Statement from LEPOCO Steering Committee, Staff, and Annual Dinner Planning Committee drafted March 13-15, 2020

(COVID-19 and LEPOCO Annual Dinner Cancellation)

Submitted by Mick Baylor, Margot Hillman, Dan Miller, Nancy Tate, members of the LEPOCO Steering Committee and Staff

On the day (Thursday, March 12), when the Lehigh Valley community announced its first COVID-19 case, a committee of the Valley’s oldest secular peace and justice group,  LEPOCO (Lehigh-Pocono Committee of Concern) met to finish planning our Annual Dinner, scheduled for March 21.  First, we needed to talk about whether to cancel our event.  We were concerned about the financial loss that cancellation would bring and about the community building that would be lost for long-time peace and justice activists.  We decided to cancel.  Our concern for the health and safety of the people attending the event heavily outweighed all other considerations.   We hope our decision has some small impact as the Lehigh Valley community comes together to slow the impact of the pandemic.  Soon enough, coronavirus victims may overwhelm our local health care system.

As a group, we think it is also important to address and seek to mitigate the impact of this pandemic on people the Bible calls “the least of these,” not only locally but in our country and, indeed, the world.

A great many people here and elsewhere are living paycheck to paycheck, without paid sick leave or adequate health insurance.  In this time of declared national emergency, they need a guarantee that they will receive easily affordable treatment, that they will not be financially penalized for staying home when sick, that they will not be evicted, that their utilities will not be turned off, and so on.  Perhaps above all, they should not have to endure the government’s desired payroll tax cut.  This phony “stimulus” will take funding from Social Security, Medicare and other components of a frayed social safety net.  Working people must not be set against one another.  Rather than cutting the foundation from Social Security, we should eliminate the income tax cap on Social Security, so that incomes above $137,000 are taxed, and the funds can go to strengthen the program. 

And what of those who have slipped beneath the level of so-called “respectable” society, those who are really the least among us – people living in refugee camps, in prisons and asylums, in shelters and homeless encampments?  One can easily imagine the pandemic having a terribly devastating impact on people who are truly living on the margins of society.  It is vitally important that governments, NGOs and businesses, both here in the Lehigh Valley and throughout the country, set aside profit motives, and act with passion and creativity to do all that they can to protect the most helpless. 

Our leaders promise that the pandemic will eventually pass.  We hope they are right.  The crisis we are currently in affords us the opportunity – in fact, impresses on us the necessity – of considering what kind of society we want to live in.  It should be one in which everyone is assured of certain basic necessities — good health care, paid sick leave, a job that pays a living wage, adequate housing and low-cost utilities, and a safe and sustainable environment.  Isn’t it time to end mass incarceration, cut a bloated military budget (we send over $750 billion/year to the Pentagon and less than $2 billion to the CDC), give up on sanctions that only harm the common people of countries like Iran, and recognize that international cooperation serves us better than militant nationalism?  Let’s give up the empire.

This is a difficult time for all the world’s people.  We should use it to examine how we can best use the resources we have to help as many people as possible, and also to consider what kind of society we want to live in once the crisis has passed.