There is a fork in the road to recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. One path is surrounded by protests and outrage, its direction swayed by ideology and politics—travelers are defined as “us” …
There is a fork in the road to recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. One path is surrounded by protests and outrage, its direction swayed by ideology and politics—travelers are defined as “us” and “them.” The other is a path drawn by logic, expert opinion and compassion, communal sacrifice, and pointed toward a stronger, kinder, healthier community.
We should take the second path.
In Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Wolf has taken a county-by-county approach to reopen the state. Partnering with Carnegie Mellon University to determine public-health risks, Wolf’s administration has been hand-picking counties that are ready to move from the red phase—full restrictions in place—to the yellow phase—slightly more lenient restrictions.
As Pennsylvanians have anxiously waited to learn the fate of their counties, their patience has worn thin, and their attitudes toward the governor have turned bitter.
When the River Reporter posts its PA coverage of COVID-19 to social media, the comment sections frequently become a forum for political debate—why the pandemic has inspired someone to vote all-Republican in November or, conversely, how much of the current situation can be blamed on President Donald Trump.
Many of them place blame squarely at Wolf’s doorstep.
“Wolf is a tyrant,” commented one Facebook user. “He’s a lib. They don’t listen or care for FACTS,” posted another.
Last week in Harrisburg, Pennsylvanians flocked to the State Capitol Building to protest the governor and his administration’s handling of the pandemic. Amid “Reopen PA” banners and acrostic posters with messages like “Stop Tyranny Over Pennsylvania,” a group of protesters unfurled a red, white and blue flag with the words “Re-elect Donald J. Trump,” printed across the top.
People often criticize politicians for “politicizing tragedies” after a natural disaster or mass shooting. In the case of this pandemic, we seem to have done it ourselves.
Clearly, one of the unforeseen side-effects of COVID-19 has been accelerated division and polarization. But it has also produced—equally and oppositely—harmony amid dissonance, collaboration through catastrophe.
In Wayne County, local government officials examined the hardships which the widespread closure of businesses was sure to inflict on or exacerbate many residents. Their idea to help people through it—the Wayne County Emergency Food Relief Fund—required coordination and cooperation among virtually every sector of the community. It involved the work of government agencies, resources of the local school district, inventory from local grocery stores, produce from local farmers, creative fundraising from community organizers, time and effort from around 80 volunteers, food donations from local grocers and restaurants, and monetary donations from residents.
Raising $180,000 and feeding more than 1,000 families, the food relief fund was successful. It was innovative—a massive undertaking with a surprisingly brief turnaround period of about a week between idea and reality. Most importantly, though, it was accomplished without any regard for the political ideologies of those involved.
Nobody got involved because they were a Democrat or a Republican; they got involved because they wanted to help their neighbors. As a volunteer handed a week’s worth of groceries to a resident who has been out of work for more than a month, neither spent much time wondering who the other voted for in the last election.
The food program is just one example of the innovations that have arisen locally as a direct result of this pandemic. And as the River Reporter continues covering these kinds of stories—whether it pertains to local musicians, farmers, mental health professionals, community organizers, et cetera—the takeaway seems to always be the same: The creative solutions this pandemic has forced us to discover will continue being valuable even once things get back to normal.
Community, at its core, is the antithesis of partisanship. And so, at a time when the strength of our community is being tested like perhaps never before, it is incumbent upon each of us to transcend the corrosive arguments as liberals versus conservatives and come together as neighbors looking for innovative, sustainable ways to keep our community strong.
Throughout the remainder of this pandemic, we ought to be listening to experts. Let’s put our faith in doctors, scientists and economists based on their credentials, rather than putting it in politicians based solely on the color of their tie.
As we all deal with the hardships that the virus has spread into our lives, we should try our best to stay positive. And when that isn’t possible, we can at least try to channel our frustrations constructively. An engaged member of the community can get a lot more done than an enraged poster of Facebook.
And, of course, politics do matter. Our elected officials play a huge role in responding to this crisis efficiently and keeping us safe. The message is not that we should not ignore politics, it’s that we should rise above partisan rhetoric and divisive attitudes. Let’s vote more in municipal elections, let’s attend more public meetings, let’s write more letters to our representatives and let’s remember that no matter if our neighbor votes red, blue or somewhere in between—we are all in this together.
The desire to beat COVID-19 is something we can all finally agree on—don’t let this common cause go to waste. Let’s come out of this time of great suffering collectively stronger than we went in.