I fall asleep to the sounds of sirens wailing past my window and wonder if I am next. I wake to flashing lights across the street and wonder if our neighbors have caught it. Even sleep offers no respite from the anxiety of Covid-19. My dreams have become nightmares in which I wander empty malls full of closed businesses, ghost towns of American life, strange faces pressing in when one magically opens, breathing too closely, social distancing gone. Where does one turn when waking and sleeping life have become one and the same kind of hell?
These past few weeks my body has shifted from a regular schedule to one of waiting. I am waiting for the quarantine to end, for lives to stop piling up in the morgue, for the world to start turning again. I am waiting to catch it. And the mental anguish is, quite frankly, exhausting. My energy is good today, but I could hardly function yesterday. There is a repeating cycle now of highs and lows. On good days, I can ignore the underlying anxiety swelling within me, the trapped feeling, the fear. On bad days... Well, I just stay in bed as much as possible.
I can't watch the news anymore. I can't read another article about people dying and doctors succumbing to Covid. I can't see another photograph of overrun medical staff, hear ignorant youth laughing together on the sidewalk, the constant music of sirens in the background. I have lived in New York City for almost a decade. I have heard sirens for the better part of my adulthood. This is different. They are more constant. They are more insistent. They are everywhere. And the permeating fear that now accompanies a sound that once brought comfort in its promised aid is a far cry from life as we knew it.
An enforced quarantine is not a vacation. We are all still working in whatever way we can, but there is an urgency about everything that feels almost comical now. Deadlines for commercial projects seem ridiculous. The worry we feel for our loved ones and they for us is a lingering whisper turned scream in our ears: WHY?
Why do we live the way that we do? What is the real purpose of the way we've structured life if it cannot support its populace? What systems have we created that have outlived their value? Do we hang on to them because of habit? Because of fear? Because we don't know what else to do?
In times like the present, when we know logically that this cannot last forever, the mind begins to question the life that came before. Was it really all that beautiful to begin with? Was it so perfect that a small revolution wouldn't fix some of the worst inequalities within the system? Every revolution has casualties. Some escape death's door by sheer luck; others have the means to barricade themselves against the perils of life. If you have neither, then you, like myself, may be losing sleep to the terrors of an invisible assassin lurking in every friendly face. You may begin suspecting you own doorknobs, your kitchen counter, your neighbor. Even the packages you receive must be sanitized, disinfected, cured. The mail isn't safe.
Every revolution has casualties, but most of us aren't trying to become one.
The idea that anyone would suggest we sacrifice ourselves for an economy that has long benefitted only a few at the top is ludicrous. The fact that our own President would suggest such a thing is outrageous. No one should be forced to sacrifice their health and safety for someone else's dollar.
It wasn't long ago that socialist safety nets were the norm, not a fictionalized enemy for politicians to sling at 'leftist radicals'. From 1933 to 1939, the United States' New Deal, an almost entirely socialist slew of programs, allowed us to recover from the Great Depression. Even after the war, from the 1950s to the early 1980s, the United States was a wealthy nation that kept its wealth inequality relatively low.
Reagan would change all of that. Trickle down economics has never worked, but it was popularized in the 80's, and we soon saw the tax code for the wealthiest Americans slashed over and over again. Now, our middle class is dwindling as CEO's and corporations reap all of the benefits that once belonged to the workers building their companies. The corporations have effectively run amok. The wealthiest top percent have violated the American system and fleeced the American people. The government itself is crumbling and gasping in the face of real danger: a single virus.
Businesses rely on the little guy. Products with no one to purchase them sit on shelves collecting dust. What good is a corporation without healthy employees that can make the company work? What good is a corporation on its own? A business is nothing without the people that make it work. And, no, I don't mean the people in charge. I mean the folks at the bottom, doing the grunt work, making ends meet, trying to survive by doing the jobs no one else wants to do. Where is the little guy in the modern world?
After multiple bailouts that almost completely went into the pockets of a few select individuals, the government has noticed that the companies it rushed to support still need a workforce. And that workforce is out of cash, sick or dead. They plan on issuing a small stimulus of up to $1200/person. A one-time check to 'bailout' the poorest Americans.
I ask you, is $1200 all that we are worth? Is one check toward one month of your rent or mortgage the sum of all our parts? It is generous considering what most of us expected: nothing. Because that is what we are usually given from the suits on high: nothing. We fend for ourselves, wading amongst the mask-clad budget shoppers trying to buy avocados for the toast we will make in our gentrifying neighborhoods. We are the people. We deserve better than a once-in-a-lifetime check from the U.S. treasury issued more to protect the economy from collapse than to help the people.
I believe that we are worth more than the system we currently have in place. I do not wish to become a casualty of the American economy. That we are asked to do so is an abomination of American values and a call to arms for every person left without a floatation device in this time.
No one should be forced to choose money over health, but that is what we have been doing for decades now. When is it enough? When do we pause and say to one another, this is bullish*t. Maybe we should fire all of the people at fault and take back the government we pay for every year. Maybe we should outlaw lobbying completely. Maybe we should pay government employees minimum wage. The minimum wage would become livable in a few months. I guarantee it.
I don't have all of the answers. I am, after all, a lowly artist. My business is dependent largely on clients that are now completely broke and the gig economy, that sprawling maze of financial question marks leading us blindly toward a destination we never seem to reach.
Will we recover from the Great Sick of 2020? Only time will tell. Will America ever cure the cancer within our governing bodies? Maybe. But it will take a revolution, and the status quo is just so familiar.
I don't know if or when I might catch Covid, but I do know I have fallen prey to the same illness millions of Americans already had: choosing comfort over change. And for me, those flashing red lights outside my windows day and night are a wake up call. It is time for a revolution in this country, a new way of doing things, of taking care of our people instead of stepping on them all the time. I demand change - of and within myself. And I will make it happen. Each one of us is capable of a tiny revolution, even if it is just in the way we think of ourselves and each other. Should we find our way out of this, the lessons we have learned from the virus' invasion of our land should not be forgotten.
Our lives are worth more than the economy. Economies can be recovered. Lives once lost cannot be found. Just because things have always been one way doesn't mean we should never evolve, grow, change. Change is the only constant in this world. Why can't it be positive for once?
Stay safe out there and sweet dreams. xx