If there was one thing Liz Watson emphasized, it was the need for urgency.
“We need ventilators. We need masks. We need personal protective equipment,” she said. Without these basic necessities, the US runs the risk of a healthcare worker shortage as those on the front lines fall prey to the coronavirus pandemic. “Who is going to take care of folks then?”
Watson is the executive director of the Congressional Progressive Caucus Center, a nonprofit that brings community leaders, activists, and experts together to support progressive policies on Capitol Hill. Just last week, her organization scored a victory, successfully lobbying for key progressive measures to be included in the $2 trillion stimulus bill passed by Congress.
That the administration was caught off guard by the worst pandemic in a century despite months of forewarning is a clear signal that Washington needs to change, starting with the federal budget. “We need a reprioritization,” Watson argued. “We absolutely should not be building up our military weapons at the expense of our public health infrastructure, but that is what we have done for years.”
This discrepancy is especially evident now as health workers turn to trash bags and hand-sewn masks to make up for the shortage of basic protective gear. “We’re spending all this money on our military,” she continued. “Why did we not have a national stockpile that had this stuff in there in the first place? Because we were not prioritizing the right things.”
Material deficiencies aside, on an ideological level the COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the fundamental weakness of an “America First” posture. “The isolationist tendencies of this administration are absolutely counter to our ability to respond effectively,” Watson explained. If we had taken international warnings seriously, she maintained, the United States might not be the new global epicenter of coronavirus.
“One of the things that is clear here is that this is a global crisis. It’s a crisis that does not respect borders,” she continued. “And we have to understand that if we are going to deal with this crisis effectively, that’s going to mean working with our global partners and not alienating or isolating them.”
But those larger shifts in Washington’s worldview - however necessary - will have to wait for more immediate concerns in the coming weeks and months. “We all need to start advocating now to ensure there will be a next relief package.” she said, pointing to the massive economic and social dislocation inherent in battling this disease. “We all have to fight for it.”
“What really has become clear in all of this is that we are all in this together,” she concluded. “We all pay the price when we treat people like they don’t matter. We are paying the price for years and years of disinvestment in the American people.”
After this pandemic, that will change. It must.
About Press the Button: in addition to "The Interview" in which Joe Cirincione sits down with prominent thinkers, legislators, activists, and grantees working on nuclear weapons issues for a short, illuminating conversation, episodes have two other segments: "Early Warning" — a round-up of the most pressing nuclear news in 7 minutes, roughly the same amount of time the US president has to authorize a nuclear weapons launch in the event of an incoming attack on the United States; and "In the Silo" — a monthly, close-up look at key nuclear issues and events around the world, utilizing field recordings, media clips, interviews, and extensive narration.