Spring is known as a time of rebirth. This seems especially apropos this year. The last 14 months completely changed how we do life. Coronavirus disease 2019 or COVID-19, a highly contagious disease caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), caused a global pandemic that brought us to our knees. The first known case was identified in December of 2019. The disease has since spread worldwide. As of the time of this writing, there have been 32,753,426 total reported cases and 582,769 total deaths in the United States.*
In that time, COVID did more than just cause deaths. It stopped the world. Office workers had to work from home. Schools closed down. Bars and theaters closed down. Grocery stores and restaurants had to quickly figure out how to continue business. The weirdest thing for me was that suddenly toilet paper became the hottest of commodities. I say all of this to illustrate how hard the last 14 months have been.
Not everything stopped though. Institutional racism for instance. We saw white supremacists spurred by ignorance and fear vilify AAPI peoples, and we saw the continued murdering of black lives by the very people who were sworn to protect them. We even saw a sitting president incite a mob to attack the Capitol in an act of insurrection to try to overturn a free and fair election. It has been a really hard year.
The hard year forced us to come together to see ourselves through the dark. People came together to support each other in such beautiful ways. Our youth reignited the spark of the Civil Rights Movement. Communities came together to lift up and support frontline workers. Labor rights activists rallied communities to demand that places like Instacart and Amazon better compensate essential workers. People who set aside money to order from small businesses every week to help them weather the storm. Those stories gave me life.
All of these tensions, terrors, and inequalities, as well as being home for over a year, have forced us to take a brutally honest look at The System. How do we do life? How much does our society demand of our waking life? Should our schools function as the largest daycare institution in the world? I heard from some people how nice it was to work from home and be with their families. Others felt the pressure from companies that wanted them back in the office, which caused friction between families and schools.
It is people who rely on the system to re-establish itself. The system requires people to be brought into it so that it can maintain itself. We no longer maintain crops or retain any of the skills we used to have. We offloaded those things to The System to maintain. Then, we work within the system to get money, the vouchers we need to get the things we need to live our lives comfortably. When we are so beholden to the system to provide for us, it’s no wonder that, even though we’re living through a global pandemic, a new civil rights movement, and a dying planet, we still try to uphold the systems we have always relied on and believed in, to shepherd us through. All of which keeps bringing me back to the question:
Can we go back to life before the pandemic? Should we go back?
I can’t help but think that this is not how we were meant to live. Think about 2020. How special that time was when we could spend so much of it with the ones we love. We got through this difficult time; we’ve gotten through maybe every difficult time with our beloved community. What if we rebuilt our systems with that community at the heart of all things? I very much doubt that it will happen on the national level but maybe we can start here. In Forest Park. In all of our small towns and communities. Maybe we can reimagine schools. Maybe we can reimagine policing.
Maybe we can reimagine what community means or how we are inclusive. In the greatest moments of discomfort, we find the opportunities for the greatest moments of change. This. Right now. My hope, my dream is that we can start the change here, in our communities.
Perhaps, if enough of our local communities can change, our national ones can too. I think we are seeing the seeds of change. Organizations like The Firehouse Dream and the Justice Troopers in Maywood. Like ROYAL in Oak Park, and Forest Park Against Racism in Forest Park. There are community activists and equity leaders running for office. I can see the change happening and it is inspiring to see!
So here’s to the spring and here is to our time of rebirth.
* Numbers cited were from CDC website as of 5/17.
Maui Jones is a Forest Park resident. He founded Echo Theater Collective in Oak Park.