7. The Ms. Back to School Special

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On today’s show, we focus on going back to school during the COVID-19 pandemic.  The beginning of the 2020 school year is nothing like before. The word “difficult” is an understatement—and it’s difficult for all: for teachers, for students, for parents, (especially mothers) and for our colleges and universities too. Meanwhile, economic strains on families are sky-high as many families face eviction, and affordable child care is out of reach.

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Michele Goodwin: 

Welcome to “On the Issues with Michele Goodwin” at Ms. Magazine, a show where we report, rebel, and tell it like it is. On this show, we center your concerns about rebuilding our nation and advancing the promise of equality. Join me as we tackle the most compelling issues of our times. On our show, history matters. We examine the past as we pivot to the future. On today’s show, we focus on back to school during a pandemic, and we have a great show for you.

The beginning of the 2020 academic year is nothing like before. The word “difficult” is an understatement, and it’s difficult for all—for teachers, for students, for parents, especially mothers, and our colleges and universities too. There are economical strains on families, as some are facing eviction during pandemic and child care is simply out of reach.

Helping us to sort out so many questions and how we should think about these issues are really important guests.

Randi Weingarten: She is the president of the 1.7-million-member American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO, and creator of the AFT Innovation Fund, a groundbreaking initiative to support sustainable, innovative, and collaborative education reform projects developed by members and their local unions.

I’m also joined by Representative Katherine Clark. She represents the 5th District of Massachusetts. Her career in public service is driven by her commitment to help children and families succeed. In Congress, she brings her experience as a former state senator and general counsel for Massachusetts Office of Child Care Services into this important role.

I’m also joined by Fatima Goss Graves. She is the CEO of the National Women’s Law Center, Co-Founder of TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund, and author of many articles and reports, including “We Must Deal with K through 12 Sexual Assault” and “Unlocking Opportunity for African-American Girls: A Call to Action for Educational Equality.”

But we also, with great sadness and resolve, mark the passing of a trail-blazing pioneer. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the indefatigable RBG, the notorious RBG. She passed on Friday, September 18 2020, at the age of 87. As an executive committee member of the national ACLU, I am particularly saddened by our collective loss, and grateful that we were witness to her strength and courage. Here’s a part of a statement from the ACLU:

“Few individuals have had such a dramatic and lasting effect on a particular area of law as Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who directed the work of the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project from its founding in 1972 until her appointment to the federal bench in 1980.

By 1974, the Women’s Rights Project and ACLU affiliates had participated in over 300 sex discrimination cases.

In 1981, President Jimmy Carter appointed her to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, and in 1993, she became the second woman to be appointed Justice of the Supreme Court.

Of her work at the Women’s Rights Project at the ACLU, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said, ‘I wanted to be part of a general human rights agenda, promoting the equality of all people, and the ability to be free,’ she said.”

Today, we are talking about back to school, and here’s a clip from the 1993 Senate confirmation hearing where Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg lets us know just what was at stake.

Judge Roth Bader Ginsburg’s 1993 Senate confirmation hearing (CSPAN)

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg:

The first series of cases that I had, they were not big federal cases then. There were many states that had moved ahead of the Congress. The Title VII legislation trailed a number of states that had state human rights laws that did include sex along with race, national origin and religion as prescribed basis for discrimination.

How I got into the sex equality advocacy business was really two ways. One: My students, who in the late 60’s, early 70’s were encouraging the faculty to have a course in this area.

The other were these complaints that began to trickle into the New Jersey affiliate of the ACLU, complaints—this is a typical one: A school teacher becomes pregnant. And she is told that she must leave work sometime—three months, four months, when she began to show. She was euphemistically put on what was called “maternity leave,” which meant no pay, no benefits, no health benefits, we will call you back if we have a need for you. That was about the size of it.

