Another week of social distancing and community connections

David Webber, Columbia MISSOURIAN, March 29, 2020

It’s too early to tell, but it appears that Columbia residents responded well to the demands placed on us by the COVID-19 pandemic and public officials’ reaction to it. Columbia’s resolution declaring a state of emergency and Columbia/Boone County Public Health and Human Services Director Stephanie Browning’s signing a stay-at-home order Tuesday created a need, and an opportunity, for citizens to take independent action to care for our most vulnerable residents.

Until April 24, unless we are engaged in an essential business, we are to stay at home except for grocery shopping, emergencies and outdoor exercising. Just for fun you should consider using 30 minutes of your new social isolation to read the official governmental resolution detailing some new — and necessary — restrictions on our daily activities.

A new Facebook group called “Work together during COVID-19 crisis — Columbia Missouri” had more than 12,000 members registered by mid-week. It was established to share information helping Columbians deal with staying at home. The group may be too large to address specific issues, but it is an indication of residents’ desire to pull together.

Because the Columbia Public Schools’ efforts to see that students receive at least one meal per day is not starting until March 30 — 10 days after the last school day — several citizens stepped up, making grab-and-go lunches available to students at noon all week. Two that I happen to know about are EquipmentShare’s “No Child Hungry” free lunches at the Jay Dix Station on the MKT and the Rev. James Gray’s effort at Derby Ridge Elementary School involving Culver’s Restaurant and the Boys and Girls Clubs. This is EquipmentShare’s first effort to provide a needed social service, and it has found lots of support. Its Go Fund Me page achieved more than 150% of its donation goal in one week. The first restaurant that I heard was donating meals to kids was the Broadway Diner, which fed 83 kids last Thursday.

“Meals and Wheels” has been operating with more attention to reducing virus exposure for both the client and the driver. Instead of drivers entering homes to deliver a meal to elderly or infirm residents, drivers but put them in a cooler outside the door.

Columbia/Boone County Public Health and Human Services and the Department of Parks and Recreation responded quickly to install portable toilets in several locations downtown. Public Health and Human Services coordinated establishing an Emergency Crisis Shelter to house the homeless for several weeks. The project involves Mike Trapp, in his role as a citizen, not a council member, and Room at the Inn. Compared with other local citizen responses discussed in this essay, the Emergency Crisis Shelter has the potential for shaping homeless services after the pandemic, therefore deserving the full attention of county and city policymakers.

Food for local vulnerable residents has been maintained. The Senior Center is closed but is offering drive-thru lunches. Harbor House, operated by the Salvation Army, has collected food to stabilize its noontime lunches. Loaves and Fishes, which relies on individual churches and service groups to provide dinners every evening, has adjusted to serving only take-away meals. Calvary Episcopal Church has a “Blessing Box” (“take what you need, give what you can”) that stores individual packets of snack-like foods available to the vulnerable passersby.

The Community Foundation of Central Missouri has created a Covid-19 Regional Relief Fund to accept donations “to support needs identified by local emergency officials, as well as local nonprofit work outside the purview of health and human services.”

The Missourian’s COVID-19 site has many articles about local residents efforts to contribute our community’s response to COVID-19. Some groups are making masks, “Corona Cares” is a food and supply drive started by local teachers and the Beulah Ralph Elementary School’s PTA and Rock Bridge Elementary School students are writing to residents of Lenoir Woods, one of Columbia’s retirement community.

Churches have been hard hit by the city decisions to prohibit gatherings of more than 10 people and the “stay-at-home” order. Many churches offer Facebook Live, Zoom and YouTube worship services. Perhaps Palm Sunday, April 5, and Easter Sunday, April 12, will bring a local drive-in church service broadcast or streaming simultaneously to people parked in their cars in a common area such as the Columbia Mall, Hearnes Center parking lot or outside their respective churches. Churches are communities that can help people get through a common experience of social disruption.

