In the midst of this unprecedented pandemic, I have been thinking a lot about sacrifice. At a scale we haven’t seen in decades, people are putting their lives on the line and placing their futures on hold to benefit the public good. How does that sacrifice change us?
I believe shared public endeavors strengthen us as nothing else can. When we sacrifice some individual gain for the public good, we are forged into better versions of ourselves. Our strength grows through working together instead of simply acting alone.
When we observe others sacrifice for something bigger than themselves, it reawakens public faith and strengthens community bonds.
Consider the high regard in which we hold our military and — even more critically in this moment — the great esteem we bestow upon our doctors, nurses and teachers. We know these pillars of our community are molded by their service, and that when we need them to, these individuals will place the public welfare above their own.
The ideals embodied in our nation’s motto, E Pluribus Unum, are not easy to live up to. “Out of many, one” is a grand aspiration. Our journey to get there has defined this country.
And while the COVID-19 crisis has indisputably sent tremors through our communities, I feel confident that we can seize this opportunity to live up to our national promise. To come together united. To harness our talents and resolve. To deliver liberty, justice, peace, and prosperity for all.
The opportunities we face are shaped by the magnitude of the challenges before us. How do we respond to mounting crises of public health, education, economics, good government, and all the systems and support that define our lives as Americans? Who will survive? Who will thrive? Who will be left behind?
The crisis, as bleak as it is, is shining a light on fractures and holes long present in a system already rife with inequity. Our public health system has been long under resourced - a fact now even the most prosperous among us may have to reckon with.
As our public schools struggle to shift to distance learning, the challenge we wrestle with the most echoes the word “public” much more than the word “schools.” As we strive to deliver quality education, the true challenge is to ensure that all children — including those without internet access or parent-guided structure at home — get the schooling they are entitled to and deserve.
And even the largest government financial stimulus in history does not seem enough to assure the resilience of our neighbor’s pocketbook.
But even as our systems struggle, those who sacrifice to repair them have become our greatest heroes. Long unsung medical providers take center stage in moving news stories. Parents everywhere find new appreciation for the patience and energy of teachers. Public officials who show competence and clarity in their approach earn our respect. Humble hourly wage earners like grocery store clerks receive our deep appreciation for taking risks most of us would not. We know that each of us are collective beneficiaries of the sacrifice these people make for our public good.
In the midst of these efforts, we face a great challenge. How can we ensure that our historical inequalities are not magnified by the crisis we face? The systems we have are falling short, and for those at the margins — and those who have long suffered from systemic suppression and inequity -- individual acts of heroism will not be enough to protect them.
On one hand, COVID seems to be the great equalizer. We’re all vulnerable, stuck at home, and dependent on a broken system should we get sick. But beneath the surface, it’s clear that relative status and access to resources makes it much easier for some people to manage the threats and disruptions this pandemic presents. Ultimately, everyone can die from this virus, but not everyone will. Status and access to resources will determine life and death, just as they do every day.
So while sacrifice during crisis is necessary, it won’t be sufficient as we rebuild. We need systems that live up to the word “public.” Systems that are built for all of us and that can protect all of us.
Our nation can bind itself together as it engages in shared sacrifice. Through our newly forged strength, we can reinvest ourselves in doing the public work in which so many of us believe. We can repair our fractured society, prioritize the public good, and recover the health, safety and prosperity that we all want for every member of the American public.
Graig Meyer is the State Representative for House District 50, covering portions of Orange and Caswell Counties. He can be contacted at email@example.com.