Many of the women in that situation were school teachers, some were in other fields. That kind of complaint, and others similar. I remember one from the Lipton tea company, this was typical — a woman’s employer had a terrific health plan. Her husband’s employer didn’t have such a great health plan. So she wanted to sign up with her employer to get the more advantageous plan for herself, her spouse, and her children. And she is told, women can get health coverage under our plan only for themselves. We have family coverage only for male workers. That was another category of case.

Michele Goodwin:

Randi, I’d like to start with you. In April, the American Federal of Teachers published a “Plan to Safely Reopen America’s Schools and Communities,” which recommended a blueprint to safely reopening our schools, and last month, in your column, you argued that reopening schools should be based on science and not on politics. What did you mean by that? Certainly, I couldn’t agree with you more, but what is it that you’re talking about when you say science and not politics?

Randi Weingarten:

So what I’m talking about is, we’re in the middle of a pandemic. This pandemic hurts people. The scientists and the doctors have spent pretty much every waking hour since they’ve known about this novel coronavirus trying to figure out how to help protect people, and the public health folks have tried to figure out, as they have done for, you know, generations, tried to figure out how to protect society, and so there is a core of information that is science based, that tries to protect people.

And I kind of sort of think we should actually be listening to that and acting on that as opposed to somebody’s political aspirations or political needs to downplay the virus or you know, political narcissism—or frankly, even worse than that, thinking that huge swaths of people in America are dispensable, whether it’s essential workers or kids or teachers, to the cost of doing business. And so here, as the months have gone on, it’s actually pretty clear that you have to reduce positivity rates. In a pandemic, you have to reduce positivity rates of a virus that is highly contagious.

You have to test and detect if you have lots of spread—particularly since 40 percent of spread is asymptomatic—and then there’s what I call “The Big Six,” that the scientists tell us and the doctors tell us and the public health aficionados tell us, even the CDC, after all that pressure, still tells us are things that you must do to prevent a virus from spreading when you are indoor, and that includes masks and physical distancing, ventilation and cleaning, hand washing, and reasonable accommodation.

Michele Goodwin:

And how in the world are schools to do this? I mean, are you all hearing from teachers that they just simply don’t know how they’re going to do this and remain safe? I mean, it’s really apocalyptic in so many ways.

Randi Weingarten:

Well, you know, look, the fires out west right now are an apocalypse. The virus is really serious and dangerous, and we’ve just done some polling of parents and teachers, so we know that they want safety to be first, but they know that if we could get into schools with the safeguards, they would want that to happen.

So it’s actually that if politics didn’t interject itself and if Trump was not so reckless and chaotic and confusing and incompetent, we could’ve actually had some semblance of normalcy going into the school year. You could’ve had the HEROES Act being passed. You could’ve gotten money for child care. You could’ve gotten money for these safeguards, and I’m sorry I’m so angry, but why are kids not a priority, and why are teachers, you know, being viewed as dispensable?

The chaos, the consternation, the agita is unbelievable. 79 percent of teachers told us this week that if we could get the safeguards there, they would want to be in school. The could get the safeguards there are doable. It was a matter of money and dealing with positivity rates and fighting the virus. Why were bars and restaurants and this political mumbo jumbo of magical thinking more important than kids?

Michele Goodwin:

You couldn’t be more spot-on on that, and the pain that you are speaking to is something that’s being felt across the country where people who are titled “essential” are treated as if they’re fungible and that they are expendable—and that includes teachers and women who are working on the front line, people who are working on the front line.

Representative Clark, I want to introduce you into this conversation, and building off of the powerful remarks from Randi, there are women who are working as essential workers. They’re parents homeschooling while the physical reopening of schools is still wishful thinking for many parts of our nation. There are parents that are facing substantial obstacles in trying to homeschool their kids while trying to make a living. Some parents are essential workers and cannot homeschool their kids.

Some parents who are essential workers, because they’re so low paid, are working two or three essential jobs, and some parents work from home—although working from home physically is really, really a challenge. I know that these are issues that you have been working on addressing, and I’d like to hear about that, particularly because, for so many parents, even before the pandemic, paying for child care was simply out of reach, and that is even magnified during COVID.

