COVID-19 Pandemic Journal (Vaccine Encore)

Saturday, June 5

Confirmed Global Cases:173,323,917

Confirmed Global Deaths:3,727,528

Confirmed US Cases:34,192,023

Confirmed US Deaths: 612,240

We have made great strides in our quest for normalcy during the six months since I last wrote. I signed off on New Year’s Eve with the trajectory trending upward, and it never slowed for a moment. While residual effects will linger for years, it feels appropriate to say that we have finally emerged victorious over this dastardly virus 12 months after its birth. We have free and relatively simple access to several reliable vaccines. Crowds are returning to public spaces at a marginal rate, masks are transitioning to an optional safety measure for vaccinated people, and hugs are back on the menu. As summer dawns and schools lock up for break, it feels as though this may be the biggest “breakthrough” moment that we have felt throughout this entire pandemic. Safe to say, spirits are up, and not for no good reason. 

Though my last entry was intended to mark my final page, I always felt it would be appropriate to report back with an update after my COVID vaccine. Combined with a few other monumental personal accomplishments, this afterward should make for a nice reflection on this diligent project. 

Vaccine

Though vaccinations have been quite polarizing in this country, a significant percentage of people have been willing to submit to the vaccination process with the hope of returning to pre-pandemic normalcy as soon as possible. There have been a few hiccups along the way – most notably mild to severe temporary side effects and six deaths attributed to blood clots from the Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccination. For the most part, though, vaccine distribution has across the nation been nothing shy of impressive and commendable. By now, if you want a vaccine, you can get one at the rare American price of $0.00 USD. 

Being a teacher, I was first in line to receive the earliest public vaccinations not being distributed to front-line workers. My first dose of the Moderna vaccine came on February 17th. Like many, I experience some pretty significant arm pain similar to a severe Tetnis shot. It was uncomfortable to lift my arm above my head for about a day, and the dull bruising pain lingered for a couple of days. I went to bed early the night of the vaccine, but otherwise a pretty harmless experience.

The second dose? Not so similar. 

I received my second and final dose of the Moderna vaccine on March 18th, which poetically coincided with the anniversary of COVID-19. The second dose floored me. I woke up around 3:00 am Friday with severe chills. I awoke with the strangest body pain and muscle fatigue – like I had spent the entire day prior crashing on water skis or playing tackle football. I drug myself to school where I “taught” my first two classes before taking the rest of the day off, and thank God I did. I crashed into a feverish two-hour nap before waking up to a 101 degree fever that lasted a few hours. It was the most physically miserable I had felt since an encounter with pneumonia over a decade ago. At about 6:00 on Friday night and after a few swigs of the most crucial Gatorade I have ever consumed, the fever broke so suddenly that I felt completely fine over a stretch of a few minutes. Overall not a fun experience, but an interesting bodily experiment with bizarre side effects that subsided as suddenly as they spawned.

I should note (especially for those who have yet to receive the vaccine) that only a small percentage of people experience side effects as severe as the ones that I had the ill-fortune to encounter. Most vaccine symptoms have ranged from a mild headache to slight fatigue to no side effects at all. I suppose in some way I brought these severe symptoms upon myself. Had I not experienced them, then I guess there wouldn’t have been much to write about. 

It will take a long time (likely in the range of years to eternity) for enough of the population to submit to vaccinations in order to eradicate this virus entirely through herd immunity. However, I find our current trajectory to be quite positive, even more so than my infinitely optimistic nature would have predicted six months ago during my previous entry. As you can hopefully deduce, things are looking up around here, and they will hopefully continue to do so just as they will throughout the rest of the news in this journal encore. 

School/Sports

Before writing this entry, I reread my previous pages and couldn’t believe how badly my sour predictions had aged. I noted that while the hybrid schooling system worked well enough to finish the year in that format, I never expected any contact sports to resume before summer. To the contrary, most schools converted back to full in-person learning following spring break, giving teachers and students over two months of classroom time in a more familiar and traditional environment. I was able to experience the pleasure of teaching to a full, buzzing classroom of rambunctious on-site learners for the first time in my professional teaching career. Most days, as I often told my freshmen, I didn’t know what I wanted to do more – jump out the window or throw them out of it. Jokes aside, I truly could not have loved and enjoyed the craft of the teaching profession more than I did in those last two months of the school year. I would like to loft into the ether my limitless appreciation for my wonderful students and courageous administrators, all of whom worked so hard to make this past school year a productive and meaningful experience for all parties involved. I could not have been more impressed with the inspiring school-wide tenacity on display in every hallway, at every desk, and around every corner of the building. I think in some ways this pandemic has had a distinct knack for bringing people together even closer than we had been before. 

Additionally, we played out a “full” sports season for every high school sport, including football, basketball, baseball, track, hockey, wrestling, volleyball, and so on. All athletes wore masks while actively participating in practice and in games. The seasons were mostly short – 6 games for our football season and 8 games for our basketball season, each with no playoffs or any type of postseason mostly due to time constraints involved with fitting 3 sports seasons into the spring. There were bumps and bruises along the way, with strict quarantine rules still in effect for any mild (even improbable) exposure to an athlete who tested positive for COVID-19. Several sports teams, including our own, suffered at the hands of multiple team-wide two-week quarantines, yet we were thankful for the opportunity to play, bond, and persevere together. We coaches like to brag about how much sports teach us about life. This year, more than ever, we learned a hell of a lot about grit, gratitude, and a hyper-appreciation for the person standing next to you. I’m so proud of the tremendous young men that I got to experience this with. 

Wedding

Words simply escape my fingers when trying to type a description of this surreal night. Though Alex and I had already been married for a year, our “vow renewal” and wedding reception on our one-year anniversary was a night to remember for a lifetime for anyone who attended. The venue was beautiful, our caterers were flawless, our photographer was as professional as they come, and our love for one another as passionate as it had ever been. The entire evening had a relaxed and loose aura about it, like breathing the words “we made it” into physical existence. The guest capacity was lifted from 50 to 70 in the final weeks of preparation, which truly made a world of difference to us. Our friends and family showed up in the most emphatic way possible, and as our brother and friend, Corp, says, they might needed to make some repairs to the dance floor after we got through with it. We lifted, Paulie, to “Shout,” a tradition born at our initial backyard wedding. Alex stood on a table and played an inflatable guitar to You Shook Me All Night Long, we did “the move” dubbed by Dirty Dancing, and I cried as I looked around at the circle of all our loving and supportive friends and family members as Piano Man played the final note of the evening. Even while writing this, I restrain watery eyes just thinking about the amount of unconditional compassion and empathy we received in this trying year of love, marriage, and wedding(s). 

As I reflect on our unusual wedding experience, I can’t help but feel hesitantly grateful for the opportunity to experience everything this past year had to offer with my lovely wife and family. We had the chance to host two incredible weddings, one with our 15 closest family and friends and another with all of our extended loved ones. The first week of marriage prompted us with a greater test than some spouses are forced to experience in their lifetime, and we battled through it with a poise, grace, patience, and confidence that I will full-heartedly take with me to my grave. I couldn’t be more proud of my wife, myself, my family, and my marriage as we eclipse the anniversary of the hardest year economically but the easiest romantically. I love you to pieces, Al. You are simply the best. 

House

Though it was the furthest thing from a relaxed and enjoyable experience, Al and I were persistent, cautious, stubborn, and lucky enough to land our absolute dream home in Saint Charles, IL. To say it was a “seller’s market” would be a gross understatement. Most houses sold in 24-72 hours, and almost all went $10,000 – $20,000 over an already inflated asking price. It took 16 tours and 4 offers (not bad, comparatively) for us to receive an acceptance on a beautiful two-story home complete with a finished basement and a luscious backyard filled with plants, flowers, greenery, and landscaping. Today marks one month living in our first house together. Some days it still feels like we’re renting a vacation home, while others feel as though we have spent a lifetime together under that roof. 

We hosted an all-time housewarming party on Memorial Day weekend with over 15 of our closest friends visiting for good food, many drinks, yard games, and lots of music. Each and every one of them offered a sincere and familiar compliment. “We absolutely love your house.” I told them all the same thing. “We love it, too.” 

