Keep calm and help on

By Pearl Benjamin | Apr 09, 2020

It’s official: we are living in Crazytown. Just a few weeks ago I was working in a restaurant, meeting up with my friends, and going to school every day like a normal human. Now, it feels like I’m in an entirely different universe. Was this what all those dystopian teenage romances were preparing us for? Are we all living in a Margaret Atwood novel?

This crisis is the first of its kind, and mostly unexpected. As an activist, I’m stumped. I was trying to save the world from environmental collapse — shouldn’t the global pandemic wait its turn?

Sadly, the coronavirus doesn’t care about our planet’s many other existential threats. It’s here to stay for a while. This means we all are going to have to find a new state of normalcy and get creative with our advocacy. It’s hard not to feel helpless right now — trust me, I know — but there are always ways to fight back and move forward. We can all find some way to help, even if it’s from our couches. But most importantly, we need to stay informed about how this pandemic is going to affect our society and its most vulnerable members.

First thing’s first: let’s get our facts straight. There’s a lot of misinformation flying around social media that is causing mass confusion. I hope we all understand by now that the coronavirus is not the flu, nor is it anything like the flu. It is a rapidly spreading viral disease that can either completely incapacitate people or go entirely undetected. That’s the danger of it — it’s sometimes invisible. Anyone can contract and carry the virus, and anyone — even completely healthy young teens like me — can spread it to others. So yes, it is your problem and it is your responsibility to stay home, regardless of your age or health.

The other issue that needs some clarification is the “stay safe at home” order. I’ve seen people frantically type out warnings on social media telling everyone to stay off the streets or they’ll be fined $1,000. This is hyperbolic and also untrue. I know it’s tempting to think like we’re in a true apocalypse and the outside world is dangerous and unforgiving, but we’re really still in Midcoast Maine. The purpose of the order isn’t to intimidate citizens — it’s not even about keeping people inside. Governor Janet Mills and her administration still encourage outdoor physical and recreational activity during this period of social isolation. You can still go on walks and runs and get some sun on your face, you just shouldn’t do it around people outside your own family group. Governor Mills also clarified in a recent press conference that there should be no need for law enforcement intervention. The only reason you’d be fined $1,000 is if you were flagrantly and purposefully violating the physical distancing recommendations in a large group of people.

We also need to stop yelling at each other for being outside or traveling or coughing or talking to friends. Shaming rarely helps in situations like these. Stop harassing people with out-of-state license plates. Some of them are travel nurses who provide critical healthcare during this crisis. Some are college kids and people who have been separated from their families and are just trying to get home. Some are workers who came here long before the virus appeared and are keeping others safe by staying put. Remember, not everyone has the option of self-isolation. Many still have to work and many are making the safest decisions they can, even if they are different from your own. Empathy is key during this strange, troublesome time.

Older people are clearly the most at risk for being killed by the virus, but the economic impacts of stay-at-home orders mean working class families are also in danger. Those who work in grocery and hardware stores, at gas stations, auto repair shops, farms, and post offices, who work in healthcare, law enforcement, fire and rescue, and news media, or who make and deliver products for all those essential people and places, are still doing their jobs while at risk, and their children are without daycare. Single parents don’t have any choice but to stop work while their kids are out of school. Healthcare workers on the front lines don’t have any time to take care of their families. Small businesses will be forced to close for good. Millions of people have lost their jobs and many of them won’t be able to bounce back. The victims of this pandemic won’t be limited to those who fall ill.

We can lobby for policy changes to address these problems, but we can also tackle them within our own communities. In response to the crisis, groups of activists all over Maine are taking the initiative to help people in need. Mainers Together, an organization founded by the Maine People’s Alliance, is gathering volunteers to aid Maine’s at-risk populations. Mainers Together helps low income families and individuals apply for General Assistance, lobbies for housing opportunities for Maine’s homeless population and delivers groceries to seniors in self-isolation. I recently joined the group as a volunteer. I’m excited to begin helping my community.

We also should be focusing on nonprofit organizations that can’t shut down during the crisis. Local food banks and pantries need to remain operational. As more and more people contract the virus, food banks will be increasingly in need of volunteers willing to deliver food and work with customers. Food insecurity is going to grow as our economy falls and food banks will be almost as essential as our hospitals. Locate your nearest food pantry and reach out to see what they need help with.

In the coming weeks, we’re going to be in need of commodities we never valued this much before. Hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes and face masks are turning into prized rarities. We’re all going to need to start mass-producing our own solutions to keep our friends and families safe. Break out that old sewing machine and make yourself a face mask and then crank out some more for your neighbors who can’t sew. Help make PPE at home or at a workstation at the new Mid-Coast Pop Up PPE Factory on Mt. Battie Street. Mix your own cleaning solution with diluted bleach and make hand sanitizer with isopropyl alcohol and aloe vera. There’s no need to hoard, we can make due on our own.

I know it’s hard, but we’re going to need to keep a positive outlook on everything. Don’t let yourself slip into that apocalyptic mindset. This is not the end of the world. We have to be proactive and focus on helping others. If we can get through this as a nation and a society, we’ll be well-equipped to handle any challenge that comes our way.

Pearl Benjamin is a student at the Watershed School.

If you appreciated reading this news story and want to support local journalism, consider subscribing today.
Call (207) 594-4401 or join online at knox.villagesoup.com/join.
Donate directly to keeping quality journalism alive at knox.villagesoup.com/donate.
Comments (0)
If you wish to comment, please login.