A Letter to Public Health Students on the Eve of An Historic Election

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Healthcare workers march against police brutality in Seattle. https://bit.ly/2TPzCvb

Yeah, I’m worried too.

I can’t focus either.

The stakes just feel so damn high, higher than they’ve ever felt in my lifetime.

And it’s not just this existential dread about who might win, but a deep, stomach-turning apprehension that violence will ensue and harassment will follow. That, whether they are emboldened due to victory or angry due to defeat, those who have kept their hate for you silent will blast it from megaphones, guns in hand; will throw rocks at you like they did after 9/11; will harass you like they did after he kept calling it the “China virus;” or will try to run you off the road, breaking the law while waving Blue Lives Matter flags.

And yes, I feel it too, the ironic tension of knowing that the police we have protested against all summer for killing George Floyd, Atatiana Jefferson, and Breonna Taylor we are now supposed to trust to keep us safe at the polls.

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A poster demanding “Care NOT Cages” by Kourtney Nham for protests and actions related to decarceration, immigrant rights, or health. https://publichealthawakened.org/poster-signs/

But tonight, on the eve of this historic election, I know that no matter who wins, no matter what chaos ensues, that the core of my discipline will not change. That is, while the job of public health may vary drastically depending on who heads to the White House, the goal of public health — the data-driven pursuit of health equity — will not.

Yes, depending on the outcome of the election, our jobs may change. There may be even more words we are no longer allowed to say, or more trainings we are no longer allowed to conduct. There may be less and less funding for coronavirus testing and less and less uniform data collection for coronavirus deaths.

Nevertheless, we’ll persist. We did our work with no funding before. We planned and schemed over kitchen tables way before we had offices. We wrote slogans about equity on posters we bought in bulk before bussing to the rally against prisons. We used borrowed and broken down laptops to create ride-share plans to get everyone to the capitol to support driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants. We did this work with no funding and little institutional support before we ever called it “public health,” and if we have to, we’ll do it again.

Our jobs may change. But our goal — of creating a world in which one is not more likely to die because of their race, gender, or socio-economic status — will not.

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A poster stating “Fund Health Not Punishment” by Kourtney Nham for protests and actions related to decarceration, immigrant rights, or health. https://publichealthawakened.org/poster-signs/

We don’t do our work because it’s easy, straightforward, or well-funded. We do our work because when we see that Black young men are 9-times more likely to die by police violence, that queer youth are more likely to be homeless, that COVID-19 is more likely to take Latino jobs and more likely to claim Black lives, that children are increasingly more likely to get shot in schools, it makes us furious. Fueled by fire, powered by intellect, we bring the best parts of who we are to pursue better, safer, healthier lives for the communities we love.

So as the uncertainty of election week swirls around us, let’s find security in the clarity of our vision, the simplicity of the charge of the discipline of public health.

Let’s go to bed tonight knowing that, no matter what happens tomorrow or in the days that follow, we know what we are doing. No matter who is in the White House, who is in the Senate, who is in Congress, or who is on the Supreme Court, we will continue doing what we do, what we’ve always done. We will continue to work in pursuit of health equity until our communities are happy, healthy, and whole.

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Images of birds flying freely in front of a woman’s face. #NoBanNoWall and Our Ancestors Dreamed of Us printed among them. By Jess X Snow http://www.jessxsnow.com/PROTEST-ART

Written by

PhD in public health. He/Him. 🌈✊🏽. Talk and write about immigration. Author of “Separated: Family and Community in the Aftermath of an Immigration Raid”

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