Honeymoon

Here is the fun part where I get to tell you that I am composing this writing from the clouds. Currently, I am sitting in seating 31D on a Boeing 737 en route to Phoenix, AZ where we will board our connecting flight to tropical Lihue, Hawaii. Alex and I are so undeniably lucky and blessed to be offered accommodations to make a dreamlike two-week Hawaiian honeymoon a realistic possibility. We’ll be staying on the scenic island of Kauai for one full week before heading to a vacation village on the Big Island for another full week. Excursions include surf lessons, night snorkeling with the manta rays, a sunset catamaran steak and lobster cruise, and of course, a luau. We were too excited to keep it all to ourselves, so we even invited my brother, Blake, and his wife, Blayne, along with us to enjoy what should be the most memorable vacation of our lives! We know that “Ohana” means family, and family means no one gets left behind! 

I hope to journal and photograph the trip to share with loved ones and perhaps compose another artifact not dissimilar from this one to look back on from time to time. However, those pages will be stored in another place as this COVID Journal Encore does likely contain the project’s final keystroke. I will return to this journal if another COVID-related topic seems pressing – when the third arms start to grow or the brainwashing microchips kick in, perhaps. But my hope is that the final curtain will fall on this journal with the positive sign-off that things are looking up, and that is all that will need to be said as we continue progressing forward, appreciating all that we’ve come to learn, love, and appreciate over this treacherous, dramatic, memorable 12 months. 

Thank you for joining me on this journey, and cheers to happier days ahead! Aloha!

Brandon Hillary

June 5, 2021

From 36,000 ft. in the air 

This is Not “Political”

We all saw what happened at the Capitol building yesterday, so we won’t spend too much time hashing out the details there. The (impeached) President of the United States planned and held a rally a short distance from the Capitol building on the afternoon when the electoral votes were scheduled to be counted by Congress. This rally served as a demagogic breeding ground for a premeditated attack on our nation’s sacred institution. Trump incited a violet mob of known white supremacists from all across our nation to march down to the Capitol building, where they ransacked that building like medieval savages. It was an unmistakable (and temporarily successful) attempt at anarchy, sedition, and a coup. And it was dealt with in stark deferential tolerance in comparison to the mass protests that we saw in the explosion of Black Lives Matter outcries last summer, a haunting realization which was impossible not to notice during the unfolding of yesterday’s events.

Make no mistake – what happened at the Capitol was historically significant and inexcusably wrong; do not entertain anyone who tries to convince you of anything that does not resemble this objective reality. This kind of deterrence is exactly what allowed domestic terrorism to enter our chambers and wave confederate flags in our hallways. This was not just an attack on our Congress members – it was an attack on our democratic nation, one that was planned, armed, violent, insidious, and presidentially-incited.

Your eyes do not deceive you. Our president and his cult of followers should be considered at best delusional and at worst complicit in an act of complete anarchy against the democracy of our nation. Any support or attempted rationale for these acts of violence committed against our country are not “conservative” – they’re treasonous.

And don’t tell me it’s “political” to say so.

Attempted Coup at U.S. Capitol Proves This Is United States of QAnon -  Rolling Stone

We need to start differentiating between politics and objective reality. The failure to do so has gotten us this far. Trumpism was birthed on divisive agendas that serve no purpose other than to use silence and shame to filter the good people out of the mainstream while his fanatics rose up through the utilization of violence and fearmongering. The openly deceitful rhetoric that we have experienced for this entire presidency has allowed our nation to spiral wildly and unquestionably out of control, and the phrase “being political” has served as a weapon in the armory that has been laying siege to our nation since far before yesterday’s attack.

As a high school teacher, I comply that publishing social justice writing on social media will always come with a baked in risk of consequences due to the stigma that teachers should remain bipartisan and try not to be too “political.” The argument is that discussions about politics, social justice, and issues of government can have no unbiased seat in the classroom, therefore they should be avoided entirely, a model which only fosters students into civically uninformed citizens in their years leading up to the premiere of their American right to vote. But if attempting to inspire friends, family, and students with pride and nationalism for a better society is a “political” act, then I suppose I am indeed a very political person.

The phrase “being political” has evolved from anything to do with politics to anything to do with just about anything. “Being too political” is nothing but a device to enact censorship amongst people trying to make sense of these chaotic agendas. I would urge everyone who reads this not to allow yourself to be silenced by this word or phrase in your social, digital, and academic spheres because your voice is powerful, it is important, and it matters. It is time we put a stop to the tolerance of this hateful rhetoric and activity that has been enabled throughout this country for years, one that has been carefully sowed and nurtured by the silence of too many decent American trying to avoid being political in public spaces. It is time that we acknowledge the rampant support for white supremacy and anarchy in this country. It is no longer an option to ignore the call condemn and correct the language and behaviors that led up to yesterday’s attack.

We all have a responsibility to be “political” now.

“Wake up, people – we are living in a faux Democracy.”

– COVID-19 Pandemic Journal entry, Saturday, April 11, 2020

COVID-19 Pandemic Journal

For my grandmother, Kathy Hillary, who has always loved my writing and encouraged me to journal this experience so that my children and grandchildren might someday read it. 

For my father-in-law, Paul Voltz, who encouraged me to write to help combat my difficulty sleeping. 

And for my wife, Alexandra Hillary, without whom I would not be rational enough to produce coherent writing in the first place. 

New Year’s Eve, 2020

Confirmed Global Cases: 83,212,912

Confirmed Global Deaths: 1,815,342

Confirmed US Cases: 20,218,984

Confirmed US Deaths: 350,798

A quick introduction…

In my last entry, I signed off with the hope that I would write again soon. Almost four months later, it turns out that wasn’t the case. This fall semester was a busy one for me, and, if we’re being honest, I fell a little out of love with writing this journal. Recently, I have been enjoying the pursuits of other passions like movies, teaching, reading, writing, and a little bit of limited coaching. Obviously there has been a lot that has happened in the last four months, and I regret that I did not get to document it all in real time. Still, I’ll do my best to recap the time since I last wrote a journal entry – both in terms of the progression of COVID-19 as well as some personal nuggets, which I’ve tended to sprinkle in throughout this journal series.

We didn’t play high school sports… 

So far, all high school athletics in Illinois have been “postponed” to the spring semester (“postponed” or “on hold” have been the common vernacular used in place of “canceled indefinitely”). The high school football season is now scheduled to be played starting February 15th, and the high school basketball season was supposed to start… a while ago. Unfortunately, my confidence is heavily waning in my optimism for any contact sport season to succeed this year at the high school level, especially when so many schools are still opting for a full-remote or limited hybrid format. I’ve come to terms with it by now. It will be the first year that I haven’t coached in a decade (since my first year out of high school) so it is odd having so much time to be reallotted this year. Still, I have come to enjoy my free time spent with my wife and pursuing a deeper investment in academics, a field which is becoming even more enjoyable than athletics during these unique times.

I feel it is worth noting that, while I empathize and even support the decision by Illinois’ Governor Pritzker to restrain all contact sports in the state, many other states (especially in the midwest) completed a contact sports season with little word of breakouts or extensive difficulties. The NBA restarted using what has come to be known as a “bubble” format (strict isolation and daily testing), and the LA Lakers won the championship. The MLB and NHL finished their postseasons, NFL playoffs start next week, and all major college football teams secured either a full or limited season complete with upcoming bowl games at the start of the new year. Overall, the return of sports should be considered a raging success, with very few significant issues happening amongst teams across all major and minor sporting organizations. It will be a very, very long time before we see stadiums packed with dozens of thousands of fans for sports, concerts, and other major events, but it has certainly been inspiring to see high caliber sporting events broadcasted consistently throughout the back half of 2020 – something the sports fans of the world definitely needed to satiate their sense of normalcy. 

The hybrid schooling model works…

I spent the entire semester in my first year of teaching using the hybrid learning model. This means that about half of my students were in class with me every day, while the other half tuned in to a live stream that I set up during every class period. It was a royal pain in the ass at times, but it also worked. We wore masks, took extreme sanitary precautions, and overall, had a really nice semester with lots of productive work accomplished. I feel very fortunate to have taught at a school that was bold enough to take on the enormous project of hybrid learning; I feel it paid off for both the students and the faculty. 

