These last eight months have taught me a lot about myself and others. The biggest conclusion I’ve reached is that my generation doesn’t seem entirely genuine about the promises we make for a better world. What makes me think that? Our behavior during COVID.
As the pandemic reaches the highest numbers we’ve seen and our ICU beds have filled up, it has become apparent who is responsible. It’s young people, engaged in risky behavior and convinced of our infallibility. When did we become so comfortable living in this zone of moral hypocrisy?
This summer, we saw a national uprising against racism begin here in Minnesota. We’ve lived through a mass reckoning with sexual violence against women and seen community power rethink and reclaim public safety. We’ve also witnessed an ever-widening chasm of economic inequality, seen the power of social media to both build and break communities, and fought endlessly with our parents and grandparents about the issues we desperately want them to care about.
We are the generation that promises to bring change. We are the generation that wants healthcare that works for everyone. We want a justice system that lives up to its name. We demand fewer band-aids and more effective solutions.
However, until this pandemic is controlled, educational gaps will continue to widen and billionaires will continue to profit. Food insecurity, homelessness and domestic violence will continue to rise. The fight to end COVID is a fight for justice.
Ending COVID won’t be as straightforward as sharing an infographic about wealth inequality on Instagram or showing up to protest police brutality, as so many of us did this summer.
It’s going to be hard, fatiguing, daily work. We have to take it upon ourselves to ensure the safety of our community.
No politicians are going to save us. The power to bring change and build a better world lies with the people.
Young people must do better because we know that exemplifying COVID-safe behaviors has never just been about protecting ourselves. We do it because we understand that our communities’ most vulnerable members, especially those with no social protection, are most at risk for this deadly disease. We do it because we know that even with the exciting recent results from Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca some people will have better access to vaccines than others. We do it because we recognize that people who work in bars and restaurants are not doing so because they feel safe, but because that paycheck is their lifeline. Spare them a visit during their shift, and directly pay them instead. The $30 million raised for the Minnesota Freedom Fund tells us that the money is there.
We must work to educate our families and friends who’ve been fed dangerous misinformation. This summer, when we asked our fellow Minnesotans to critically examine the systemic racism they’ve helped uphold, we exemplified both care and responsibility by asking more of ourselves for the betterment of our community. Employing that same sense of shared responsibility today is necessary for public health and safety.
Other cities told us what this moment would look like: ICU beds full and health professionals risking their lives to help more patients than they can manage. And yet, we continued our reckless behavior. Does our fight for justice end when it requires us to make personal sacrifices?
Even after the governor’s four-week mandate expires, we must continually ask ourselves if our behavior is in the interest of public health. Breweries and brunch will be there for us when this pandemic is finally over. But if we continue down this path, many of our community members may not.
We’ve lost many of them already; let us not be responsible for any more harm. I still believe that our generation has the courage to not accept our circumstances as inevitable. We dare dream bigger. So let’s be the generation we say we are. Let’s be the generation to end COVID.
Aditi Kulkarni is a first-year medical student at the University of Minnesota. She was born and raised in St. Paul, and graduated from Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania in 2017.
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