OPINION: September Cheers & Jeers

There is no joy in writing this September Cheers & Jeers column. Normally, September, the month of back-to-school stories and fall sports coverage, is one of the happier months in the news business. 

But we all know September 2020 has been anything but normal. 

In fact, we’ve had enough bad news to last all year: the devastating milestone of 200,000 U.S. lives lost to a preventable pandemic; a president who admitted, on tape, that he knew just how dangerous COVID-19 really was — telling journalist Bob Woodward in February that is was highly contagious, airborne and far deadlier than the flu — but chose to keep duping the people he was elected to protect; wildfires raging throughout the West; and the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who helped bring equality to generations of women and members of the LGBTQ community. 

Jeers to all of that. 

Of course, during a normal month, that would be more than enough Jeers for one column. But this is September 2020 — a month that also brought us nearly two weeks’ worth of smoke-filled, hazardous air in our own backyards — so the Jeers just keep coming.

Jeers to the fact that COVID-19 cases in Clark County continued to rise this month, increasing from 63.7 cases per 100,000 residents at the end of August to 76.15 cases per 100,000 this week, a number that puts us back into the dangerous end of community transmission and dashes hopes of sending Camas-Washougal children back to school any time soon.

Another couple Jeers are reserved for two prominent, right-wing, Washington politicians — gubernatorial candidate Loren Culp and former state representative Liz Pike — for holding a political rally/fundraiser at Pike’s Camas farm earlier this month that flaunted statewide mandates meant to control the spread of the deadly COVID-19 coronavirus. A video of the event shows attendees tightly packed together at large tables, no face coverings in sight.

To reiterate what public health experts, including those at the Centers for Disease Control, have been saying for months, “large in-person gatherings where it is difficult for individuals to remain spaced at least 6 feet apart” fall into the “highest risk” category when it comes to COVID-19 transmission on a local level. 

It is little wonder we can’t seem to get control of this pandemic, considering how many people think state mandates meant to prevent the spread of COVID-19 are really just a liberal ploy to make their lives tougher (we would argue, by the way, that wearing a mask and avoiding large gatherings for a few months is considerably easier than watching a loved one struggle to catch their breath after contracting this deadly virus). 

As a spokeswoman for Clark County Public Health told our sister paper, The Columbian, earlier this month, adhering to the county’s Phase 2 reopening rules, including wearing face coverings in public indoor and outdoor spaces and avoiding non-household gatherings of more than five people, are “necessary so we can continue to reopen our community and safely return students to their classrooms.”

On a school-related note, our final Jeers is reserved for the Washougal School District and Washougal teachers union. Although we do believe both entities had, as Washougal High School teacher Charlotte Lartey told the Post-Record this week, “intentions in the right place,” the union was wrong when it backtracked on a social media post showing support for students of color and the Black Lives Matter movement.

If school district leaders truly wanted to, as they stated this week, ensure Washougal schools are “free of hate, prejudice and racism,” they should have listened to Lartey, a Black Washougal High School teacher who has been the recipient of local hate, prejudice and racism, and made an effort to educate the community about the true meaning of the BLM movement. 

Instead, the school district and teachers union have simply legitimized random online agitators pushing the false and illogical arguments that BLM, a leaderless social movement that sheds light on systemic racism and advocates for less violence against people of color, is somehow, itself, racist and violent. 

For those who are still confused, systemic racism is the oppression of a racial group that leads to social, economic and political advantages for another group. In this country, white people have always held onto that social, economic and political advantage. Groups like BLM, which seek to end systemic racism against Black people, are not “being racist” against whites, but trying to correct a corrupt system that has, for hundreds of years, benefitted one racial group over others. 

And that brings us to this month’s only set of Cheers, which go out to Lartey and the Washougal students of color who were not afraid to speak publicly about their own experiences with racism inside the Washougal School District, despite the very real threat of online and in-person retaliation from the same people who think it’s OK to send hateful messages to a high school teacher and call fellow students the N-word in school hallways. 

We can only hope the teachers union and school district leaders will show similar acts of bravery and defend Lartey and these students with all their might the next time racism rears its ugly head in Washougal.

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