I know and understand that it is not a universally held opinion, but I am of firm belief that we can accomplish in-person learning and other necessary daily functions if precautions are taken and followed diligently. It is frivolous to discuss in detail the health risks and contagious processes of this virus (if you don’t know by now, you’re probably not reading this anyway), so I feel like we are past having the “scientific” discussion by now. But I think it is fair to plainly state below three of the obvious pieces of information that we have collected this year. 

We are figuring out how to deal with COVID-19… 

  1. Masks work pretty well. In general, they provide healthier interactions with other people. We aren’t spitting on each other’s faces. We don’t breathe other people’s mucus and saliva as easily. Many people, including myself, have gained a more intricate understanding of just how unsanitary we were living before these pandemic times. While we will start making major strides toward defeating this virus soon, I still believe that masks will be required (or at least highly recommended) in public spaces for at least 2+ years. Mask-wearing combined with increased sanitary precautions such as vigorous hand-washing and concerted social distancing have all vastly reduced the quantity and severity of non-COVID illnesses that I have suffered this year. It has genuinely been one of the healthiest years of my life, and I don’t attribute that to coincidence considering all of the health conservation measures that have simply become an integral part of our daily lives. If we wear masks, distance when possible, and sanitize our hands and frequently touched objects consistently, we can accomplish almost any collective activity with truly minimal risks. 
  2. We found a vaccine. What started as a skeptical December resolution to this horrid 2020 is snowballing into massive optimism across the globe. Pfizer vaccines are currently going out to front line workers, politicians, and, of course, the occasional millionaire. The immunization requires an initial injection followed by a booster shot ~28 days afterward. The treatment takes 1-2 months to become active, but the belief is that this procedure creates an immunity to COVID-19 – though the length of immunization will likely be solved experimentally. As you can probably imagine, there is going to be skepticism for now, but it has so far proven to be harmless, efficient, and accessible, which is a monumental victory as the curtain falls on 2020. Let’s hope COVID vaccines can be mass produced and distributed affordably in early 2021. I genuinely feel like this will increase our confidence in resuming more normal functions in the first half of the new year. 
  3. Everyone is starting to understand that this is going to be a life-changing event rather than a year-changing one. 2020 sucked. Yet somehow, as horrible as these events were, we are recouping and learning how to “move on” the best we can. Formerly distant interactions have been replaced with comfortable, pleasant greetings. Fearful thoughts have been replaced with hope. Hundreds of millions of people have contracted COVID-19 and survived (many with no major symptoms or any symptoms at all). Our progress feels abysmally tedious, and not without tremendous sacrifice, but here I am, still writing this tedious journal, about this tedious topic nine months later. And here you are, still reading it. 

Joe Biden was elected to be the next president of the United States…

After four of the most divisive years in political history, Donald Trump has been defeated in the 2020 Presidential Election. The election was an absolute circus to put it lightly. The first presidential debate has and will continue to be mocked as the most egregious, unproductive discussion in political history. The next debate was canceled due to COVID concerns, and people were more interested in a fly on Vice President Pence’s head than they were in the third and final presidential debate. The coronavirus outbreak caused mail in voting to be rampant this election, with some states fumbling the influx of this method more than others. State voting swung massively in either direction throughout the volatile 5 days that it took before the race was called. Now, with a potentially efficient vaccine in hand, Biden is scheduled to be sworn into office on January 20th, 2021. The national response to coronavirus should and will be the first big ticket item on his agenda, while future First Lady Jill Biden is expected to focus her efforts on education, a field in which she holds a doctoral degree and has spent her entire career excelling in. Best of luck to these two in taking the highest national leadership role at a time when the nation is at immense universal unrest. Try not to muck it up too badly, Joe. 

We’re getting a second stimulus check…

After a complicated, delayed, and isolated $1,200 stimulus check was mailed to every adult in the country over the summer, a second $600 stimulus check is scheduled to be sent at the start of the new year. It is a little comical, and even insulting if you allow it to be, but I suppose $600 is still $600. For many, though, this combined $1,800 deposit does not even approach the financial, emotional, and physical hardships that they have had to endure for these past nine months. Big corporations and airlines have been bailed out with massive federal funding, while small businesses have failed across the country (especially restaurants and bars due to restricted indoor dining). Student loan payments have been frozen, however, and many landlords are not evicting due to failure to make rent. Giving citizens free money isn’t exactly where our political landscape falls at the moment, but there sure were a lot of people who needed a little help this year. I feel fortunate to have maintained (even improved) my financial stability and retain a job that I can work in person. But I have frequently wondered what facing this pandemic would have been like if I had been laid off or furloughed at the start of the crisis. My sympathies and best wishes go out to all of those who struggled mightily to get through this challenging year, especially those that suffered health and/or financial burdens as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Goodbye… for now?

The nine months that I have spent crafting this COVID-19 Journal have exceeded my expectations for the original project as the collective document breaches its 50th page. My three original endeavors have been listed at the top of this document for every entry:

  1. To share my writing with my loved ones, especially my grandmother, Kathy Hillary, who has been arguably the most passionate life-long fan of my writing, dating back to my bad poems and school projects early in my academic career. I would like to express sincere love and gratitude to all of my friends, family, acquaintances, and strangers for reading and sharing each and every one of these journal entries. I hope that they brought you occasional comfort and pleasure during a time when happiness was worth more than gold. 
  2. To combat my once frequent insomnia, which has since faded almost entirely. 
  3. To make my wife proud. But I know that even if this journal had failed entirely, she would still be proud of me for trying. I love you, Al. May I always be smothered in your constant love, support, and admiration in everything that I do. It will never go unappreciated. 

I suppose the final motivation for writing this journal has been to produce an artifact that my future children and loved ones can read for some real-time insight into the historical year of 2020, and at this point I feel like I have accomplished that. With the year coming to a close and a seemingly trustworthy vaccine on the horizon, it feels like an appropriate opportunity to walk away from this project on good terms rather than sputtering out a few more unfocused entries. Part of me will miss writing this journal, but I’m hoping that this last entry helps transform it from an unfinished project to a finalized, satisfactory product. Perhaps I’ll start another series or focus more on academic writing, or maybe there will be a COVID-19 Journal Encore later in 2021. But even if this is the last major writing artifact that I create, I will always be damn proud of it. 

A year’s end, a Polish Christmas tradition, and a final word…

My wife’s lovely family practices a heartwarming annual Polish Christmas tradition called oplatki. Each year, we gather in one room to share offerings of a Christmas wafer signifying our wishes for peace and prosperity to all who receive the oplatki. We did an oplatki toast at our Christmas gathering this year since physical sharing of the food was ill-advised. So, this year, I would like to share my oplatki offerings with all of you who chose to dedicate some of your valuable free time to reading my writing. May your new year be blessed with peace, love, and happiness in all of your endeavors, wherever they may lead you. 

Brandon Hillary

New Year’s Eve, 2020

Final Entry

COVID-19 Pandemic Journal

Friday, August 7

Confirmed Global Cases: 19,385.292

Confirmed Global Deaths: 720,034

Confirmed US Cases: 5,048,412

Confirmed US Deaths: 163,090

It has been over a month since my last entry. I suppose in some subconscious way, this period of silence resembles frustration over the lack of progression we have made in the last month as we approach a new school year. Despite all of the heavily regulated safety precautions put in place, Illinois continues to struggle to maintain appropriate numbers that would inspire confidence in returning students to in-person learning later this month. Currently, IL has recorded 186,471 cases, with 11,386 cases being recorded in the last 7 days. Though the Midwest region of the United States has displayed a respectable approach to COVID regulation, we are starting to see a decline in progress as we continue to push the envelope on how much we can possibly get away with “safely.” 

There is also an increasing curiosity as to the accuracy of our numbers. In the fluid, censored, and chaotic mess we have found ourselves in, it is easy to wonder how reliable information is. Are major agencies cooperating with one another? Can you get tested at two different locations and record two positive tests? How many “symptomatic” positives are registered without recording a positive test? How my asymptomatic carriers have not registered as having a recorded experience with COVID-19? What information do we now know that we haven’t known for a long time already? You could see how easy it would be to continue imagining questions such as these which are easy to ponder and important to answer.

