There are many social issues that look a lot different up close and personal. We saw this with gay marriage: As our society got to know more and more gay people (we haven’t seen this really with the trans and non-gender conforming community yet so I’m not using the LGBTQIA+ acronym) we became more “accepting” of policies supporting gay rights and equality.
I don’t know if I’d have as much empathy for people living in poverty if I hadn’t dipped the my toe in the pool myself for awhile. I had a huge safety net (thank you, white privilege) that kept me from going full in, but I was poor long enough to understand that forcing drug tests for SNAP benefits is cruel and that trying to blame people for their poverty lacks empathy and shows a terrible misunderstanding of humanity.
Lately…as people in every community are losing their jobs, or seeing their businesses crumble, our society as a whole is pushing for COVID19 related relief. Small business loans, stimulus checks, unemployment increases, relief for medical bills related to COVID19…and so on. It should come as no surprise that I am 100% behind all of that.
But I really want this to carry beyond COVID19.
NO ONE should go without healthcare, no matter what their condition. And while on paper “choosing employment based healthcare” sounds good to people who are scared of universal healthcare…look what happens when people lose their jobs. And honestly? My family has enjoyed Silicon Valley employer-paid healthcare for years and if given a choice I’d take universal healthcare any day of the week.
We’re begging utility companies to keep the water on in homes where someone became unemployed in this crisis. But…as someone who had her utilities cut of a few times back in college…why is it EVER okay for someone to go without utilities? And here’s a fun fact: If you can’t pay your bill and your utilities get cut off…you have to pay EXTRA to get them turned back on. So…again…it’s more expensive to be poor. Was I less deserving as a struggling single Mom finishing up college than someone who lost their event planning job for a global pandemic?
We’re grateful for stimulus checks so no one has to go without paying rent if they got laid off because the economy shut down. But if they have to go without paying rent because the person who earns money in their household got sick, we don’t mind if they end up evicted? Based on some calculations 2.3 million people got evicted in 2016. Do we not care about those people? (Sidenote: Read “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City.”)
Don’t misunderstand me. I don’t want to make this a debate about how many other people have bad luck in non-pandemic situations and how we should take care of anyone who stumbles upon unfortunate times. That’s not what I’m saying.
I have an even more radical thought: We should take care of everyone. PERIOD.
Let’s say the household earner got arrested. Let’s say a smoker got lung cancer. Let’s say a drug addict used their utility money to feed their habit and got their water cut off. THOSE PEOPLE DESERVE CARE TOO.
I just hope that maybe we all become more understanding as a society of what humans deserve…just for being humans. And maybe we can understand how much wealth actually exists in our country and be ashamed at how many people go without, even when we are not in a lockdown during a pandemic.
Let this shift our understanding of what a truly beautiful society could look like. One of my favorite authors said this on Twitter:
The majority of people struggling in our country could thrive if they just had a bit of a safety net. If their bottom layers of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs were met. Have you noticed that during this stressful time your creativity is stunted and your focus is non-existent? That’s because you’re suddenly worrying about your physiological needs (home, health) and your safety and so you have NOTHING LEFT to work on improving yourself or being entrepreneurial. Imagine if you were always worried about how to buy groceries or pay bills? Imagine if you never felt safe?
Right now, every one of us knows someone economically impacted by this virus, so the effects of financial distress is hitting a lot closer to home. Let that empathy stay with us and let it carry us into how we vote and how we expect our government to run. Let us stop blaming people for poverty and and let’s STOP withholding aid based on some self-righteous description of “deserving” written by people who hold the power. Let us be enlightened to the systemic issues that have constantly put black and brown Americans at a disadvantage and let us shine a light on the imbalance of power given to white men. We have all have seen the pain of misfortunate up close and personal in every community and every family. Let us STAY AWAKE so that we redefine normal.