Photo credit: L. Cunningham, US Air Force
As someone whose mission is bringing about positive change in communities around transportation and mobility, I think a lot about the status quo. In mobility, the status quo is the exorbitant funding for roads compared to public transit. It’s the loss of vulnerable lives walking and riding bikes for the convenience of speeding autos. And it’s the systematic prioritization of white neighborhoods at the expense of communities of color.
The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically shifted our communities in a very short time. The challenges are immense and already well-documented. Though North Carolina has been spared some of the worst of the pandemic so far, we recognize and honor those challenges. They are real and they hurt.
And yet, we have to acknowledge this pandemic has inspired some positive outcomes. Some of the positive changes are public:
Car crashes are down significantly.
And some of the changes are more personal in nature:
Families are rediscovering game nights.
Outdoor exercise is flourishing.
Happy hours are being reinvented on Zoom.
When we have this experience to look back on, these positive changes will recalibrate some of those “the way things always have been” conversations. It is already putting into stark relief some of the things that we accepted as inherent to the status quo just may not be.
For instance, many working parents and disability advocates are finding out that work from home limitations were not technical in nature, but a lack of imagination at best and discrimination at worst. Some cities are finding that sidewalks that aren’t wide enough for proper social distancing require more aggressive measures by taking away roadspace. And Spain is planning a Universal Basic Income to ensure that everyone can pay their bills, even when the pandemic runs its course.
Still, while some aspects of the status quo are changing, more troubling parts of the status quo–especially around issues of equity–still remain.
- Areas of the country, especially communities of color, already dealing with a lack of healthcare investment are now some of the hardest hit by COVID-19.
- Frontline, lower-wage workers like transit operators, grocery store clerks, and food preparers and deliverers are struggling under the weight of lost wages, a lack of personal protective equipment, and higher rates of exposure.
- Kids who traditionally relied on their school for internet access and food are now navigating an impressive—but still community-driven—effort to cover these critical resources.
As we collectively struggle with this pandemic which can infect all of us equally, but will affect us all differently, I’ve found Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” instructive as he dealt with the similarly virulent scourge of racism:
Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.
When we pull one string to close schools, we loosen our social safety net a tad. And when we don’t pay living wages or appropriately honor those nameless workers who we all depend on now, we all pay the price. And when we chronically underinvest in the communities that need it the most, the status quo digs in a little deeper.
So, even during these challenging times, let’s celebrate those areas where we’re already upending the status quo and let’s commit to ensuring that everyone benefits from the needed changes still to come.
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