A North Carolina state lawmaker gives his take on the work facing the NC General Assembly as it returns to Raleigh mid-pandemic.
At a scale we haven’t seen in decades, people are putting their lives on the line and placing their futures on hold to benefit the public good. Inevitably, this time of shared sacrifice will change us, our state, and our nation. The question is how?
When we sacrifice individual gain for the public good, we are forged into better versions of ourselves. When we observe others sacrificing for something bigger than themselves, it reawakens public faith and deepens community bonds.
As a state legislator, this sacrifice, and who makes it weighs heavily on my mind as I make legislative choices that affect us all. With the return of the legislative session this week, it is even more important that the members of our General Assembly consider those in our community who are sacrificing and the members of our community who have been gravely affected.
Our response to Coronavirus must honor those sacrificing the most to hold us together, those who have become our greatest heroes. Long unsung medical providers take center stage in news stories. Parents find new appreciation for the patience and energy of teachers. Public officials who demonstrate competence and clarity earn our respect. Hourly wage earners like grocery store clerks receive our deep appreciation for taking risks most of us would not. We know that we are all collective beneficiaries of the sacrifices they make.
What must come next is investment in a recovery that is also shared, benefitting all of us. While sacrifice during a crisis is deeply admirable and appreciated, it won’t be sufficient as we rebuild. Our systems are falling short, and for those at the margins — especially those who have long suffered from systemic suppression and inequity — individual acts of heroism today will not be enough to protect them in the future.
COVID-19 seems to be a great equalizer. We’re all vulnerable, stuck at home, and dependent on a broken system should we get sick. But beneath the surface, it’s clear that relative status, economic standing, and, yes, the color of one’s skin, make it much easier for some people to navigate the threats and disruptions this pandemic presents. Ultimately, everyone can die from this virus, but not everyone will. Status and access to resources will determine life and death, just as they do every day.
The magnitude of the challenges we face are matched by the opportunities before us. How shall we respond to the mounting crises of public health, education, financial insecurity, good government, and all the systems and supports that define our lives as Americans? Who will survive? Who will thrive? Who will be left behind?
This crisis is shining a light on fractures and holes long present in a society already rife with inequity.
Our public health system has been long under-resourced — a fact now even the most prosperous among us have to reckon with.
Our public schools have always struggled to provide equal opportunity, and now there is no easy answer for how to educate children without Internet access or parent-guided structure at home.
And even the largest government financial stimulus in history is not enough to assure the resilience of our neighbor’s pocketbook.
In each of these cases, our greatest challenge is not individual health, education or welfare. We are struggling with living up to the word “public.”
When we emerge from this shutdown, our public policies in recovery will reflect the extent to which we have actually come together during this time. If we choose to, our nation can truly bind itself together, stronger than ever and built for us all.
Together, we can repair our fractured society, prioritize the public good, and recover the health, safety and prosperity that we all want for every American. Only then will our shared sacrifice truly forge a more perfect union.