One night in early 2019, I noticed some of my Michigan mom friends were posting jokes on Facebook about “turning down to 65.” In the midst of a polar vortex, when temperatures had dipped to -9°, a fire broke out at a natural gas compressor station in suburban Detroit. State officials sent an emergency text to everyone in the lower peninsula, asking residents to turn their thermostats down to 65° to conserve energy and prevent blackouts while the station recovered.
When it gets that cold outside, the indoors never feel warm. I shuddered recalling all the times I’d worn a thick hat and scarf in my house because I just couldn’t get rid of the chill in my bones. Lowering the thermostat even a few degrees sounded pretty awful. But imagine having no gas or electricity during a polar vortex. The general consensus among my mom friends was that no one wanted to turn down the heat, but of course they had to. As one friend posted, “Anyone who isn’t turning down to 65 can’t be trusted in a zombie apocalypse.”
But here’s what happened — the directive worked. Enough people chose to sacrifice personal comfort for the greater good. Together they prevented a deadly outage.
I’ve been thinking about that act of solidarity a lot lately. Just a week ago, before this mass uprising against police murder began, I was musing on the beauty of continued social distancing. Our political leaders may have chosen to reopen our states during a pandemic, encouraging economic growth at the expense of public health. Many people filled restaurants, salons, and stores, eager to “get back to normal” despite the dangers of close social contact. But a great many of us who understand how the virus spreads continued staying home as much as possible. We made that choice not only to keep ourselves healthy, but to keep others healthy too. If you know how a mask works, you understand that it is to protect others and not yourself. When we isolate ourselves despite our great longing to be more social, and when we wear uncomfortable masks even when it isn’t required, we are doing that thing we talked about during the Bernie Sanders campaign — fighting for someone we don’t know. My heart fluttered to think that everyone who continued to mask up and maintain social distance was engaged in a massive act of solidarity.
In the past week we’ve seen thousands of fed up people break social distancing to protest police violence. Cops murdering black people, followed by street protest, is certainly nothing new. But now we’re seeing that action take place during a pandemic, at the start of what looks to be a great depression. At first I thought the liberal consensus would be, “The killing must stop, but so must this dangerous protest.” Instead, I’ve been shocked to see widespread moral clarity and support – not to mention all the protest, every night, in cities across the country. The social distancing solidarity didn’t end when the uprising began. I believe it’s morphed into something much bigger and more profound. We see transit workers and public schools refusing to work with police. We see hospital workers and protesters cheering each other in the streets. I’ve seen people in my personal circles, who were never particularly outspoken about politics, encouraging their friends to donate to bail funds. The moms who were posting jokes about 65° are all vocally siding with protesters.
Don’t get me wrong, we have a long way to go. We aren’t organized enough. We aren’t ready to seize power and abolish the police state. We need more of our good-hearted liberals to understand that murder and oppression aren’t signs that the system is failing, but rather that it is working as intended. We need them to stop cheering cops who kneel with protesters (which I suspect is a coordinated PR tactic meant to overshadow tear gas and rubber bullet attacks). But when I see a survey that says 54% of Americans believe burning that Minneapolis precinct was justified, I’m hopeful that we’ve entered a thrilling new phase in building multiracial, working class solidarity.
I love the people and I believe that most of us can be trusted in a zombie apocalypse.