During many of my entries I have attempted to outline the collective mood and emotions felt by the American public since the beginning of this pandemic. Over the last five months we have ventured through fear, inspiration, impatience, and thankfulness in our route through quarantine, working from home, and adjusting to wearing masks, the closing of public spaces, and other new regulations. I think it would be fair to describe society’s current mood as frustrated, annoyed, and increasingly pessimistic toward our ability to reintegrate without breakouts of the virus inevitably flaring up. Our lifestyles have been irreversibly maimed by the permanent stain that COVID-19 has brought us, and it is starting to become clear that this virus will be impacting our lives for years to come, much to the contrary of our former expectation that we would be significantly inconvenienced for awhile before returning to normal daily activities as much as possible by the end of the summer. 

As well as summarizing public outlook on the virus, I have also been using this journal as a space to list my personal opinion on the necessary procedures for engaging with the defeat of the pandemic. As much as I’m trying to resist it, I’m starting to become convinced that there are only three ways out of the dark and jagged maze that we are holding hands and stumbling through together:

  1. The obvious – a reliable, available, and affordable vaccine.
  2. Attempt to conduct the greatest philanthropic experiment in recorded history by encouraging or requiring a strict 2-3 week lockdown across the entire country, allowing citizens to leave their homes only for supplies and emergencies. This, of course, would never be achievable; we have our founding fathers and the Constitution to thank for that. American culture is too proud of its freedoms, its independence, and its rights to respond positively to these virtues being stripped involuntarily. In the simplest words, people just wouldn’t do it. 
  3. Live with it. The keys almost feel cold as I write this, but it feels like a realistically probable outcome down the road. There is a chance that we could be waiting longer than the original 12-18 expected months that it would take to deliver a vaccine, and we will inevitably approach a time when our economy and societal structures can no longer support the weight of the pandemic’s restrictions. Business survival rate, unemployment, and the functionality of our monetary system are less than a handful of severely implicated issues that eventually will deliver us face-to-face with utter societal collapse if we do not successfully address our nation-wide positivity rate of COVID-19. I don’t express this point to be daunting or dramatic; America has certainly proven by now that we can take a punch on the cheek. But considering the classic “straw that broke the camel’s back” idiom seems appropriate here. 

I think it would be fair to assume that the question of how we will be returning to school has been the most divisive and widespread conversation throughout the country in recent weeks. There is no doubt that we had originally hoped that August 2020 would look a lot less like March-May, with students returning to school as they do every year, perhaps exercising a little more hand-washing and caution this time around. I can’t express how far off we were. Most schools in the Chicago suburb area (admittedly I can’t speak for procedures in central and southern IL at the moment) initially had planned to return to school under a “hybrid” setting, with students participating in-person 2-3 days per week and remotely 2-3 days per week, which continues to persevere as my school’s Returning to Learning plan. However, many (even most) schools in the area have gotten cold feet, rescinding their plans in favor of remote learning 5 days per week indefinitely. 

It’s hard to blame districts that make the decision to sacrifice potential student learning accessibility for the health and safety of the faculty, staff, and students themselves. I have always considered pursuing school administration, but this year’s events have inspired quite the lack of envy for administrators who have to make difficult, nay, impossible decisions regarding the mental and physical health of thousands in their communities. As we enter the annual month marking the new school year, it makes my stomach turn to consider the heartbreaking and infuriating tragedies that probability suggests will unfold. I’m feeling guilty about the weight of this entry already, so for now we will leave those words off the page and hope for the best. 

All contact fall high school sports in Illinois have been rescheduled to February 15, 2021.  I’m sure this won’t be new information for my contemporary readers, but it is important to include if my goal remains to record and later reproduce the circumstances that this insufferable year has had to offer. In all logistical reality, rescheduling contact sports was an easy decision and one we all expected, even if we couldn’t look it in the eye. I never experienced full confidence and optimism from any coach, administrator, or myself regarding the probability of a successful season throughout this last month of socially distanced summer camps. It is interesting to note, however, that most of our neighboring states are planning to start the fall season as scheduled. The conversation regarding the intentions, morality, and integrity of this difficult decision is an easy one to address in an instant. School districts, the IHSA, and the governor want to keep people safe, and at the end of the day that is hard to argue against. So instead, I’d rather focus on two persistent related thoughts I’ve had recently.

The first is how badly high school spring sports have been cheated. After being the only sport to lose a full season already, their 2021 season is being condensed into six short weeks in order to accommodate a semester that includes winter, fall, and spring sports all being played. This means that five months ago an 11th grade high school baseball player was preparing for his junior season without knowing that he would only play at maximum six weeks of his remaining career. If all goes according to plan, uncharacteristic in these ever-changing times, fall and winter sports will have retained ~80% of their last two seasons, while spring sports will relish in only ~20% of their’s. The only way to describe how spring sport athletes, coaches, and fans have felt recently is identical to the way that I describe how I passed AP Physics: cheated. 

I have had another thought that I have not been able to shake since the IHSA’s dismissal of a timely restart, and it pairs well with my previous list, like red wine and a good steak: How, in any capacity, can we optimistically expect to participate in contact sports barring the discovery and application of a reliable vaccine or the unlikely dramatic decrease in positive tests? The logistics simply refuse to align, like magnets pointed in the wrong direction. If our COVID exposure remains moderate to severe, there will irrefutably be massive outbreaks within our high school students and athletes. And if that isn’t something that we’re cautiously willing to accept and push through, then the vicious circle begins. 

We can’t play if athletes have COVID → We can’t reduce the exposure to COVID → Athletes will contract and spread COVID → We can’t play if athletes have COVID 

In times like these I could fill pages with troubling news, but I have to wrap it up with the pessimism (see: realism) in order to finish with some lighter updates in an attempt to make this entry somewhat digestible.

In The Energy Clock, author Molly Fletcher encourages her readers to record and highlight every daily activity in their calendars with a color coordinated system. Work, meetings, obligations, and other energy vampires should be highlighted in red, while events that simply soak up time are highlighted in yellow, and activities that boost your energy receive a green highlight. Personally, I sincerely enjoyed the month of July, with almost all of my calendar highlighted in green. I spent a lot of time reintegrating with my favorite activities, including coaching, golfing, preparing to teach, and of course, spending lots of time with my dog and beautiful wife. We celebrated my brother, Blake’s, bachelor party in Madison, Wisconsin, took our annual vacation to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and enjoyed a sensational wedding between Blake and Blayne last weekend (congratulations you two!). Their ceremony was fantastic, the reception was out of control, and we made the type of memories that deserve to last a lifetime. Although I am anxious, speculative, and a little worried about returning to school this month, I must admit I am as refreshed and prepared as any summer has ever made me. 

More than anything right now, I believe children and young adults in our country crave guidance, mentorship, reassurance, and accessibility to their social spheres. There isn’t any other profession I would rather be a part of right now than the one that is about to deliver so many opportunities to make a positive impact on the lives of our American youth. I hope that in some small way I can offer some desperately desired normalcy to students’ daily lives as we begin school. Without them even knowing it, they will be offering me the same kindness, likely without ever fully realizing how much of an influence their simple presence has on my mood, energy, and livelihood. 

I’ll try to write again before school starts. I’m sure there will be an extensive number of thoughts and events to record as we approach a critical period in time that some future historian will craft their entire career around studying. 

Hope you’re all doing well, staying safe, and enjoying your summer. All’s well on our end.

Brandon

August 7

COVID-19 Pandemic Journal

Thursday, July 2

Confirmed Global Cases: 10,860,913

Confirmed Global Deaths: 520,173

Confirmed US Cases: 2,787,038

Confirmed US Deaths: 130,906; May they rest peacefully

With the strange direction we have been progressing/regressing toward, it feels neglectful not to record our current national state as we head into July. In two days, our nation will come together on a sunny Saturday to celebrate the anniversary of the independence of our nation. This year, more than any other year since July 4, 1776, we will be commemorating this national holiday “independently.” Most (all?) fireworks, parades, and public celebrations have been cancelled. While some businesses have opened and done quite well in attracting loyal consumers back in, many Americans will choose to celebrate their independence privately, with their loved ones, as they have for the past 109 days. 