Representative Katherine Clark:

Thank you, Michele, and I couldn’t agree more. This pandemic has not created so many of the problems that we are seeing, but it has magnified them for us, and we simply can’t afford to look away, and Randi is absolutely right. We have to start by following the science. We need a national testing, tracing, and contact plan to keep our children able to return to school safely and allow businesses to reopen, and we know that women account for more than 50 percent of the workforce.

They disproportionately hold essential jobs. That they cannot stay home and collect a paycheck, and we simply cannot afford to leave them behind, but what we’re faced with is a child care system that was already difficult to access before the pandemic, and now we are fearful that we are going to lose upwards of 40 percent of existing child care slots, which means the pressure on parents and our child care system is going to be intense.

And with the months of lost revenue, new licensing requirements to keep everyone safe, we need 50 billion dollars, which is what we passed in the House back in July, just to stabilize child care. We have to really rethink the way we look at child care. It is part of our education system. It is not just a decision between parents and predominantly moms and child care providers. It is as critical economic infrastructure as anything.

“Planning for the longer haul requires thinking of care as infrastructure in this country, as foundational, and treating it and funding it and resourcing it in that way.” (Fort George G. Meade Public Affairs Office / Flickr)

Michele Goodwin:

Why is it that you think it’s not perceived in that way? Now, clearly, in some parts of the world, it is perceived as a national issue, so that in Norway, Sweden, Finland, the countries that people typically pivot to when talking about women’s equality, you don’t see these kinds of gaps in child care that we have here. So why is it that we’re so behind the ball in the United States in figuring out child care?

Representative Katherine Clark:

Well, I think that, if I put it kindly, we are deeply ambivalent about women’s role in our economy, and part of it goes back to who are our early educators? Who are our child care providers? They are overwhelmingly, 92 percent, female workers and professionals and 41 percent people of color. So I don’t think it is a coincidence that we pay these workers an average of 10 dollars and 70 cents per hour. That is well below the average living wage in this country, and we know that the inequalities go beyond providers.

That Black parents are almost two times more likely to experience hardships on their careers from lack of child care, and they are likely to pay two times more of their income.

So all of the racial justice issues that we are looking at—this moment of reckoning in our history—is really reflected back to us in this child care issue, and it is going to take rethinking about how we view child care and recognizing it as essential public good. There will not be a recovery if we do not invest in child care.

Michele Goodwin:

Well, this brings me directly to Fatima Goss Graves, one of my personal favorite people in the entire world, I must say, who’s brilliant on so many different issues, and I’ve been reading the reports out of the National Women’s Law Center about pay and about how women overwhelmingly are at the bottom of the economic ladder in dramatic ways. So I want to turn to you. In an article that you penned with Representative Clark, you reported that 1 in 4 child care workers, 9 out of 10 of whom are women, earn an average of 11 dollars an hour.

How in the world does that work for individuals who are living on the edge of poverty? You know, how in the world does it work to pay for child care when, in fact, you have so many women who are making 11 dollars an hour or 10 dollars an hour, and these are women who are educated women? These are women who graduated from high school and some who’ve graduated from college, but who have not been able to break through and earn a decent living wage.

Fatima Goss Graves:

Well, Michele, I’m so glad to be here with you today digging into this, because what you’re seeing is really a perfect storm of problems that existed before the pandemic that they have been amplified. It is the problem of paying women too little, in part, because they’re women, right?

So it’s not an accident that child care workers, the vast majority of whom are Black and brown women, are paid so little in this country, and it also isn’t an accident that those same workers who we now, yes, have the language of essential to describe what it is they do, that they’re struggling to deal with their own personal child care situation and afford their own personal child care.

All of that is not a new issue. It is a long actual legacy of the way that we think about care in this country and the way that we devalue the work that women get, but what it means today and in this moment is that the families who actually are looking for child care, they are going to struggle to find it in this environment.

