Social Justice: Business as Usual
On the heels of our highly divided presidential election, I had a cordial post-election discussion with friends, a mixed group of Republicans and Democrats. (Yes, this is still possible, even in Texas!) One friend said, “One of the things I love most about this country is that no matter what happens on November 6th, we will all go back to our lives the next day—our jobs and our businesses. We will carry on—as normal.”
This strikes me as both a blessing and a curse, our ability to go back to business as usual. Yes, business as usual means that we accept the outcome of the election and move forward to make sure the country stays on track. But unfortunately, business as usual often also means that the socially unjust conditions that the election allowed us to press upon, that continue to pull many of us under, move away from the spotlight and thus, our collective attention.
During the election, we seized the opportunity to impress upon the candidates and upon each other the need to address the most pressing social issues of our time, like women’s reproductive rights; access to health care for the poor; the achievement gap; gay marriage and environmental disparities. And we hoped that by giving these issues the light of day, the candidates (and we) would make (and then keep) our commitments to change. Now, post election, we, a bit battle-tired and outrage- fatigued, go back to our day-to-day.
But business as usual is a luxury most of us cannot afford. In the clean air fight, for example, right now, as we have retreated and are resting on our laurels (or licking our wounds), laws are being considered that will impact all of us. Just yesterday, the National Weather Service closed out the opportunity for public comment on their proposal to terminate operational ozone predictions in early March of 2013. No Ozone Warnings! Seriously? How did we sleep this one?
The National Weather Service measures and predicts ozone levels and then feeds the information via wire services to local TV and newspaper outlets, and (most importantly) emergency managers of weather information, so that the information can be shared the with the public. Those of us who have or whose children have asthma rely on this service in order to know when we are going to have poor air quality days. These services tell us how bad the poor quality days will be and how long they will last.
Ozone information for a family dealing with asthma and other chronic respiratory ailments can be the crucial difference between a child having a productive day or a dangerous asthmatic episode; recess indoors or an expensive trip the emergency room; or worse, life or death. For families who are poor and have limited access to the medical care needed for a chronically ill child; who, because of where they live, will much more likely experience a higher number of the most toxic high ozone days; insufficient medical maintenance of the disease; and who can least afford the medicine or the lost days of work due to childhood illness-- these are the families for whom this free information is most important.
And so now that the elections are over, whether or not you believe that the candidates who won (or kept) their offices will do right by all of us with regard to the social justice issues that matter most, we cannot rest. We must not stop. Our business as usual must be the business of making sure that our air is clean for everyone, and that the services and policies that can help ease the burden of being poor and powerless stay in place and are bolstered and available.
If social justice still matters, particularly increasingly urgent environmental disparities, it’s up to us to make it our business as usual.