As I walked into the office on campus at the The Walt Disney Company’s publishing division in Burbank, California, on Monday, September 8, 2008, I could already feel the weight of the conversations we were going to have that day.
The day before, on Sunday, September 7, the financial markets were down 20% from October and the United States government had announced it was taking over Fannie May and Freddie Mac after they had sustained major losses due to their ill-advised lending of subprime mortgages.
I wasn’t a student of politics or policy at the time, so I wasn’t entirely sure what that meant for the world, the country, The Walt Disney Company, my family or community, for me or my job, but whatever was coming was clearly terrible. As I walked in at 8:30am, people were already walking out of conference rooms crying, the air was stagnant, conversation in what was normally a fun environment was only happening in hushed tones and whispers.
Over the next few months the world continued to melt down.
Lehman Brothers collapsed a week later on September 14, 2008, Bank of America bought Merrill Lynch, AIG’s credit rating was downgraded; for every dollar invested in the Federal Reserve’s Reserve Primary Fund—which held more than $60 billion in assets at its peak—investors were told they’d get $0.97 back; the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell from above 14,000 at the beginning of 2008 to just above 8,000 before the end of the year decimating retirement and other savings accounts that were tied to the health of the stock market.
On September 17, 2008, my 21st birthday, the headlines were that the Dow Jones had fallen 440 points and that al Qaeda had attacked a U.S. Embassy in Yemen, killing 16 people.
I was officially an adult now—an adult in a world in free fall.
Over the last few weeks, as a result of the Coronavirus-19 pandemic, I’ve felt that familiar free falling sensation again. Only, this time, it’s a free falling sensation accompanied by medically-necessary self-isolation (seriously, this is very serious) at home, a family to take care of, a mortgage, bills, retirement accounts, a business to run, nonprofits to manage, and official city duties to attend to.
Last time I was free falling; this time I’m free falling with an anvil.
But my personal situation is not what’s been on my mind most.
Today, as the City of Austin made the call to limit gatherings to no more than 10 and shut down restaurants and bars just weeks after cancelling SXSW, my mind has mostly been on my neighbors. Just yesterday, a couple across the street posted in our neighborhood Facebook group that they both lost their jobs in less than 48 hours.
My mind has been on my friends working in the creative and events-based economy like SXSW and those that supported the company; our service workers in restaurants and hospitality, an increasing number of whom have lost their jobs.
My mind has been with retail workers at our grocery stores, working around the clock to make sure necessary items are stocked and customers are taken care of.
My mind has been with those families whose kids got what may have been their only hot meal at school; our homeless population; Austin’s Asian-American community who are dealing with racist taunts.
My mind has been with those small business owners who feel like or may have actually lost everything; or those who are trying to quickly put together a remote work strategy for their company to keep things afloat.
My mind has been with our elected officials, city staff, civil servants like fire, police, EMS, chamber, corporate and community leaders here in Austin, none of whom are excited to be dealing with this particular crisis but who I know are working around the clock to address it as comprehensively as they can.
My mind has been with our medical professionals—the people on the front-lines of this crisis who are working around the clock to keep us safe and healthy.
That’s where my mind’s been. So, as somebody who is grateful to be surrounded by a community now just as I was grateful to be surrounded by a community in 2008, I’d just like to encourage you to remember that your self-worth is not predicated or measured by the amount of money in your bank account, your job title or place of employment, or the work your do.
Your self-worth is intrinsic. Some might say you have been “endowed by [your] creator with certain unalienable rights.”
You are valuable and important simply because you’re breathing.
I know that for anybody reading this who may have just lost a job as a result of this pandemic and are no doubt worrying about how they’re going to pay for rent, food, and other basic necessities, this encouragement may sound frivolous. Those are very real things. We need to address them—not just now in the immediate, but systemically in the long-term as well.
