Lawmakers, Anti-Discrimination Activists Preach Tolerance During COVID-19 Crisis

Sen. Susan C. Lee (D-Montgomery). Photo by Danielle E. Gaines

We’ve been through crises before. We’ve lived through 9/11, economic recessions, prolonged periods where our nation was at war, and a seemingly endless era of mass shootings terrorizing our schools, places of worship, workplaces, and public spaces.

What helped us through each of those times – and other times of national tragedy – is what we are missing now: the ability to come together in person with family, friends, neighbors, faith communities, and even strangers to hold hands, put our arms around each other, hug one another, grieve and mourn together, speak out and pledge action together, and find hope together.

But are all those things really missing?

Although we can’t physically come together in person, many of us are connecting virtually. Whether it’s through a Facetime call with a family member, a post on social media, or an online gathering for your community; it is coming together and standing as one that have helped us rise to challenges and fight battles.

We derive hope and draw strength from the heroes on the frontlines of this fight against COVID19. Those brave public servants represent every party, denomination and identity in our diverse society. They stand united to serve each and every American who needs help. As they always do, they are running towards danger, while the rest of us have the single but complicated task to stay home and by doing so saving lives.

Our shared responsibility is not easy. But the challenge is giving rise to creativity and acts of selflessness which enable us to navigate through these difficult times.

Neighbors are hosting virtual sing-alongs, religious services are held online, and family and friends are regularly connecting from a distance. These gatherings are critical to our long-term unity, just as the individuals sewing masks, distilleries changing production to sanitizers, meals on wheels programs finding new ways to feed those who cannot otherwise get food, and the ramping up of telemedicine are to our physical health.

We are witnessing the best of America.

But this is also the type of moment where the worst parts of our nature can be provoked. In times of fear and foreboding, of an unknown future, ignorance and hatred can fester. Those who would take advantage of a crisis to stoke division know that in our isolation from others of good heart and strong character lies the opportunity to sow hate.

We see them misnaming the virus as the “China virus,” or worse, scapegoating Asian Americans as the “source of the virus,” and blaming Asian Americans, Jews and other minority groups for spreading the virus.

There have been too many accounts of people yelling slurs at people  perceived to be of Asian descent, and documented cases of physical assaults against Asians and Asian Americans. We are seeing increased accounts of hateful Zoombombing happening during religious services and other meetings.

We cannot afford to pay any heed to those who seek to divide and sow hatred. We must actively oppose them and focus on the real enemy, a mortal one that does not discriminate between victims of one identity or another. COVID-19 is a vicious virus that is simply happy to have a host.

In this fight, we are all Americans; we are all humans. To win, we must build connections, stay in touch, share information, and stand together virtually until we can once again stand together physically.

We must also quash hatred and bigotry. Each of us can harness the power of social media for good and engage with others in educational webinars that offer facts and data about science, safety, bias and bigotry. Legislators, organizations like ADL, educational institutions, and community groups are taking to the internet to maintain and build community, based on shared values, sound information, and good intentions. Join in or create your own.

United we must stand in our fight for health and our future together – one people, the American people.

— SEN. SUSAN C. LEE; SEN. CLARENCE LAM; DEL. LILY QI; DEL. DAVID MOON; DEL. MARK CHANG; DORON F. EZICKSON, Anti-Defamation League’s Vice President Mid-Atlantic/Midwest Division; MEREDITH R. WEISEL, ADL’s Washington, D.C., Regional Office Senior Associate Director