People are fundamentally nice and well-meaning as indicated by the neighborhood that organized a birthday parade for a local boy whose birthday party was canceled for public health reasons. I know of an extroverted resident who texted some friends she would be driving in their neighborhood just to wave a “hello” from her car. The “stay-at-home” order may just have created more walkers and cyclists that an official fitness week would. It is easy to overhear comments about neighbors waving to one another and offering to help shut-ins who need groceries.

Over the next couple months, we will hear about plenty of tragedies and trauma resulting from COVID-19. Isolated people tend not to be happy people. There will be more stress, depression, malnourishment, loneliness and loss, but today I’m grateful this is March and not November, and I am enjoying learning about the efforts Columbia citizens make to care for each other.

First reactions and resolutions about COVID-19

David Webber, Columbia MISSOURIAN, March 22, 2020

Postponing the April local elections to June 2 was a clear signal that local and state government is taking COVID-19 seriously, and so should we. Closing schools and prohibiting sporting events are big steps, but we have had crisis events such as Hurricane Katrina, the Joplin tornado and 9/11 before.
Postponing an election, if “only” a local election, should only happen as a last resort. It is the civil equivalent of canceling church service on Easter Sunday, which is likely to occur this year.

While there is great uncertainty as to the health and economic impact of COVID-19, most citizens seem to be heeding the advice of experts. I’m glad I live in Columbia. Big cities with mass transit shutdowns and “shelter in place” restrictions seem unimaginable. Columbia’s city, county and school officials seem to have made prudent decisions and explained them very well to the public.

The single best measure of how effective government response has been will be the fatality rate. There were 2.8 million deaths in the U.S. in 2018. A worst-case projection of COVID-19-related deaths seems to be 2.2 million. At least that is a measuring stick for assessing the impact of social distancing and widespread social shutdowns.

If we stay healthy, the economic impacts will last longer than our self-isolation. Major factories and small shops are closed. Stock market losses will reduce many workers’ 401(k) plans, and they may have to work longer than they had planned. Unemployment is projected to go over 6% after hovering around 3% for several years. President Trump and Congress are likely to pass an emergency economic package in hopes it prevents a major recession. It will be months before we can assess their wisdom.

Widespread shutdowns will affect the 2020 Census. Cities like Columbia may be undercounted because, theoretically, the official count is where you reside April 1. The census residence has always been uncertain, but if students are distance learning from home, it is even cloudier.

After several decades of growing economic inequality, COVID-19 is likely to further expose unequal economic, social, health, education and family burdens. Those who are health uninsured might be stuck. Based on educated guesses that I’ve heard, it seems likely that we will be in social isolation for at least six to eight weeks, and maybe 12 weeks. California has issued a stay-in-place order until April 21. At a minimum, the end of April is the soonest we will begin to put things back together. More likely, it will be closer to Memorial Day.

Therefore, June 2, the date for the postponed election, seems an appropriate time post for thinking about changes in America because of the virus that has practically shut down our daily life. Here are some of my predictions.

1. K-12 schools that are now shut down probably won’t open to resume the normal academic year. Hopefully, school will begin planning for an enhanced summer school schedule to remind students what they were doing back in March.

2. It is unlikely that the Democratic and Republican conventions will be held in their traditional way. Delegates will usually be selected in June, and time must be taken off work and travel arrangements must be made, if it is even healthy to hold such a large event. The prospect of canceling the conventions is bittersweet for me, but conventions have probably outlived their usefulness since parties can affirm their nominees in other ways and the poorly made-for-TV events are way anticlimatic.

3. There will be Major League Baseball by June 2. Opening Day on Memorial Day would be significant. While there will be substantial revenue loss, the MLB schedule is already set and travel plans are in place.

4. Such is not the case for the NBA. My prediction is that the 2019-20 season that has been suspended will soon be canceled. A new NBA season could start early to re-capture fan interest.

5. There will be significant permanent job loss by June 2. This is not a good year to be graduating from college if students, about two-thirds already burdened with debt, will be moving back home instead of to new jobs. This will change lives. Even for industries such as minor league baseball, which is now suspended, players must move on in their lives.

