The Wolf at Our Door

It isn’t reasonable to expect people to become convinced and internalize that we’re entered a serious crisis situation in just a few days. I know that.

Even if they do get to that point, many of us are overwhelmed with work and care responsibilities, mental health concerns, fear for ourselves and our loved ones. There’s a lot of moving parts and shifting information, with all the authorities seemingly caught just as flat-footed as the rest of us, scrambling, and our capitalist society is breathing economic panic at us, the wolf always at our door. I get that.

And of course, the data projections are terrifying, even for me, and I am normally the most chill of humans. If we do nothing, we’re looking at more than a million deaths in just the U.S. A million. The problem is so big, so scary, and honestly, the scale of it feels so out of the blue still, despite the fact that China has been fighting this for months. Many folks are going to have a very hard time even READING about the truth of it; they’ll want to look away. That is only human.

I would love to give people time to process, give our society time to adapt.

And yet the ticking clock means that we can’t actually do that. In the last week I’ve become convinced (and I WISH I’d realized it much faster, I’m so angry at myself for how long it took me to understand the truth of what I was reading), that this is an all hands on deck situation. Right now.

In the next 7-10 days, those of us Americans who aren’t in healthcare have to do EVERYTHING we can to support those who are working the problem directly. If that means our kids watch screens for a few weeks, if it means our students get essentially placeholder e-mails for a few weeks (keep up with the reading, we’ll be back soon with a revised course plan, assuming we actually manage to finish out the semester), that is OKAY.

We’re trying to drag a projected million-plus deaths this year in America down to a few thousand. We might even be able to do it, if we have the commitment, the political and personal will.

We need to reset our priorities immediately, collectively. We have to start thinking seriously about what is nonessential and can be put to the side for a few weeks. There’ll be time to catch up on the kids’ homework soon. Right now, there is so much work to do, that has to be done FAST. Work, work, work — rest enough to keep your strength and spirits up, because you can’t help if you collapse, read something funny, laugh for a moment — then work some more.

And I know some of you are reading this and maybe getting pretty angry at me, because you have DONE everything you’ve been asked to do and more, you would LOVE to be able to help, and you’re incredibly frustrated that you can’t figure out how to help. I was arguing with my husband about this, just barely not yelling at him, and that’s pretty much what he just barely managed not to yell at me in response. I get that.

Here’s the thing. I spread the word a little. I did some community work. But only with a little bit of my attention, my focus.

I think I kept waiting for a higher-up, a community leader, a medical person, to step forward and say, “Okay, here’s the plan, here’s the task we need you to do.” But they’re all scrambling too. And of course, they ARE working the problem — a lot of people are working really hard.

But some of them, a lot of them, are working the WRONG problem. They’re focused on their own domain, trusting that someone else is handling the larger picture. And that’s just not enough right now. We all need to think and look wider. If you were in government, if you were in charge, what would you want to see happening?

It makes me want to weep, seeing how many faculty have earnestly spent the last two weeks trying to become experts in engaging online education, so they can help their students achieve the course objectives set in calculus and composition pedgagogy two months ago. And that’s totally understandable, but it’s wrong. It’s just wrong.

Professors, take those skills and shift them outward, away from just your classes. You and I, we need to be public intellectuals right now.

And everyone, whatever your education and work background, if you have the skills — community-building skills, tech skills, organizational skills, communication skills, if you are the voice in your community that people listen to — the world needs you. It needs you right now.

Look around. Find the people near you who are working the social distancing & healthcare ramp-up problems hard, working them well — there ARE a lot of them, and many of them have been running flat out for weeks, so busy and anxious and exhausted that they don’t even have the capacity to reach out and say, “Help.”

Ask them what they need, ask them how you can help. I’m afraid if no one near you (online or off) is doing anything really useful to combat the wildfire spread of coronavirus, then maybe you’re going to have to be the one to organize something, to rally the troops. (If you’re in a state that hasn’t closed the schools yet, you know what your next task to work on is. Indiana just closed their schools. Another step. More lives saved. Onwards.)

What else? Form a mutual aid group. Figure out which legislators to lobby for disaster relief funds so people can afford to stay home from their jobs without starving. Find out what the hospitals and healthcare workers need most urgently, that you can help supply. (Childcare funds and an organization that will provide safe childcare while maintaining social distancing? Is that something you can work on?)

MOST OF ALL, do whatever you can to support social distancing this week. From now (3/19) until the end of March. Spread the word effectively, emphatically, compassionately. Build a social media campaign. Design memes and write stories (short ones). Record tik-toks. If you know people with broader social reach than you (if you know celebrities!), rope them in. If you know people with money, businesses in a position to donate funds, talk to them too.

Help make social distancing economically and practically and legally feasible for as many people as possible.

There are going to be many societal problems to work in coming months, as we see a seismic shift in how we live our lives, but THIS is the urgent one for the next 7-10 days.

(And then rest a little, and work it some more, because we’re going to explain this to people and do it over and over again, probably for 12-18 months. If that surprises you, please read the article linked at the end.)

I’m going to try to put together a more concrete task list and post it by tomorrow morning. It will fall broadly into three categories:

– communication around social distancing
– economic support for social distancing practices
– support for healthcare workers

As far as I can see, those are the three failure points that need serious and sustained reinforcement. I’ll link to the task list here once I have it ready.

But right now, please. If you have capacity without endangering your health (physical or mental) — look around. See who’s supporting social distancing and healthcare effectively. Help them.

And read this:…/coronavirus-projections-us/

Update 3/20: I’ve started my brainstorming structure list here; I’d appreciate your thoughts:


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