So Say We All…The BSG Guide to Election 2020
Thousands of voters are still undecided for the upcoming presidential election; perhaps this describes you. There are many factors that inform voters’ decisions, and notably, the COVID-19 pandemic, and its unrelenting consequences, provide an abundance of evidence that should be considered. Watching daily press briefings can keep you informed but can also create feelings of confusion and anxiety, making it easy to forget that watching television can be enjoyable. Fortunately, during this golden age of television there are thousands of choices and countless lists with recommendations.
I encourage you to find a middle ground; watch an entertaining show that can also help you make smart post-pandemic voting decisions. I recommend Battlestar Galactica (BSG), now available on Peacock. Rebooted in the wake of 9/11, the re-imagined BSG aired from 2004 to 2009. The plot: an enemy almost completely annihilates the human race, and the remaining 50,000 survivors traverse the universe attempting to stay alive. It tackled issues that remain relevant: war, religious differences, bigotry, terrorism, immigration, abortion rights, freedom of the press, and an election with vast ideological differences between candidates. USA Today included BSG on its list of 100 shows to stream while social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic. It has been described as one of the best shows of all time, and declared as one of TV Guide’s Best Sci-Fi TV Shows to Watch Right Now. The New York Times noted that “its questions about how we reorient ourselves in the face of disaster seem freshly relevant.” Finally, the Washington Post highlighted BSG for showing “what makes someone a leader, and what leaders do when faced with difficult or life-threatening scenarios.”
To be sure, BSG is fiction. However, science fiction has long served as a precursor for actual events. BSG was selected for a 2006 Peabody Award and the committee stated it “is not just another apocalyptic vision of the future, but an intense drama that poses provocative questions regarding religion, politics, sex and what it truly means to be ‘human’.” Unfortunately, the well-known BSG quote, “All this has happened before. All this will happen again.” is our current reality. It has been 100 years since hundreds of thousands of Americans died during the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918. During the past few months, thousands have died due to our federal government’s inadequate and dangerous response to COVID19. We will far exceed our current death toll if, as predicted, there is a second wave. This daily, horrific experience should inform our vote. With this upcoming election, we have the power to elect a new government and perhaps impact the predicted aftermath.
We must elect officials whose decisions are informed by past experiences and knowledge from scientific advisors. Our federal government has not consistently done either. Thirteen years ago, the then and current director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci, made it clear, “A primary lesson of the 1918 influenza pandemic is that it is critical to intervene early.” He also said, “Nonpharmaceutical interventions may buy valuable time at the beginning of a pandemic while a targeted vaccine is being produced.” These statements harken to many local mandates to social distance and shelter in place. Absent were national mandates. Instead we heard, “Why don’t we let this wash over the country?” That lack of humanity, and the decision to dismantle the pre-existing pandemic team, left us unprepared and vulnerable. We also need an administration who will not lie. According to John Barry, author of the “The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History,” “The main lesson from 1918 is very clear: that you tell the truth in a public health setting.”
In 2009, the United Nations described BSG as delivering, “a message about the many harsh realities that still exist worldwide.” The BSG survivors ultimately created a democracy with diverse leaders who understood their primary responsibility was to meet their constituents’ needs, not ensure their personal gain or feed their egos. We need to do the same. BSG was written to reflect events post 9/11; unfortunately, it remains relevant. Enjoy the epic space battles, human-looking androids, drama, and deception. However, while watching, be open to learning what strong, effective leadership can look like. Furthermore, keep in mind those who have needlessly lost their lives during this pandemic. We owe it to them and ourselves to demand change. Make an informed decision and vote. Your vote matters. It can make a difference in our lives and that of future generations.
Henrika McCoy is an associate professor of social work at the Jane Addams College of Social Work, University of Illinois at Chicago. She was a 2019–2020 Public Voices Fellow with The OpEd Project.