Friday, April 10, 2020

What Essential Means

Who sustains my existence right now?

The people who work to keep the grocery and drug store running.
The people who make sure food and medicine get to the stores.
The people working a skeleton crew at restaurants to provide carry-out options.
The people who make home deliveries of all sorts.
The people who pull the orders at the stores or in warehouses.
The people who deliver mail for the US Postal Service.
The people who collect trash, recycling, and yard waste.
The people who process those materials once they are collected.

The people, the people, the people.

The people whose jobs in many cases do not pay a living wage.

The people who struggle to make ends meet in Howard County because housing costs are exhorbitant and residents fight the kind of housing density that would make it more affordable.

During the pandemic the work of these people has been identified as essential. It’s too bad we have not recognized that before now.

My social media feeds are full of the complaints of the privileged. I wonder if many of them are also the type to say, “if you can’t afford to live here, go somewhere else.” Or, “renters don’t add to a community, only home-owners do.” “Those low-paying jobs aren’t really skilled.”  Perhaps they also believe that Howard County is full, or dangerously over-crowded. I can’t know for sure.

I do know that the people I am most grateful for, who sustain my existence and that of so many others, are the ones I’d rather be sharing Columbia/HoCo with. Those of us whose primary condition right now is to benefit from the labor of others who are not paid enough, are not sufficiently protected  from the coronavirus, and whose housing choices are woefully inadequate  need to do some hard thinking about who really belongs in Howard County.

My social media feeds also contains stories of those who are using their time, talents, and resources to support local needs wherever they arise. Their work restores my faith in our community as much as the rants of the well-to-do deplete it.

Who should our community be for? Who “deserves” to live and thrive here? Would it be cynical to say, “If you’re not providing an essential service, you should just live somewhere else”?

Yes, of course it would be cynical. And cruel. And it’s certainly not my job to decide who belongs. Maybe this crisis will move the conversation on who deserves to be here, once and for all.

What a relief that would be.

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