We already had child care deserts, and the people who are providing this critical care are doing so with wages that are too low and now in conditions that are totally unsafe because we didn’t do what we were supposed to do to resource this moment and take it and treat it with the seriousness that it deserves.

I share Randi’s anger about the fact we’ve had this total failure of leadership to meet this moment. It is six months in, and we did not do what we needed to do to actually care, just as Congressman Clark said, for each individual family. It is really our communities and economy that are tied up into these poor decisions.

Michele Goodwin:

You’re so right. I mean, of course, these poor decisions start even before the coronavirus with getting rid of the office that would have overseen taking care of a global pandemic and removing that staff, such that we would not be prepared when a pandemic such as this struck and then the many different opportunities along the way wherein we haven’t been driven by science and a collective kind of action.

It’s interesting that there are people who say, well, let’s not look at the past. Let’s look towards the future with this, but that matters. That failure of leadership matters, and it trickles down. I want to expand the conversation so that we can think about technology and the technology gap, because within this space, there has been the pivoting and the use of technology in so many ways, including with parents having to switch gears with kids not going to school, having to use technology, but we know that there are disparities here, too.

There are Wi-Fi deserts. Some kids don’t have laptops. There are some kids who are living through this homeless. There are horrific pictures of seeing children sitting outside of fast food restaurants hoping to get onto their Wi-Fi. So, Randi, I’d like to start, first, with you. How in the world are these issues being thought through for schools when we know that there are such grave inconsistencies in terms of technology and access to it?

Randi Weingarten:

We just released a poll this morning that, you know, shows that about 73 percent of the biggest school districts in the country are on remote, and most of the problems that we knew of last March, April, and May have still not been solved. Again, and a lot of that comes down to two things, resources and engagement. When I say resources, about 25 percent of kids in the country still do not have access to either great machines, like a laptop, like I’m on right now.

About 73 percent of the biggest school districts in the country are implementing remote instruction—and most of the problems that we knew of last spring have not been solved, says Randi Weingarten. (Ivan Radic / Flickr)

I mean, it’s really hard to do schoolwork on a smartphone. Really hard to do schoolwork on a smartphone. If you don’t have a keyboard and if you don’t have a way of kind of like being able to type quickly and look at two screens at the same time … frankly, I’m 62 years old. I’ve learned more in the last few months about how to use technology than I have in my entire life, but so you need the hardware, but frankly, you also need the internet connectivity.

So let’s not even talk about the kids that have to go to a Hardee’s or the parking lot of a school to find the Wi-Fi. Let’s even say a city like New York or in fact, a city like D.C., where everybody’s connected. It’s just a matter of will Spectrum or Comcast actually give people, parents, free high-speed connectivity for the period of time of this pandemic? So, you know, we’ve fought for the E-Rate money, you know, to do that.

You know, we fought for 4 or 5 billion dollars that is in the Congresswoman Clark’s HEROES Bill, Speaker Pelosi’s HEROES Bill—but in the absence of getting that money, you still have huge connectivity issues and huge hardware issues. Dell, Apple have lots of waiting lists to get hardware, but separate and apart from that, then you have, in rural areas, you know, you had the bandwidth issues, and hotspots don’t cut it, but even with hotspots, we’ve sent, you know, hundreds of hotspots to places that don’t have them.

So that’s actually having access—but the second piece, which, frankly, is as important, is the engagement, and the amount of work and attention that should’ve happened from basically May, June through now about how to make remote work better, how to engage our kids more, all of those things, but this is also what’s happening. We’re all our administrative assistants. We’re all doing all this stuff ourselves from home.

But the engagement and making sure that we can get our kids engaged, particularly this year when we’re starting from scratch … last year, at least, we knew our kids, when the school year ended, we knew our kids … you know, it was March. We knew how to get on the phone with them. We knew how to get on the phone with their parents. Everybody knew each other.

Now it’s all brand new. So it is a big, big, big challenge, and even when you have curriculum materials … like, take Miami-Dade. They hired K12 Inc., you know, one of these virtual companies. The virtual companies [have] been around for a long time. You know, Betsy DeVos has been pushing virtual education forever. They never did really well, and now we had this huge experiment as to why.

