Headlines I see in the second to third weeks of March:
“WHO declares the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic”
“NYC coronavirus death toll reaches 26”
“Coronavirus Sparks Layoffs Across New York Region”
These headlines you see above barely capture the reality of how the rapidly spreading coronavirus (COVID-19) is affecting the livelihoods of those here in New York City and New York State. Our state is officially at the top of the list for the most cases of individuals testing positive for the virus. Schools are officially shut down and moving to distance learning, while restaurants and bars close their doors and move to takeout and delivery only. Theatres and space venues have also closed and retail stores like Macy’s, TJ Maxx, and Marshall’s are up next to do the same.
With all these closings, especially of large companies, I can only think of the hundreds of thousands of individuals suddenly losing their jobs. People who cannot afford to miss a single paycheck, let alone multiple ones. Rent and other bills still have to be paid and all there seems to be is a sense of uncertainty regarding the livelihoods of many people throughout the city, myself included.
As a soon-to-be college graduate at John Jay College, I cannot help but imagine my future being an abyss. It becomes darker and darker to the point where it is pitch black, cold and frightening. Having to deal with life after graduation is difficult enough, as for many of those graduating, but on top of a worldwide pandemic, our increased anxiety adds a sense of helplessness. Graduation should be an exciting moment in someone’s life — it’s a milestone in which people like myself want to celebrate. Quite frankly, at the moment, it’s not. As an empath, I cannot help but imagine the impending, spiraling crisis soon to follow given the severity of the virus, especially for those who are immunocompromised, have pre-existing health conditions, and/or are elderly. These populations could possibly be in a grave situation, and unfortunately, may be part of another statistic.
As days go by, the rhetoric on the news is the same: stay home. Although I have gone outside only twice during the shutdowns, it seems people are still outside like nothing has happened. As if a pandemic was nonexistent and especially now that people have more “free time” on their hands (if you even want to call it “free time” during a time of crisis).
It baffles me. It just seems like those hanging around outside are just doing so to act like “rebels.” But, this isn’t the time to act like a “rebel,” even though I understand, as I consider myself one too. We are talking about lives at stake here, and health care workers who inevitably have to carry the weight of this crisis.
I get the sentiments of people who want to go to events, have fun, meet with loved ones, celebrate important milestones in their lives — I’m with you on these aspects! But we cannot assume this will simply be over in a couple weeks and things will go back to “normal.” This isn’t the time to see this as an opportunity to do whatever we want, because people will die if we continue to be careless. Now is the time to be mindful of each other, of our existence, and work together as a community to protect each other by doing what is right by staying home and taking precautions.
This crisis has shown the inequalities and disparities of who has the right to certain resources such as health care, social services, etc. While no one would ever predict such a crisis would occur, the lack of consideration (such as the staggering unemployment rates), especially for marginalized communities, goes to show that we, as a collective, have to be adamant in what we need — In fact, what we have always needed from these institutions who are supposed to serve us.
We have to remember that these institutions only exist due to our diligent labor, our contributions to society and without us, they will cease to continue. As a young person, I recognize there is a power in virtual or tele-organizing, in coming together online. Not all organizing and fights for change have to be in-person, specifically given the situation. We can demand a fairer and more just system that is inclusive of all identities and communities, but we have to take care of each other first.
Once we care for each other and ourselves, we can then effectively organize to address the inequalities and injustices that exist. We can begin to do the work of recreating a society where no community is left behind, especially during a crisis which inescapably affects us all.
Lisa Nishimura is a senior at John Jay College, CUNY and a member of Young Invincibles’ New York Young Advocates Program.