“When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”
– United States Declaration of Independence, July 4,1776
We’ve got to hold on ready or not
You live for the fight
When that’s all that you’ve got
We’re half way there
Living on a prayer
Take my hand and we’ll make it I swear
-Bon Jovi, 1986
We are living in the year 2020. Does that give you chills? Two decades ago we were ushering in of the year 2000, which also felt surreally futuristic. I was 13, in that age of AOL, troubled by the fears of a Y2K blackout- that anxiety provoking world-shattering plunge into darkness that never was. Contrast that with today, as we sit in our homes or exhaustedly head back off to essential work in an all but empty world because all at once the COVID curve was king. We panicked twenty years ago thinking of how we’d manage life without computer assistance, but never considered a world where we can be constantly online but not have a life.
If I’m honest, the effects of COVID on my immediate world are mostly positive. This is a break for me (hence my availability to start a Congressional campaign). Our incomes are steady, and our only debt is toward my husband’s new work truck and my student loans (which just went to 0% interest). We have a beautiful home with no mortgage. Our kids are self-motivated and quick thinking so homeschooling involves mostly waking them up at a decent hour and giving gentle reminders or playing learning games. As long as we get going early, they’re done by noon. The teenagers in our home have stopped fighting every day, are cooking dinner without being asked, and are even hanging out with us again. Our seven year old is becoming a little more polite and flexing her creativity in ways kids of her generation rarely get the chance to. I even have a comfortable and uncluttered she-shed office where I can work 8 hour days without interruption if my husband is home. Even four solid hours there is more productive than a typical day at the office. I finally got around to starting a legitimate vegetable garden and fish pond I always wanted in the yard. I could live like this forever if I ignored the problems that aren’t mine.
I could live like this forever if only I could ignore the fact that people are dying, mourning their loved ones without the comforts of memorials and burials, exhausting and exposing themselves to keep up with the demands of their low wage and/or front line jobs, living without income, losing their retirement funds, falling deeper into the depths of their depression, anxiety, and substance abuse, and feeling overall helpless. If I ignored all of that, well, I could live like this forever.
As a kid who grew up in the 80’s and 90’s, I watched my fair share of futuristic sci-fi series and apocalyptic movies. I still gravitate toward books about alternate universes where big events come about to reshape the world and turn the course of history, in fact, dystopian fiction is my favorite genre of film and literature. What I like about it is not seeing the world burn, but rather watching people emerge from the struggle, step up, and come together to survive. I have watched and read these stories with hopeful anticipation that there will be some gleaming new society at the end credits or in the epilogue, humanity thriving on a clean slate.
I’ve imagined what kind of role I’d play in that kind of world, and I like to think I’d be one of the good guys, maybe even a heroine. In the present real-world times, I’m an extra. A woman in the background of the supermarket scene carefully checking for cracks in eggs while trying not to breathe directly on them. I’m doing my part in the middle of this, of course. Staying home, working as a faithful employee, spending at local and small online businesses, being a helpful neighbor, and trying to step up the best I can to support local charities so they can do more. I even put a blue heart on the mailbox post to show Healthcare Heroes that I care. That’s all very nice of me. I hope it helps you all as much as it helps me relieve a bit of that guilty feeling that can come with being in a privileged position.
This is all going to be temporary. You’re probably hoping and praying for the end of this with more passion and regularity than I. The thing about perspective though is that from where I sit, with the privileged view of someone mostly unaffected, I see with fairly equal view how the cracks in our massive system have gaped wide open and let so many people fall through. Jobs that never paid a living wage are now the only ones that can still require one’s attendance, thereby refusing the respite of unemployment. Communities supplying these low wage “human resources” are also the ones that have had the poorest preventative healthcare access, and now the highest rates of mortality due to comorbidities. Loans for small business owners have been swooped up by the savviest of mid-sized corporations, probably because once you get to a certain size you’ve hired accountants and lawyers. The smallest of business owners have been too busy practicing their trade to get very good at paperwork, and now wonder if they’ll be able to practice their trade ever again. As schools have closed down, the most vulnerable of our children have lost access to safety and support that had been engrained in their schooling but had never been transferred into home life. Many parents are wading in daily frustrations, without good coping strategies or the knowledge needed to help their children through. Our elders, who already spent a great deal of time separated from the people they raised to adulthood, are now completely isolated for their own safety. No more Sunday visits, and many adult children wishing they could do anything to reach and protect parents. States and cities that have based their economies on tourism are now itching to part people from their homes and into crowded spaces inherent with risk, entire industries wondering what they can offer the world if no one comes to pay admission and buy souvenirs. People who made all the right financial moves to pad their retirement funds are now watching them disappear before their eyes, with economists painting a dreadful picture of the recession/ depression to come.
We are watching the COVID curve with great anticipation, hoping that things can get back to normal as soon as possible. The truth is, for most people there is no way to get back there. They’ve lost loved ones, jobs, businesses, and their sense of security. Of course we would want those things back, but do we really want to recreate the world that COVID wrecked?