I’m glad AISD is still serving breakfast and lunch for students, I’m glad the Justices of the Peace here in Travis County have halted evictions, I’m glad Austin Energy isn’t going to shut off service during this time due to late payments. We should continue to look into how to reform these practices to make Austin and Texas more equitable for everybody, especially after this crash, and we need to make sure we do more to ensure that our city’s bars and restaurants and the workers that work in and support them aren’t the ones who bear the ultimate burden of the havoc this disease is wreaking on our local economy. Things like sick leave and rental assistance for working families, rent abatement and grants for staffing for small businesses.
These are all very raw, very real concerns and I would never, every want to downplay their seriousness. But beyond that, having gone through a freefall like this before, I mostly want to address that base fear you may have.
That question of your self-worth — that fear of being a burden on me, your family, on your community or your city, that fear of loneliness? Feel them while you need to, but they’re not worth your time because…
You are worthy, loved, and surrounded by people who want to help. I’ve listed a bunch of resources and information at the bottom of this. But if you feel like you have nowhere to turn, by all means, email me and we’ll figure it out together.
People sometimes ask why I “got into politics.” Easy. Because I think we’ve been sold a bill of goods that says worldview, ideology and belief are more important than simply working with each other to make life better and more equitable for everybody.
Because I think people are important and valuable, and I think it’s worth everybody’s time and effort to remind people of their inherent worth. There is no better time than COVID-19 for each of us to reaffirm our commitment to each other.
Don’t give up hope. I don’t know how this pandemic plays out, and I don’t know exactly how we make it through, but I know we don’t make it through without each other. We need you now, and we’re gonna need you in the future.
Resources and Information
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention COVID-19 updates
- Travis County COVID-19 updates
- Texas Department of State Health Services COVID-19 updates
- City of Austin COVID-19 updates
- Apply for small business loans via the Texas Division of Emergency Management
- Fact-checking from USAFacts on COVID-19
- CDC: Symptoms and Testing
- Austin-American Statesman: How to get tested in Austin
- BaylorScott & White: Apply and get tested
For families & students
- This Twitter thread of activities for parents with kids at home by Kristen Bell that I’m not even going to try to add to
- AISD curbside school breakfast and lunch
- AISD food service during spring break
- Austin Community College COVID 19 Information
- Huston-Tillotson Student Emergency Fund and COVID-19 Information
- University of Texas at Austin COVID-19 Information
- St. Edwards University COVID-19 Information
For Creative, Gig Workers, Hospitality and Restaurant
- Stand With Austin Fund, from Community Foundation & Entrepreneurs Foundation
- South by South Best, from T3
- Banding Together ATX, from Red River Cultural District
- Resources for Austin service industry affected by COVID-19 closures, via The Austin Spirit
- Apply for small business loans via the Texas Division of Emergency Management
- Austin-Travis County Offers Help for Residents and Businesses During COVID-19 Outbreak
- Austin Chamber of Commerce’s list of COVID-19 resources
- Austin Young Chamber of Commerce’s list of COVID-19 resources
- Greater Austin Black Chamber of Commerce’s, COVID-19 update
- Greater Austin Asian Chamber of Commerce’s COVID-19 resources
- Austin LGBT Chamber of Commerce’s list of COVID-19 update
- Austin Technology Council, COVID-19 information
- A Guide to Managing Remote Teams, from Know Your Team (free)
Fun, Community, and Connection
- Virtual Meetups Facebook group
- Rally Austin
- Explore U.S. National Parks virtually, by Google
- Explore art museums from around the world, by Google
- Explore street art from around the world, by Google
- Check out ebooks, audiobooks, and stream video, via Austin Public Library
- Check out historical books, journals, manuscripts, maps, movies, newspapers and more via UNESCO’s World Digital Library
- Order books online from Austin’s one and only, BookPeople (if you need recommendations here’s every book I read in 2019, 2018, and 2017)
- The best movies new to every major streaming platform in March 2020, via IndieWire
How to help
- This article from Texas Observer lays out ten ways to help—I don’t feel the need to add more
Note: While I did much of this resource gathering on my own, I want to credit Austin Justice Coalition for curating and centralizing some of these resources on their page here.