But Miami-Dade hired K12 Inc. to do all their curricular work, as opposed to listening to teachers, bringing teachers on, thinking about how to do this stuff, and within a week of the school year starting, they canceled the 15-million-dollar contract they had because it was so abysmal.

So you got lots of issues all over the place about remote. Having said that, it’s better than nothing, but it is not a substitute for in-school learning and the work that should’ve been done nationally, Betsy DeVos, bringing people together.

Betsy DeVos. (Gage Skidmore / Flickr)

We’re putting grants out for people to … you know, for best practices right now, and we just had, for example, a big seminar this Saturday about where we had thousands of our members—you can see it on ShareMyLesson.com if anybody’s interested—about best practices, how to do remote better, the difference between remote and in person. How do you actually create individualized attention? How do you hear kids’ voices on remote? So we’re trying to do all that stuff, but it’s a big uphill battle.

Michele Goodwin:

So, Representative Clark, given that we’ve heard that, I know that this has been issues that you’ve been concerned about for a very long time, pre coronavirus, and you see these disparities play out between different school districts. So you have the LA Unified School District spending over 100 million dollars acquiring computers and iPads for their students. New York and Chicago doing the same.

But just as we’ve heard from Randi, these are real disparities, and these are disparities, depending upon if you’re in a rural area versus in a city area, sometimes the bandwidth area issue and so much more. So I’m wondering, from a legislative angle, what’s coming up the pipeline that will address any of this? These are some of the issues that really should’ve been addressed before COVID, but we see the urgency of it now and the perfect storm that Fatima speaks to.

Representative Katherine Clark:

Yeah, Michele, you hit the nail on the head. All of these issues have been there, but now, you know, it has all been revealed and brought into stark relief for us. So the approach that we have been taking as, you know, Randi laid out, we have the tech gap that is very, very real, and it impacts rural students, suburban and urban, and we know that much of the determinant is your income level of the neighborhood that you live in, and so we have addressed that through funding.

We have $100 billion that we passed in the House back in May, specifically to stabilize schools, to help with that connectivity, to make sure that parents are able to have their children log in remotely, but we know that this is a comprehensive picture, and if parents don’t have child care, if parents don’t have a program that supports their school-age students, if parents are not able to be healthy and have paid leave if someone is sick in their home, none of this works.

So we do have the funding, and we have been met with just callous disregard in the Senate. We had Mitch McConnell tell us, after we passed the HEROES Act, that it was time to press pause on helping American families who are suffering loss of life and loss of livelihood, and he said with state and local funding that is so critical to bridging these gaps, to having both the technology and the engagement that Randi referenced, but their budgets have nowhere to turn.

They need the federal government to step in, and we’re here, and we’ve been negotiating with empty chairs since June, but we are not going to give up because we cannot leave the American people behind, and I am worried about children that are not just going to miss a year, six months of their education, but this will change the trajectory of the parents’ lives and their lifetime of earnings and of these kids’ ability to access the education that they deserve, and I’m hearing this from educators and parents across my district and across this country.

That these children, and especially kids that we know are at risk when they come into school for various factors, are the ones who are going to be most impacted, just like we’re seeing this virus affecting Black and brown communities and communities of color and immigrant communities so disproportionately to white communities. So all of these pieces call out for a comprehensive solution, and what we’re hearing from this administration, looking at almost 200 thousand Americans who have died from COVID-19 is ‘it is what it is,’ you know?

Michele Goodwin:

And you know, that’s more Americans than who died in 19 years of the Vietnam War, in Iraq and Afghanistan, on 9/11, with Zika and Ebola all combined…

Representative Katherine Clark:

All combined.

Michele Goodwin:

And then some. All combined. I mean, that’s just how ferocious this has been within the last six months, and so many are saying so many of these deaths were preventable…

Representative Katherine Clark:

That’s right.