Do we want to return to the world where those who worked the hardest earned the least? The world where families couldn’t afford to keep their parents at home to age with dignity and access to loving care? The world where we saved 15 to 20% of our income in the hopes that our kids wouldn’t have to struggle paying an assisted living bill when we are the aged ones? The world where parents couldn’t understand how to meet their kids educational needs? The world where our healthcare system could run out of protective equipment in a matter of weeks? The world where our small business owners struggled to cover payroll less than a month into a downturn? The world where food supply chains were so widely dispersed that they have to euthanize stock because there’s no place to store their meat? The world where neighbors treated one another as enemies and adversaries because the politicians and pundits who would never look a single one of us in the eye had told us that the “others” among us were not to be trusted or respected?
I think we can do better than the world COVID wrecked. Can we really even blame COVID? All that this virus has done is expose our greater weaknesses. There’s a parable about the differences between a house built on sand, and one built on a rock. The one on sand can’t hold up to pressure. The particles of sand on a shore are unattached to one another, flowing in masses and allowing what it holds to drift away at the first encounter of a wave. The even smaller molecules of rocks, however- they are bonded tightly enough to resist just about any pressure. ‘Come at us, waves, we’re in this together. You’ll never get through.’
What we need is not multi-billion-dollar bailouts of multi-national corporations, nor is it individual stimulus checks. Those have never really been what we needed. Those are Hello Kitty bandaids on a gaping wound. The needs we have neglected exist in that place between “what’s in it for me” and “they’re too big to fail”. We’ve neglected the needs of “We the People”. We have failed to strengthen our families and communities to the extent that they can be self-sufficient in times where the wider world is vulnerable. As consumers we shop through global chains, and as voters we show up to polls only when the Presidential race is good. We couldn’t tell you the name of our local store owner or who sits on the city council, but we watch with anticipation or skepticism for tweets from influencers and reports on market trends. Many of us try to avoid saying hello to a neighbor, yet find time for a social media nemesis in comment threads. How could we have reasonably expected to weather a storm such as this without collapse? Not that we did… we didn’t reason about our neighborhoods much at all while we were scrolling, posting, and consuming without care.
I hope that this experience of life without human connection and contact, and the failing of our larger systems, sparks in us a desire to know our neighbors better and spend more time close to home. I hope that we as a people will choose not to rebuild on the sand, placing faith in the rich and powerful to come to our individual rescue because we can’t keep it together. I hope that we will stop considering so much what’s in it for us as individuals and look to see what’s best for the collective wellbeing of those we are truly closest to. I hope that those who represent their neighbors in the halls of Congress will remember who sent them there, figure out what they need, and set forth to empower the work to rebuild at home. I hope our citizens will only consent to be governed by those who will govern honorably.
We are only as strong as our weakest foundations. As we look at a clean slate of a shoreline, now is the time to strengthen the foundations of society, our families and communities, to become as solid as rocks and able to withstand whatever disruptive force blows through next. We can’t do this by looking to rebuild the systems of the recent past, those have failed us, not all at once but insidiously, and should most certainly be abandoned.
Back to the literary examples of times such as these… it never works out well when the big guys come in to clean up the mess. If anything, it often makes matters worse for those who are living with the consequences of society’s demise. When markets and unity of people crumble, there is opportunity for those who hold power to use that clean slate for their own advantage. Do not expect that they won’t do so. The representatives we have are too often acting on behalf of people and organizations that have the means to represent themselves: big box stores, banks, and airlines. Sometimes they throw a bone to placate the masses: a stimulus check, a reduction in bureaucracy, a visit to shake hands and kiss babies. Imagine if those in Washington were truly there with their constituent districts in mind. I imagine the “party lines” wouldn’t be so predictable, because a Democrat from Alabama and a Republican from Connecticut likely would find more in common if they were considering their friends and family over their funders and favor-holders.
Never have I ever imagined myself to be one of those institutionally powerful characters in the story, but at this time I wonder, “Could I be one ordinary woman who infiltrates the larger system to understand and challenge the corrupt norms? Could I stand up to rally a collective demand that representatives cede their power back to the benefit of their people?” That’d be pretty cool. Question is, how does one start a revolution in the present “future times.” There’s no such thing as a soapbox anymore; ranting in internet echo chambers just compounds the noise, at best it’s a fleeting urge to hit share or an annoyance to be unfollowed. We’re past the age of coordinating a coup with a home-fashioned bows and arrows or poorly wielded firearms in the hands of a middle class militia; violence and aggression in the streets these days is quickly (and justifiably) disbanded in the name of public safety. No, we have to disband this system from within itself. Luckily, our system has a well thought out, if not well manipulated, set of processes intended to provide fair governance. The opportunity for meek revolution exists in the design of our Founding Fathers.
If we want a revolution, and if I am to be so bold as to try and kick it off, it’ll take the collective call of my neighbors to say, with their single vote, “Give her the seat, let her represent us, and let the Revolution of Rock Formation begin!”