By Susan Naimark, Boston, MA
It’s easy to become overwhelmed during this coronavirus pandemic. And fearful about so much uncertainty. For those of us well positioned to have some semblance of stability – a roof over our heads, enough money in the bank to cover basic expenses for an extended period, supportive friends and family – it’s also easy to become paralyzed into inaction. So much need, where do we start to help? How can we ever make a difference in a crisis of this magnitude?
Of course, we need to tend to the folks in our immediate circle, people we know and love and may need extra help during this unprecedented crisis. Then, what about those beyond our usual circles? How can we enlarge those circles to encompass those who are outside of our socioeconomic class, race, neighborhood – people and communities that are so often the first to fall and the last to be picked up by existing structures, if at all? I’ve given these questions much thought over the last month.
I signed up to deliver meals through a grassroots effort in Boston’s Black community, handing off hot meals to grateful elders and homebound moms with children. Like many, I felt totally overwhelmed those first few weeks as the scope of the pandemic began to unfold. This simple action helped to anchor me. It reduced my sense of paralysis, doing something useful for others beyond my usual circles, supporting community-based efforts reaching deeply into communities experiencing deep suffering. Those communities – Black, Brown, Indigenous, Latinx, immigrant – historically at the margins of mainstream society are within walking distance of my home. Yet our society erects so many barriers of race and class that prevent people from seeing others as belonging to the same interconnected web of life as us. I’ve thought a lot about how we are all only as well off as this larger community to which we are inextricably linked.
I also asked the woman who cleans my home every other week to stop coming. And paid her for not coming, in advance. Domestic workers, landscapers, nannies, dog walkers, anyone we rely on who is self-employed and not working right now, deserves our support. Virtually none of these jobs provide paid time off, health insurance, or a safety net. I learned about Hand in Hand, a network of employers of domestic workers that collaborates with the National Domestic Workers Alliance. I signed their pledge to continue to pay the individual who I employ during this pandemic, adding my voice to their efforts. These two organizations coordinate organizing and advocacy for improved working conditions and labor protections for this workforce, the majority of whom are immigrants and women of color. My simple actions are now connected to larger actions to address the underlying inequities experienced by this segment of our nation’s workforce.
Not everyone is in a position to continue to pay for services not delivered. Or to drive around town making deliveries during a pandemic. This is a moment where those of us who are able should be stretching ourselves to do so. Enlarging our circle of caring in recognition that we will only be as safe and healthy as the larger community of which we are a part. In recognition of the structural barriers that have perpetuated inequities in Boston and nationally across generations. Boston has one of the largest economic divides between rich and poor in the United States. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, Boston’s white households have a median net worth of $247,500 as compared to $8 for Blacks. When I began to understand all the policies and practices that have fed this divide, I got well past the national myth that people are poor because they don’t work hard enough.
This is a moment of reset for many of us, as our routines change and we are forced to slow down. We can use this moment to work towards resetting something bigger, supporting individuals who need it most right now while supporting efforts to address the deeper inequities. This pandemic will eventually recede. The inequities will only do so with our commitment and action.