Wednesday on her new podcast, former first lady Michelle Obama called coronavirus an opportunity to think about “how wealth is distributed” to lower-income essential workers.
Obama noted the “power” that would enable what “we” could do to allow such actions.
Journalist Michele Norris said, “There’s kind of a new COVID vocabulary, isn’t it. There are also words that have always had some meaning, but that take on different meaning now, the word hero, the word essential.”
She continued, “I think we will forever think about the word ‘essential’ in a different way. And, when we were told to stay home, they got up, got dressed, and went out into the world, risking their lives, to drive garbage trucks, to work in warehouses, to work in grocery stores, to work in hospitals. Often doing invisible, but yes, essential work, and I struggle with it because I’m not sure that we treat them like they’re essential.”
Obama replied, “And that’s something that we need to, that’s a part of that reflection, that we need to do, you know. With ourselves, and, and as a community. And we have to think about that, in terms of how wealth is distributed. You know, how, how these essential people are supported. And what does that mean? A lot of these people are broke. They don’t have health insurance. That it, if they were to get sick, as essential as they are, we have not, as a society, deemed it essential to make sure that they can go to the doctor and get the care that they need. And even if they can get COVID care, even if they can get tested, to keep working and doing our stuff, after the effects of the virus have worn off, and they are dealing with some lung issue, or some breathing issue, or asthma, that they don’t have to wait, in a, an emergency room, for hours on end, and then worry, that they can even, afford the prescription medication that they need to survive, I mean we have to think about this. We have to think about the people who are not from this country, who are essential workers. A lot of those folks are still out in the fields picking our corn, and making sure that that food is in our grocery stores, and working in these meatpacking plants, to ensure that the, that the cow that was slaughtered, gets into our bellies.”
Later in the podcast, Obama said, “It’s not enough to just acknowledge that the pain exists, to acknowledge the struggle, we actually have power we can, we can change so much of what we do, we can sacrifice a little more, we can, we can shift priorities, uh, and not just in our own lives, cause it’s not enough, to just do it in your own life if you’re not willing to do it in our broader policy. You know, if that, if that, if those conversations aren’t going to happen, then we’re just giving lip service to it. You know.
She added, “We’ve seen these times in our history before, not just like this, but, but, but when things are good, it’s easy to forget about that. To take it for granted. To start thinking, yeah, how much, do I really want my taxes going to that, and school lunches? Eh. You know, that’s a lot of money. What does it matter — let’s cut this, let’s chop that. But, all of that came, all the things that we look to cut were put in place in response to some crisis. That revealed to us that hey there are a lot of hungry kids, at home, because their parents are poor, so what’s the best way to feed them, we’re going to provide them with nutrition, at school. So, we, we have it, in our country’s DNA to step up.”