Opinion

This year I'm thankful for community spirit, and hope we can keep it up

Hearts are displayed March 26 in the front window of a house in Cedar Rapids. Neighbors across the nation were placing h
Hearts are displayed March 26 in the front window of a house in Cedar Rapids. Neighbors across the nation were placing hearts and teddy bears in their windows both as a way to engage kids who are stuck at home and as a sign of solidarity during a time of social isolation. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

Between the pandemic and derecho, 2020 doesn’t feel like a year with a lot to be thankful for. Yet when I reflect on the last months, I can see a lot of good among all the uncertainty and tragedy and turmoil.

I see it in the people who experience and witness bad things and respond by wanting to help and support each other.

They are the people who saw the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and organized to improve Iowa’s civil rights laws and local policing systems, forming entirely new community organizations and networks in the process. They are the people who signed up to be poll workers this year, knowing many of the oldest and most vulnerable volunteers would need to stay home. They are the people who signed up as volunteers in the COVID-19 vaccine study and those who have survived the disease and shown up to donate their plasma in hopes of helping others do the same.

They are the people who showed up spontaneously to help their neighbors after the Aug. 10 derecho; from those clearing streets to the people collecting donations; so many gathering diapers and food and tarps and flashlights that the places collecting them were overwhelmed.

They were the people seeing unmet needs and organizing to address them, starting entirely new nonprofits like Together We Achieve, formed out of the Derecho Response Center, and Bridge Under the Bridge, started by Bridgette Williams Robinson and her husband, Jovountae Robinson, to feed their neighbors. Both are still going strong as winter approaches, more than three months after the storm’s winds subsided.

When the pandemic arrived in Iowa and businesses first shut down in March, it seemed everyone banded together. Hospitals were inundated with people sending food for front-line workers, and many restaurants could barely keep up with the takeout orders as community members rallied to support small businesses. Sewing groups and individuals churned out homemade cloth masks by the hundreds. People filled their windows with paper hearts and teddy bears, and I saw blue ribbons in honor of health care workers wrapped around trees. There seemed to be a real sense that we were in this together, not unlike the feeling I remembered after the 2008 and 2016 floods.

Maybe that kind of energy is hard to maintain, or maybe things got too politicized, I don’t know.

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But it’s hard to remember that feeling when I have friends who work at stores and restaurants who have had people yell at them for requesting they wear a mask. It’s hard to hold onto that feeling of community when people mock those who chose to keep social distancing and decry anyone who pleads for more to be done to protect the most vulnerable.

When people say we should just live our lives as if there is no pandemic and keep gathering and celebrating the holidays as if nothing is wrong, I’m puzzled. Perhaps that would make sense if we were in the throes of this illness with no end in sight, but we know a vaccine is coming, and soon. It may be months yet before all of us are vaccinated, but we’re not being asked to hold out forever — just until then.

I’ve watched this community rally together so many times after natural disasters of unthinkable scope. I hope we can rally together a little bit longer. Dawn is coming, and I want as many of us to still be around to celebrate it as possible. Next Thanksgiving, I want us all to still have a lot to be thankful for.

Comments: (319) 398-8339; alison.gowans@thegazette.com

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