Amidst the daily bleak news and suffering around the world, I am heartened by action being promoted and taken on behalf of shared responsibility for our collective health. Most people who have passed by a TV screen or looked at the news are now aware of the need to #flattenthecurve. We all have to change our behaviors and practice social distancing if we are to slow the spread of a very contagious disease in order to limit a spike that would overwhelm the medical system. This means that even people who are low risk need to adopt behaviors that require some sacrifice so that they are not spreading the disease. If we are to reduce the spread and mortality of Covid-19, we need to take a hard look at the cost of individualism and inequity that are ingrained into life in the U.S.
And there is good news. In the midst of this all we are seeing signs of a different collectivist response that goes beyond social distancing. People in neighborhoods are reaching out to seniors offering to pick up groceries and meds, support forums are cropping up all over, some creative folks have created mutual aid forms to slide under neighbor’s doors. The responses that will save lives are coming bottom up, at an individual level as people exercise responsible behavior, at a neighborhood level, at the city level as local officials collaborate with public health to implement informed policies. Some media outlets lament that this is happening because we lack effective centralized leadership. Yes, it would be good to have better plans in place, and the kind of culture change we need is not going to come from on high, it’s going to come from us.
That means realizing that these volunteer and mandated actions will take huge financial and health tolls on people who have no paid sick time or medical coverage, who have kids home from school and will lose wages, for people who will become unemployed and lose their job indefinitely. Those who are unhoused, dependent on public transportation, or in prisons will be susceptible to greater exposure (and spread) with little option for protective social distancing. While it’s always been true, perhaps it will become more apparent in the months ahead, that our health is interdependent, we cannot neglect and marginalize anyone and remain healthy as a society.
In the immediate term there is local ingenuity pushing to stop evictions, to install more sanitation stations in homeless encampments, to shift resources (yay to foundations doing this) to folks without health care. In the long term, I hope we are on the path to a more just future. One fueled by a deeper understanding of our interdependence, by the examples of local initiative and collective problem solving and by trampling the culture of individuals with community caring and love in the months ahead. We extend this care to all of you and would love to be in communication about what you need and how we can help.