In this season of hope, we need it more than ever | Lloyd E. Sheaffer

Vehicles line up at a drive-thru Three Square Food Bank emergency food distribution site at Palace Station Hotel & Casino in response to an increase in demand amid the coronavirus pandemic on April 16, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Three Square is currently operating 40 emergency distribution sites at various times and dates throughout Southern Nevada to assist a growing number of people, many of them newly unemployed, in need. Nevada's USD 68 billion tourism industry, which usually supports about 450,000 jobs, has been hit especially hard by the spread of COVID-19. The World Health Organization declared the coronavirus (COVID-19) a pandemic on March 11th. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

This current week, March 28-April 4, is a period filled with religious festivals and commemorations.

Lloyd E. Sheaffer (Capital-Star file)

Our Jewish neighbors are celebrating the eight-day festival of Passover, which commemorates the Exodus from their slavery in Egypt. Our Hindu friends celebrate Holi, the “festival of love” that signifies the triumph of good over evil.

Our Islamic companions mark Barat Night, an observance during which Muslims seek forgiveness for their sins.

Finally, Christians observe Holy Week, the most sacred week of the Christian calendar, that commemorates the last days of Jesus’ life, and culminates in his resurrection from the dead, proof of his being the longed-for Christ, on Easter Sunday. This Sunday-to-Sunday span offers to myriad faithful believers a sense of hope for the world.

Boy do we need it!

A brief overview of some issues plaguing our country right now shows why we need hope.

The amount of violence in our nation is appalling. Gun violence, in particular, is abhorrent. According to The Washington Post, during 2020 in the US there were 19,380 gun-related deaths, not including the more than 20,000 suicides by gun; thus far in 2021 there have been at least 4,127 gun deaths. Of these deaths nearly 300 children were shot and killed in 2020, according to Gun Violence Archive data, a 50 percent increase from the previous year.

Despite the blood splattered reality, our elected representatives fail to take actions or enact legislation that could mitigate these senseless losses.

Legislators at all levels continue to capitulate to gun lobbyists and zealots of the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution which reads: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

First, based upon what we have seen in recent months, these so-called ‘militias’ are anything but well regulated.

Second, the United States has the most powerful military in the world that can certainly maintain the security of our free state. Let me add, as I have in several previous pieces, I am a gun owner; I am not anti-gun; I am anti-gun violence; I am anti-AR-15s and their cousins in civilian hands.

Another issue that demands action and hope is domestic violence. According to a Time Magazine headline, “Domestic Violence Is a Pandemic Within the COVID-19 Pandemic.”

The number of reported cases in the last year has increased as much as 22 percent in the U.S.; greater increases—up to 300 percent — are being reported in other countries. Domestic violence survivor advocates push for more funding for support programs.

We need hope.

Among those who are losing hope are the millions of hungry people in the US.

According to Human Rights Watch, “At the end of January [2021], the data indicated more than 24 million adults had not had enough to eat sometimes or often in the previous seven days. That is five million more than in August 2020, when food hardship was already higher than before the pandemic. Human Rights Watch found that more than half of food-insecure households include children, raising serious concerns about the long-term consequences on children’s health and their academic outcomes. More than 45 percent of food-insecure households are in the lowest income quartile, making less than $35,000 a year. Racial disparities are high, with Black and Latinx adults living in food-insufficient households at more than twice the rate of white adults.”

“Millions of children and families living in America face hunger and food insecurity every day. Due to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, more than 42 million people may experience food insecurity, including a potential 13 million children,” reports FeedingAmerica.org.

We need hope.

Another issue leading to hopelessness is homelessness; we do not need to travel far to find folks who have no permanent address or safe living conditions.

Yet the government’s response to this crisis is clearly inadequate.

A recent editorial in The New York Times states, “The government pretends that the problem is smaller than it actually is. It estimated last year that nearly 568,000 Americans were homeless in January 2019. That figure is not just badly out of date. It was clearly wrong at the time, too.”

The piece continues, “We don’t know exactly how many people are homeless in America. We don’t even have a particularly good guess.

“In 2017, for example, the government put the total homeless population at 550,996. That same year, school districts across the country, using a broader definition, reported 1.35 million homeless students, according to the most recent data from the National Center for Education Statistics. That number, it bears emphasizing, is just a count of homeless students — not their parents or other family members, and not the rest of the homeless population.”

We need hope.

A number of these conditions facing too many of our fellow Americans stem from another issue that continues to be exacerbated, income inequality.

The non-profit inequality.org reports that in the United States, the income gap between the rich and everyone else has been growing markedly, by every major statistical measure, for more than 30 years.  “Income disparities are so pronounced that America’s top 10 percent now average more than nine times as much income as the bottom 90 percent,” reports UC Berkeley economist Emmanuel Saez in the 2021 report.

The recent economic stimulus payments are not nearly enough to lessen this reprehensible and inexcusable gap. Our leaders must do more to heal this chasm between the poor and the rich.

We need hope.

The recent election shows that a majority of those who voted favor programs and policies designed to ameliorate these social ills. Unfortunately just when there seems to be rising hope, those who prefer division and discord among us are at it again to drown the voices of those voters who are calling for reform.

The voter suppressionists are whittling away the ability of poor and repressed people to vote for change.

Politico reports, citing the the Brennan Center for Justice, a bipartisan law and public policy institute, that 43 state legislatures have introduced at least 250 restrictive bills designed to suppress voter participation.  By the way, Pennsylvania, along with Arizona, leads the nation in the number of voter suppression proposals proffered this year.

It should come as no surprise, then, that U.S. Rep. Scott Perry, R-10th District, is co-sponsoring a joint resolution that would repeal the 23rd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. If passed, this action would disenfranchise roughly 500,000 voters who live in the District of Columbia and who, predictably, tend to vote Democratic.

Have they no shame?

We need hope.

It is my hope that all people of goodwill and who live out their faith—whatever it might be—use this week’s festivities and worship services to include prayers for divine help to assuage the hope-sapping hurdles that too many of our citizens contend with day after day.

Beyond that it is another hope that all worshippers this week commit to living out the common faith commission prescribed by each religion:

  • For Jews: “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. This is the whole Torah.”
  • For Hindus: “This is the sum of duty: do not do to others what would cause pain if done to you.”
  • For Muslims: “Not one of you truly believes until you wish for others what you wish for yourself.”
  • For Christians: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Let us all, leaders and constituents alike, engage ourselves fully in our holy days. Maybe then hope will thrive.

Opinion contributor Lloyd E. Sheaffer, a retired English and Humanities teacher, writes from North Middleton Township, Pa. His work appears monthly on the Capital-Star’s Commentary Page. Readers may email him at [email protected].