Image CC-BY Salva Barbera 2010
Image CC-BY Salva Barbera 2010

A holiday message

This column will be on newsstands over the various holiday seasons (Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Christmas, Ōmisoka, and doubtless others); so I thought I’d make a few suggestions about how everyone in the DigBoston audience can help make them good ones for everyone else. 

The coronavirus pandemic has made an already bad period in Massachusetts history much worse. Where many people were out of work before it began, many more people are now out of work. Where many people were hungry, many more are now hungry. Where many people were homeless, many more are now homeless. And where people were sick and dying—often without adequate health care—many more are now sick and dying. As the health care system teeters on the brink of collapse from government budget cuts as much as the pressure of staggeringly large numbers of new virus cases every single day.

So it’s incumbent upon each of us to ask ourselves what we can do to make the lives of our friends and neighbors a little bit better as December draws to a close… and then every day after that. Seriously, if we can consider doing good deeds during the holidays, why not keep doing them year round?

Let’s start with the obvious things, the easy things that we can do to help stop the pandemic—even as the coronavirus vaccines roll off the production lines. Whatever your politics are (and I am speaking, of course, of those politics that value human life), you don’t want to see more people get COVID-19, right? Yet we’re now entering the worst period of the health crisis of the century just when people are used to celebrating those several holidays mentioned above.

As such, the best way to help lower the appalling numbers of suffering and dying people is to do what every medical expert has been saying since March: Wear a mask or reasonable face covering whenever you set foot out of your house or apartment, keep at least six feet away from people you’re not living with at all times, and only go inside stores, businesses, and public conveyances when you absolutely have to. Keep these practices up even after people start taking the coronavirus vaccines until health officials have sounded the all-clear.

Beyond that, don’t do your traditional holiday parties—or indoor parties of any kind—with people you are not already living with. Any guests from outside your immediate household could be carrying SARS-COV-2 and could infect everyone there. Once the vaccines are available that advice will change, but they’re only just starting to be distributed now; so it’s not time for people to drop their guards. Instead, invite folks to eat and drink separately at their homes—maybe while having a joint Zoom call—and then meet up outside (at a safe distance), weather allowing. Even if you’re younger than 50 and think that statistics will protect you since most people who die of COVID are well over 70, it’s never a good idea to assume that with a disease that is killing a growing number of younger people. Enough said on that for the moment.

Next, how about everyone who is doing OK financially help out your local food bank. Either cash, certain nonperishable food donations, or volunteering some “sweat equity” will be much appreciated by organizations that are absolutely stretched past the limit with so many people broke and hungry due to the pandemic. And be sure to back political initiatives aimed at keeping people fed this winter—and always.

Then help your local homeless shelter with donations of money, personal protective equipment for staff and clients, and volunteer time (if you’re healthy and the shelter in question has a way to keep volunteers safe while doing necessary tasks). And I don’t usually ask landlords to do the right thing with their properties—because I know I’m going to get ignored by most of them—but come on, even as it becomes possible to evict people, they should at least agree not to do that during the holidays. And if some landlords can really find it in themselves to give up profit for a time, they should work with their local housing authority and shelter to house some homeless families. No kid should be on the streets this time of year. Or ever. In fact, no one should ever be unhoused. 

But I know we’re taking baby steps with landlords here; so they can start by helping people for the holidays and then see if they can let that good karma ride for the foreseeable future. And maybe even find it in themselves to back rent control legislation in the shorter term and tax increases to finally build the tens of thousands of units of decent public housing that the Commonwealth so desperately needs in the longer term. That would be truly excellent.

And then jobs. How about some jobs? If you’re an employer, go talk to your local social service agencies about hiring some desperate people for at least the next month—even if you don’t really need much extra help. Then see if you can keep it going beyond that. And everyone, push your local, state, and federal politicians to support expanded unemployment benefits and new public jobs programs, so that no one has to go broke. And get them to back expanded disability and Social Security benefits for those who can’t work, while you’re at it.

And don’t forget to help out your local health clinics and hospitals with whatever donations they need. Even the big health companies that I normally criticize. If they’re asking for something to help the legions of sick and dying during the pandemic, then just give them what you can.

Otherwise, if you are part of civic, social, fraternal, labor, or religious groups that are already working hard on any of the above, keep it up. And if you’re anyone on the front lines of the coronavirus crisis—from medical workers to grocery store employees to delivery people and “ride-share” drivers to teachers and child care staff: You’re awesome, you all deserve huge raises, we need a million more like you. Thank you so so much.

And happy holidays to all.

Apparent Horizon—an award-winning political column—is syndicated by the  Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism’s Pandemic Democracy Project. Contact for more information. Jason Pramas is BINJ’s executive director, and executive editor and associate publisher of DigBoston. Copyright 2020 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.