During the last world wars, the phrase “total war” came into fashion. It meant that the war was being fought, not only by those in uniform, but by the efforts of the entire country. Not only the military were needed, but also the civilians who worked in factories, kept the economy going, cleared up bombed buildings, and all the myriad jobs that had to be done to keep the effort going. It was not just those frontline workers who were the heroes.
Well, we’re in that same situation today. Covid has declared war on the peoples of the world, and it will take the combined efforts of so many to defeat it. But there’s more to the fight than that. You will see from our cover story that the Times is putting the spotlight on local people who are struggling to keep afloat as they deal with lockdowns, shutdowns, stay-at-home orders, and all the other restrictions that endanger their businesses. These people are our neighbours and friends, people who have put everything they had into building up something that is now in danger of collapse.
The unfortunate comments by Premier Ford some time ago, advising people to shop at big box stores, may have been based on the idea that doing all one’s shopping in one location was safer than moving around a number of stores; but it only caused confusion and upset. People weren’t sure if they were allowed to shop in smaller stores, or if they would face fines if found out of doors by the police. We want to do the right thing, if only the government would tell us clearly what the right thing is.
Here’s the thing: local businesses of all kinds are struggling, as you can read about in Hilary’s article this issue. Not all are in the same boat: supermarkets are doing ok – we have to eat, after all. Restaurants need us to order some take-out as often as we can. But other stores and businesses, those who have had to close completely, or who don’t have the option of on-line activity, they are the ones in real peril.
Why should we care? Obviously, because they are neighbours. But, more than that, they are essential to the well-being of our community. They provide employment, they donate and sponsor so many events and social service organisations. The great fear is that, if once we establish the habit of shopping outside the community, or only in big box stores, then that pattern will continue, even after we get back to the new normal. But, by then, many of those local businesses will be gone for good, unless we act now.
We are in a “total war” now, facing an enemy that has declared war on people everywhere. It will take the concerted efforts of all of us to deal with this danger. This is not hyperbole: there is a real threat to local people who have put everything they have into building up these community assets from which we all benefit. So, what can we do?
We have to be creative, and that requires input from everyone. “Shop local”, aside from being really poor grammar, is becoming too much of a cliche now to be really effective. But that is what we are talking about. The problem is: aside from ordering take-out, and doing some on-line shopping with those local people who can provide that service, what can we do to help those who have been forced to close down completely?
We need ideas. We need inspiration and community involvement in solving this problem. This is more than just a capitalism survival of the fittest situation, not a normal business competition in which some will inevitably go to the wall. There are so many different aspects to this. The parent who is trying to keep a business afloat while dealing with kids home from school; the fear, uncertainty, the mental health concerns, the anguish and the boredom of being in lockdown for so long.
We at the Times will try and profile as many local people as possible in the coming weeks, and work with whatever ideas you, friends and neighbours, can suggest to help these people survive. Can you afford to buy in bulk from clothing and other stores, rather than wait for seasons to change? Can we buy gift certificates as an act of faith that the business we buy from will be there to honour the gift? Is there a way in which, under the restrictions that exist, we can help out and give some business owners a break for a day?
Can we establish a network to keep in touch and up to date with them, so we can react properly to their changing circumstances?
This is not an attempt to provide answers: it is a plea to you to think about this and come up with answers for yourself, and ones you could share with the Times that we can pass on. Yes, this, too shall pass. We shall overcome. But to get there, we need to work together. We need to be heroes. We call the frontline workers heroes, and they definitely are. But we all have to become heroes, to ensure that the heroes have a community that survives this time. That retail workers still have somewhere to work afterwards. That medical and emergency workers have a place to go for a meal and a pint together one day.
“We can be heroes, just for one day” (David Bowie)