It has not gotten any easier to mourn all of the events and celebrations that were harmed in the making of this pandemic, but I do feel an immense amount of gratitude that I have had no loved ones critically suffer or perish at the hands of the virus. I offer my insurmountable sympathies to those who have. What a devastating and uncontrollable initial sixth months of 2020 it has been for us all. As we head into the “back-9,” it feels as though our only option is to hold on tight and close our eyes as we approach a new school year, the return of professional sports, nation-wide returns to work, and the damning consequences of this virus on our economy, housing market, monetary system, poverty level, and unemployment rate. 

Although it may not always feel like it, I maintain that Americans have stayed unwaveringly calm, intentive, and semi-patient with the coronavirus thus far. We’ve been doing this thing for a while now and still have yet to meltdown completely. That being said, it feels as though our execution of COVID eradication has been completely botched as our nation-wide positive tests soar to the highest they have been since the virus locked us away 3.5 months ago. While it may be comforting to place blame, it is hard to pin responsibility on any one group of influencers. As an independent and collaborative nation, we have a collective responsibility to exercise teamwork and cooperation in our handling of the most unprecedented event of the 21st century.

It is the responsibility of elected politicians to make decisions that positively influence our progression toward controlling and overcoming the outbreak of COVID-19. 

It is the responsibility of American citizens to comply and exercise the appropriate amount of caution required to overcome the outbreak of COVID-19. 

I fear to report that, despite concerted efforts from members of both groups, each party failed in its contributions toward defeating the coronavirus pandemic quickly and effectively. Politicians and public health officials were at times unclear and blatantly corrupt. Their intentions and desires were muddled and often incomprehensible. The same people who told us to wear masks, publicly refused to wear masks. So, in response, we also stopped wearing masks. We started shaking hands again. As soon as the bars opened, we bought a round, because we were told it was safe to do so. Even as I take a break to write this, my social media feeds are littered with posts resisting the wearing of masks, such as the one I read now:

“I see a whole lot of this ‘People who don’t wear masks are selfish and everyone else in danger.’ Do you know what’s selfish? Passing off responsibility for YOUR health to everyone else around you. YOUR health is YOUR responsibility. MY health is MINE. If YOU want to wear a mask, bleach everything around you, wear gloves, and never touch anyone or anything, that’s up to you. I do not and cannot accept that life.” 

Reading posts like these, you would think we’re being asked to wear muzzles, not masks. 

As it turns out, our premature reopening caused a spike in cases across the nation, with early-birds like Arizona and Florida becoming the newest epicenters. Florida continues to shatter previous records in positive tests, with the most recent 24-hour period producing over 10,000 recorded cases. Arizona reached a pandemic-high 24% positivity rate among all tests administered in the last week. Even though it is obvious that bars and indoor dining are massive contributors to the rise in cases, it is proving hard for citizens to resist such an integral part of American social culture. It is important that we indulge in moderation, however, to avoid the regression of these allowances like in states such as Florida, Arizona, Colorado, Michigan, and California which have called for the reclosing of bars and indoor dining. 

To “bait-and-switch” means to offer an opportunity that seems appealing only to substitute it with an inferior deal after its implementation. This bait-and-switch as a result of reintegrating too early could prove to be really harmful in the back half of 2020. It has been hard enough not having access to integral aspects of our daily lives, but to allow us to reconnect with them only to cut them back down will be gut-wrenching. For example: 

  • If students are sent back to school, then back into e-Learning, how motivated will they be to invest in their studies? 
  • If employees are sent back to work, then back to work-from-home, how much confidence will they have in the decision-making of their employers and coworkers?
  • If sporting events return only to be canceled mid-season, how much will fans’ and athletes’ investment in the sport deteriorate? 

During this journal I have commonly approached COVID from the perspective of these three societal normalities (school/work/sports). I suppose it is natural for me to do so since these areas align with my perspective as a teacher, coach, and husband. However, it is easy to apply bait-and-switch anxiety to any societal normality that aligns with your perspective. If something you love gets stripped, regifted, then stripped again entirely, that sucks. Period. We predicted this would happen; now we’re seeing it happen with bars/restaurants, and we can only assume it will continue to happen more in the lengthy period of time between now and the conception of a reliable and affordable vaccine. I imagine by the end of this year we will face much greater concerns than our freedom to order a beer at the pub. Our freedom to safely and reliably vote in the upcoming presidential election comes to mind, but that is a tangent for another day. 

I will use this as a bridge toward the topic of politicizing masks, though. The United States seems to be the only developed nation in the world that made wearing a mask a political statement rather than a contribution toward public health and safety. It is no doubt unfair and intensely stereotypical to say this, I admit, but it can’t be ignored that mask-wearing has become the “Democratic” thing to do while “the freedom to choose not to wear a mask” has aligned with the conservative agenda. This starts at the top, with the president and white house officials verbally refusing to wear a mask and publicly displaying their indifference. This resistance filters into invariably conservative states, where COVID cases are consequently sky-rocketing. In the more blue areas of Illinois (Chicago/Suburbs) you are denied entrance to most public places without a mask. In the more red areas of central and southern IL, the trend of mask-wearing is reported to be withering quickly.

Don’t hear what I’m not saying. This accusation is not all-inclusive – that is, many Republicans do wear masks and many Democrats don’t. As someone who leans progressively left, I have failed to wear my mask in many public places. I have shaken hands with new acquaintances and at times hugged people that I’m not overly close with. All of this from a guy who regularly writes a “COVID sucks make it stop” journal. But whether we admit it or not, the contrast in response to COVID from the perspectives of our two political parties is apparent, making this pandemic election one of the most influential that I can remember in my lifetime. There will be a big fork in the road come November, and we will have to collectively pause for a moment to consider which path we want to take – the Left, or the Right. 

Either way, we’re going down the same path together. 

P.s. My more recently infrequent entries are the result of a mixture of precedents. I have been enjoying my summer to the best of my ability, preparing for teaching and coaching in the fall, and continue to own a small business. However, the most notable time consumer this past month has been my investment in the largest, most difficult project that I have ever approached. Throughout my tenure as a writer, friends, family, and utter strangers have frequently remarked, “You should write a book!” The task has always seemed so hefty, difficult, and consuming when compared with the columns and shorter creative pieces that have made up the bulk of my writing. I also struggled to latch onto a genre and topic to write about, since I had never created extensive fiction or unbiased non-fiction before. However, I could not ask for more opportunity and inspiration than what I have been afforded this year. If you have ever prompted me, even in passing, to take on the challenge of writing and publishing a book, know that your encouragement impacted my confidence to approach such a daunting project. I don’t yet know if the writing will take two months, two years, or go entirely unpublished, but I am giving it a shot, and I know that’s all you ever asked me to do. 

Happy 4th of July weekend, everyone. Remember, I like my burger grilled medium-rare with pepperjack cheese. 

Brandon Hillary

July 2, 2020

Defund the Police Does Not Mean Abolish the Police

The “Defund the Police” movement has gained serious momentum following the public unrest after the murder of George Floyd. Before we can unpack the public perception of this movement, we first need to acknowledge the way we absorb new information at face value in a society that receives most of their news from social media sites.

Social media, specifically Facebook and Twitter, have quickly become the most trusted yet least verified news platforms in the world. These agencies provide an opportunity to empower marginalized voices when utilized responsibly, but in the midst of fury and frustration we have failed to exercise caution and accountability in the way we approach information that can be easily dismissed as “radical.” All we need is a headline and an image to make a decision on whether or not we agree with an idea. Opening the article or seeking additional information has become a tiresome and unnecessary burden. If the headline is appealing, we share it. If the image strikes us, we post it without second thought. The immediacy of our assessment of the subject matter happens naturally and instantaneously, not unlike the way we assess a person’s attractiveness or the color of the walls upon entering a room.

With this undeniably whimsical approach to our civic contributions to social media (news), you may notice a shift in the blatancy of this article’s title. While the titles of my previous columns have been mostly academic in nature, expect future headlines to provide more standalone value so as to capitalize on the first (and sometimes only) opportunity to deliver a message. Such is the process of learning how to “write both effectively and affectively” (Dr. Ricardo Cortez Cruz, English Department Chair, Illinois State University).

