Under normal circumstances, I’d be hopping on Facebook in the morning to make my annual THE LONG NATIONAL NIGHTMARE KNOWN AS SPRING BREAK IS OVER post, but of course these aren’t normal circumstances. Spring break is over, technically, but school hasn’t started up again, and our school district hasn’t said what, if anything, is happening, other than how you can get lunch and breakfast for your kid (show up in a car with your kid between 11 am and 1 pm at various sites) and that they won’t be doing/requiring any online work (given that half of households with incomes under $30,000/year don’t have internet at home, I am grateful for that, at least).
My library is not open to the public, but we are still open in the sense that we all have to show up for work, and we’re doing various things like drive up book service (a matter of some controversy, along with all other drive up services) and books by mail, and answering the phones. But we have no way to provide many of the most crucial services we provide—namely public computer and internet access and printing for the many people who don’t have access to those things at home. I don’t really know how you’re supposed to apply for unemployment without the internet. I also don’t know how to make the internet available (beyond extending our WiFi into our parking lot) in a way that’s safe for people to use. Today we were told to show up for work tomorrow but that we should await further word after that.
FUD is an acronym I learned somewhere fairly early on in my web career, and unlike most tech world acronyms (PEBKAC comes to mind—Problem Exists Between Keyboard and Chair) it’s one that is fairly generous-minded. It stands for Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt, and it’s often used to describe the way novice users experience technology, and it’s often then leveraged as a marketing tool to get people to buy things they don’t need (like 196 rolls of toilet paper? I dunno). But I can think of no better description for the state we all live in now: we fear what might happen, we are uncertain of what might happen, we doubt, sometimes, the people we are meant to trust.
Today was not much fun at my house. No one slept the night before, and while 1600 square feet for three people is a great deal of room by global standards and is generally more than enough room for the people who live here, that is dependent on not all three of us being here all at the same time all the time. I could quite happily putter away at household projects all day, but I’d want to blast my music, which no one else likes. My mother could quite happily sit and watch church services and knit and listen to audiobooks, but of course then people keep interrupting her. And my son wants nothing more than to play with his friends and doesn’t understand why he can’t see them all the time, and why these days we’re only playing together outdoors, and why that, too, might soon come to an end. My yoga studio has been offering online classes, but there is nowhere in my house I can do yoga.
“Bread and roses, too,” I wrote in a comment on a Facebook post about why library staff were taking a break to ride abandoned scooters around the empty library. But here at our house, it’s all bread, no roses. And of course sometimes life is like that. “We must never complain,” says Ma Ingalls over and over again in The Long Winter. “We must always be grateful for what we have.”
Some days I agree with her, but some days I agree more with the factory worker I met in Puebla, Mexico twenty years ago. We were comparing our union contracts, and at some point I said I didn’t even know why we were bothering to ask for more because we already had so much by comparison. I will never forget what he said: If you, who have so much, do not continue to fight for your rights, what does that say to us?
I don’t know exactly what fighting for your rights looks like these days, but I believe it behooves us all to fight not only for our own rights but also, if we can, for the rights of those who have less than we do: for the hourly staff and freelance workers who have lost their jobs (speaking of which, why not buy one of my friend’s gorgeous photos?), for the homeless and those in jail or prison or detention camps, for whom social distancing is an impossibility, for the parents who must return to work tomorrow and still somehow find childcare for their kids, for all still required to show up to work in unsafe conditions. May we all hang together (at a six foot distance), for if not, we shall surely hang separately.