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Mass Gathering Vs. Rally In Madison: Black Health Should Matter, Too

June 17, 2020

Black Lives Matter banners and headlines have been present all over Madison for weeks, and for good reason.   But with the news of an upcoming rally in Madison for Juneteenth, which commemorates June 19, 1865, the day that Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, with word that the Civil War had ended and all formerly enslaved people were now free, comes concern about the health of attendees at the rally.

Given the pandemic we are experiencing, there is reason to ask if the allowance for this celebration is not undermining efforts to stem the spread of COVID-19?  Since the African-Ameican community is experiencing high rates of infection and illness from the virus there is a question as to why this rally makes sense?  The Facebook page for the event has 4,000 interested people thinking they will attend.

The historic nature of Juneteenth is without question.  The desire to observe and honor the day and what it represents is fully understood.  As with so many other posts about COVID-19 over the past months on CP, however, I have to question the logic of allowing such a large group to gather, and what it might do for the health of so many more across our city and county.

After Brisco contacted Madison Parks to request a permit to hold the event at a city park, she received an email from Public Health Madison & Dane County informing her that the event would be in violation of the agency’s ban on “mass gatherings,” which it defines as “a planned event with a large number of individuals in attendance, such as a concert, festival, meetings, training, conference, or sporting event.” The current phase of Dane County’s coronavirus reopening plan prohibits outdoor gatherings of more than 100 people. 

Brisco then wrote to the office of Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway, asserting that the event would be a free speech event in line with the ongoing protests. The next day, she said, she received an email from the mayor’s office greenlighting the event.

“There was a misunderstanding in the nature of the event,” Deputy Mayor Katie Crawley told the Cap Times in an email. “It was initially thought to be a festival, not a rally … Once that was clarified, there was not an issue. It did not need Mayoral involvement.”

Sarah Mattes of Public Health Madison & Dane County told the Cap Times in an email that, after clarifying the details of the event, the agency “did not believe what they described was a mass gathering under our definition.” Voter registration, she wrote, is “a government function and allowed under the Order.”

Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway has failed the test of leadership on several matters far before the protests of the past weeks.  Now she is putting her feelings of white liberal guilt above the health and well-being of black citizens.  There must be, and should be, a way to celebrate and honor Juneteenth in a responsible way during a time of the pandemic.  Apparently, the mayor can not fathom how that can be done.

Time for the city to start thinking of who will campaign against her in two years. Rhodes-Conway’s lack of reasoning leads me to question if she is even conscious most working days.

And so it goes.

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