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The Protest Pandemic

If injustices and favoritism are the impetus for the protest pandemic, sweeping the globe as wildly as Coronavirus is currently, what is the solution? 

Originally this piece was intended to be an economic snapshot highlighting personal experiences of artists, small business owners, and underserved communities (blacks, disabled individuals, LGBTQ+, etc) during the largest global pandemic in my lifetime. I began to write this piece as the events over the last few weeks have transpired, and in that process, a deeper point has been illuminated. 

Here in Asheville, North Carolina local married women, Kim and Alex Walton were already balancing disapproving family members, working full time, raising children, and growing a small business when the pandemic hit our town back in early March of 2020. 

For many working parents, adding “teacher” to the resume during this unprecedented pandemic has been one of the most stressful things to manage. Both Kim and Lexi also had to navigate the unemployment system and make sure that all the money coming in from their small business, Layered by Lex, was accounted for just right, so they wouldn’t be negatively impacted in the future. 

Jazmin Leeah Whitmore is a Black Small Business Owner who runs a dreadlocking hair care service (Those Lovely Locks) and a plus-size consignment shop (More to Love) also right here in Asheville. She was already running tight margins to feed her family and keep her businesses afloat when the reality sunk in for her that her business would be coming to a halt. Never having been in a position to apply or receive business funding, she immediately began researching what financial support options were available. 

Statistics from a U.S. Department of Commerce Agency were analyzed and reported that “Among firms with gross receipts under $500,000, loan denial rates for minority firms were about three times higher.” and “For high sales firms, the rate of loan denial was almost twice as high for minority firms as for non-minority firms.” (MBDA) (Emphasis added)

By late March, the SBA began promoting its “forgivable” Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) and the Paycheck Protection loan (PPP) intended to help small businesses. Jazmin took the initiative and applied for the EIDL as soon as it was made available. During this period of scrambling for so many small business owners just like Jazmin, I was invited by a colleague to join a task force to help small businesses apply for these SBA loan programs. This was in part due to the complex nature of government programming and loan applications. 

Throughout working on this contract, I have personally witnessed many challenges and successes including a white-male run business who was awarded over $400,000 dollars in less than two weeks, while I and many of my colleagues who qualify for less are still waiting for answers. 

These same loan programs were a part of the reason The Waltons’ were able to return to work, on June 11, 2020, with new protocols and safety precautions, which brings its own unique pandemic challenges for parents, Kim and Alexis.  

Kim expressed that having the kids home 24/7 during the pandemic meant that they lost the “alone time to pursue (their) professional lives” and that it was “a bit of a curveball” to say the least. She goes on to express how thankful she is that her bosses are flexible and understanding, which she knows isn’t the case for all. Kim, when prompted on how this has impacted their mental health, professional or personal lives, said, “Honestly we’ve had more time to pursue non-professional goals and more time with the kids to do fun stuff. Routines are all but out the window but we are doing more things that make our heart sing.” Kim also went on to say that this time at home, “has been one of the hardest and most eye-opening things I’ve done in years. It’s really highlighted my priorities and where I need to be funneling my energy in the future. And now with all of the Black Lives Matters stuff flurrying around, we’ve got nothing but time to wreck this broken ass system.” 

When Jazmin reached out to me it was a month after she had applied for the EIDL and she had not heard anything around it. She had no reference number, email, or even any idea if the application had actually gone through or not. I had heard directly from my colleagues who were talking to SBA staff along with feedback from other small businesses who had applied that there were many applications that were simply not getting recorded in the system. At that point, I suggested that she contact the SBA directly, who stated they had no record of her application and recommended that she apply again. 

On April 30th, almost 2 months since her original EIDL application was submitted, Jazmin called me to tell me that there was money deposited into her account from the government, but that she wasn’t sure exactly what it was. Upon further clarification, we were able to determine that this was her “approved EIDL loan” from her original application that the SBA had already stated they had no record of. 

Jazmin had already incurred a 74% decrease in sales in March and April between 2019 and 2020 (with an even bigger downturn in May), yet the EIDL money received by the Small Business Administration would either cover rent for one of those months or partially offset her lost income as the owner and full-time employee, not both or anything else. 

We understand that these stories aren’t isolated incidents or feelings experienced by Kim and Alexis, or Jazmin – but that these types of stories apply to hundreds of thousands of small businesses and millions of individuals impacted right now by this global pandemic. 

If you are a true small business that actually was able to receive nominal funding, I understand your next question is likely, “Will it be enough to survive?” 

If you are a person who lost their job due to the pandemic and you aren’t sure it’s going to return, or when your unemployment is going to end, you are experiencing what psychologists refer to as acute stress (or fight or flight as most people know it) and it will have impacts on your mind and body. 

If you are exhausted from having to go to work every day to make less than people on unemployment to risk your health, you have every right to be. 

And if you’re emotional that fiscally rich companies and individuals are continually being prioritized over true small businesses, then you are simply paying attention. 

One of the largest corporate welfare advantages occurring right now is being afforded to our real estate investors. Almost all of them are legally still allowed to require rent payment (some of whom are being paid with the SBA government loan money), and it has been reported that they may also see up to $170 billion dollars in tax breaks, due to the provisions added to the relief bill. (NYTimes)

Americans for Tax Fairness, reported at the end of May 2020, that U.S. billionaires saw their worth skyrocket by $434 billion, or a 15% increase, during the past two months of the pandemic, while the number of people filing for unemployment spiked to 38 million. (MSN)  This one advantage furthers harmful wealth inequality for the consumer by handing out tax-financed subsidies. This is an issue for many reasons, in part because personal agendas are prioritized over creative problem-solving. 

The reality is that this real estate tax-financed subsidy is just one more loophole that allows the government to support the rich getting richer. This is just one example of how they are strategically keeping wealth out of the pockets of middle and low-income earners both now, during this pandemic, and historically. 

Psychologically speaking, when any species’ safety or resources feels threatened, fight or flight takes hold. With the 1% richest people in America owning more of our nation’s wealth than any time in the last 50 years (Washington Post), the societal impacts of the rapidly growing inequality gaps are deep and vast. While each generation has its own unique societal battles, we are also as individuals simply continuing the primal survival fight in securing enough resources to live. 

In this specific moment in time, during this global pandemic, every single human on this planet regardless of race, creed, or position are experiencing traumatic stress of some kind. Some of us are adding that to chronic stress due to long-stemmed and systemic discrimination. 

So, two weeks ago after the death of George Floyd, another avoidable death at the hands of police officers, during such a time of unrest for the entire globe, America and the world erupted in racial equality and anti-police brutality protests. 

And since then, many people have wondered why one murder would cause so much response, especially during a deadly pandemic. 

Others wonder why there is looting, or anger, or agitators against peaceful protestors, and why “Black Lives Matter”, while others still wonder why “Defunding the Police” is even a topic of conversation.

Dr. Cheryl N Grills (a clinical psychologist at Loyola Marymount University) recently spoke with Matthew Rozsa, as it pertains to the racial protests occurring right now. 

“Often, these critics struggle to understand the Black communities’ frustrations.” Dr. Grills states and then adds that some of this knee-jerk response is explained by the fact that many “see these protests as being isolated incidents, and thus are baffled that one injustice garners such a response.” (Salon)

It seems simple enough to say that justice and equality are the solutions to preventing global protests whether they erupt over police brutality, racial injustice, or even the shut down of a government due to a wide-sweeping virus. But perhaps we should really be focused on something much smaller. Perhaps the question really is:

If I take more than I need, does that mean another person is getting less? 

If so, what can and will I do to help balance those scales back?





Washington Post


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