Michele Goodwin:

…if only we had done the right things. Randi, you were going to say?

Randi Weingarten:

Can I just build off what the Congresswoman just said? Because there’s two areas we haven’t even talked about yet, which is the social isolation for kids, which is really devastating, and you know, when it was, you know, the height and a lockdown and everybody was in it together, there was one thing, but this is now … Dr. Fauci and others are saying that we may not get to real normal until 2021 or late 2021. So the whole issue with the social isolation of kids.

And what we need to do to figure out how to bring kids together, frankly, that is what keeps me up at nights, and the second piece is that the Ag Department and all the food services that got completely expanded at the beginning of this crisis, all of those rules are expiring at the end of September. So not only is the money that we need to use to feed kids much more limited than it ought to be, but all the things that allowed us to do kind of grab-and-go’s in a much more robust way to feed families, those are expiring, as well, and that has not gotten…

Michele Goodwin:

Attention. No, it hasn’t. Well, even the fact that what happens at schools, Fatima, is that, for so many, that’s where kids were able to get a meal. I mean, it was horrific before when you saw in some communities that were going to ban these kids, they’re on the blacklist from getting food because, last year, they didn’t pay for food, which should’ve been a signal.

Rather than banning those kids from being able to eat lunch going forward, that they couldn’t afford it, and so these disparities, these economic disparities that play out along racial lines, I want us to talk about that, because there are ways in which people I think take it for granted that the people in meatpacking plants who’ve been forced to go back, because that’s been considered essential, are disparately Black and Latino.

These are people who are not making a lot of money, but they’re showing up at the job to do work. Who’s caring for their kids while they are showing up at work? For people who have vulnerable immigrant status, but who’ve been called to be essential, must also worry about ICE crackdowns at these meatpacking plants and other places. The people who are doing essential agricultural work, exposed to pesticides and so much more…

These are not people who are being paid a lot of money, but these are people that we call essential, and yet they live such vulnerable lives, and so do their children. So let’s talk a bit about that. What are you hearing? What are you seeing? What are you thinking about how we address those racial inequalities that’ve also been exposed during COVID?

Fatima Goss Graves:

Well, you know, the first thing we just have to name is that we still are in the midst of an acute crisis for all of those folks and more, and I want to raise the HEROES Act one more time because, you know, it is outrageous that we have workers, who we have named as essential, working unsafely, working without higher pay for the many, many risks that they are taking, and working without the security—

You know, right now, in most states in this country, child care is still a very, very personal problem for the workers who are on the front lines right now. So they are either able to figure out a situation or not, and that child care situation is not just for our younger zero to five kids where it usually is. It is, as Randi said, so many schools are all or mostly virtual right now, and so you have a child care challenge, a care challenge for all sorts of children.

I say that as someone who has children who are roaming around my own house. So you have this perfect storm that…we have to address this urgently, and then we have to learn our lesson really quick and plan for the longer haul, and that planning for the longer haul really reveals what a mess we made by not having wages at a level where people are able to have sort of cushion in savings, right? So we have to raise wages.

That planning for the longer haul requires thinking of care as infrastructure in this country, as foundational, and treating it and funding it and resourcing it in that way. It requires learning the lesson of what it looks like to have had so much of our work and our systems fractured with a gig economy that doesn’t have the same type of rules.

So, as we think about the future of work and workers who are essential to us, to our families and our communities, we have to actually learn that lesson and do right by them.

And then the last thing, though, that I just want to name, which is so outrageous that we haven’t moved on HEROES, is that some of the immediate steps they took at the beginning of this crisis with the CARES Act, those relief measures, many of which didn’t go far enough, are expiring, and we haven’t taken the appropriate action.

We haven’t taken the appropriate action on unemployment insurance. If you look ahead on things like paid leave…if this pandemic and the effects of it are with us well into 2021, the measures that they took when they thought this crisis was three months long are not going to be enough. They weren’t enough then. We now know enough that they aren’t going to be what families and communities are going to need to be able to get to the other side of this.

