One year later, what’s really changed?

By Catherine Conlan
In some ways, it’s hard to believe it’s been a whole year since the coronavirus pandemic began. Part of me feels like it will always be locked in March 2020, dealing with the realization of how quickly things can change, and what I need to do to be ready for that change.
And of course, it’s hard to believe it’s only been a year. The fact that we already have multiple safe, effective vaccines available is staggering, and I cannot wait to get mine.
Those vaccines can be seen as a symbol of the past year. They are a testament to the vast resources and ability this country can harness for the public good — when we want to.
The early days of the pandemic were, in a way, almost hopeful. Policymakers and activists alike made quick decisions that showed we can cancel debt and rent and evictions — when we want to.
As time went on and we realized the work it would take to keep kids fed and educated, we found we could invent new ways to teach and learn that expanded accessibility and embraced more learning styles — when we want to.
Most of all, we realized how much of our society relies on those who do largely unrecognized work, and we decided it was valuable to honor those who deliver food and mail, work in retail and grocery stores, take care of the old and sick — when we want to.
We also learned that “when we want to” too often actually means “when it serves the interests of business.” The push to get kids back in classrooms in many places was driven by voices that wanted parents back at work, and ignored what teachers and health officials were saying about virus transmission.
We learned the hero and hazard pay is temporary. That flexibility was conditional. We were reminded that profits are the priority.
Almost 8,000 covid cases are related to schools, resulting in 118 staff being hospitalized. Two school staff members died in the last couple weeks, according to Education Minnesota.
It’s a tragic reminder that this pandemic isn’t over, said Denise Specht, president of Education Minnesota, in a news release. “Everyone in our school community — families, students and educators — must remain vigilant and keep each other safe.”
According to UFCW, 31,000 grocery workers have been infected and more than 130 have died across the country. They report feeling especially precarious as the economy takes its time to recover and employers want them to help enforce safety measures at work without alienating customers — or empowering themselves too much.
The pandemic has changed the way we do a lot of things — and some of those changes may be permanent. It’s also shown us a glimpse of the way things can be. After giving the Biden-Harris ticket a victory, we see how major policy changes such as the American Recovery Act result in direct help for the institutions we value so much.
But it takes more than policy to bring a better world. As organized Labor keeps its eye on Bessemer for the results of the union election at Amazon, and as we all watch Minneapolis for what we hope will be justice for the killing of George Floyd, we know we must all keep working wherever we are for progress.

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