Like all of you, I was pleased to turn the page on 2021. “Happy New Year!”, people exclaimed. “Whatever happens, it can’t possibly be worse than last year…”
I’m an optimist by nature and tend to look for the good in people, good in policies, and good in outcomes. But I’m also a pragmatist.
We continue to be challenged by climate shifts that have brought us winter freezes, deadly summer heatwaves, catastrophic wildfires, windstorms, water shortages, and changes in our ocean including acidification, warming, and rising tides.
COVID continues to evolve. Pandemic fatigue is real and state mandates that provide no clear path for removing restrictions are engendering resentment and mistrust. While we should not ignore its risks, we should also recognize that vaccines and new therapies have changed the landscape from the early days when heavy-handed restrictions seemed the only recourse. Elected officials, business owners, government workers, church leaders and community groups should encourage everyone to be vaccinated and boosted and provide easy opportunities to do so. The science is clear. These shots help prevent COVID-19 infection and mitigate the severity of the disease for those who do contract it.
The economy is evolving, especially here locally. Wages are going up across Oregon but more in some places than others. Young people are moving away in search of opportunity and older workers are retiring. Families with children are learning it is easier for one parent to stay home than try and find or pay for childcare. And help wanted signs are everywhere as employers struggle to find needed workers and those potential workers struggle to find affordable housing.
And to my friends who smile and say the new year can’t be worse than the old one, I remind them to please be two-week ready because someday, hopefully long from today, a major earthquake will land on us with a thud.
As a legislator, I think every day about these looming challenges. And I work to make your government more effective and accountable. We have stumbled badly to get critical unemployment checks in the mail, process rent support, or complete new programs like paid family leave. As the Oregonian editorialized this weekend, we will elect a new governor in November. Oregonians should look closely at who brings the vision, management skills and commitment to eradicating the complacency that has permeated state government for years. That person must demonstrate a clear understanding of what it means to create a culture of accountability – one in which asking questions, setting benchmarks and confirming follow-through are regular habits of any agency. Our next governor also must serve the needs of both urban and rural Oregon and their differing points of view.
As we close out the year, certainly there are bright spots.
We brought home over $60 million in state and federal commitments across our district to begin transformative investments in water systems, schools, ports, public safety, and business. Everything on this list is going to save lives, create jobs and improve livability. Those dollars will start to arrive with the new year.
The Marine Science Center quietly opened in Newport and will soon emerge as a leading – perhaps the leading – research base to address changing ocean science. The building is also engineered as the most earthquake and tsunami prepared structure of its kind.
Our district enjoys one of the highest rates of vaccination in the state.
People are continuing to come to our district and spend money here before they leave. Despite the challenges, our small businesses and hospitality industry have responded with creativity and diligence. They are supported by some of the most active Small Business Development Centers in the state. Meanwhile the fishing industry along the coast is strong and growing stronger.
And in Salem, despite our partisan differences, bills passed by wide bi-partisan margins that will make Oregon a better place to live, work, raise kids, or retire.
I’m currently the only democrat serving in the House or Senate between Astoria and Brookings. Together you make up what’s probably Oregon’s most politically and socially divided legislative district, covering portions of Lincoln, Tillamook, Yamhill and Polk counties. It’s safe to say that people across House District 10 don’t always see things quite the same way.
Twenty months of COVID —the losses, pain, fear and frustrating endlessness of it all—have enraged people who contact me in ways I’ve never seen before. Some supporting vaccine mandates tell me I’m obligated to ignore anyone who opposes them, since those people are all under the spell of deranged conspiracy theories. And from the other side, vaccine-hesitant folks implore me to oppose mandates and argue supporters have fearfully bought in to a tyrannical agenda that suppresses any criticism or contradiction.
The underlying message from both sides is the same: WE are so clearly right and THEY are so clearly wrong that your duty as our elected representative is to ignore them. The common ground that I talk about so often and value so much is becoming harder to find.
I’m not neutral in this argument. I’m fully vaccinated and boosted, and urge everyone without specific medical challenges to do the same. I land there after weighing all the quality information I can process. At the same time we’d do well to remember that the situation and the science continues to evolve, upending the experts’ expectations again and again.
As far as I can tell, the net effect of all the noise is to harden the perspectives some people hold. Whatever you think about this virus, I hope we can at least agree that absolute certainties don’t fit these times very well.
