Protect the Unprotected
There are a lot of arguments these days about what is the proper response to the Covid-19 crisis. Lockdown, stay open, wear a mask, don’t wear a mask, your work is essential, mine is not. Many of these have been boiled down to short, marketable anecdotes: “Flatten the Curve”, “Stay home, save lives”, “Be a good neighbor, wear a mask.” The darker side of this is that some people don’t encourage these behaviors with these kind of cheery sayings, but with aggressive words, profanity and sometimes, violence. People have adopted a viewpoint (whatever that might be) and they feel a self-righteous fervor in demanding compliance to that viewpoint. Fist fights and shouting matches have broken out over things people had no opinion at all about when 2020 began.
The irony is many of the people who are making the majority of the arguments and deciding the official local government stipulations for your community will be okay whatever the decision. They are like many people in that they are among the “protected” a group that has the freedom to do their job remotely. They can adjust to whatever changes are necessary for their children to continue to receive a quality education and put themselves into a bubble that will allow them to completely avoid exposure whenever they choose. This, of course, is made possible by a larger class of society, the “unprotected”, who are “essential” to our society continuing or deemed “unessential” and probably found themselves unemployed.
If you are reading this, you are more likely a part of the protected class as far as the world goes, as access to the internet, the ability to read in English and the leisure time to do so are leading indicators of being protected worldwide. One blogger described his protected experience like this: “I’ve observed the tech industry for two decades; it’s a job, but it’s hardly work: I’m a nerd; I like science, technology, and medicine. Right now, I couldn’t be more comfortable in lockdown. Amazon supplies my dry goods while a friendly driver brings my groceries. My family and I are safe. No one comes near us without a mask. I control my environment; I choose the people in whose presence I’ll work, if any.”
The growth of tech and office work has been good overall. Some may have been downsized or lost their jobs, but chances are, if they still have their job, they are able to function in much the same way as the blogger above describes. For this type of worker, they can argue for extended lockdowns and restrictions with little thought of how those changes might impact them personally.
The same blogger contrasts his lifestyle with that of what he might have become, if he had continued in his family’s working class roots: “He commutes by bus, encountering irresponsible louts who refuse to mask up. He worries about it, too. His wife, who had earned a second income, is at home supervising their kids. He lives by the lunch buzzer and the punch clock. If there’s music where he works, it’s amplified by cheap, overdriven speakers and the genre will suit him only by chance. The temperature and ambient noise and lighting were calibrated by industrial psychologists. He can’t evade disagreeable co-workers. He’s paid far less than a family wage, but he’s got no health coverage or pension. He endures daily uncertainty about his family’s needs.” This is but one example of the unprotected we mentioned earlier.
Another example is small business owners. Most small businesses were deemed nonessential during the initial days of the pandemic and ordered closed. Some of these businesses faced this even though their main competitors such as Walmart and Amazon were allowed to remain open. In some places, small businesses such as restaurants and bars still face such heavy restrictions that they must chose to stay closed or open and operate at a heavy loss. All of this has been devastating, with some estimates as many as 25% of all small businesses are considering closing permanently, with more than 100,000 already closed for good.
Small businesses fail every day during normal times, but this is different. Some of these were successful before the lockdowns and there are heartbreaking stories of multi-generational businesses closing down after decades. These represent not only the families that are the owners, but also the many people they hired in their communities. Where does a small business owner turn when they have lost the only business they have ever known.
Social issues abound for the unprotected. Some families were able to enjoy the extra time together that a lockdown brought, but for others, it put their families and some family members at risk. One local government official called for people to remember the “silent victims“. He said, “Over the generations, our society weaved a fabric of safe spaces — schools, churches and community centers that created a patchwork of places that monitored the safety of children. The fabric of our society, as thin as it has been for many of our neighbors, is now failing for those who cannot afford for it to fail, and the consequences are deep, heartbreaking and generational.” At risk kids saw their risk increase dramatically when these safe spaces closed down.
Adults are feeling the effects as well, with one survey finding 44% of Californians were suffering from anxiety or depression when surveyed this summer, a 4 fold increase from a similar survey from the previous summer. Hotlines have also noted an increase in calls from those at the point of suicide or self harm. 911 calls for domestic violence are on the increase as well. We could also mention those with increased health risks because of missed health screenings or delayed treatment. In Colorado, the local paper cited increases in deaths by heart attack and cancer in addition to an increase in suicide deaths. Many think it will be years before we know the long term health consequences of delayed treatments.
All of these examples are horrible, but they pale in comparison to the impact on those around the world. We live in a Global, highly-interconnected world economy and shutdowns in the US and Europe have a ripple effect in Asia, Africa and South America. Unlike most ripples, the unprotected nature of those impacted in these countries means the ripples turn into waves, with the potential to wash them away. In an AP news report, “All around the world, the coronavirus and its restrictions are pushing already hungry communities over the edge, cutting off meager farms from markets and isolating villages from food and medical aid. Virus-linked hunger is leading to the deaths of 10,000 more children a month over the first year of the pandemic, according to an urgent call to action from the United Nations”.
The article continues, “Further, more than 550,000 additional children each month are being struck by what is called wasting, according to the U.N. — malnutrition that manifests in spindly limbs and distended bellies. Over a year, that’s up 6.7 million from last year’s total of 47 million. Wasting and stunting can permanently damage children physically and mentally, transforming individual tragedies into a generational catastrophe.” We can’t ignore this. Decisions made locally have a global impact. The people making these decisions can’t ignore these ripples. They can’t ignore the unprotected in their community or around the world.
We live in a complex world. Decisions this important can’t be summed up in a meme or quick anecdote. I don’t have the answers to the problems the world faces, but when we are making decisions about what to do in the future, we have to look at them as the many-layered strata that they are. An epidemiologist will tell you how to deal with an epidemic. A virologist will give advice on how to fight a virus. An economist will give advice on how not to destroy the economy. A leader has to make a decision based on a variety of voices, but most of the people giving input are a part of the protected class. The unprotected must have a voice as well. Make sure these “silent victims” are never ignored again.
An aside for those of you who join me in the Christian faith. We are called as a part of our belief to care for the unprotected. Isaiah 1:17 calls on the followers of God to: “Learn to do good, seek justice, rebuke the oppressor, defend the fatherless, and plead for the widow.” Jesus said He came “to bring good news to the poor, He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Luke 4:18–19 All around the world, Christians acting together and as individuals have done more for the unprotected than any other group. You personally may be a part of the protected, but there is someone in your community who needs your help and there are victims who need us to stand up for them. We are the essential, frontline workers in the fight against injustice.