As I write this, sirens are blaring outside of my warm and cozy Pacific Northwest home. Normally, I would shrug off the disturbance, but now, I shudder each time its high-pitched trill infiltrates my family’s walls.
I am part of the problem.
I have done some crazy stuff in my life: zip-lined some not-so-secure set ups, fallen out of my fair share of kayaks and canoes, rafted through some wicked rapids without any experience, lived for weeks off whatever was on my back while hiking upwards of 20 miles a day (sometimes through snow). But in each of those scenarios, I never once genuinely thought that my life was at risk.
Now, however, the story is a bit different.
People who have never faced poverty before are being laid off, food banks and social service organizations are scrambling to feed children who rely on school lunches, hospitals are being overloaded with patients as they whittle away at their resources.
Now, everyone is at risk. People who have never feared for their basic livelihood are being simultaneously overwhelmed with over-information and mis-information.
Heading to the grocery store to pick up essentials for one’s family is met with sheer panic and the compulsive wiping-down of every item that came from outside the house. Walking the family dog has turned into an intricate weaving across each sidewalk and street to avoid coming even remotely close to another human being. Turning on the news only to check up on the tally of cases and deaths, their distributions, the resulting disorder of the stock market, is debilitating.
It’s no secret that Americans are viewed as naive and materialistic across the globe, and what is happening within our borders right now only further reiterates this assumption. Outcry over Amazon’s delayed shipment dates, the possibility of shutting down liquor stores, and the newest social media challenge are much louder than concerns about how our homeless population will be protected or what it means to be an hourly worker in the middle of a national emergency.
And while it is so so easy to get frustrated with these misguided responses and selfish inquiries, we must remember that this is brand new territory for all of us.
This isn’t suggesting we dismiss this behavior, by any means, but rather recognize the fact that many Americans (still) hold this belief that safety is more than a facade — it is an expectation.
Part of this is rooted in the gross obsession with private property — and protecting said property — in this country, part in an extreme patriotism and confidence in our leaders, and part in an inherent and hedonistic value of materialism.
Capitalism has instilled these assumptions within us — if you make enough money, you can afford a house with a fence, perhaps a security system, and if you are really lucky, you may even live in a cul-de-sac with an appointed ‘Neighborhood Watch’ consisting of a sign to deter mysterious visitors and an untrained neighbor on the lookout. You can keep your fridge stocked with every organic and fair trade product under the sun, fill your closet with the warmest and sturdiest apparel, pile into your luxurious car with every rear-camera and butt-warmer gadget imaginable, and you will be just fine.
But these boujee whozits and whatzits can’t save everyone — and certainly not anymore.
This pandemic has upended nearly every aspect of our everyday life, our entire economy, and won’t be subsiding any time soon.
So America, it is time to wake up and realize the risks that we are not only facing now due to COVID-19, but every day. If you are willing and able, it is time to support the services that are feeding our neighbors and providing the best care they possibly can to our loved ones.
The illusive veil of safety has been torn down — prompting a greater conversation about what risks are facing the lives of Americans DAILY, but we refuse to address due to a perceived distance or ignorance.
The systemic flaws in our highest-level institutions — public education, healthcare, housing, employment — are being shredded and exposed in a startling way. We as a society have been commending the folks working tirelessly to control this outbreak, as we should, but we owe them more than that.
The most privileged in our society are now being forced to face the reality that they aren’t actually invincible, that there are some glaring gaps in services and support, and we can only hope that this leads to a revolution of sorts.
So when the gates are lifted, doors unlocked, businesses reopened, we must have some very serious conversations about the very serious threats being faced daily by our entire population, and head back to the drawing board.
We as a country are not untouchable, whatever our ungodly military spending and market-praiser leaders tell us, and must come to terms with what this means if we are to insert a bit more humanity into our policy decision making.
Sam is a senior studying Journalism with certificates in Development Economics and Environmental Studies. Do you believe that this pandemic will shatter the illusion of safety? Send all comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.