain between being Black and being patriotic somewhat, but further progress comes down to caring more about Black people as friends and neighbors, says Dr. Johnson.

“People are now more receptive to the Black experience. They are more interested in knowing more about these struggles. They’re invested more. With that, there’s less tension ... between these two identities,” he says.

In many ways, both the American flag and what it represents have been a work in progress – changing as America has changed. During the Civil War, both anti-slavery and pro-slavery coalitions rallied beneath it. In 1963, as part of a boycott against merchants in Jackson, Mississippi, 600 Black schoolchildren carried American flags as symbols of protest before they were arrested. 

The American flag itself has been updated nearly 30 times since the bands of red, white, and blue were stitched together in 1777 – more than any other flag in the world – adding stars as new states were formed.

“It’s meant to be a symbol that grows and changes with us as a nation,” says Michael Green, a vexillologist at Texas A&M University.

Patriotism in higher hopes

For some, the American flag symbolizes the freedom that allows citizens to speak out and provide the impetus for change. Michael Eaborn, a Black author and poet from Spencer, North Carolina, says the flag is a reminder that America has potential. “I love America. I think we can do better, but I’m never going to say I hate being an American, because I won the lottery: I was born in the USA,” he says.

Being patriotic doesn’t mean you have to approve of everything; it “means loving your country enough to want to make a change in it,” he adds. Mr. Eaborn says his patriotism has inspired him to act: He’s running for city council.

For Mr. Garner’s part, his father, brother, and sister all served in the military, as he did. He continues to serve the government as a civilian, and his brother is a police officer. “Service means a lot to us. Patriotism means a lot to us in the sense that we do love our country.”

But there is a need to widen the nation’s view of patriotism, he says. “We have to broaden the notion of patriotism and unhinge it from a white frame of reference.” 

To Mr. Garner, it can feel that being patriotic “means you’re being less Black.”

But it doesn’t have to be that way, Dr. Johnson says.

“The majority of Americans, for the first time in history, are demanding racial justice,” he says. “That changes the national consciousness on what the flag means. So now part of the flag is Black Lives Matter.”

The flag is already becoming a more universal symbol, he adds, and that’s fitting, because “this flag represents our love for this country and our love for [what] this country will eventually become.”

Essay

Beyond ‘40 acres and a mule’: Commentary on reparations

Can America move toward a more just future without paying for past wrongs? Columnist Ken Makin explores the historical context of calls for reparations.

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Kevin Mohatt/Reuters
DonQuenick demands reparations in front of a crowd of concerned citizens who gathered at the steps of Denver City Hall on June 29, 2020.

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George Floyd’s death just over a month ago at the hands of Minneapolis police has upended this country – yielding social unrest, public uprisings, and renewed political urgency. 

That angst has yielded surges of support for the idea that Black lives matter from politicians and corporations. But whether it’s regarding the police or the populace, many Black folks are looking for one thing – real conviction. There is a rising call for policy that reflects the profession of concerns about Black people – and in some cases, a call for Black reparations.

Finding a consensus on Black reparations is challenging. Varying surveys and polls suggest that while Americans may be ready to address grievances against Black people in America, they may not be ready to redress those grievances. It is a discussion that has taken place for more than 100 years, from Union Army Gen. William Sherman in 1865 to Ta-Nehisi Coates today.

As Mr. Coates testified before Congress one year ago, the real question of reparations is “not whether we’ll be tied to the somethings of our past, but whether we are courageous enough to be tied to the whole of them.”

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5. Beyond ‘40 acres and a mule’: Commentary on reparations

George Floyd’s death just over a month ago at the hands of Minneapolis police has upended this country – yielding social unrest, public uprisings, and renewed political urgency. This angst has manifested itself into promises of police reform, the rebuke and removal of racist edifices, and a stunning declaration from corporations – Black Lives Matter.

With that said, there are concerns that the changes and viewpoints expressed by corporations and politicians are performative. “Let’s not turn Black Lives Matter into Black Lives Marketing,” challenged a recent commentary in Black Enterprise. It urged corporations to look beyond public declarations and examine their own diversity and hiring, among other practices. Whether it’s regarding the police or the populace, many Black folks are looking for one thing – real conviction. There is a rising call for policy that reflects the profession of concerns about Black people – and in some cases, a call for Black reparations.

