Our Collective Weight

It’s a bit like these two donkeys are walking along the bridge, and one of them doesn’t have anything on his back and the other one is covered with packages and bales and bundles. The first donkey says, “Jesus, that’s quite a load you got on.” And the second donkey says, “What load?” You get used to it. ~Stephen King


“Isn’t it weird that it feels normal already?” I asked.

My husband just nodded. And then he sighed.

And here we are.

I go to the grocery store one time per week, wearing a mask someone made for my husband’s clinic. It is a shockingly republican shade of blue and is decorated with the word GOLF and little golf balls and putters and golf bags. (We don’t golf.)

I wipe down every inch of my cart before taking it inside. The teenage clerk who sits with the carts at this particular store looked up from her phone last week to tell me – “I already cleaned them.”

I kept wiping.

I don’t feel the anxiety I felt the first time I went to the store after the Inside Times began – alone, without my 7-year-old shopping sidekick, who has always been my grocery companion. That was an eerie experience – pushing my cart by myself through a silent store. No chatter, no unnecessary conversations, no pushing past anyone, no wasted movement.

No wasted breath.

And now, of course, we move like ballerinas through the stores. One pass through. List in hand. No kids screaming. No jokes with cashiers. No annoying woman at the cheese counter complaining.

Just a silent squinty smile (smile with your eyes, I always think, because they can’t see anything else) between shoppers and a nod to the workers as they stack-stack-stack.

I felt like I won the lottery this week when I found a four pack of lysol wipes. As I internally celebrated, I had to stop and think – What has happened to us?

I take my son to parks during the week, where we giggle and play and run around and look for fossils and discover critters under stones – until there are too many people, and then we go somewhere else.

I remember the first time we did that – walked away when an area got too crowded. I felt sheepish. Like I was breaking an internal code of politeness. But I did it anyway, and I still do.

And it’s become … normal.

There’s this weight to it that we are collectively carrying. But because it’s universal, and because it’s constant, it’s as if we don’t even see it anymore.

This week the New York Times had a story about how parents are getting the short end of the stick right now, trying to be all things to all people all the time. And at the end, it asked readers a few questions. One was something along the lines of Have you or your kids gotten burned out due to the pandemic? How do you motivate?

I spent 15 minutes that I don’t have responding to their question – by explaining that their question was part of the problem.

You don’t motivate yourself out of this. You don’t produce yourself out of this, meditate yourself out of this, or affirm yourself of this. You don’t even pray yourself out of this.

You start by recognizing this for what it is: a historic, time-bending event that touches every single one of us in unique ways … That has created another collective invisible weight that is crushing everyone while we try to pretend it’s not there…

That is tearing off the thin veneer that overlaid income inequality and healthcare disparity in our country. That hid away who was the true “essential worker.” That covered up the racism and poverty shaming inherent in the way medicine is apportioned in our society.

Those are weights, too. Heavy ones. But they’ve been with us so long (we were born with most of them) that it’s even harder for us to see them. And if it’s hard for us to feel the weights that were piled on just six weeks ago, is it any wonder we can’t feel what we’ve been carrying for years?

Now, suddenly, we’ve been marched in front of a grand, society-wide mirror. And now we can see much more clearly all of the weight we’ve been carrying for so long. For some it’s obvious. For others, shocking.

That’s happened to us before, you know. Late one November evening in 2016, millions of people stood aghast as state after state was called for a reality-tv-show president. Could we really be surprised?

Now, just like in 2016, we have a choice as to what to do about what we’re learning. Do we do the comfortable thing and, once the mirror slips from view, go back to silently carrying the weight?

Or do we look at it really closely – right now while it’s so crystal clear – so that we can start throwing off the baggage as soon as we can?

You already know what I think the answer should be. And I think I know what you think the answer should be, too. Because after 2016, even if you weren’t political before, you rolled your sleeves up. Because you could see that only a broken country with baggage for miles could elect a Donald Trump, and you wanted to do what you could to mend and fix and protect.

And you’ve done so well that you’re still here.

There’s nothing about what we’re going through right now that I could describe as “good.” But there are silver linings. And one of the silver lining I see is that more people around us are able to see the burdens – the inequality, the injustice, the systemic prejudice baked into our systems – that we’ve been carrying for so long.

This disaster will eventually give us an opportunity to remake ourselves. If we don’t turn our backs on what we’ve learned in the past six weeks, we’ll be able to make changes that would otherwise take decades to accomplish.

Let’s keep that focus, so all this pain won’t have been in vain.

And let’s get to work.

Actions for the Week of April 28, 2020

Tuesday: Improve Access To Food

Many states are taking steps to improve access to food during the pandemic through amendments to the SNAP benefit program. Among other changes, the USDA (which was granted flexibility from the Families First Coronavirus Response Act) temporarily suspended the 3 month SNAP benefit limit for unemployed adults under 50 with no children at home.

The Families First Act has also given states authority to increase emergency supplementary benefits; create an electronic benefit transfer request system for households with children normally receiving free or reduced-price meals at school; hasten certification timelines; adapt interviews, signatures, and case reviews to an online or telephonic format; and extend deadlines and reporting periods.

Additionally, 16 states currently participate in a pilot program that permits retailers to accept SNAP benefits online. (Good on them!) Online food shopping allows individuals to access the food they need while also staying safe and socially distant. However, it’s up to states to implement these changes to their food assistance programs. 