Michele Goodwin:

I mean, maybe this also speaks to Randi’s anger, which is that it’s not just that we see essential workers or treat them as though they’re expandable and fungible, but when you get right down to it, the fact that there’ve been stalled legislative matters or measures, it seems as if American people, children, are also being regarded as expendable, and yeah, I mean, there’s no other way to put it. Right, Randi?

Randi Weingarten:

Fatima is so right. We are still in an acute crisis. I mean, just look at what happened in Israel. They’re closing down again for three weeks, and they were thought to be one of the, you know, places that had confronted the curve, but how do you give the cruise ship industry and lots of other big corporations, when Wall Street was going downward, a trillion dollars of relief? And I’m not saying that the PPP program or all those things were bad.

I think that what Representative Clark and others negotiated were things that had to happen to stabilize the economy—but how do you not do everything you need to do to help children at the same time? And how come there’s a political fight now when it’s about real people and unemployment insurance and eviction moratoriums and food services and PPE for teachers and kids and remote education? That shows us that, to those who do not want to negotiate another package, they think working people and regular folk and children are expendable.

There’s no other way of looking at this. They know that there’s an issue. You know, you saw the politics of McConnell trying to take Nancy Pelosi’s first $105 billion for schools and say that was part of their “skinny,” or what I call, their emaciated bill. So you know that they have been moved by the politics of this. You know they’ve been moved by the politics of the lack of unemployment by President Trump’s doing, you know, the crazy $300 that I couldn’t even explain addition to unemployment for two and a half nanoseconds.

But they don’t actually want to negotiate something, and that is because they don’t care, because it’s a political sound bite. If they cared about it, just like they cared about Wall Street, they cared about the cruise industry…they negotiated something for them, but it’s a sound bite as opposed to actually caring about regular people.

Michele Goodwin:

And to that point, as I looked at it, a slew of earliest child deaths coming from COVID were Black and brown kids, and that was also very interesting. Again, this kind of perfect storm in terms of who has poor access to healthcare, stereotypes and biases that are embedded in healthcare, and while there were folks saying, well, children can’t get COVID, you see a 5-year-old Black girl in Michigan dying of COVID.

You see another little Black girl in Florida dying from COVID, and again, it’s this sense of just not caring. It’s hard otherwise to explain it.

So I want us to turn to mental health. What has this time meant then in terms of how people are affected emotionally, psychologically during this time? You know, domestic violence exists before this. You know it exists during COVID, too. Who’d like to jump in and just talk about what some of those issues mean?

Representative Katherine Clark:

Michele, I’d love to start, if I can. I am under the clock to go and vote on the floor, and I just want to say that we are looking at 40 percent of Americans who are saying they have severe symptoms of mental health disorders: anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation. This is worse for people of color, and it is worse for our young people, and I could not agree with Randi more.

We can look at this from every angle of policy and budgets, but it comes down to: Do you care about what people are going through? Because when it comes to protecting children, when it comes to paying women what they’re worth, when it comes to racial justice, protecting our vote, having the census count, following science, putting in OSHA protections for workers, we always hear the price is too high, but it’s never too high when we’re intervening for corporations or the very wealthiest of Americans.

It’s never too high when we’re talking about liability, you know, saying that corporations should not be held liable for the pandemic, but we never want to talk about standards that can protect workers. So we have to call out what this is. This is a game that is rigged against American families and our children and all the things that build strong communities—schools, first responders, having enough food to eat, a job, child care, making sure that our seniors have social security and Medicare, that everyone could afford health insurance, is no longer something that we can say, well, we’ll get to it someday.

This pandemic has made it front and center, and if we want an economy, if we want a just country, now is the time to act, and we cannot let the Senate Republicans try and run out the congressional calendar and the election calendar on American families.

Michele Goodwin:

Thank you so much for that, and I know that you’re going to have to get off soon in order to go vote, so just know how much we appreciate having you on this show. Fatima, you were going to add to that, too.

