For many decades I have been a social and economic justice advocate. I have borne witness to historic events: the AIDS epidemic, 911 tragedy and resulting “economic downturn” and the great recession of 2008. I have participated in demonstrations, watched the evening news tally the body counts, attended funerals, lived through work furloughs and layoffs, researched the mortgage collapse, and predicted surges in domestic violence and homelessness.
And now we are in the midst of a new kind of crisis. My inbox today: Panic-buying comes for the seeds; Some Banks Keep Customers’ Stimulus Checks if Accounts Are Overdrawn; Plan for stopping creditors-follow-up to Governor’s letter; Critical supplies needed for child care providers; Stimulus funds run out!
It is as if my communication bubble is filled with people shouting, “Do Something — the house is on fire! People are trapped inside and no one can to get through to the fire department.”
We keep shouting and hope that miraculously we will be heard by someone, anyone. I have a garden hose, does anyone have a shovel? Can we all stop shouting and pause for a moment, please?
The COVID-19 pandemic is shining a light on the causes and conditions that allow social and economic injustice to flourish. The highest virus mortality rates correlate with underlying health conditions, which in turn correlate with poverty. Government is charged with the responsibility of overseeing citizens’ health — physical and economic.
But shortsighted and misguided public policy (predatory title lending, financial industry sleights of hand) and failure to invest in poverty-busting measures (equal access to high-quality preschool and preventative health care) will result in the same people continuing to die of the same causes and conditions over and over again.
COVID-19 is killing disproportionate numbers of people of color. The poorest are the most vulnerable in times of disaster. This is true now and it was true during many of the other calamities that have befallen us. However, just as in previous disasters no one, no matter their economic status, truly gets a free pass.
We are interconnected, personally and economically. We are one society, however politically, racially, religiously, ethnically or culturally divided we may feel. It is easy to be overwhelmed, disillusioned and reactive.
There really is a lot we can do to make our communities stronger and healthier, but we need first to listen with our own hearts and hear the voices of the voiceless as well as the louder voices of community advocates. That means business leaders, health-care professionals, academics and those who serve the poor — faith community leaders and nonprofit human services organizations.
When we pause and listen, we give ourselves the opportunity to choose our actions. We can be generous, truthful, compassionate and kind. Collectively we can reject greed, racism and inequity. We can elect leaders wisely and trust them to invest in policies that eliminate social and economic inequities. We can hold our elected leaders accountable and publicly support them when they enact humane policies. We can. I hope we do this time.