Note from Community Impact Editor Amelia Robinson: This opinion piece by Kevin Kelly, the executive director of the Dayton International Peace Museum, appeared on the Dayton Daily News Ideas and Voices page Wednesday, July 22. 

In watching the many tributes this week to the late, great civil rights icon and Congressmen, John Lewis, I was reminded of his many sacrifices in creating a more just and civil society. 

He willingly accepted what he called ‘good trouble’, often smiling into his mug-shot photos, happy that he was on the right side of history. His character and unwavering hopefulness for equity and fairness made us a better nation.

Kevin Kelly

Kevin Kelly

In mid-2020, our country finds itself in a deep crisis few of us could have predicted. Intersectionality of the pandemic, individual economic collapse, and civil unrest caused by decades of ignoring the unfinished business of racial and economic injustice, police brutality, and a growing and destructive plutocracy. As we have been reminded again of the public lynching of George Floyd, there can be no peace without justice. 

Credit: J. Scott Applewhite

As this crisis continues into the summer with no signs of a plateau, we continue to look for our leaders. Mayors like Dayton’s Nan Whaley and Keisha Lance Bottoms of Atlanta are providing difficult answers despite the strong and often threatening pushback from those who would favor their individual freedoms over common sense and public health. 

Governors like Larry Hogan of Maryland and Gavin Newsom of California who this week effectively closed down most major school districts until the virus was under control are making good trouble. 

Governor Mike DeWine was an early leader in controlling the virus in Ohio and rightfully earned the gratitude of his constituents and admiration around the country for his aggressive policies on keeping the state safe. That was then, this is now. 

This past week, Ohio saw COVID infections spike toward 1,200 new cases a day as 19 counties now are under a Level 3 emergency, mandating the public use of masks. 

Could part of the answer be DeWine’s acceptance that many of his supporters still don’t believe in masks? That the fear of angry, often armed protesters at the Statehouse is too politically unpopular? Wearing a mask is something the Japanese do, but not so much in the Midwest, as he alluded to with Chuck Todd on Face the Nation last weekend. 

Having visited Japan a few times and taught ESL to Japanese students, I can attest that the Japanese don’t love wearing masks. They wear masks because they believe in the collective good of self-sacrifice for their fellow citizens. They traditionally wore masks to protect others if they were sick. That level of civic obligation to your neighbor has been obliterated in America and wrongly confused with an attack on personal liberties. 

Rugged individualism and the fable of American exceptionalism is endangering the survival of democracy itself and our own health and well-being. 

As Representative Lewis reminded us. “Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Do not become bitter or hostile…Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble.” 

Gov. DeWine, please immediately order a state-wide mask mandate, triple testing sites, and initiate contact tracing statewide and if necessary, consider another quarantine. 

Let’s care for our neighbors, listen to the experts, remind our elected officials they need to make potentially unpopular decisions for the good of the whole, and remember your vote and your voice are powerful tools for change. 

Don’t underestimate good trouble. 

Kevin Kelly is the executive director of the Dayton International Peace Museum. He most recently was a featured panelist on the Big Read sponsored by Dayton Daily News and the Dayton Metro Library.