Finding a consensus on Black reparations is challenging. Varying surveys and polls suggest that while Americans may be ready to address grievances against Black people in America, they may not be ready to redress those grievances. It is a discussion that has taken place for more than 100 years. An iconic, albeit, slightly inaccurate phrase accompanies the idea of Black reparations – “40 acres and a mule.” It is a phrase derived from Special Field Order No. 15, a military order issued by Union Army Gen. William Sherman in 1865 that affected the Georgia, South Carolina, and Florida coasts. The first article reads:

The islands from Charleston, south, the abandoned rice fields along the rivers for thirty miles back from the sea, and the country bordering the St. Johns River, Florida, are reserved and set apart for the settlement of the negroes now made free by the acts of war and the proclamation of the President of the United States.

After the second article emphasized military protections and that the “Negro is free,” the designation regarding the “40 acres” was made in the third article:

Whenever three respectable negroes, heads of families, shall desire to settle on land, and shall have selected for that purpose an island or a locality clearly defined, within the limits above designated, the Inspector of Settlements and Plantations will himself, or by such subordinate officer as he may appoint, give them a license to settle such island or district, and afford them such assistance as he can to enable them to establish a peaceable agricultural settlement. The three parties named will subdivide the land, under the supervision of the Inspector, among themselves and such others as may choose to settle near them, so that each family shall have a plot of not more than (40) forty acres of tillable ground, and when it borders on some water channel, with not more than 800 feet water front, in the possession of which land the military authorities will afford them protection, until such time as they can protect themselves, or until Congress shall regulate their title.

As previously expressed, 1865 was a pivotal year in regards to Black liberation. However, as sure as certain promises were made by Sherman, and by extension, then-President Abraham Lincoln, those proclamations were reversed by Lincoln’s successor, Andrew Johnson. The Reconstruction period held a lot of promise for Black Americans, but this country’s failure to uphold its promises were apparent even before the noted political violence of groups such as the Red Shirts in 1876. These failed promises are especially troublesome when juxtaposed with legislation such as the District of Columbia Compensated Emancipation Act. The act, which preceded the Emancipation Proclamation by nine months, set aside $1 million for reparations for slaveholders.

Elijah Nouvelage/Reuters
Sacks labeled #THEBLACKTEAPARTY highlight the economic impact of Black people in the United States during an Atlanta event to mark Juneteenth, June 19, 2020.

Such double standards have created the framework for modern calls for reparations. In 1989, late U.S. Representative John Conyers proposed a bill to create a commission to study and develop reparations proposals. Once again, the year of 1865 was mentioned as a flashpoint:

An act to address the fundamental injustice, cruelty, brutality, and inhumanity of slavery in the United States and the 13 American colonies between 1619 and 1865 and to establish a commission to study and consider a national apology and proposal for reparations for the institution of slavery, its subsequent de jure and de facto racial and economic discrimination against African-Americans, and the impact of these forces on living African-Americans, to make recommendations to the Congress on appropriate remedies, and for other purposes.

The bill was reintroduced to the House last January as H.R. 40 by Texas Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee. Other notable champions of reparations include William “Sandy” Darity, a Black economist at Duke University who has spent the last 30 years studying reparations.

I had the good fortune to interview Dr. Darity and his wife, A. Kirsten Mullen, in the midst of promoting their new book, “From Here to Equality: Reparations for Black Americans in the Twenty-First Century.” It’s a comprehensive book that looks at reparations from not only a financial standpoint, but a historical and sociological one.

David J. Phillip/AP
Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas speaks as family and guests attend the funeral service for George Floyd at The Fountain of Praise church June 9, 2020, in Houston.

Amid an era where we are seeing commentaries about reparations from The New York Times and Forbes magazine, among others, Dr. Darity and Ms. Mullen dare to draw a “thick line from the nation’s origins to the present”:

The case we build in this volume is based on all three tiers or phases of injustice: slavery, American apartheid (Jim Crow), and the combined effects of present-day discrimination and the ongoing deprecation of Black lives. Most advocates of Black reparations have focused exclusively on the injustice of slavery as the basis for redress. ... We submit that the bill of particulars for Black reparations almost must include contemporary, ongoing injustices – injustices resulting in barriers and penalties for the Black descendants of persons enslaved in the United States.

