A Message from Rep. Jeffrey Evangelos: Navigating rough seas together

Sat, 03/21/2020 - 7:00pm

I wanted to talk with you today about the crisis the world, our country, and you are facing as a result of the Corona virus Pandemic. While I can't promise you when it will get better, I am promising you that it will and we will defeat it. The only thing we can draw on at this time is our history, and to paraphrase Charles Dickens, we are about to witness the best of people and the worst of people.

Franklin Roosevelt was elected in 1932 at the height of the Great Depression. Speaking to his nation to assuage the anxiety of the time, he uttered his famous line about fear, that we had nothing to fear but fear itself. Like then, our nation is now facing an economic depression, this time brought about by a worldwide pandemic. FDR took to the airwaves often, it was the radio then, and our parents and grandparents gathered in their living rooms to hear FDR calming the nation during his fireside chats. It helped.

It almost seems hallucinogenic that just four weeks ago Maine was mired in a heated debate about vaccines. Now, scientists worldwide are in a race against time to save humanity in a valiant attempt to develop a vaccine to defeat Covid-19.

Our parents and grandparent survived the Great Depression, World War II, and the 1950s polio epidemic.

My grandparents and parents never stopped talking about Franklin Roosevelt. Social Security was the best thing that ever happened, my Grandfather told me, and Frances Perkins played a great role in its development.

In 1941, our mom and dads, just coming off the heels of the Great Depression, then threw themselves full force against the scourge of the time, Asian and European fascism. Many died, many wounded, no one complained, and we prevailed. History gave them little time to rest.

After defeating the Nazis, polio raised it's ugly head. In 1952 alone, there were 57,000 cases and 3000 deaths, mostly children. In 1955, Dr. Jonas Salk came forward with a vaccine, it saved us. By 1962, polio cases had fallen to 200 per year. I don't know the name of the next Jonas Salk, but I want to assure you he or she is on the way.

Last Tuesday, your government in Augusta, in unprecedented fashion, came together with a rescue package. We are still developing more responses, as well.

We are addressing everything we can possibly think of to help you through this crisis, including health care, our schools, public safety, care for our elderly, food insecurity, help for workers and businesses, and much more as we navigate these rough seas together.

Similar responses are on the way from the federal government including unprecedented financial relief for most Americans in the form of cash payments, about $1,000 each, which may continue until the crisis passes. Senator Romney helped promote this approach.

This time, unlike the bank bailouts of the Obama/Bush era, when the aid provided was pocketed by corrupt Wall Street executives who paid themselves bonuses, for what...for ruining our country, this time we're going to rescue the people. Incredibly at the state level, conservatives, moderates, and liberals came together without debate to enact these emergency measures. I am confident that the partisan divide in Washington will also be set aside for the common good.

Before he died in 2018, the physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking penned an essay about the biggest threat facing mankind. When I began to read it, I soon realized he was not talking about asteroids or aliens, he was talking about income inequality.

He argued that a society with 1% of people holding 50% of the wealth and 10% holding 85%, we were on an unsustainable path which represented a threat to democracy.

Dr. King said much the same thing in 1967 stating that “a true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth…A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

Yet it is here where we find ourselves 50 years later, on the edge of that spiritual death.

Now that a crisis has unfolded, I hope leaders will seize this opportunity to reassess our priorities as Dr. King called for and as we began to do last Tuesday. I am confident Americans will rise to the occasion as our forefathers and mothers did earlier in the 20th Century. Despite the crisis, my phone has been surprisingly quiet at home.

One reason is because my constituents know we are already out there fighting for them. But there's another reason, here in my District and in Maine, I know my people are incredibly tough, resilient, and self-reliant folks who can be counted on. I admire your courage greatly and I'm proud of you.

In the end, I am confident we will defeat this plague. It will take time, but please don't lose hope. Good people are working extremely hard and many employers and others are being incredibly generous. Please look after your elders in this time of crisis while we work to keep your children safe.

The world will come together, it will. Just viewing the grace of the highly infected Italians, with thousands of deaths, singing to each other in quarantine from their balconies, must give us hope.

In June of 1963, President John F. Kennedy, in his American University speech, infuriated the military industrial complex, calling for denuclearization and peace with the Russians and an end to the Cold War, the speech that cost him his life. His words that day bear repeating here: “For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children's future. And we are all mortal.”

Jeffrey Evangelos, I-Friendship, represents Waldoboro, Friendship, Washington, and west Union.