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Serving: IL

Unmasking a protest

Christy Couch Lee Chair on main street
DOWNTOWN: Two opposing things can be equally true — like our desire to be safe and the fact that we still want Main Street left when this is all over.
Contradictions are the place where we find friction and where we wrestle with life — and where we can learn to be most effective, even in a quarantine.

Let’s get this out of the way first: I believe it’s possible to acknowledge that President Donald Trump has done good things for regulations and the economy, while asking if he may well have botched the country’s early response to the coronavirus.

It’s possible to believe he doesn’t always get a fair shake in the news, while also admitting the man should not be on Twitter.

It’s possible to believe Gov. J.B. Pritzker acted quickly and decisively early in the COVID-19 outbreak, while also believing it’s ridiculous for downstate to be shut down like Chicago.

It’s possible to hear the governor say state fairs are “highly unlikely” and the ag director say he’s still planning on state fairs, and to know neither of them is lying. 

It’s possible to know there are worse sacrifices than a canceled graduation, while feeling really, really badly for those kids who don’t get a real one.

Two opposing things can be equally true. Despite what social media commentators might suggest, counting the days till Christmas doesn’t mean you hate Halloween. You can be a Christian and have a beer. You can enjoy your farm and a night in Chicago’s Palmer House.

You can be brave and scared, at the same time.

Contradictions are what make us human. It’s the place where we find friction and where we wrestle with life. And as farmers and rural Illinoisans, acknowledging our contradictions can make us better — and more effective.

Standing our ground

Everybody picks hills they think are worth dying on. For some, it’s opening up a small-town church with appropriate restrictions and distancing. For others, it’s not wearing a mask. The lady who defiantly marches into her IGA and refuses to wear a mask like she’s striking a blow for that small business owner absolutely believes she’s making a difference.

But is she?

I don’t like wearing a mask. I feel trapped and short of breath and mildly sweaty, and I want to rip it off my face after 20 minutes. But wearing it in public makes people around me more comfortable.

So, it’s possible to believe it doesn’t make a lot of difference and also believe it’s worth wearing to make other people feel safe.

If we’re learning anything in this quarantine, it’s that we can hold two seemingly opposing things as true, even — and especially — if we don’t like them. And the clincher: Our ability as rural people in Illinois to do so may make the difference between getting something done and not.

Moving the mountains

The week of May 18, rural Illinoisans mobilized. We’d had enough, so we called, wrote and emailed members of a little-known General Assembly committee on rule-making to oppose the Illinois Department of Public Health’s rule change that would have imposed misdemeanor charges against those who violated the governor’s stay-at-home executive order.

Voicemails filled up early. Two committee members’ email inboxes were overwhelmed and crippled. The result: IDPH saw the sea change and withdrew the rule change.  

It was a clear sign of what citizens can do when they calmly express their opinions en masse to elected officials. They didn’t have to call anyone a Nazi or wave nasty signs. Whipping off masks didn’t get this done. Deliberate, organized action in pleading our case as semi-naturally socially distanced downstate people got it done.

In our family’s emails, we shared that we believe in science-based decision-making, but we don’t understand how our farm wife neighbor isn’t allowed to cut one person’s hair in the basement of her farmhouse. We appreciate that agriculture is essential, but we also believe our rural church’s ability to meet and encourage its members is essential. We want to be safe, but we want Main Street left when this is all over. We don’t want to overwhelm rural hospitals, but for heaven’s sake, we’ve only had 10 COVID-19 cases in the whole county.  

There will be more to fight for, for sure. We’ll need to use our words. Act like adults. Pick our battles.

And remember that acknowledging the fact that two opposing things can be equally true may get us further than whipping off a mask.  

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