By Suzie Price, Third District Councilwoman
It’s been a very surreal couple of weeks. There are times when it seems like we are in a movie because what is happening around us is nothing we have experienced before and nothing anyone imagined could happen. Personally, and I’m sure like many of you, I feel that every part of my world has been impacted by the current crisis. In addition to being a parent of young children, and a daughter of an “elderly” mother, who I have not been able to see in person for weeks, I am:
A manager at a prosecutor’s office, which means we are an “essential service” and must report to work every day to ensure that the rights of the accused and victims are protected
A councilwoman, which means we have to serve constituents at all times, especially now when they need information and assistance
A small business owner of a non-essential business, who has had to furlough all of our employees
In order to function in each of these roles, I have had to stop and break down what today will look like, what tomorrow may bring, and how we plan for our future in very distinct phases because looking at it all together is overwhelming.
What today will look like:
I know that in California, at least at the time of my writing this piece, we are still at the earlier stages of this pandemic. We need to continue our diligent efforts to maintain our own health and safety as well as the health and safety of our family, friends, and community. Social distancing is a must and should be our number one priority right now. We need to do our part, every single one of us, to make sure we stabilize and then reduce our numbers in California.
What tomorrow will bring:
Once we reach some stability in terms of the number of cases, we need to focus on loosening some of the restrictions that have been placed on business and commerce. We have to focus on rebuilding our financial infrastructure because the damage to our city will be huge. We will, for at least the next 12-18 months, experience struggles with providing adequate city services, rebuilding our business corridors, and getting our residents back to work. This is not going to be easy and it will take government stimulus packages, private bank loan assistance, and many other forms of aid to get back on track. It will be an enormous effort and should be the number one priority for local officials.
Thinking longer term, if you ask how we “get the city back to normal,” I’d answer: “this is not possible.” The city of Long Beach - like the rest of the world - will forever be changed by this event. This virus will leave a mark on the world in a similar way that the world did not “go back to normal” after the Great Depression, or after World War I. There will be deep scars in our community and in our society, and those scars will remain in our collective memory as a result of COVID-19. There will also be changes that this crisis brings to light for us that I believe will turn out to be positive.
This experience will serve to bring us together and strengthen the bonds we have in our communities. It will affect the future of Long Beach. As a reaction to society and community all being relegated to the online space, I foresee the pendulum swinging in the other direction after this crisis to where there is a greater emphasis put on personal interactions. It will create more attention to community groups of all shapes. Where once everyone was interacting over technology, there will be a return to person-to-person interaction where people feel their humanity through one another and cannot say mean hateful things from the safety of the Internet. They must build bridges and find common ground with one another - vacating the focus on extremes or polarization - and be brought closer together.
I believe this crisis will lead to a change in the way we think about heroism and sacrifice for the community. This crisis is drawing into focus the breadth of heroism, and the bravery we see throughout our community with people’s willingness to sacrifice for others. We have seen amazing commitments from employees in the city and at so many government services and essential businesses. Nurses and doctors have stepped up during this emergency and are working around the clock. Delivery workers have become an essential resource for everyone. Jobs like stockers at grocery stores and employees at all levels of essential businesses have all become people we depend on deeply every day. This emergency has made obvious to us how incredibly important and heroic the sacrifice is from our essential workers, and that they are in a greater number of roles than most have been previously conscious of.
I anticipate an added result from this global pandemic that there will be greater trust in experts and their essential voices in shaping our world and our futures. In recent years, we have seen a deterioration in trust by some leaders for those who have developed significant expertise and experience on important topics. The necessary response to COVID-19 we are seeing in Long Beach and throughout the world will, I believe, lead to greater emphasis placed on true knowledge, the importance of data and evidence, and a revival in the value of expertise over opinion or “gut feelings.”
We are at an important inflection point where the past and the future will, and must be, different. We have seen municipalities step into the void to provide greater services and support to manage this crisis and help those in need. The future will see even more changes propelled by this emergency, and I believe many of those changes will be positive and bring neighborhoods and residents together in community, a major change in our sense of heroism and sacrifice, a renewed belief and trust in knowledge and expertise for important information, and a greater understanding of the role we all play in supporting and protecting those around us.
The future will undoubtedly be difficult as we chart an unclear path forward out of a global emergency and innumerable tragedies, but there is reason for optimism. Necessary changes can be difficult to achieve without a significant precipitating event and we have arrived at that moment.