I recognize that some will read this article in its entirety, digest its contents, and encourage others to do the same, but it would be ignorant not to assume that most viewers will only be exposed to this article’s title and thumbnail image. Some might even share the article on social media without first reading its material to see if they agree. Having acknowledged the recklessness of our content consumption, it is important to take advantage of the one chance writers have to provide information and, ideally, influence readers to further inform themselves on the topic.

So I’ll say it again, for those in the back, and for those who lack the ability, tools, or desire to gather information independently and responsibly…

Defund the Police does not mean abolish the police.

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Defund the Police means the reallocation of finances to programs and organizations that bolster the peaceful effectiveness of law enforcement. Defund the Police calls for greater dependency n social workers, mental health counselors, and human resources. Defund the Police encourages our society to reevaluate the way we approach “law and order” and consider where reformation is desperately needed. The movement begs for the establishment of a society that feels safe rather than scared when they notice a police officer behind them.

I believe all of these details to be urgent, necessary, and long overdue. Defund the Police is the core of the peaceful protesting that has transpired since the public decided they had seen enough on May 25, 2020. It is simultaneously the sadistic spawn of other violent, misguided acts of protest such as rioting, looting, and arson. It is the polarizing call to action that US citizens need, even if they can’t yet recognize what it means for them.

The cry for police reformation has gone without response for decades, after the murder of Rodney King in 1991, Oscar Grant in 2009, Eric Garner in 2014, and now George Floyd in 2020. The movement to deescalate and disarm the police is progressive, well-intentioned, and could potentially save the lives of people who stand in opposition to its cause. Why, then, is the topic so divisive?

Because the phrase, “Defund the Police” sounds bad.

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We spent the first part of this article admitting and acknowledging that we absorb news reactively and share information casually. I’ve done it, you’ve done it, we still do it. “Defund the Police” is a perfect showcase for why it is critically important to title movements and headlines purposefully and in a way that elicits a desired response. First impressions must be admirable and easy to digest, as is the desired response of a woman’s makeup or a wall’s neutral color.

If the strong intentions of a movement aren’t inherently easy to navigate, American culture will find a way to botch the the desired response. Our society is so naturally divisive that if there is any room for an oppositional stance to blossom, it will. We saw this when Colin Kapernick kneeled for the National Anthem, when Black Lives Matter was met with All/Blue Lives Matter, and when wearing a mask to shield our nation from a deadly pandemic was met with resistance and denial.

The worst part is that the Defund the Police movement is so close to a complete breakthrough. At a time when the movement needs every voice of support it can get, it would be so valuable if the tagline were more comprehensible.

What I mean is, the title, “Refund the Police” (or even more accurately, “Reform the Police”) is exponentially more approachable. It inspires curiosity rather than disgust. Instead of provoking instant rejection, it invites wonder and a desire for more information. Headlines such as these allow us to engage with progressive policies before forming a biased opinion that stems from a reactive emotional response. __________________________________________________________________________________________

This small alteration to the title of the Defund the Police movement would greatly improve the optics of the movement’s intentions. It clarifies the movement from being an emotional, dramatic, and impulsive response to a carefully planned step in the right direction. With the perception given by the movement’s current title, it should be no surprise why some audiences interpret the idea of defunding the police as reckless.

The word defund means to withdraw, prevent, or deny support.

The word reform means to make changes to something in order to improve it.

Both words accurately describe the desires of nation-wide protests and the Black Lives Matter movement. But one carries a negative connotation, while the other maintains an assumption of positivity. But by now the movement’s title has become so recognizable, it is difficult to revert original biases.

Here’s the truth about defunding:

  • Your children’s school has been defunded for years.
  • Your art programs, creative outlets, musical opportunities, and public outreach have been defunded for years.
  • Your healthcare and retirement plans have been defunded for years.

But so far, the response to defunding the police has been cautious and speculative at best, and at worst outright dismissed. The movement’s proposals may eventually see some level of progress, but hopefully it also incites a realization that the above programs are actually being defunded.

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The too-long-didn’t-read version is this: No one is calling for the complete removal of law enforcement. We won’t be defenseless when we are assaulted, robbed, or in danger, because the career of a police officer will coexist with society until the end of time. But there are ways in which we can make improvements and alterations that are easily identified and desperately needed. The reason this movement’s good nature isn’t transparent is because its title is misleading and difficult to comprehend.

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I recognize that this article is somewhat of a tangent on the title of the “Defund the Police” movement without exploring much of the information about the movement’s desires and proposals. I feel that this topic deserves to be an article on its own with respect to the weight of the information. I’ll be writing a more informative infographic column like this soon, but for now here are more avenues to become informed on the movement’s authentic intentions:

Stay safe, stay healthy, and #DefundThePolice

Brandon Hillary

June 23, 2020

COVID-19 Pandemic Journal

For my grandmother, Kathy Hillary, who has always loved my writing and encouraged me to journal this experience so that my children and grandchildren might someday read it. 

For my father-in-law, Paul Voltz, who encouraged me to write to help combat my difficulty sleeping. 

And for my wife, Alexandra Hillary, without whom I would not be rational enough to produce coherent writing in the first place. 

Wednesday, June 17

It has been nine days since I last wrote and published any reviews, journals, or columns. With the pace that I had been writing at lately, more than a week of silence resembled somewhat of an abrupt halt in my publishing cadence. During this time away I wasn’t writing much outside of idle thoughts and small notes, but I did have a considerable amount of time to think and reflect while simultaneously recharging a faltering battery. 

Alex and I were lucky enough to join her family on a trip to the Smoky Mountains in Gatlinburg, TN. We stayed in a hotel that was a short walk from downtown Gatlinburg, which turned out to be, as Aunt Nancy called it, “a tacky little town.” Every day we drove through the unique areas of the national park where we hiked, visited historic buildings and gravesites, white water rafted, saw wild black bears, and stood underneath waterfalls. Every evening we would freshen up before treating downtown Gatlinburg like it was Las Vegas on New Years Eve. Each night just got more rowdy, with a finale that Uncle Todd pointed out will be a story told timelessly throughout the rest of our lives. There will be a time for that story, but for now, what happens in Gatlinburg, stays in that tacky little town. 

This combination of hiking and horseplay was the perfect way to unplug from the heavy weight of our current social world, a place where the impulse to check social media is irresistible when paired alongside an eagerness to contribute to the ongoing conversations we are all having. I have to admit, it was quite relaxing to spend some time concentrating on how many times I could skip a rock down a creek rather than how I was going to compose the newest chapter of this social justice novel we are all writing together. 

Having been home for a few days now, the computer screen has been a bit blinding. There is so much to question, read, consider, and contribute to that it is hard to know where to begin. I am trying to find a footing to help resume the tenacious pace I was writing with before leaving last week. My hope is that plugging a much needed update into this journal serves as a minor bridge to reconnect with the keyboard again, as it did initially three months ago.  

It has been intriguing to look back on these last few months and diagnose the transformations of our social, political, medical, economical, and personal worlds. Each has undergone such dramatic change, yet here they each lie in front of us, intact and whole. COVID-19 is still rampant throughout the country, but many areas are lightening restrictions and progressing through phases as planned. Our president still tweets more than he briefs, yet he remains in the White House unscathed. While our hospitals are still busy, they are not overrun or starving for supplies. We have spent some hard times at the grocery store, but for the most part toilet paper and sanitizers are back on the shelves. And although we are still bored at home, we can now partake in many of the social customs we have been looking forward to, such as eating outdoors at restaurants, having a drink at a bar, getting haircuts, and socializing with friends and family from a distance. When you consider all that 2020 has flung at us, from the death of Kobe Bryant to the death of Rayshard Brooks, it is simply astounding that our nation remains afloat, and in many cases, pretty much okay.

The trip to Tennessee was somewhat enlightening in regards to social expectations and restrictions, even if I already knew what I was in for. Masks were irrelevant, every business operated under normal hours and policies, and social distancing was negligent, nay, impossible. The stark contrast between Tennessee and Illinois made my head spin upon arrival. The juxtaposition between these two worlds left me with two contradicting thoughts that I wrestled with all week, as I do now while writing them down. 

