Now Is No Time for Spectator Democracy
Social distancing is a civic duty. But it's not our only responsibility
It is safe to say that social distancing has become part of our new daily lexicon. It’s important to know that this is saving people’s lives, but I want us all to recognize that in this world of social distancing, we do not need to continue our practice of spectator democracy that keeps us sitting on the sidelines while others make the important decisions for us.
In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, social distancing is a form of civic duty, something we are doing to protect the most vulnerable of our society. We’ve given up March Madness for social media tags like #stayhome and #stayhomesavelives that build solidarity around our shared stories of staying in. And while we think about what we’ve lost, we are hoping that we can hold on to something much more important: each other.
When we are all stuck at home, it may seem like the wrong time to talk about political and civic engagement. After all, attending campaign rallies with other people, organizing petitions, and canvassing neighbors feel like the last things we should be doing. But since we’ll all be alone together (or #alonetogether—another popular social media tag for connecting stories of social distancing), I thought I’d offer some ways for us to remain politically engaged.
It is essential that we maintain our commitment to protect each other. We must ground ourselves in the kindness we’ve already shown each other as we think about and guard the more vulnerable members of our society. We need to think critically about the news that we are consuming and then begin to ask ourselves what we can do to make sure our society continues to protect those who need it the most.
First, let us take this time to think about how we are consuming information and where it is coming from. Who is saying what? Where are reporters getting their information? Who are the quoted experts? Question what’s going on and trace it back to the source.
Places like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Johns Hopkins Center for Systems Science and Engineering both share their data on the pandemic and allow users to explore some of that data. Take time to peel back some of the layers and get to information instead of letting headlines and social media posts dictate how you feel. Having information and looking at sources can help with all the changes that are surely coming. Let’s use our social distancing time to become better and more informed navigators of the world.
The other piece of advice that I offer is to be kind to yourself and everyone else. We’re all making huge adjustments and asking difficult questions with no easy answers. We are all finding our lives to be more precarious than we previously thought. Even as we are missing our teachers who can no longer take care of our kids, those same teachers are reaching out through the internet to help. Retailers are asking that we minimize our footprint in their stores to keep the aisles clean and safe for those who need food and to stay healthy.
Let us be honest that we are in a time where we are answering a crisis with bold action—and let’s remember how that sacrifice feels so that we can build a kinder society when the pandemic passes. We are giving up comforts for the lives of others. We can do this again when our old normal returns. We can make changes to ease the precariousness of those who are suffering from the virus and its many ramifications, but it starts with asking questions.
In the meantime, I hope I see you being politically active and civic-minded. Take care of yourself. Check in with friends, families, and colleagues. Practice self-care and good hygiene. Support local businesses, tip if you can, and be kind.
Vol. 39, Issue 27, Page 14Published in Print: March 25, 2020, as Now Is No Time for Spectator Democracy