Six years ago this month, “The Case for Reparations” was made in The Atlantic by Ta-Nehisi Coates. It was a message that ascended Mr. Coates as one of the premier intellectuals in the country. His perspective on the issue was so powerful that he was selected to offer testimony at a congressional hearing a year ago. The end of that testimony is as relevant now as it was then:

The typical black family in this country has one-tenth the wealth of the typical white family. Black women die in childbirth at four times the rate of white women. And there is, of course, the shame of this land of the free boasting the largest prison population on the planet, of which the descendants of the enslaved make up the largest share. The matter of reparations is one of making amends and direct redress, but it is also a question of citizenship. In H.R. 40, this body has a chance to both make good on its 2009 apology for enslavement, and reject fair-weather patriotism, to say that this nation is both its credits and debits. That if Thomas Jefferson matters, so does Sally Hemings. That if D-Day matters, so does Black Wall Street. That if Valley Forge matters, so does Fort Pillow. Because the question really is not whether we’ll be tied to the somethings of our past, but whether we are courageous enough to be tied to the whole of them.

Ken Makin is a freelance writer and the host of the “Makin’ A Difference” podcast. You can follow him on Twitter @differencemakin.

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Erasing the color line in churches

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In March, church leaders in the United States were driven from their pulpits by a pandemic. By June, they were driven to the streets to address the country’s racial reckoning. The two crises have brought new urgency to healing deep divisions in the American Christian family, starting with racism.

A big test comes when the pandemic ends and the pews are filled again. That is when white ministers must confront followers with the hard questions of social justice that drew many into the streets. A sustained dialogue between mainly Black and mainly white churches should also begin.

Black ministers have long been weary of needing to tiptoe around questions with white colleagues about the use of Christian theology to condone or ignore social and economic inequality. Among American Protestant Christians, 2 in 5 white adherents say the U.S. has a race problem while 4 out of 5 Black churchgoers say racism is a problem.

The shock waves of racial injustice coursing through societies around the world have opened a new opportunity for Christians to unify in America. That starts with seeing the sacred texts they share as deep resources of healing rather than the basis for division.

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Erasing the color line in churches

In March, church leaders in the United States were driven from their pulpits by a pandemic. By June, they were driven to the streets to address the country’s racial reckoning. The two crises have brought new urgency to healing deep divisions in the American Christian family, starting with racism.

Across the country, clergy of all demographics have joined marches to reform police and bring equity to minorities, especially those disproportionately vulnerable to COVID-19. That solidarity could be more than temporary optics. Many clergy have held video dialogues with their congregations to explore perspectives on racism. That’s a start to an empathy that could transcend intolerance and indifference.

A big test for religious leaders comes when the pandemic ends and the pews are filled again. That is when white ministers must confront followers with the hard questions of social justice that drew many into the streets. A sustained dialogue between mainly Black and mainly white churches should also begin.

Black ministers have long been weary of needing to tiptoe around questions with white colleagues about the use of Christian theology to condone or ignore social and economic inequality. Among American Protestant Christians, 2 in 5 white adherents say the U.S. has a race problem while 4 out of 5 Black churchgoers say racism is a problem, according to poll released in June by the Barna Group, which tracks the role of faith in America, and the Racial Justice and Unity Center. The poll also found 75% of Black Christians say the U.S. has a history of oppressing minorities while only 42% of white Christians agree.

Significantly, 61% of white Christians say racism stems from the beliefs and prejudices of individuals, while 67% of Black Christians say racial discrimination is built into society and its public and private institutions. In the poll’s look at only “active” Christians, twice as many Black respondents say they are motivated to address racial injustice as are white participants. Pastors from just 29% of the Protestant churches surveyed said their churches had actively addressed racism.

The research for the poll was conducted in 2019, six years into the Black Lives Matter era but well before the current moment. Initial polling since the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor shows that public concern about racism, particularly among white people, is rising. The support that President Donald Trump has from many white evangelicals, however, has made Black Christians deeply skeptical of that group’s concerns about racism. Black ministers lament that, from seminaries to the highest councils of their faith, their interpretation of Christian theology is often dismissed.

Christians “are eager to stand around the throne, but very reluctant to sit around the table,” Albert Tate, lead pastor of Fellowship Monrovia in California, said during a Barna podcast last week. “I’ve grown accustomed to being disappointed by the lack of engagement by my white siblings on this issue” of racial reconciliation among Christians.

Speaking on the same podcast, the Rev. Dr. Nicole Martin, executive director of healing and trauma at American Bible Society, expressed frustration that many white Christians are unconvinced that racism is in fact a religious question. Theology, she argues, has gotten in the way. Black and white Christians approach the Scriptures from divergent experiences and interests shaped by America’s troubled racial history.

