By Shannon Sneed

We are at war with a virus. The frontline fighters in this battle are not uniformed in military fatigues but in the name tags of pharmacies and grocery stores, the blue shirts of bus drivers, and the scrubs of nurses and doctors. A global pandemic illuminates a new type of frontline and redefines the word ‘essential.’ Workers persistently imperiled in battle for a living wage, predictable shifts, health benefits, and safe working conditions are now heralded by the news media as courageous and praised by all for their service during this uncertain and challenging time.

Because these workers show up every day, patients continue to be treated, refrigerators stay stocked, prescriptions remain filled, packages are delivered, and buildings stay sanitized. These typically unsung, and often deemed “unskilled” workers are putting their health and their families at risk each and every day to ensure the rest of us have access to basic needs and creature comforts. The Coronavirus pandemic demands that we peel away layers of privilege and asks for an honest accounting of who and what is essential.

Shannon Sneed is a Baltimore City Councilwoman representing the 13th District. (Courtesy Photo)

I have spoken with cashiers fearful of contracting the virus and passing it to their young children. I have spoken with medical staff isolated from the warmth and intimacy of family in order to keep them safe. I have spoken with bus drivers concerned about the crowds on their buses. These folks confront the fear of an invisible enemy and mobilize daily to serve all of our families. A nurse, in tears, told me the pain of families prohibited from visiting hospitalized loved ones. A grocer is stalwart in their commitment to keep families fed and a bus driver is determined to transport those without cars to work and services.

As a Councilwoman, I am an ally, an advocate, and a friend to workers. We fight for better working conditions and family-sustaining wages and benefits. We fight to ensure equal pay for equal work. We fight for families and for the worth and dignity of labor. Sadly, an unseen globetrotting villain killing loved ones was required for our national narrative to reassess the socioeconomic paradigms that drive our economy. This public health crisis illuminates for all of us not only a new opinion that our grocery store worker is now essential, but the reality that the grocery store worker has always been, and always will be, essential.

I ask that we take stock and remember this moment. When the world shut down, workers were once again parsed into categories. There are those deemed frontline and essential who risk their own and their family’s health for the rest of us and then there are those who are privileged enough to stay at home. All workers have a role in the economic machinery. However, the lawyer, the accountant, and the corporate executive are asked to stay home but the grocer, bus driver, nurse, and pharmacy cashier are asked to face an unseen evil and to serve. Let us take this moment to reorient our long held definitions of essential. Let us re-evaluate our understanding of essential workers. Let us thank, praise, and uplift those on the frontlines sacrificing for the rest of us.

We will pass through these challenging times and emerge from this crisis even stronger. As we do, let us not forget who put themselves at risk for us. Now and in the future, when we hear the calls for a living wage, healthcare benefits, consistent schedules, and safe working conditions let us remember who carried us through this global crisis. Let us all stand in solidarity with those who selflessly offered themselves for the health and safety of the rest of us.

In solidarity and with appreciation and respect, I have a small ask. This Friday, May 1 at 7 p.m., a day celebrated for the tribulations and triumphs of working people, we stop what we are doing for two minutes and celebrate, with intention, our Baltimore frontline workers. Keeping a safe distance and utilizing social distancing protocols, join your neighbors and friends to thank and celebrate our frontline heroes. Open your windows, step outside, hoot, holler, honk horns, ring bells, and bang pots and pans. Together, let’s create a cacophony heard through our streets, in our communities, and unite Baltimore’s neighborhoods in solidarity with all those who are working to keep us safe and sustained.Councilwoman

Shannon Sneed represents the 13th District on the Baltimore City Council.

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