There will be long-term impacts on American institutions. Colleges will permanently be changed because online, distance learning has been on the threshold of forcing enrollment and personnel changes. Health care will have to change to better anticipate public health threats. Some churches, schools and businesses will close or go out of business. There will be some innovations that we will look back on someday and see they started in 2020.
As for me, I am approaching this period of COVID-19 forced social isolation as an extended snow break. I resolve to read more books already in my possession since the public library is closed and Amazon is limiting shipping; to reduce my files, both paper and cyber; to clear bookshelves; to listen to more varied and important music; to play one of three musical instruments for which I have little skills but have sitting around; and to exercise five days a week with equipment I already own because the ARC is closed.

On June 2, I hope that after I vote in the postponed municipal election, I am healthy enough to bike the Katy Trail to Rocheport.

David Webber joined the MU Political Science Department in 1986 and wrote his first column for the Missourian in 1994.

City needs to address homeless population’s needs during coronavirus pandemic

David Webber, Columbia MISSOURIAN March 17, 2020

Mayor Brian Treece and the Columbia City Council deserve accolades for preparing administratively for a state of emergency to mitigate and constrain COVID-19. This national emergency will last at least one month, and more likely from eight to 20 weeks.
At the City Council meeting Monday, there was much acknowledgement of the hardships that are likely to hit many Columbians, especially vulnerable children, seniors and the unsheltered.

At the City Council meeting Monday, there was much acknowledgement of the hardships that are likely to hit many Columbians, especially vulnerable children, seniors and the unsheltered.

There was much acknowledgement but little action to actually prevent and relieve damage and suffering.
Treece repeated several times that the pandemic will expose the inequities in society — inequities in wealth, health insurance and services and in technology. To his list I will add transportation, social skills and information.
The vulnerable population I have become most aware of is the unsheltered: the homeless. I worry they will be left behind. Columbia needs an immediate plan to assist the unsheltered.

Just as closing the public schools is a tragedy and threat to the welfare of hundreds of students, closing the public library, while apparently necessary as a public health measure, is a tragedy for the homeless. Unfortunately, this follows the stricter rules at Wabash Station about a month ago and the seasonal closing of the Room at the Inn this past Sunday.
On Monday, I spoke with six brothers and sisters on the street to sharpen my understanding of their needs.

First, closing the public library is a challenge to personal hygiene. While a socially impolite topic to mention, where are these men and women going to go to urinate and defecate? This is a major problem.

Secondly, food will become more difficult to obtain. I have heard uncertainty about both lunch and evening meals. Panhandling proceeds will likely be less and establishments where they often obtain food have reduced hours.

Third, without the library and Wabash Station, there are fewer place to rest. Lack of rest increases sickness and reduces alertness resulting in more forgotten backpacks and appointments.

Fourth, there are fewer places for the unsheltered to charge their phones and to use a computer. This means more social isolation.By listening to the homeless, I have learned that the services often provided by well-intentioned people are not always the services received. While tents and sleeping bags were distributed the last night of Room at the Inn, it is not clear where they could be used. One unsheltered guy told me that he was moved out of a city park by the police Sunday.

On Sunday afternoon, I called 911 and assisted two frequent Room at the Inn guests who had collapsed on Broadway. They were taken by ambulance to the hospital. They had no tent nor sleeping bag with them.
Incidentally, I would not be surprised if the accounting cost of that 911 call was not more than $1,000 (a firetruck, two police vehicles, an ambulance and at least six well-outfitted public servants.

I don’t have any solution. My only “bright” idea is to use space in the Cherry Street parking garage for a stop-gap shelter, using about 25 cots from Room at the Inn, renting a couple portable toilets, and asking volunteers to drop off food.

As churches are reducing their group religious services, perhaps they will take a second look at their community services and increase their direct service to the homeless.

It is unrealistic to pretend that the needs of the homeless displaced by the closing of the public library and reduction in Wabash Station can be addressed without additional physical facilities and additional funding, be it from government or religious and nonprofit organizations. Hygiene, social distance and staying healthy are critical at this time of national need.

