Dear People In Charge:
You don’t know me. I’m a peon, a single, middle-aged, middle class woman at peak invisible. I live in a small town. I write trivial things that you’ve probably never read. I’m maybe not even the most well-known writer with my same name to write trivial things that you’ve never read. In my professional life, I work in the shallow end of the communications industry in a not-terribly populated side of a southern state. I work with small businesses and small non-profits and small local governments. You probably don’t know most of them either, though you should, because they’re pretty much all wonderful people doing extraordinary things in places you should visit (though perhaps not right now).
There are millions of people working with millions of businesses and organizations like the ones I work with all over the country, all over the world. I understand if you’ve lost sight. We get it. This pandemic is bigger than all of us. And while you may feel a pang when we tell you that we’ve lost a parent or a spouse to COVID or that we’re afraid we won’t be able to buy groceries next month or keep paying our employees or maintain a last, desperate hold on our sanity as we face indefinite fear and isolation without reprieve, we know you’ll probably forget our name or our face. We’re useful as composite, as the wave that comprises the curve, as voter rolls, as possible targets for whatever virus-targeted advertising, conspiracy theory getting passed around on social media, or wingnut argument the President of United States feels compelled to trot out.
In a global pandemic, there is no time for individualism. This is war. How can we defeat this thing? Only as a community. Only as a nation. Only as a world. We’re told to focus on the big picture (which we have no control over). We’re told to focus on the small things (so we don’t go mad thinking about the big picture). We must sacrifice to protect the vulnerable populations, but all populations are maybe vulnerable. (Except you? Including you?) This is working. It’s kind or working. It’s not really working. (Does anyone know if it’s working?)
There are a bunch of crazy people out in the streets, agitating to open shops and sports events at the expense of their lives, stranger’s lives and the whole economic and health infrastructure that holds all of our lives together. Those people are crazy. Definitely crazy. Haven’t they read all the worst case scenarios? There are so many worst case scenarios. Financial Doom. Health Doom. Foot riots. Authoritarianism. Body bags in the street. Depression. Sickness. More unpredictable sickness. Things will only ever get worse, much worse, then maybe better. Maybe not. Folks will face unimaginable hardship. Folks will be forgotten. Folks will be sacrificed for the economy, at a whim. Folks will lose everything, up to an including a single good reason to keep on going, because politics, because public health, because Trump on Twitter.
I know you don’t know what to say, People In Charge, but you really need to strike a balance between “The End is Nigh” and “Nothing Matters.” There’s a way to express to people that we’re all in this together without reducing them to statistics. You need to work harder on that. You might want to balance your worst case scenarios with the occasional soupcon of hope. In my professional experience, people are more willing to deal with privation in the short term if they believe in the promise of the long term. I know you don’t want to lead anyone on, but ffs, no one enjoys being continually clobbered with the unforgiving apocalypse. (Maybe Cormac McCarthy? But I’m pretty sure he’s an outlier.)
Because here’s the thing: those crazy people protesting? They are crazy (and being manipulated by a bunch of corporate interests that definitely don’t have their best interests at heart). But they won’t be the last or the only. And the longer this goes on, and the more hopeless it looks, the more stalled out and stuck in the mire everything feels? The crazy is going to look less crazy and more like a reasonable, if destructive, response to being told that nothing is working or changing and the situation will maybe/possibly/probably never get better. Because if you believe there’s no hope at all, why not see your friends? Why not do a thing you love one last time? Why not rage against the dying of the light?
So, look, people in charge: figure out how to take care of people. Work on the testing thing 100%. Invest in all the PPE and get it to the front lines. Then, make sure the second, third lines—from Irene down the block, who is still pulling shifts at the supermarket to your Mom who might eventually have to go to the store herself if she can’t find a delivery service—have masks too. Get people paid and keep them paid and fed. Be honest about when it will happen and how it will happen. Technical errors will be inevitable, so don’t lose extra time on stupid vanity projects, scattershot ideological arguments and unnecessary red tape.
And for the love of God, work on the message, because your narrative sucks. You need to remind people not just of what’s at stake, but why it’s worth it. You need to remember that every single one of those people has a face. Your job is not just to scare us straight or goad us into giving up. Your job should also be inspiring us to go on and think about the future.
The medical community sees those faces. They deal with patients one on one. They see what virus is doing to people. That’s why they’re hitting so hard.
The small towns, small organizations and small businesses I work with? They similarly haven’t lost a sense of character and plot. Which is why you’re ten times more likely to find a shred of something hopeful on a local message board than on the national news. They’re doing everything they can to take care of their people, because they know only way we survive this is together.
It would be awesome if it felt like anyone upstairs—federal government, national media, etc– cared half as much.
Get your shit together.
A Concerned Peon
Picture today was taking in front of the Capitol about three years ago, in May of 2017.
As of this writing, 641,804 people have recovered from COVID-19.