Sean Beckwith: Trying to break through Aspen’s force field | AspenTimes.com
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Sean Beckwith: Trying to break through Aspen’s force field

Traveling outside of Aspen feels less like vacation and more like a return to the real world. All of the sudden you have to worry about locking your doors, less than ideal weather and things like, “How are we getting to Bert’s?”

Recent events have shown that even when the Aspen bubble gets pierced, there’s enough money to plug the hole.

As Aspen businesses prepare their facilities for the summer of coronavirus, stores and restaurants in cities across the country have been shutting down as fast as they reopened in fear of looting.

While people marched through tear gas and battled with police over the weekend, area high school graduates strolled across makeshift stages, rode on chairlifts and in convertibles.

Though the Roaring Fork Valley seems to be a pretty accepting place in terms of ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation, there is an abundance of financial inequality. The reason the “two homes or two jobs” joke hits so hard is because it’s true.

However, the realities aren’t as easy to laugh about when a pandemic is keeping restaurants and stores at half capacity and thus half staffed (if that).

The range of at-risk people grows as we learn more about this virus and those most vulnerable. It’s not just elderly, those with compromised immune systems and children we need to worry about; numbers have shown minorities are disproportionately affected in large part due to financial hardship.

A vast portion of the workers on the front lines of an open Aspen economy — cooks, housekeepers, hospitality workers — are from the Latino community. Working from home isn’t an option, so they’re forced to risk their personal well-being as well as the health of those at home.

Forgive me if this is an obvious statement but in Aspen you never know: Not everyone can hop around from luxurious locale to luxurious locale, trying to stay one step ahead of the next outbreak. People who don’t have money — yes, that’s a thing — are predominantly stuck in place.

I agree area businesses desperately need revenue flow. However, we should be trying to figure out not only how to get hospitality workers back at hotels and tending bars but also how to prevent the industry from collapsing when the second wave inevitably hits. This virus has clearly shown the importance of even the most menial job. From stock clerks to cashiers to dishwashers, housekeepers and bar backs, the concept of a savings account is laughable.

The civil rights movement was about freedom and economic equality, and nowhere is the gap between haves and have-nots more apparent than Aspen.

The protests across the country were set off by what happened to George Floyd, but I have a hunch that, along with the needless killing of black people by police, the reason they continue is a generation knows this is where the path to change starts.

They’re sick of “thoughts and prayers,” tired of being on the wrong end of recessions, outraged at outdated immigration policies and beyond frustrated with an endless cycle of systemic racism and police brutality.

I can’t blame people for responding with protests, violence and anger because the other avenues proved fruitless.

Why do you think we’re on like Day 7 of these demonstrations? I’m not sure you could cultivate better conditions for civil unrest than our current climate:

1. Authoritarian president who quotes guys on the wrong side of the civil rights movement;

2. Zero distractions. No sports, no bars, no movies, nothing;

3. Social media (rightfully) amplifying and allowing access to videos of horrific violence against African Americans by police;

4. Months of pent-up frustration and energy due to the lockdown;

5. Years/decades/centuries of anger built up due to a country’s inability to stop, let alone address, racism.

It was encouraging seeing people join Jenelle Figgins’ protest through the streets of Aspen. The path to civil rights is ongoing and it isn’t solely about the battle between police and black people, but it’s the best and most important place to start.

These demonstrations began because black people don’t feel safe from the authorities who are supposed to be protecting all who reside in the U.S. Let’s hope they don’t stop when black people no longer fear the police — or when distractions return — because complacency doesn’t work.

Running to Aspen or the Hamptons or wine country for a respite from the masses is a special mixture of cowardice and privilege. Sorry coronavirus and demonstrations ruined your vacation plans but you can’t run from reality.

We seem to be in the midst of a perfect storm for a summer of discontent; let’s hope the downpour not only makes it to Aspen but also floods the bubble until it bursts from within.

Sean Beckwith is a copy editor at The Aspen Times. Reach him at sbeckwith@aspentimes.com.​


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