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Running a Congressional Campaign During a Pandemic

Jesse Mermell
Mar 11 · 5 min read

This is not a drill. The Coronavirus is rapidly spreading across the United States. Massachusetts is under a State of Emergency. This is a scary time. Calm preparedness and a commitment to keeping ourselves and our communities safe are the orders of the day.

But how to do that when you’re running for Congress and your job is to be in crowded public spaces, interacting with people– often with a handshake or a hug? You put public health first, and the campaign second. That means supporting our state and local officials and medical professionals who are working with fervor to contain the virus as much as possible and keep us safe. That means amplifying their messages, and encouraging everyone to follow updates from public health officials and take their recommendations seriously– it takes action from all of us to stop this spread.

It also means changing the way we campaign while this crisis is ongoing. That won’t be easy– our entire operation is based on being in the community with voters and on grassroots engagement and contact– but public health and the health of our team and volunteers must come first. Plus, Team Jesse has never met an organizing challenge we couldn’t overcome!

Here’s our new plan:

We are cancelling, postponing, or making other adjustments to all in-person events. For example, we planned to have our Campaign Headquarters Grand Opening and Day of Action on Saturday in Newton. Instead, we’re planning a fun-filled virtual headquarters opening. Details are coming but you aren’t going to want to miss this one– from the safety of your home.

All other campaign events will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis as the situation develops. At existing events, we follow a strict, mandatory safety protocol– elbow bumping instead of hand shaking, no more hugs, mandated hand washing and sanitizing, and no communal food. We are being particularly mindful of events where constituencies might be more vulnerable. Wherever possible, we will offer virtual events or phone call-in options for our events.

Yes, this is a nuisance. Yes, this has complicated our carefully developed plans. But it’s a simple equation– health over campaign because we should and we can. Our team is incredibly privileged to have the option to make these adjustments. Far too many people across the country don’t have this choice. They might work hourly wage jobs without paid leave policies. They might not have health care– or have subpar health care– and can’t afford to get tested and treated if they contract the virus. They might be worrying about how to cover additional meal costs with public school closures or housing costs as dorms shut down.

This isn’t just a lesson for our campaign– it’s a lesson in the impacts of public policy in moments of crisis and beyond.

Two years ago when Massachusetts was debating the Paid Family and Medical Leave bill that I had the privilege to help craft, a woman named Damali Simmonds testified about why this policy was so important. She worked in the mailroom of the Boston Water and Sewer Commission.

When Damali gave birth to her daughter, she took maternity leave but, after she returned, she couldn’t take any more time off. Her daughter got sick several times before she turned one and, each time, Damali was faced with an impossible decision between working and earning the income she needed to support her family, or caring for her daughter who couldn’t go to daycare. Damali even had to stop breastfeeding because her schedule simply wouldn’t allow it.

These are intentional, systemic failures of one of the most prosperous countries in the world– failures that only serve to exacerbate growing inequality in our nation.

It’s shameful that this country puts its dedicated workers in terrible situations such as Damali’s. And with a pandemic spreading into our communities, it’s only going to get worse. Those who will bear the brunt of it are primarily low-income individuals, women, and people of color. And we are already seeing scapegoating of our Asian and Pacific Islander community fueled by racism.

In the days and weeks ahead, we must all take the necessary precautions to protect ourselves and our communities from contracting the Coronavirus. But beyond that we must take a hard look in the mirror and consider how we treat our most vulnerable neighbors.

We need to implement a national paid family and medical leave policy. We need to ensure all employees have earned sick time. We need to fix our broken health care system and ensure universal, affordable access. And we need a president who listens to the expertise of doctors and scientists rather than the pundits on Fox News.

In the meantime, employers need to step up and make sure they are putting their employees’ health first, implementing policies that allow their employees to stay healthy or care for a sick loved one without being punished and facing financial ruin.

It shouldn’t take a pandemic for this country to wake up to the common sense policies that benefit our economy and our public health as a whole– policies that most other industrialized nations adopted long ago. It shouldn’t take a pandemic for our leaders to have compassion for their fellow Americans.

You can bet that I will continue to be vocal about these policy necessities. I will continue to advocate for a federal paid family and medical leave law and for Medicare for All. I will continue to stand in solidarity with our dedicated doctors and nurses, janitorial and sanitation workers, and direct services providers who are working fervently to keep us healthy. And my team and I will continue to put public health before campaign, constantly monitoring the situation and updating our plan as needed.

Now go wash your hands.

Jesse Mermell

Written by

Candidate for Congress in #MA04. @AllianceBL , @PPAdvocacyMA & @DevalPatrick alum. Forever dog mom and Judy Garland fangirl. She/her/hers. JesseMermell.com.

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