COMMENTARY: Living in crisis has been people’s ‘normal’ for generations; why wait for pandemic to do something about it?

March 27, 2020 /

Before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of low-income, undocumented, and other marginalized communities had been living paycheck to paycheck and struggling financially to make ends meet for their families.

This has been and continues to be our “normal” world.

In our “normal” world, communities of color are disproportionately impacted by government systems that simply do not function for those who work the hardest or those who need the most help. Before the pandemic, it was “normal” for people to be displaced from their homes after losing their job and not having enough to pay rent, and it is still “normal” for our local
governments to do nothing about it.

Our congressional representatives and their partisan gridlock prevented the disbursement of affordable and accessible healthcare relief to people who could not afford to pay their medical bills. In this world, healthcare is not a system where our community’s health is prioritized. It is a system that is prioritized as a revenue source for corporations.

However, it is “normal” for people to suffer from poverty as long as “successful” people are maximizing profits.

The rural city I live in has a large agricultural workforce of farm workers. Many of these farm workers, who are now categorized as essential workers, work 8- to 10-hour shifts with minimum wage pay. Not to mention, most of them do not have access to healthcare because they cannot afford it or have more barriers due to their legal status.

Our farm workers work on land that does not feed them; yet they continue working resiliently from cold mornings to warm afternoons. As they continue to serve as “essential” labor employees in our country, it is still “normal” and acceptable for them to be at risk of being excluded from any relief plans.

For our “normal” society, their well-being is not a priority nor an urgent matter.

Due to recent and significantly negative fluctuations in our economy, many people will be living in a “crisis” mode for the first time in their lives.

People will and already have been dealing with job insecurities further exacerbated by the struggle to pay for basic necessities, like food and housing because of the Coronavirus pandemic.

With Governor Newsom estimating that 56 percent of Californians will be exposed to the virus and an administration who has not guaranteed free treatment for COVID-19, the state and its residents are facing an uphill financial battle in the coming months.

The communities who were already struggling will need more than a stable and rising stock market to survive.

It can no longer be business as usual if people are dying because our government could not “afford” to give them healthcare and living wages. If our government can afford to bail out Wall Street with no conditions or regulations, our government can afford to give “essential” workers the relief they need.

Our status quo needed an unstable market and a virus that does not discriminate to begin to be challenged. It took a state of emergency where everyone has something to lose, for most to see that we need to change what we view as “normal” because “normal” is not enough.

Our new normal needs to center these marginalized communities in spaces where decisions are being made by people who are not directly impacted by policies that do not go far enough.

I hope that Americans come to realize that our marginalized communities of color, low-income households, and undocumented families have been living in “crisis” for generations, and I hope that as a society, we never go back to allowing oppressive systems to be seen as “normal.”

Our vulnerable communities should not need to wait for a pandemic for others to understand that we need affordable housing, fair wages, access to good healthcare, and a society that does not remain complacent when others are in a state of emergency.

It is uncertain how this pandemic will change the world as we know it, but as we move forward, we need to continue having the same human compassion even after our livelihoods are no longer being threatened.