What Matters

This coronavirus will end; what’s next is up to you

By Mike Jopek

After a month home, many locals began to reconnect with what’s important. It hasn’t been easy. The stress is real and more visible than the highly contagious and deadly virus.

We miss our friends, our community, and not being able to hug grandma on her birthday during shelter. We miss drinking a beer and eating a burger downtown. Not many of us miss shopping for all that plastic crap America imports.

We’ve learned to videoconference but really we’re ready to roar, post shelter. We’re bursting at the seams to get back at it. Whatever it was, before the virus. Not that the virus went anywhere. It’s still there, invisible, waiting.

Roar we will. Business will reopen. It will be a staggered, sputtering economic restart, plagued with outbreaks, lost tourism revenues and bad prospects for many locals across the valley. It feels like a reset, a rare chance to decide what matters. Some people will do it. Others will ignore it, yet here we are.

Today marks a half-century since the first Earth Day celebration shook the political establishment reminding the powerful that the planet matters to everyone.

Maybe you noticed the planet is hotter than ever and enjoys the most powerful storms, forest fires, earthquakes, tidal waves, and hurricanes that anyone has seen. Plague and pestilence is rising as fast as sea levels.

During shelter, places with historic air pollution haze are appreciating a fresh sky. The fog of pollution cleared; mountains appeared. It will revert once the roaring economy returns.

Eating hasn’t been easy for many people during shelter. The not-eating-out thing is a big problem for workers and eaters. The number of clients at the local food bank skyrocketed.

It’s staggering to read news reports from across America on how unstable food distribution is for families and farmers. The next Farm Bill needs to fix some glaring problems.

Montana relies on trade, yet local grocers face routine shortages while farmers across America are dumping milk and plowing vegetables under.

Our health care is stretched to such a limit that non-essential medical services were postponed and hundreds of local health-care workers were furloughed. We should stop condemning Medicaid and treat health care as a human right.

Values like honesty, integrity and kindness help bond society together. We love our downtowns, our parks, our schools, our teachers and libraries, our local businesses, and the people interwoven in our communities who keep us safe during chaos.

It’s clear that some of the local rules don’t work well for some businesses, working people, or renters. We hanker for towns built for locals. It’s what we are now, until that day when the first wave of tourists arrives from places like New York or California.

Only you know what matters. If you enjoy amenities like public trails or local food banks, tell your elected officials. Send them a kind email. They need to hear what kind of community you want our towns, our county, to be today and in the future.

From my own 20 years of political involvement, I assure you that people in positions of leadership need to hear local voices. They get earfuls of opinions from the big boys and their powerful attorney. What’s routinely missing is local.

With the grace of God, we’ll turn back on, the work will resume, the jobs will open up, and the sheltering will somewhat end, someday soon, hopefully safely. You decide what we learned and how we can do better moving forward. It’s a rare opportunity for us.

The Earth will win. We’re just one people, an interwoven connection of sheltered households, lawns, and farms with mountains and waterways spanning a planet. This coronavirus will end. What’s next is up to you. Help decide what matters.

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