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Campus Voices: From this terrible crisis, can we build a better world?'

Campus Voices: From this terrible crisis, can we build a better world?'

April 23, 2020 at 8:54am

As part of an op-ed series, FIU News shares the diverse perspectives of members of the university community. In this piece, Ana Menéndez, director of The Humanities Edge, explores what could be after the pandemic. The article first appeared in the Sun-Sentinel on April 22.       

On day 28 of our shelter-in-place my husband says to me, “Do you realize that if the food distribution system collapsed, we’d starve to death? How did we get here? How did we come to have this kind of life?”

My husband’s ancestors, like mine, were humble villagers who grew all the food they needed. My 83-year-old cousin in Spain still lives this way — secure, even now, with her animals and her garden plot. Me: I have a closet full of shoes and a 401K made of smoke.

In this country, we depend on a vast, intricate and until now mostly invisible web for our well-being — underpaid workers who pick, transport and serve our food — but we operate, our dominant politics operates, as if we were the heroic actors of our own destiny. Many of us, conservatives and progressives alike, benefit from a system that poisons the earth and its people for immediate gain.

How did we get here?

I look at the photos of our now-empty highways, miles and miles of fallow roadway. My closet full of slacks and business jackets.

What was it all for? For how long have I been dreaming?
When the South African poet and activist Breyten Breytenbach was released after seven years in prison, he visited a home and thought, Why do people put paintings on the walls?
More than 100 years ago, Walt Whitman asked,

Is it a dream?

Nay, but the lack of it the dream,

And, failing it, life’s lore and wealth a


And all the world a dream.

A plundered earth, a ruined climate. A health care industrial complex. The staggering inequalities of a country where serious illness can lead to bankruptcy. An upside-down world where the managers of hedge funds self-isolate on mega-yachts while the men and women keeping us alive subsist on $15,080 a year.

How is this right? How did we come to accept this?

What if we could start over?

What if healthcare were a universal right, not just another income stream for an economic elite? What if when someone lost her job, she didn’t also lose the right to see a doctor, get a mammogram, or obtain cancer treatment without impoverishing her family?

What if we decided to reward the life-givers, the teachers, the artists who have brought us solace? Why not a new Works Progress Administration to lift the artisans and collectors of stories? If a venal federal government is unable to rise to the challenge, why not our governors and mayors? Why can’t our foundations and our universities?

What if we built parks for humans instead of asphalt playgrounds for cars?

What if we treated everyone as if we understood the truth of our collective destiny?

What if we woke up from this dream and realized that our mutual dependence was always there, starved by a culture of greed, the illusion of individual achievement?

What if we put our wondrous human imagination to rebuilding a culture of creative commonality that rewarded honest labor, the conservation of resources, a dignified way of life? What if we fashioned, from this great and terrible moment, the kind of world that promised us — all of us — lasting shelter?

Ana Menéndez, director of The Humanities Edge