As the coronavirus pandemic destroys lives and ravages economies all over the world, we are forced to wrestle with how we go forward here at home.
We are battling a global health crisis, which has already cost tens of thousands of lives and pushed the American healthcare system beyond the brink. We are grappling with an economic crisis, as unemployment claims rise exponentially, and businesses close without knowing for how long or if it will be permanent. And we all wait to see how bad it will get.
The heartbreaking unfairness and inequality of America’s economic, healthcare, and education systems are exposed and exacerbated more and more every day.
The federal government appears lost, completely surpassed by a tidal wave of infections. For decades, politicians have told us that when something bad happens, we are largely on our own. Conservative officials and corporate Democrats emphasize “self-reliance,” free markets, deregulation, privatization, and tax cuts for businesses and the super-rich. They told us “the era of big government is over.” We have heard time and time again that those among us who struggle probably did something wrong and deserve it somehow.
Now, we face a crisis that exposes all those assertions as lies. The free market did nothing to prevent the pandemic from coming to our shores or saving our economy as it spread. Private for-profit health care has not protected us from illness. And millions of Americans are losing their healthcare just as they lose their jobs — at the worst possible time. Small government has led to a small, anemic and grossly inadequate response. Business tax cuts have not prevented millions of layoffs. It turns out that the response to a big, natural crisis — the way to solve a big, structural problem — is through collective action, shared sacrifice and, yes, government intervention. Suddenly, collective support and working together are front and center, at the core of everything we do. Pulling together is undeniably important.
The coronavirus pandemic is a natural disaster, but the response to it is in our hands.
These days of confinement are a reminder of how much we rely on each other, every day. Staying home saves lives. Social distancing saves lives. The health of the whole community lies in how we interact, who we meet, and what we do. And we’re only as healthy and safe as our neighbors are.
Will we learn the lessons of this moment? Will we learn them in time, before the next calamities, both the unpredictable and the predictable ones like climate change? Will we acknowledge that there is no Us and Them and that our survival and ability to thrive has always been mutually dependent? Will we see that we all want the same things for our families, whether white, black or brown? Will we take our government back from the greed and hatred that has enabled selfish politics to erode this country for decades? Will we acknowledge that the hourly workers who serve your food or check on your sick family members are more crucial in our lives than the barons of industry and corporate executives we give credit to?
We are all in this together. Social, environmental, and economic problems that impact every one of us can only be addressed by pooling our resources together and committing ourselves to fix them, together. We can do it by electing leaders who care enough to ask us to tackle the big issues, and by acting together to fix them.
The coronavirus pandemic is a natural disaster, but the response to it is in our hands. We choose as a society what happens to each of us when faced with misfortune. We choose as a society how we respond to a growing climate crisis. We choose as a society how we respond to injustice, to fear, to racial discrimination, to oppression. It is on our own hands to decide if we want to live in a state, and in a country where we are all on our own or one where we fight together for what it is right.
How we respond to this crisis will define our state and our nation for years to come — maybe decades. After years of stagnating wages, racial inequality, endless war, and with a climate crisis just over the horizon, we simply cannot go back to the old normal. No longer should a moneyed few hold the reigns of this country and a health crisis left millions of Americans without healthcare, a job, or any help.
The end of this crisis should also bring forward new thinking, new politics, and a new commitment to racial, economic, and social justice.
It is time to set new priorities – and do it together.
Lindsay Farrell is Executive Director of the Connecticut Working Families Party.