The Day the Earth Stood Still: A moment of potential enlightenment and altruism (and not the Keanu Reeves remake of the sci fi classic)

A crisis unites earth

The last time we had an all-eyes-of-the world-event was at 9/11, almost two decades ago. For about three days leaders in every county across the globe halted planes while the world’s residents stared at screens, sharing collectively a tragedy and asking, “Is this the start of a horrible domino effect of terrorism coming to my city?” It wasn’t. We mourned the victims, including almost 3,000 fatalities and 6,000 injuries and soon we returned to normal, with only a more complicated airline travel process put in place (plus the funding of a multi-million dollar US Homeland Security apparatus and war).

Yes, people asked questions, reports were written and conspiracy theorists created an entire industry of books and blogs. I can only assume that deep beneath the bowels of our governments’ intelligence communities, protocols changed as billions poured in for more world order.

What we failed to ask

We, as in world leaders, did not do what one would call root cause analysis to fully understand why 9/11 happened. Public analysis of the event was complicated and politically charged. Careers could be ended by asking “why” on new shows or in OpEds, especially in the traumatized city of New York where I was living at the time of the attack. As a matter of fact, one can visit the 9/11 memorial in NYC and tour vast exhibits without ever learning the biographies and family and business connections of the planners, implementers and funders of 9/11. My friend, a NYC museum exhibits designer explained, “Most of the families of those lost in 9/11 could not bear any public explanation of why. It was a political hot button no historian or sociologist would be able to pursue within the walls of the memorial.”

We moved on because “back to normal” was good for business, at least for those who own businesses.

Then and now

So now, with a year and counting world-virus-spreading-event, as opposed to a brief destabilizing phase back in 2001, many of us working in the public sector find ourselves seeking root cause analysis focused on Covid-19. We look at the rising death toll, over 575,000 in the US and over three million thus far across the globe, and seek answers. We are wondering when our national and state leaders will publicly, loudly and clearly be asking how exactly did the pandemic happen in each country, what could have prevented it, and how do we build the infrastructure to prevent another one — including one with a much higher fatality rate?

We continue to wonder and wait.

More unasked questions

If you have been vigilant and listening closely, at least to USA-focused news streams, we are not yet talking collectively about building a state-of-the-art Medicare-for-all system in all fifty states. We are not discussing how we end healthcare provider shortages in urban and rural America. We are not, on the national (or any of the fifty state stages), asking how has the pandemic disrupted local economies and evaporated local jobs, increasing home and food insecurity.

Quite the opposite. Many government leaders on all levels of government are pushing, to varying degrees and different levels of vigilance, to open up businesses and institutions and “get back to normal”. By the time you (you being someone with a good paying job with benefits) read this, it may appear as if the lockdown was only a case of zoom fatigue and an inconvenient year best forgotten.

If you lost your job, stable housing and a secure food source for your kids, the year is unforgettable and the harsh day to day existence continues.

If you have been looking at data on how parents struggle to access services for surviving, as my colleagues have, you know things were dire before the pandemic and worse now.

The problem we need to confront with wide eyes open, is that “back to normal” means large segments left behind to endure all the inequities we had before the pandemic. This means lack of access to vital services like health care and job training that allows one to create a self-sufficient life.

Given my work focused on the adverse childhood experiences that happen in the home, we can only imagine the levels of child abuse and neglect that occurred last year, flying under the radar of child protective services and the schools. Years from now, we can read research articles on the impact of the pandemic on abuse, neglect, domestic violence, substance use disorders and untreated mental illness. I fear what we will discover as we illustrate the cost of lockdown to people without access to care.

To be blunt, I am writing to ask you to take a moment to reflect on our national psyche in what might be called our “pre-post-pandemic” phase. While I applaud those political leaders who are seeing the myriad costs of the pandemic and the incredible opportunity to address historical disparities, I worry about our government’s capacity to translate concerns into meaningful policy.

I wonder if our global event, one that could have been catastrophic with a virus with a higher fatality rate, can break through an almost pathological capacity to ignore painful truths about the unjust society we live in. There’s also the issue of being woefully unprepared for a new public health crisis.

I fully realize the danger of making gross generalizations about leaders who control the national dialogue and purse strings, and I have seen the political spectrum, from altruistic to oblivious, playing out on all levels of government. We, both leaders and a vigilant public, have been given what might be a once in a lifetime opportunity to make right so many historical wrongs and invent systems of care that support 100% of our children and adults.

Your decision

The choice is stark. We can go back to an unjust “normal” that left so many behind and all of us vulnerable to new strains of potentially deadly viruses. Or we are activated and guided by a newly heightened state of awareness and altruism, creating a society where 100% can thrive. Let us not squander our global crisis.

Mobilize! Survive! Thrive!

Please excuse any typos as I construct an article at 3am on only one cup of joe. These stories are mine and mine alone. I do not represent any organization here. All cartoon characters are pure fiction and any resemblance to real humans or three-headed hydras is total coincidence. Words and images ©Dominic Cappello but share with everyone you know. Questions? Push to front of reading list: 100% Community: Ensuring 10 vital services for surviving and thriving and Attack of the Three-Headed Hydras: Confronting Apathy, Envy and Fear on the road to saving humans and the future. Better yet, let‘s meet at the EYE bookcafe to share a latte and some bold ideas.

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