St. Patrick’s Day 1970 and College Student Protests

David Webber, University of Dayton FLYER NEWS, March 17, 2020

St. Patrick’s Day 1970 and the Student Takeover of St. Mary’s Hall
March 17, 2020

Editor’s note: David Webber is a UD alum who now teaches political science at the University of Missouri. You can reach out to him at

St. Patrick’s Day 1970 I was a UD freshman when students occupied St. Mary’s Hall, the administration building, from March 17-18. I made a decision that day that I’ve reconsidered almost every St. Patrick’s Day since. I decided not to stay in the barricaded St. Mary’s Hall. I would make the same decision today—50 years later.
I was on the fringe of several student groups who barricaded the building. I had prior knowledge of the possibility (but not the specific date), I attended a planning meeting, I “visited” the administration building via the fire escape during the protest, but I chose not to participate in the takeover.

My decision was only a big deal to me since I was not a student leader, and few would notice my absence. It was a critical time in my academic and political development when I was “finding myself,” as we said back then, and I was formulating fundamental beliefs about democracy, governance, and citizen participation. I still have a manila folder of student documents and newspapers that I’ve kept in my file cabinet for 50 years.

Fifty years ago this spring, the United States saw the last year of several years of campus unrest across the nation. It was an exciting time to be a college student. While we were without smartphones and social media, it was always easy to find someone to rap with, or play frisbee with, or to listen to music with on the plaza. It seemed everyone but me played the guitar and that every day was a crisis.

We students felt powerful back then. We acted as if we believed we could change university investments in companies that profited from the Vietnam War and that we could change campus rules and practices if we only held together. We thought we could change the president in 1972. No one talked about “being in a bubble” and “appealing to your base” back then.

For reasons probably due to my upbringing, I lean toward moderation and deliberation, and am distrustful of most mass movements. Only as a last resort would I engage in group disruptive actions. So far, I have not recognized the need, but I do wonder if I’ve not been a little too politically passive. I like to think I would have gone to Selma or the Mississippi Freedom Rides in the early 1960s had I been older.

The 1960s were a time of social change that is hard to image nowadays. Back then incoming college students were required to live on campus and could not have cars. Women students still had curfews; men were often required to participate in ROTC. Look at the Daytonian (UD’s Yearbook) sometime: the students of 1967 wore coats and ties. In contrast, few students in 1970 owned coats and ties. There was no rec center and Stuart Hall wasn’t air conditioned.

The student protests that were widespread across the U.S. from 1968 to 1970 were fueled, in part, by opposition to the Vietnam War, but also the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Sen. Robert Kennedy, the riots in many cities, and the 1968 Democratic National Convention.

In addition to “getting out of Vietnam,” there were often university-specific demands that campus protestors had. Among them at UD were: abolishing rigid academic requirements and restrictive dormitory rules, having a more transparent campus administration with student representation, involving students in hiring and promoting faculty, and providing more minority admissions and financial support.

My particular contribution to UD’s student activities in the spring of 1970 was organizing a campaign to have the administration reconsider the case of a professor who I liked but who refused to earn a Ph.D. “because it was a research degree, not a teaching degree.” Over the years, I see the foolishness of this argument and developed an admiration for the chair of the theology department who attended one of the meetings I organized and patiently discussed abstract issues like “the purposes of a university” and “academic excellence.”

My biggest and most enduring disagreement with many of my fellow students concerned a statement by the university president, Father Raymond Roesch, who also attended a mass meeting of angry students, where he said, “you didn’t have to come here.” Many students were outraged over such a clear statement that we did indeed choose to attend this particular university, so we should abide by its rules and philosophy.

Campus unrest ended rather abruptly on May 4, 1970 when four students were killed by national guardsmen at Kent State University (immortalized by Crosby, Stills, and Nash & Young in their song “Ohio”). The students were protesting President Nixon’s expansion of the Vietnam War into Cambodia on April 30, 1970.
There also were students who dropped out due to economic hardships but more likely lack of focus and alienation. Universities didn’t do much to “support” them back then.

I am grateful to have experienced the social changes of the 1970s, but it is easy to overstate their political impact. In hindsight, there were few educational and public policy changes that resulted from the student protests, but UD still had a big impact on me. It’s hard to imagine that I would have had a career as a political science professor if I had not had several economics and political science professors who gave me just the right amount of direction or been exposed to a wide variety of students who I tried to figure out.

