Editorial: We Can’t Breathe

July 14, 2020

Breathe_fa.jpgWhat seems like a million years ago, we were scrambling at the onset of a pandemic, fighting to save lives. Nurses, paramedics, homecare workers, CNAs, dietary workers, and so many more— every one of us was in a war, and we could barely hear our own exhausted thoughts.

In New York City, the epicenter of the virus in America, life was a blur of wailing sirens, hissing and beeping machines, and the cacophony of caregivers rushing from one life to another in the fight to save as many as possible.

Our institutions were besieged by an insatiable enemy preying on our sickest, oldest and most vulnerable. It was, all at once, frightening, maddening, painful and galvanizing. Hour after hour, 1199ers and their comrades on the front lines worked frantically.

They put their own fears aside and risked their own lives to preserve the lives of strangers.

Many—patients and caregivers alike—were felled by the virus. Too many of them were Black and Brown. The COVID-19 epidemic put a human face on disparity, forced society to re-consider the definition of essential, and highlighted the foundation of inequality upon which America is built.

Then on a Monday in late May, it happened again. As the nation was busy fending off the greatest public health crisis most of us have seen in our lifetimes, we watched in horror as another Black man was killed by a police officer. As we were fighting to restore breath to the sick and suffering, a policeman in Minneapolis was kneeling on George Floyd’s neck, depriving him of his breath. The scene was a horrifying echo of a past that is not even past. Hundreds of thousands of us took to the streets, wearing our masks and gloves, and carrying signs along with an understanding that America’s particularly cruel strains of racism and injustice have ultimately claimed more lives than the coronavirus ever will.

So now, as our mission has been since our founding, we in this union are fighting sickness in the streets and at the bedside. 1199’s heroes will not allow death, fear, or injustice to prevail in this nation.

The very people who are literally saving the life of this country will fight, until our very last breath, for the dignity to which we all as human beings are entitled.

1199 Magazine | May / June 2020