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities created a GREAT chart that indicates which states have adopted various waivers and benefits offered under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. Go check it out and see what your state has done! It might surprise you in a good way: https://www.cbpp.org/research/food-assistance/most-states-are-easing-snap-participation-rules-many-have-opted-to-provide

Now that you know what your state has done, call your governor to ask that these missing amendments be addressed and implemented in your state quickly. If your state has done a lot to help people get the food assistance they need, this is a great opportunity to thank your governor! If not, here’s a script: 

Hi, Governor ____. I live in (state – ex// Colorado) and I’m calling about the SNAP program. Thank you for easing emergency allotment restrictions, adjusting and extending reporting periods, and adapting signatures, meetings, and interviews to virtual platforms. I am calling to ask you to work with our regional USDA Food and Nutrition Service office to provide an electronic benefit transfer program for households with children who are missing free and reduced meals at school. Those families would get free/reduced lunches if their kids were in school – so let’s reallocate those benefits to their SNAP accounts so they can feed their kids during the pandemic. I would also like (state – ex// Colorado) to join the 16 states offering an online food purchasing program for people receiving SNAP benefits. This will help people stay safe and access the food they need. Thank you. 

Wednesday: Earth Day, Every Day

Last Wednesday marked the world’s 50th annual Earth Day! The Earth Day Network organized artists from more than 100 countries to participate in a stealth street art campaign, #EarthDay2020Halt. Over 500 muralists and artists created unique art to inspire climate action. Check out this video compilation of the murals. You can also visit the Earth Day Network website to see an interactive map of the protest art. 

Art has a unique power to connect people to emotion and motivate action (read this article for an interesting conversation between an artist and a climate scientist). If you’re feeling inspired from the #EarthDay2020Halt creativity, join the Earth Day Network’s Artist for the Earth initiative. You can sign up to showcase your art as an Artist of the Earth with the Earth Day Network and inspire change through your talent – dance, song writing, or zine making! Quarantine may be the right time for you to tap into your creative side on behalf of our planet.

Thursday: NO Extra Billionaire Tax Breaks on our Backs

You might have already heard about the tax break that the GOP snuck into the CARES Act. Well, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Representative Lloyd Doggett (TX-35) have introduced a bill to repeal the two sections of the CARES Act that offer tax benefits to million-dollar-plus earners.

If passed, this legislation would eliminate the tax benefit a small number of wealthy Americans receive through the coronavirus relief package. The Joint Committee on Taxation estimates that the tax break in sections 2303 and 2304 of the CARES Act will reduce government revenue by $160 billion over the next ten years – at a time when we’re spending trillions of dollars just keeping the wheels on our country.

The beneficiaries of the tax break, which allows certain yearly losses to qualify for reduced tax payments in other years, are largely wealthy hedge fund managers and real estate speculators. These taxpayers can claim refund checks for two years before the coronavirus pandemic. Additionally, the benefits received are not required to be used to maintain payroll unlike other provisions of the CARES Act.

The Joint Committee on Taxation’s analysis shows that the millionaire tax filers benefiting from these two sections will benefit an average of $1.6 million this year. The bill proposed by Senator Whitehouse and Representative Doggett would replace these sections with financial help for small business. Senators Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, and Amy Klobuchar are among the cosponsors in the Senate and there are almost 40 cosponsors in the House. You can read more about the bill here and the inspiration for the bill here. Call your Senators and your Representative to ask them to cosponsor this bill or thank them for doing so!    

Friday: Stand Up For Kids and Families

Students – and parents – face a new reality with online schooling from home. E-learning comes with many challenges for all students, but students without access to a reliable internet connection face particularly difficult hurtles. Although some schools and neighborhoods have gotten creative with extending WiFi routers, the internet access gap threatens to diminish educational opportunities for low income students during COVID-19 (read more here). An estimated ONE in SEVEN kids lack internet at home – this is no small issue, folks.

And don’t get me started on rural access to fast and reliable internet.

The FCC currently has an E-Rate program to help with the costs of WiFi in schools and libraries. This program can and should be transitioned to improving at-home internet access for students.

Enter the The Emergency Education Connections Act of 2020  https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/6563/committees  which gives 2 billion dollars to the FCC E-Rate program to help ensure all K-12 students and teachers have reliable home internet. You can check to see if your Rep is a co-sponsor here: https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/6563/cosponsors?searchResultViewType=expanded&KWICView=false

If they are a sponsor (there are only 20!), give them a buzz to say thanks. If they’re not, give them a call to find out why, and to encourage them to stand up for kids and families that need access to learning.

If you’re a parent, you know how important this particular issue is. Let’s do what we can to help families that need it.

WHEW! GO TEAM!

P.S.: Why don’t you make someone’s day and send this pep talk to a friend or two? I bet they need it.

If you’d like to sign up to get this pep talk and action list in your in-box each week, you can do that here. Welcome, friend!

P.P.S.: If you want to help support this work you can do so via Patreon at
https://www.patreon.com/smalldeedsdone or via paypal at https://www.paypal.me/smalldeeds
My deepest gratitude in advance.

Thank you for reading. Thank you for writing. I read and respond to every e-mail. (Really! I really do!) We’re in this together. Don’t you forget it.

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