Covid 19 reveals underlying truths about our society

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Published: 4/14/2020 8:39:10 AM

Breaking routine is a good thing in the arts. If Red Riding Hood simply walks through the woods to grandmother’s house it’s not much of a story. When she meets a wolf we start paying attention because things have become unpredictable. Good writing, good theater depends on breaking routine.

Our routines have surely been disrupted by COVID-19, which is causing us to pay attention to what had been our somewhat unconscious routines in ways we may never have before. One possibly positive aspect of this crisis is that it may lead to us paying attention to issues or injustices we have kept hidden in plain sight, that we have refused to deal with. I want to highlight three of those issues that have caused us to become less whole, less healthy, and less functional, even before the virus arrived in hopes that once the virus has run its course we will act to address them.

Inequality

We are increasingly aware that we are only as healthy as the person we are standing next to, and that awareness has significant implications. Research has proven that the number one determinant of health on a societal level is economic inequality; the more unequal the society, the poorer the health of the entire population, though most particularly those who are on the lowest economic rungs. Those living in poverty are less likely to consistently have sufficient food, clothing, shelter, and health care. They are less likely to have stable employment that pays a living wage which means they are living high stress lives, and stress is a killer, associated with heart disease, cancers, and other life-long illnesses. People living in poverty are more likely living in environmentally unsafe environments and are more likely to develop asthma and other respiratory diseases, heart problems, high blood pressure, and diabetes. They are most vulnerable to the virus because they are more likely to have these pre-existing conditions, more likely to have to keep working to feed their families, and less able to isolate at home. They may well be the people we are standing next to, or who are serving us.

Racism

Racism is a cancer that intersects closely with the issue of inequality. Racism adds to the stress and inequality as people of color are disproportionately living in poverty, working low paying jobs with no benefits, living in those environmentally hazardous parts of our cities and towns. Racism has been playing out even more intensely during this COVID-19 crisis as communities of color are experiencing higher rates of death and serious illness than are white communities due to their disproportionately higher levels of asthma, heart conditions, high blood pressure, and diabetes. People of color also make up a disproportionate percentage of our prison populations, and in the overcrowded concentration camps where asylum seekers are incarcerated and the virus is spreading rapidly through them. The violence of racism has been here through our entire history and compounds the damages COVID-19 carries. The virus of racism also kills.

Corporate capitalism

Corporate capitalism, which currently dominates our economy closely intersects with the first two points. The goal of corporate capitalism is to make as much money as possible for owners and investors, and that lust for profit overcomes concern for people, the environment, or our democracy. This drive for profits has resisted attempts to bring health care for all and to make drugs affordable, to have every job pay a living wage, to have businesses pay to clean up the environmental disasters they have caused, and has compromised our electoral system such that we’ve become a government of the rich for the rich. This system has worked to undermine the interests of the population, leaving more of us poor, uninsured, unhealthy, and powerless.

We see how the lust for profit and power is interfering with us dealing with this pandemic, as front line health care workers go to work without masks, gloves, ventilators and other equipment that will protect them and our patients, here in the richest country in history. It is as tragedy, but no accident.

Having large number of people living in poverty is a choice. Having large numbers without health care is a choice. Having policies of racism and hatred are choices. They continue because we allow them to continue, because we elect people who carry out those policies. Let’s make better choices when this nightmare is over, to act for justice and health.

Doug Selwyn is a resident of Greenfield.

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