Civic Unity is the Answer to Coronavirus
-By Ximena Hartsock, co-founder and President of Phone2Action
Today, people around the world are united by their isolation. We are at home to protect the most vulnerable among us from COVID-19. This physical distancing will save lives and spare our health care systems from being overwhelmed. At the same time, it has left many of us feeling helpless, uncertain, and unheard.
The answer to our isolation is civic unity: a resolve to stand up for the common good, even as the pandemic threatens our physical, economic, and social wellbeing.
Many people lack access to food and necessities. Some must work but do not have childcare with the schools closed. Others no longer have employment. Shuttered restaurants, bars, and shops face bankruptcy. Families face eviction or foreclosure.
But we are connected in ways that no virus can change. We have the ability to check on our family, friends, and neighbors. The ability to share our needs with lawmakers, officials, and nonprofits. The ability to reach, support, and uplift people near and far. Our digital lives are immune to the disease.
Today, let’s talk about what we can do to cultivate civic unity. An internet connection is all that we need to begin. I will share some ideas for lawmakers, nonprofits, the social media community, and all of us, in that order.
Lawmakers: Host live Q&As where your constituents can share their immediate needs
In international crises, people look to their elected officials for leadership. Although lawmakers have been vocal on TV, it is a one-way medium. It’s time to have two-way conversations with constituents.
I recommend that elected officials announce virtual conversations to be held three times a week for the duration of the crisis. Twitter chats, Facebook Live, video conferences, and conference calls are all ways to do this.
Virginia Senator Mark Warner recently held a phone town hall where he gave updates on the Coronavirus and welcomed constituents to share their immediate needs and ask questions. The gratitude from constituents was touching.
I encourage Senator Warner and other lawmakers to add tele-town halls at different hours and in different languages. These may be an old medium, but most constituents never knew that tele-town halls existed.
People need to be heard right now, even if there is no immediate solution to their plight. Mayors and governors need you to clear any barriers that prevent them from taking decisive action in their communities. Lawmakers, this a moment to demonstrate leadership by being there for those in need.
Trade associations and nonprofits: Bring public awareness to critical needs
Many trade associations and nonprofits are deeply engaged in this pandemic. It is important that they exercise their voice and alert both lawmakers and the public to critical issues.
My team and I at Phone2Action have the honor to work with the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) and the American Nurses Association (ANA), whose members are fighting on the front lines of this crisis. They have both alerted Congress to the severe shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) available to protect frontline medical staff. They have asked their communities to email legislators about the dire need to increase production and distribution of PPE. You can support the ACEP and ANA campaigns by clicking their respective links.
Other nonprofits have launched campaigns to protect food and grocery workers, restaurant staff, airline employees, and other groups that are vulnerable to the virus and its economic consequences.
Chaos and information overload can overwhelm our leaders. Nonprofits, use your credibility to educate both lawmakers and the public. Empower them to make life-saving decisions.
Social media community: Give experts a platform to share accurate information
More than ever, we need to give public health officials, physicians, nurses, and scientists a platform to spread information that can save lives. Our cable news stations have stepped up to the task, but TV is not enough. We need to meet people where they are.
Nonprofits including AARP, NAACP, Stanford Medicine, and the International OCD Foundation have used their considerable reach to host YouTube town halls about the Coronavirus. I hope others follow suit.
If you have influence with the billions of users on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, TikTok, or another public platform, now is the time to use it. Partner with experts to educate your followers.
Good reporting can spread naturally on social networks. The Washington Post’s now-famous “flatten the curve” article, by graphics reporter Harry Stevens, has built public support for social distancing measures. Health care reporter Caitlin Owens, author of daily Axios Vitals newsletter, has done outstanding work to keep the public informed about America’s COVID-19 reponse. Chilean journalist Daniel Silva has been exceptional at challenging misinformation and elevating expert perspectives. I encourage Spanish speakers to view his Twitter posts @TV_DanielS.
Although billions of people use public social media, billions are also siloed in private messengers. There are approximately 1.5 billion monthly users on WhatsApp, 1.3 billion on Facebook Messenger, and 1 billion on WeChat. Misinformation spreads rapidly on these platforms. If you have influence, create group chats in these services, invite your community, and disseminate the truth.
Everyone: Who can you step up for?
Millions of young students are at home, cut off from classrooms, friends, and activities they love. Nursing homes and elderly communities are under strict quarantine, with family members barred from visiting. Many independent contractors, hospitality workers, and small business owners have lost most, if not all, of their income.
President Teddy Roosevelt wrote sound advice for these kinds of situations: “Do what you can, with what you’ve got, where you are.”
Every evening, I do a coding class with my nephews who are quarantined at home in Chile using resources from hourofcode.com, which offers lessons in 45 languages and requires no prior experience with coding.
Broadway Star Laura Benanti has asked theater kids to video at-home performances of their canceled musicals and then share them with her on social media. The result has been an outpouring of art shared under #SunshineSongs.
Go Go Gadjet, an up-and-coming band based in Pennsylvania, live streamed a concert for all to enjoy. Household names like John Legend, Miley Cyrus, Neil Young, Keith Urban, Yo-Yo Ma, and many others are offering free, virtual performances as well.
Social justice activist @mrotzie recently shared the story of a family who cancelled their son’s bar mitzvah but kept their contract with the caterer. They delivered the food to friends in quarantine and to others in need.
That is how we do civic unity. Who can you step up for?
For the Common Good
Isolation, fear, and division are rampant, but they have nothing on civic unity. I hope after reading this post, you feel empowered to join this collective cause.
We may be at a physical distance, but we are not alone.
Be well. Stay healthy. Step up for the common good.