To those of you who’ve said that your personal liberty is the only thing that matters in this debate—that all COVID rules should be up to you to follow or ignore, I’m pretty sure that insisting on that is one reason that people favoring mandates can’t hear you. Yes, there are some serious threats to our liberties these days. The strategic collection of just about every piece of our personal information comes to mind. But we must soon grasp that the complexity of modern-day crises, pandemics among them, call on us to balance personal liberty with responsibility to the larger community, if we are to look to the future with any optimism.
My point is that it might help to revisit how we think about those on the other side of the COVID divide.
Each day in my email inbox, I find people who are exhausted by the length of the pandemic with a desperation to protect their loved ones and free up their children, a desperation that sometimes bends towards anger and blame of anyone with a different perspective. I find people whose personal experience with the medical or pharmaceutical establishments has drained them of trust. And I find people deeply worried that we’re reaching a moment where wandering outside of a narrow zone of public health thinking can ruin friendships, reputations, and careers.
What I find is regular people doing the best they can to figure out how to navigate brutally hard times.
The tone of the COVID battle—a disregard or disdain for opposing views—is fueling a civic rupture that we might not be able to easily heal. The timing is terrible, because the biggest challenges still lie ahead—climate change, economic inequality, the next pandemic or wildfire, and someday that earthquake.
In the end this is about the importance of kindness and the resolve to be better people. The New Year will call on all the cooperative solidarity we can muster.
I’m sure each of us thought we would be through the pandemic by now. Unfortunately, that is not the case. For many of us, these past months have been a wake-up call -- an opportunity to redefine our values, see what is important and what matters less, to stop procrastinating and start working on our dream projects using our extra stay-at-home time.
Yesterday I received an email update with a list of 22 things to do in 2022. The idea was not so much in a “New Year’s resolution” kind of way, but more in general, about things we can all do in the year ahead. I’ve re-worked that list a bit and share it with you here:
- Make sure you and your eligible loved ones are vaccinated and boosted. Flu shots are important this year, too, even if you do not normally get one. We can do our part to help our overtaxed healthcare system and workers and vulnerable loved ones.
- Be up to date on current events and the news. Consider more than one source or perspective.
- Have coffee or a meal with someone who you disagree with politically and listen.
- Luxuriate by making time for yourself. Maybe even do nothing -- guilt free. Relax, take it slow, sleep-in, do things that bring you joy.
- Be a philanthropist by donating money or time as you are able to causes and organizations you support.
- Review your personal legal papers.
- Make the time to prepare your home emergency kit. Be two-weeks-ready for the next natural disaster.
- Pay it forward. Buy someone in line behind you a cup of coffee or help with their grocery bill.
- Meet your neighbors. Many people today do not know the folks living next door to them.
- Try a new ethnic food and research where it came from. Every food dish has a history.
- Exercise! Make sure you are incorporating at least 20 minutes of exercise every single day. It makes a difference.
- Contact someone – a former teacher, colleague, mentor - who has made a difference in your life and let them know how much they mean to you. It will be appreciated.
- Learn about your family history. Most of us cannot name our eight great-grandparents. Take the time to learn about your family tree, record memories, scan photos, copy recipes, and share that information with future generations.
- Create less waste. Reduce...Reuse...Recycle.
- Slow down on our busy roads and let someone turn into traffic ahead of you.
- Explore a new beach, park, public garden, or hiking trail. We live in a special place!
- Hold a garage sale. It is amazing how much you are able to sell, which means getting rid of stuff you no longer need. Plus, you will make some money! Maybe donate it? One interesting thing is just how social garage sales can be. You may meet more of your neighbors in one day than you have in all the time you have lived in your home.
- If you don’t hold a garage sale, still take some time to collect items or clothing you no longer need. Bring them to one of the many non-profit thrift stores that use your donations to build homes, help animals, or support the community.
- Read a book.
- Visit one of the free galleries or concerts that enrich our community.
- Learn a bit more about Oregon’s history.
- Go outside in the rain. We get plenty of it. Most of the time we avoid it. Do not worry – you will not melt…
Some of these seem obvious, possibly silly, or just different. I am sure you can add your own personal thoughts to this list. My one message – take the time to go out and do the things you really want to do.
Here’s to a year of purpose, connection, fulfillment and mercy for you and yours. I’m grateful for the opportunity you’ve given me to represent you in Salem.