  1. Illinois’ drastic and restrictive policies toward the coronavirus, whether necessary or overbearing, are going to make a positive impact. The virus will continue to circulate as it has for likely much longer than three months now, but there is no question that it will be more likely to be shared in states like Tennessee that are relaxed in their handling of COVID-19. If there is to be a second, third, fourth wave (we have yet to get through the first wave) as the medical experts say, it should be blatantly obvious that these waves will be founded within areas of infrequent mask wearing and under-dedicated social distancing. We have already seen evidence of this theory (common sense) in the most recent proceedings of positive COVID-19 tests across the country. Areas with tight restrictions such as the midwest and northeast US states are seeing respective declines in new coronavirus cases. Consequently, southern and west coast states have seen increases in new cases of COVID-19, which could be easily predicted when examining their lax social restrictions combined with what we already know about the contagion of the virus. Below is a map of the severity of increases/decreases throughout the United States, published on June 11, 2020. 
  1. Here’s the problem, though. While this map is encouraging as evidence that “we do good things, things get better,” it is hard not to look out the window and raise an eyebrow at the collective gatherings happening across the nation right now. Between our reopening of non-essential/entertainment businesses and the coinciding massive grouping in the form of protests, it would seem that we are acting in direct opposition to the medical precautions we had spent three months crafting together. In an instant, it seems as though we’ve collectively retreated from “quarantine cautious” to “it’ll probably be okay.” It wouldn’t seem hard to argue that we are ready to embrace the consequences of our collaborative civic indifference. 

Don’t hear what I’m not saying; I don’t know what we should be doing, what is appropriate, or what is politically/socially/economically correct. I’m just a dude who writes for some of his friends and family. I do know that many of our “top experts” on whom we rely to make nation-wide public safety decisions might not know much more about this than we do. It is becoming so evident just how unprepared we were for a pandemic of this nature. There was no backup plan, we couldn’t identify necessary information about the virus immediately (and still can’t?), and we watched as 50 governors were left on a political island to play a single game of “you go first” chicken. 

The word that has been consistently used to describe our circumstances is “unprecedented.” I don’t envy the responsibilities of our governors, administrators, and executives during these times, and I’ll never pretend to have the answers we need to get through this. However, I am confident in logic and common sense that we are more than halfway through experimenting what will happen if we do decide to throw caution to the wind and “get back out there” like an athlete after getting a tooth knocked out. We are in groups of hundreds of thousands in the streets. Sanitizers are easier to come by now, yet many are washing their hands less than they were three months ago. In some areas of the country, citizens are not only refusing to wear a mask, they’ve thrown them away. 

I highlight our civic recklessness as evidence for this experiment I just mentioned. Even if it may not have been intentional, we are already conducting a low-variance scientific investigation:

  • Hypothesis: if we don’t wear masks/social distance we’ll spread COVID
  • Test: collect in groups that grossly ignore medical guidelines, don’t wear masks, practice lax hygiene
  • Data/Conclusions: TBD. But the results will directly influence our decisions on when it is appropriate to resume school, work, and all non-essential activity. 

I’m quite sure we’ll talk soon.

No quote for you today. Instead I’ll announce that I’m applying for graduate school in the spring. Thank you to everyone who has encouraged, shared, and appreciated my writing. This makes it pretty easy to invest more of my time, money, and energy into learning how to do it even better. 

Love y’all

Brandon

“F*** 12”: An Opposition to Hive-Mind Thinking and Impulsive Radical Propositions

The last few weeks have been tumultuous to put it lightly. It seems every day there is a new, more narrow issue to be addressed within the larger conversation we are all having. Recently I have seen increased tread on a more targeted movement within the Black Lives Matter community. That movement, candid in nature and language, is “fuck 12.”

Fuck 12 is inherently self-explanatory. It’s the most common graffiti tag line used to deface public property during protests and riots. It also represents an ideology of unwavering and unanimous disdain for every law enforcement officer. It is the social movement version of the common acronym “ACAB,” which stands for “All Cops Are Bastards.” Fuck 12 is the devil’s advocate to the “bad apple” argument. Fuck 12 assumes that there can be no good apples, because the tree is rotten.

My fear is that our rage has become so blinding that we are losing sight of the targeted recipient of our frustrations. We are gutting our own movement if we regress into the belief that this social justice war is a matchup of “Protesters vs. Cops,” as if it were the headline on a pay-per-view MMA card. It is critically important to understand that we should view this conflict as “The People vs. The System” (which, by the way, is the justification behind the confused and under-focused “All Lives Matter” movement). The more we squabble with each other, the more the system looks down on us and laughs. What we need is a targeted attack on the system, not the system’s pawns. 

When law enforcement officers kneel, collaborate on moments of silence, and march alongside protesters, the result is often chilling and inspiring. Acts such as these show a cooperative understanding and an empathy for the problems within the organization, not within the organization’s employees. 

Yes, we’ve all seen the viral videos of police officers using an abundance of force and at times relishing the power surge that comes with it. But whether we want to consciously recognize it or not, we’ve also seen thousands of righteous officers working tirelessly to protect our nation from descending into the chaos and disorder that we seem so prepared to embrace. Under the most volatile of circumstances, law enforcement officers across the nation have been thrust into double duty and extended shift durations while their vacation days and sick leave have been restricted indefinitely. Every day, police officers and national guard man the front lines where their morality is questioned and their dignity threatened by members of the “fuck 12” movement. 

It is entirely unethical to provoke more conflict than we already have by denouncing our public servants and rescinding our support for them at a time when they need it most. At a time when their wives and children tremble when they leave for work. A time when their local streets, buildings, and monuments are defaced with a two-word phrase condemning their organization and discrediting their public contributions. 

Lately, I have seen increasing momentum in favor of radical propositions such as mass police resignation and defunding of law enforcement entirely. While our intentions behind this momentous social movement are pure, we have to limit the severity of the pendulum’s swing. What we need is balance; equilibrium. To suggest that we can fix systemic judicial racism by adopting Purge tactics is reckless agenda at a time where our voices carry actual weight. While I believe our resounding collective willingness to engage in these conversations is a net positive, we have to be cautious with how much agency we give to radical proposals like defunding law enforcement and calling for mass resignation. 

It is dangerous to grant momentum to radical propositions such as these simply for the sake of being radical. If you need an example of the power and potential behind impulsive, radical grassroots movements, look no further than the presidential campaign of an uncensored reality TV star and businessman, a wildly successful campaign which was founded upon radicalism, revisionist thinking, and oppositional policy. 

The candid, less-pandering version of my point is this: the American voice means something right now. And when we share things like “ACAB” or “lol fuck 12” to our most influential global news sites, that means something too, even if it feels minor or unimpactful in the moment.

Any time we spend squabbling directly with law enforcement officers distracts from the real people, systems, and organizations that deserve to be the focus of our outrage and call to action. Don’t protest the police officer; protest the establishments that encourage and equip police officers to respond with unnecessary violence and excessive force.

Image

Right now, it’s easier than it has ever been to form biased, impulsive, uninformed opinions and catapult them into our news feeds and conversations. Rather than granting agency to regressive movements, we should condemn these budding, misguided ideologies and attempt to refocus our attention on the real systemic issues. This article serves as a call to action against impulsive thinking, reckless sharing of propaganda, and radicalism for the sake of radicalism.

There have been few moments in history where we have had such intense civic responsibility combined with opportunities to make meaningful contributions. We should acknowledge our allies and stay focused on non-violent resolution in order to ensure our movement remains headed in a progressive direction.

“It’s not enough to say that there’s one bad apple. It’s got nothing to do with the apple tree. That’s the fucking soil.” 

-Larry Wilmore in his 12-minute podcast, “The Virus of Racism in America

Brandon Hillary

June 7, 2020

#BLM

Taking the Knee: How Closed-Perspective Thinking Influences Our Understanding of Social Issues

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees received major pushback on Wednesday following an interview regarding his thoughts on professional athletes kneeling during the national anthem. Brees exemplified a clear lack of awareness when stating, “I will never agree with anyone disrespecting the flag of the United States of America or our country.” What he believed to be a harmless display of patriotism instead invoked waves of disapproval and backlash throughout the African-American community. We know Drew Brees to be one of the greatest public servants New Orleans has ever seen, but still his shortcoming was in his inability to diagnose the true motives and intentions behind a cause that does not directly implicate him. By insisting that he will “never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag,” Brees unintentionally boasted that his privilege is too blinding to approach a delicate form of protest from an underprivileged perspective. 

