An Open Letter to Those Who Don’t Pay Attention to Politics

Four years ago, I had a conversation
with an older man, an immigrant
with a serious, demanding job,
a job where he saved lives, a man
who didn’t pay a lot of attention
to politics. He asked me if I wasn’t
getting a little hysterical, when I said
people would die if we elected Trump.
(He didn’t actually say hysterical, but
I think that’s what he meant. Silly woman,

worrying her head about silly things.)

Back then, we didn’t know Covid was coming
around the corner, though if we’d been paying
attention, we’d have known a pandemic lurked;
the CDC had been warning us, for years.
Many of us weren’t paying attention, though.
He and I, we definitely didn’t know that Trump

would gut the CDC. That wasn’t on our radar.

I didn’t know we’d start putting children
in cages. I didn’t know we’d start
sterilizing immigrant women. I didn’t know
we’d start dismantling the very rule of law —
and whatever criticisms you may have
of America’s legal system, and there’s plenty
to criticize, I am absolutely sure

we’d be far worse off without it.

I didn’t foresee every particular nasty
iteration of the last four years. I didn’t realize
that every morning for months I’d wake,
read the news, and think, ‘what fresh hell is this?’
I didn’t know that it would get so bad that

the national park service would go rogue.

The park service, people.

Even the trees protest.

But I knew refugees would be turned away,
forced to take children back to war-torn homelands.
‘No one puts their children in a boat,

unless the water is safer than the land.’

I knew hate crimes would rise, that people of color
and women and queer folks would all be at greater risk,

the vicious emboldened by their president’s rhetoric.

I knew services to the poor would get cut,
even though one of the best investments we can make
as a country is feeding each other. Food stamps
return a dollar and thirty cents for every dollar spent,
almost immediately. Unemployment pay is almost
as effective. (I didn’t know Covid was coming, that
we’d need unemployment on a scale

far greater than before.)

It matters, who runs the country. In small ways
and large, it matters. Every day, the decisions they make
cost lives or save them. That’s what it is, to be president,
to set priorities. And in a time of global disaster,

the scale of what they can affect is magnified immensely.

As of today, America has lost 231,000+ people
to Covid-19. We are notoriously bad, we Americans,
at looking outside our own borders, but the briefest glance
at New Zealand, at Vietnam, at my own homeland
of Sri Lanka, tells us that we have badly mismanaged
this pandemic. The economy suffers for it too,
and as a result, even more people will lose their homes,

their livelihood, their families, their lives.

Presidents can’t control everything —
but at the end of the day, they’re responsible.
We live, and die, based on the priorities they set,

the choices they make.

Today is election day in America.

America, it matters.

Choose better.

*****

Mary Anne Mohanraj

11/3/20

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