Letter to the Editor: St. Patrick’s Day 1970 and the Student Takeover of St. Mary’s Hall

A vote for the person who would be the best president

David Webber, Columbia MISSOURIAN, March 15, 2020

Elizabeth Warren received my vote in last week Missouri’s Democratic Primary even though I knew she had withdrawn. I joined 480 other Boone County citizens who voted for Warren with a total of 1,326 voters who “wasted their votes” on neither of the two officially remaining candidates seeking the Democratic nomination for president.

I voted for Warren because I thought she would make the best president. She has a proven record of thoughtfulness, creativity and problem-solving. She has national policy-making experience but seems able and willing to take a fresh view of possible solutions. She is a legal scholar of bankruptcy law and consumer protection and author of several books.

I knew little of Warren’s early personal life until last week because the impeachment proceedings and bogus debates with dozens of candidates dominated the news and my limited attention span. If I could have coffee with one of the candidates, it would be Warren because she has the depth of personal struggle and achievement that I admire. After an hour, I think I would have a good conversation resulting in a good sense of her rather than being spun for 60 minutes. I am not worried about detailed proposals for “Medicare for All” or regulating fracking because she can propose and Congress will modify her proposals, if it gets back to doing its job of responsible checks and balances. Please don’t try to scare me with repeating some stuff from a media mouth that sounds good but that no one knows is true.

I did not vote for Warren because we “need” a woman president or because it’s a matter of social justice. Equal pay is about social justice. Not being sexually harassed and being recognized as a full person are issues of social justice. Selecting a presidential nominee is a political decision. No man or woman is entitled to be president. Selecting the president is a collective decision and my view is that Warren would make the best president.

For many women who lament there are no women left in the race, seeing a woman elected president is a priority. The mother who wrote that she doesn’t know what to tell her 6-year-old daughter about what Warren’s exit means for sexism in politics should explain to her daughter, and any sons, that a woman has already received the most popular votes for president, that there are an increasing number of women in Congress, on the Supreme Court, in medical clinics and in journalism. Tell her to run for her student council and stay involved in her community and politics.

And then there is a woman who wrote in an op-ed that she feels betrayed by her husband because he voted for Bernie Sanders, but she voted for Warren. Really? Betrayed? Perhaps politics has distracted them from arguing over money, domestic chores and in-laws.

It’s likely neither woman fully believes what she wrote, but articulating a novel slant gets you published. Plus, a common strategy in politics is to motivate likely supporters by shouting that the sky is falling. Over the long run, reason and persistence brings better results.

My vote for Warren had a tinge of protest. More precisely, I didn’t vote for either of the two leading candidates as a protest against a primary process that is insane, with too much money distorting information flow and too many smart people in the mainstream media and consulting saying what they think will increase their face time on TV or internet hits. I protest how superficial it has all become. I understand that many of my high school classmates of 50 years ago in a rather conservative Pennsylvania steel town can feel the same frustration as I do and decide to vote for someone else, likely Donald Trump.

I am fed up with the cable media that has spent so much airtime and limited space on the horserace of the election rather than the substance of public policy. I am fed up with the panels of seemingly smart people talking over each other. No, I don’t really trust them but not for reasons President Trump calls “fake news.”

I am disappointed that the bar has been set so low for media-candidate interaction. Political coverage is entertainment. Cable media is so cozy that they compliment each other on “doing a good job.” I am fed up that “appeal to his base” and “highest expectation of winning,” each based on personal conjecture, sounds so smart that it is repeated endlessly. I know this is not new, but it is not improving.

We citizens are part of the problem because we fail to complain to the news media demanding more substance. Information technology has proven to be a challenge to journalism organizations trying to figure out a new model because citizens do not seem willing to pay for the news. Most of us are unaware we are uninformed.

Joe Biden will most certainly be the Democratic nominee because there seems to have been a national epiphany about the time of the South Carolina primary that the current president needs to be replaced. Politics is often about timing. In a different time, Warren would have received more votes.