Yet it is in that very divide that unity and healing are possible. “There are all these little nuances in the way that we think about theology,” she said. “Now is the time to break up some of that ... and let the Bible speak.” The shock waves of racial injustice coursing through societies around the world have opened a new opportunity for Christians to unify in America. That starts with seeing the sacred texts they share as deep resources of healing rather than the basis for division.

A Christian Science Perspective

About this feature

Each weekday, the Monitor includes one clearly labeled religious article offering spiritual insight on contemporary issues, including the news. The publication – in its various forms – is produced for anyone who cares about the progress of the human endeavor around the world and seeks news reported with compassion, intelligence, and an essentially constructive lens. For many, that caring has religious roots. For many, it does not. The Monitor has always embraced both audiences. The Monitor is owned by a church – The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston – whose founder was concerned with both the state of the world and the quality of available news.

No time for boredom

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The cure for boredom? Do more for others.

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1. No time for boredom

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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“I’m so bored!” That might be something one hears in chatting with neighbors or in online discussions during this period of continuing restrictions on everyday activities. Even children might say this as they see limited possibilities for enjoyment of festive Fourth of July celebrations, picnics, and parades.

But what seems like a vacuum of joy or fun activity need not be that at all. Rather, we can rouse ourselves to adopt an unlimited and less self-centered focus – to put on a “the sky is the limit” perspective of divine Love. We can begin by exchanging the phrase “What am I not getting?” for “How can I help?”

Most people would agree with the words of Christ Jesus that Paul relates: “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). When we open our hearts to helping others, we come to discover how natural and joyful that feels. To express love is to express our genuine God-given purpose and spiritual nature as His offspring. The Bible states that we are created in the image and likeness of God, who is divine Love. I have found that the highest, purest love comes from mentally perceiving ourselves and others as Love sees us – as His own treasured children, blessed and precious.

When thought adopts this more spiritual view, it transforms our day-to-day living, brings healing, and edifies and enriches human relationships. Mary Baker Eddy, who founded this newspaper and the Church of Christ, Scientist, writes, speaking of divine Love, “Love inspires, illumines, designates, and leads the way” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 454). As we understand Love as our true source and center of being, the worthless habits of criticism, selfishness, and indifference begin to drop away.

Learning more of Love and our relation to Love, we get great ideas about how to help others – especially those who may be downcast and struggling. Our hearts help our hands get to work, and even the kids can join in and see the blessing and fun this involves.

One fifth-grade girl in the news made a project of writing weekly letters to individuals, including her mail carrier. Making a pie for a neighbor, phoning an elderly person just to chat, or having the kids draw “thank you” posters for grocery workers – all help to brighten the day and lighten the load for all. There is so much love to share, because divine Love is infinite in nature.

Through my study of Christian Science, I have also found God’s love more than equal to the task of physical healing. Spiritually understanding that God sustains each one of us, keeping us safe and complete in His spiritual likeness, never separated from Him, removes fear – and this brings about healing. One woman recently was healed of recurring severe shortness of breath when we prayed together daily for several days. She later shared that other health issues had also disappeared and that she continues to experience a deep peace.

Citywide shutdowns or not, there’s no time like the present to wake up to eternal, infinite Love, to claim it as our true source, and to let its blessings flow outward! As active witnesses to Love’s power and presence among us, how could any day be boring?

I am reminded of the words of a hymn that point to the immeasurable love of God, our Father-Mother:

“Lord, Your mercy reaches higher than the heavens;
Lord, Your faithfulness is wider than the sky.
Lord, Your gracious judgments, deeper than the earth,
Show Your tender care for every creature’s worth.”
(Carol Reed-Jones, “Christian Science Hymnal: Hymns 430-603,” No. 528, © CSBD)

May each of us, of any age or station in life, listen today, right now, for more ways that we can show our love and care for others. Who can calculate the potential for healing and comfort our outreaching consciousness of divine Love will bring?

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The sun also rises

Michael Probst/AP
The sun rises over Frankfurt, Germany, with the buildings of the banking district at right on July 2, 2020.
( The illustrations in today’s Monitor Daily are by Karen Norris. )

A look ahead

Thanks for joining us today. Tomorrow, I’ll look at America’s most political of holidays – the Fourth of July.

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