This anecdote accurately represents the good intentions of so many Americans who want to make their voices heard but struggle to recognize and acknowledge how their white privilege influences their perspective. Colin Kaepernick was run out of the National Football League in 2016 for exercising his right to peacefully protest police brutality by taking a knee during the playing of the national anthem before each game. At the time, this righteous form of protest was met with severe criticism and slander, but we now appreciate the courage that it took to continue fighting for awareness of a social issue that deserved to be taken seriously. What many Americans, including Drew Brees, failed to recognize is that kneeling for the national anthem is not and has never been about disrespecting our flag, country, or armed forces. The motive has always been transparent – we just weren’t listening. 

It can be difficult to reconcile with the reality that there is a time and a place to appropriately address social issues. Surely there are serious social issues regarding U.S. patriotism and opportunities for military veterans returning from deployment. However, it is both cowardly and irresponsible to hijack the momentum of a social justice movement in order to rehash an ideological misunderstanding that should never have existed in the first place. 

Teammate Malcolm Jenkins responded to his quarterback’s statement with the question that the African-American community has been desperately pleading for years, “If this is not the place, then where is the place?” Throughout its tenure, the BLM movement has been effectively muzzled each time it gains momentum. They are told that they are using an inappropriate platform to make their voices heard and subsequently asked to protest in a way that is less invasive and easier to ignore. Right now, our country is experiencing the serious consequences resulting from years of closed-perspective societal thinking. 

One of the most difficult realities to digest is that we are simultaneously suffering from two distinct societal meltdowns – a revolution amidst a pandemic. The public response to the social regulations combating the spread of COVID-19 exposes some of the same closed-perspective thinking we displayed when we failed to recognize the motives behind taking a knee. 

The last 11 weeks have been littered with varying public response to mandatory social restrictions. While the majority of the public was determined to oblige, many had difficulty comprehending their civic responsibility due to an inherently biased perspective. Shelter-in-place orders were commonly met with resistance from those who were not as severely threatened as those who were considered “at risk.” Many citizens denounced public safety recommendations under the guise of their own privileged perspective. It was not uncommon to hear people argue, “Well I’m not at risk, so why should I have to obey?” without first considering the perspective of the 109,000 dead Americans who have suffered the morbid consequences of the most contagious virus the world has ever seen. 

When approached with any decision-making process, it is natural to first ask, “How does this affect me?” before considering, “Now how does this affect the world around me?” This natural progression of thought ensures that we maintain agency over our own lives. It would be reckless to abandon this respective process in favor of adopting the perspective of others before first considering our own. We need some level of narcissism; if you don’t look out for you, who will? But we fail to exercise open-perspective thinking when we detach from the reflection that should follow our initial self-centered thinking. 

What we have seen with the resistance to the restrictive COVID-19 social expectations is the same failure exercised by Drew Brees on Wednesday. It is the inability, or rather the indecision, to invite multiple perspectives into our own decision-making processes. Considering the perspectives of the at-risk and underprivileged empowers us with the ability to answer difficult questions such as, “Why should I wear a mask if I’m not at risk?” or, “Why would people disrespect our country by kneeling for the national anthem?” 

Open-perspective thinking allows us to see past our inherent bias and vanity in order to understand how someone could act and speak in vehement opposition to what we believe in. 

It is the tool that equips us with an empathetic and a curious desire to understand the motivations behind looting, rioting, and those who are passionate about a cause that implicates underprivileged perspectives. It is the device that converts unintentionally destructive tendencies into gestures that acknowledge a problematic gap in economic opportunities. And it is the weapon that we must use to combat our nation’s twin tragedies to overcome these dark times as a society reformed. 

I have spent recent days consciously attempting to recognize and appreciate the opportunities I have been afforded by my white privilege. We cannot bolster the privilege of minority perspectives without first acknowledging that we are a product of a society that inherently values some voices more than others. 

I experience white privilege when I get pulled over by a police officer and reach into my glovebox to locate my proof of insurance as the officer approaches my vehicle.

I experience white privilege when I set off a metal detector alarm and walk away without question or consequence. 

I experienced white privilege when I attended a four-year university without an athletic or academic scholarship. Here, I was given the opportunity to talk, read, and write about social justice alongside professors and colleagues who were almost exclusively also white.

We squander our societal privilege when we fail to utilize our empowered perspectives to promote meaningful reformation to a capitalist society founded upon racial discrimination. 

African-American citizens account for merely 13% of the American population, but they disproportionately account for nearly 33% of COVID-related U.S. deaths.

The U.S. hosts just 4.25% of the world’s population, but 25% of the world’s incarcerated individuals, of which 38% are black. 

This is why we are fighting for a vastly underprivileged community pleading, “I can’t breathe.”

This is why we are finally taking the knee.

Brandon Hillary

June 4, 2020

#BLM

The Death of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter Movement

2020 continues to be the most socially tumultuous year of the 21st century. In the last few days, the nation-wide headlines have not centered around COVID-19. On May 25, 2020, an African-American man named George Floyd was murdered in plain sight as Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on the back of Floyd’s neck for almost 10 minutes, suffocating him to death despite pleas to spare his life. This sentence is difficult enough to write, but it is much more difficult to digest and wonder how we can feasibly combat such deeply rooted systemic issues of racial injustice in our country. 

In 2016, San Francisco 49’ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick opted to kneel for the duration of the National Anthem at the beginning of each of their football games, a divisive form of peaceful protest that was not well-received, let alone understood by an overwhelming majority of the (white) population. Today Kaepernick’s motives seem a bit more clear to us all. And if professional athletes were taking the field tonight, they would all assuredly be kneeling. 

Peaceful protests like these broadcasted on national television provided a foundational launching point for serious progress toward addressing the racial discrimination that is prevalent within our US judicial system. Yet here we are, four politically and socially painful years later, and peaceful protests like these hardly garner more than a headline and an occasional nod of acknowledgement. We have a president who openly incites racism, sexism, and classism and outright encourages violence toward marginalized people. It should come as no serious wonder why violent protests like looting, rioting, and arson have usurped kneeling in an attempt to not only be heard, but to evoke serious change to our crooked society. 

While I don’t condone violence, these forms of protest are not the problem; they are the result. Throughout the Black Lives Matter movement violent protests have occurred in response to only one serious form of racial injustice: the blatant discrimination and, all too often, the unlawful murder of black citizens by members of US law enforcement. Why, then, would it make sense to attack the result when we should be attacking the source? If we hope to avoid flipped cars and burned buildings, why not advocate for police accountability, mandatory body cameras, and sufficient training and preparation before equipping them with power and weapons to murder innocent people without their due process. MLK said, “A riot is the language of the unheard.” If we had learned anything from the BLM movement, which is now a distinguishable period in US African American history, then why are we still not listening? 

It is critically important to understand that every American is implicated by tragedies like this. George Floyd’s murder not only serves as a haunting reminder that racial injustice still filters throughout the veins of our once progressive country, but it also highlights the gross amount of power and immunity we have allotted to those with money, guns, and racial privilege.

A complicit black man who was not resisting arrest was once again murdered in public by a crew of white police officers because they truly believed there would not be consequences for their actions. You do not have to be black to acknowledge the significant differences in treatment between black and white citizens by the US law enforcement and judicial system. It is entirely heartbreaking to add George Floyd to the list of martyrs who had to give their lives for us to finally establish meaningful social, judicial, and political progress of any substance regarding the Black Lives Matter movement. And while the majority of racially privileged Americans feel empathy during these times, we are still far from meeting the ethical desires of marginalized races in a country that has made few meaningful progressive steps in the last few years. 

Now is not the time to be silent. Silence is comfortable, but it only further validates the idea that racial injustice is too systematically embedded to be considered “our problem.” We have a civic responsibility to honor those who have paid with their lives due to racial injustices, and to save the lives of those who will be met with racial injustice in the future. To be silent is to be complicit, just as three officers were complicit while the fourth crushed the windpipe of an innocent man in the street. 

“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends… Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” 

– Martin Luther King

“If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – forever.” 

– George Orwell in his novel 1989, published June 8, 1949

Brandon Hillary

May 30, 2020

#BLM

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