Lessons of 2020 Democratic Primary So Far

David Webber, Columbia MISSOURIAN, March 8, 2020

While the Democratic presidential nomination is not yet nailed down for Joe Biden, it might be after this Tuesday’s primaries in six states, including Missouri and Michigan. Biden’s leap to the front of the Democratic pack took a while to develop, but then it came so quickly last week. Biden had one good showing in South Carolina, a state as unrepresentative of the American population as are Iowa and New Hampshire, and then three other candidates left the race within 48 hours. Biden’s near sweep of Super Tuesday’s primaries in southern states, along with Massachusetts and Minnesota, rocketed him to the top of the heap. Biden is unlikely to win those same southern states in November.

Biden’s delayed rise to success seems to be less due to his campaign organization and money and more a result of Democratic voters’ coming to a common realization that replacing President Donald Trump is goal numero uno. Sen. Bernie Sander’s self-description as a socialist apparently became a big concern of down-ticket candidates concerned that a Trump landslide would affect state and local Democratic races. Candidates can be one of several extremes in American politics, but a socialist is taboo.

The presidential nomination process is a mess. It leaves more to media effects, money (both from known and unknown sources), information manipulation and timing than it does to genuine party faithful preferences. The root cause, of course, is that the national process of primary elections is controlled by the states. That’s part of our federal system of government — since 1789 states have administered elections. Moreover, there are few “party members,” most of us are “party identifiers” at best and more likely to be “independents.”

Two aspects of the current system — multiple-candidates and the sequence of state primaries — will always be an issue but some improvement can be made. Instead of single preference voting, some form of ranked voting would result in a clearer picture of whom voters actually prefer. A simple system would have voters list the top three candidates and award them 3-2-1 points respectively. This system is not perfect because candidates will campaign on “just vote for me, don’t waste your votes on the others.” Additionally, voting procedures, such as early voting and registration deadlines, need to be examined in light of candidates entering and exiting the race.

The party national committees should not recognize delegates selected in statewide presidential preference caucus. Iowa should teach us that. Likewise, no state should have as much influence as Iowa does in pre-selecting the president. A simple approach would be to schedule several other states to share the opening primary date with Iowa. A regional approach is appealing. How about Iowa and the states surrounding it for the first primary in 2024? Or the Big 10 primary?

The media, especially cable TV, is likely to always focus on the horse race aspects of presidential campaigns, but something must be done to reduce style and increase substance. For starters, the presidential debates should be by the citizens, for the citizens, with media coverage actually “covering” the event not running it. Moderators should be party officials not media celebrities. This year’s early Democratic “debates” would have been less about entertaining and more about governing if former president Barack Obama had moderated the debate and the media reported.

The biggest surprise of the 2020 primary is the poor election results for Sen. Elizabeth Warren. She was the apparent frontrunner last fall but did not do well in any of the actual primaries, despite being regarded as most informed and prepared. One reason may be that she was stung by media reactions to her “Medicare for all” and other detailed proposals. More generally, she seemed to appear to be too knowledgeable about policy issues for her own good. I hope not, but I do believe that her campaign focused more on her ideas than on her biography.

Her story of growing up poor in Oklahoma, the early loss of her father, her own early divorce and her climb up the law school ladder is inspirational. Warren’s story matches Bill Clinton’s saga, but it received little attention. There are those who see gender discrimination here, but it may also have been her campaign’s decision to focus elsewhere. Campaigns are about showing voters what the candidate is like. So-called “debates” are not really policy deliberations but 30-second sales pitches.

I expect Biden will win the nomination, but it is not certain. Biden is more vulnerable now that it is a two-person race. It will be difficult for him to lay low as he has been for the past few months. It remains unclear that Biden has the physical stamina for a long presidential campaign. If Biden is nominated, I expect him to select a moderate woman for his vice president. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota is a potential pick, as is Stacey Abrams of Georgia, but she probably doesn’t have the same national focus. The November election is a toss-up. Energy and expanding their base will determine the fate of Biden and Trump. By November, voters will be wary of hearing about Hunter Biden and the Mueller Report.