Shared Sacrifice Can Forge a Stronger Public
In the midst of this unprecedented pandemic, my thoughts turn to sacrifice. At a scale we haven’t seen in decades, people are putting their lives on the line and placing their futures on hold to benefit the public good. Inevitably, this time of shared sacrifice will change us, the question is how?
I believe shared public endeavors strengthen us as nothing else can. When we sacrifice individual gain for the collective good, we are forged into better versions of ourselves. Our strength grows through working together instead of simply acting for ourselves.
When we observe others sacrificing for something bigger than themselves, it reawakens public faith and strengthens community bonds.
Consider the high regard in which we hold our military and — even more critically in this moment — the great esteem we bestow upon our doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers. We know that these pillars of our community are molded by their service, and that when we need them to, they will place the public welfare above their own.
The ideals embodied in our nation’s motto, E Pluribus Unum, are not easy to live up to. “Out of many, one” is a grand aspiration. Our journey to get there has defined this country. And while the COVID-19 crisis has indisputably sent tremors through our communities, I feel confident that we can seize upon this crisis to better live up to our national promise. To come together. To harness our talents and resolve. To forge a stronger, more just union.
The opportunities we face match the magnitude of the challenges before us. How shall we respond to the mounting crises of public health, education, financial insecurity, good government, and all the systems and supports that define our lives as Americans? Who will survive? Who will thrive? Who will be left behind?
This crisis is shining a light on fractures and holes long present in a society already rife with inequity:
Our public health system has been long under-resourced – a fact that even the most prosperous among us now have to reckon with.
As our public schools shift to distance learning, the challenge they wrestle with the most reflects the word “public” much more than the word “schools.” In the struggle to deliver quality education, the true challenge is to ensure that all children — including those without internet access or parent-guided structure at home — get the education they are entitled to and deserve.
And even the largest government financial stimulus in history is not enough to assure the resilience of our neighbors’ pocketbooks, or our own.
But as our systems struggle, those who sacrifice to repair them emerge as our greatest heroes. Long unsung medical providers take center stage in moving news stories. Parents everywhere find a new appreciation for the patience and energy of teachers. Public officials who show competence and clarity in their approach earn our respect. Humble hourly wage earners like grocery store clerks receive our deep appreciation for taking risks most of us would not. We know that each of us are the collective beneficiaries of the sacrifices these unsung heroes make for our public good.
And to truly honor these efforts, we face a great challenge. How can we ensure that our historical inequalities are not magnified by the crisis we face? The systems we have are falling short. And for those at the margins — those who have long suffered from systemic suppression and inequity — individual acts of heroism will not be enough.
On one hand, COVID-19 seems to be the great equalizer. We are all vulnerable, stuck at home, and dependent on a broken system should we get sick. But beneath the surface, it’s clear that relative status, economic standing, and, yes, the color of one’s skin, make it much easier for some people to navigate the threats and disruptions this pandemic presents. Ultimately, everyone can die from this virus, but not everyone will. Status and access to resources will determine life and death, just as they do every day.
So while shared sacrifices during crises are necessary, they won’t be sufficient as we rebuild. We need systems that live up to the word “public.” Systems that are built for all of us and that can protect, enrich, and empower all of us.
Our nation can bind itself together as we are nourished by the sacrifice of our citizens. Through our newly forged strength, we can reinvest in doing the public work in which so many of us believe. We can repair our fractured society, prioritize the public good, and recover the health, safety, and prosperity that we all want for every member of the American public. Our shared sacrifice can forge one public, stronger than ever, built for us all.
Graig Meyer is the State Representative for House District 50, covering portions of Orange and Caswell Counties. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared in the News of Orange and Caswell Messenger.