Fatima Goss-Graves:

I mean, I was, and I so appreciate what you said, congresswoman, and we have been thinking a lot and hearing constantly from some corners about their unnamed mental health challenges that they are facing right now. Right now, you have primarily women, but not only women, working and homeschooling and caregiving all at once, and you have a pandemic.

You have people experiencing both the loss of family and friends and loved ones, but also the loss of their past lives, and so the grief that people in this country are holding and the stress that families are holding, it is too much to bear, and children are experiencing it, too, you know? I’ve had a number of friends who’ve said that their children have said, like, ‘Mommy, my head hurts from the inside. My neck is hurting.’

They’re experiencing signs of stress, and so, you know, now is the time where we have to actually lean in and support families and take away some of those stressors. I really believe that part of the way you take that away is giving a plan that actually takes care of their lives and real challenges, rather than the sort of political talking points that don’t match the reality of our lives right now.

Michele Goodwin:

Thank you so much for that, and as we begin to wrap up, I want to ask you, are there silver linings that you see coming from this? It’s something that we try to pivot to on our show because these are times that have been incredibly dark where we’re coming —we’re at a time in which there are hundreds of thousands of people who’ve died from this virus, preventable deaths. We don’t know when that will actually end. We’ve talked about the various gaps that are borne about because of inequalities, economic inequalities, gender inequalities that continue to persist, but out of all of that, are there ways in which we see a future, a kind of brighter future, coming from this or a silver lining in any way?

Randi Weingarten:

Well, what’s been … as we were talking about mental health issues, Michele, one of the things that I’m seeing is that there is much more appreciation for … take emergency workers, essential workers, for workers in America who have actually gotten people through this crisis: grocery store workers, EMTs, nurses, respiratory therapists, aides, orderlies.

(California National Guard / Flickr)

I mean, you think about: Who held the hand of people who were in hospitals when families couldn’t be there? Who held the Zoom up when families couldn’t be there? If you think about, over the course of the last few months, who are the people—you know, there are some governors who have gotten high marks—but who are the people who have really been out there calming people down, feeding people, engaging people, protecting people, caring for people?

It is workers of America, and that I think is a story that we need to tell over and over and over again, and it’s like in World War II, remember the Rosie the Riveter, you know, portraits? The second thing is, the best conversation I had in the last six months was two afternoons. One afternoon with four teachers from New York City and one afternoon with teachers from around the country on community schools, and what we saw in talking to people about…

And this conversation was, like, in June, and I started it by, okay, what was the oh-shit moment? What was the oh my god, I can’t do this, and then how did that change? And what you saw, from both of these conversations, is that the places that actually had community schools set up in advance and wraparound services in advance could actually move from in-person to remote and keep those services, and they had a safety net for families, and including, because they had those services, they could stand up some child care services.

Services beget services, resources begot resources, and they could create a kind of stability and structure and the support and the resources that were necessary.

And the other piece on instruction is that those schools—the schools that focused on test taking did the worst. The schools that actually had project-based instruction, portfolio assessments where kids had already had the muscle of critical thinking, they were able to move to remote.

So the silver lining for me, you know, as a dorky educator, is that the stuff that we’ve been preaching for all these years about meeting the needs of the whole child, critical thinking, well-being—you could see that, when we had those things stood up in the places they were stood up, that actually really, really helped. Those are the two kind of silver linings from me.

Michele Goodwin:

I really appreciate that. Fatima?

Fatima Goss Graves:

Well, I think I will just add one more silver lining, and that is we’re in a moment where we are reexamining and uprising around a lot of different norms all at the same time, and that is true with the deep racial reckoning that’s happening in this country, but it is true with the demand that communities are making and the questions that they’re asking about housing and food. It’s true that the demands that workers are making for themselves and you know, Randi, for the kids that they teach, right? The teachers who are out there naming I know exactly what our kids need, and it’s not this, some of these things were a problem before.

And so it is my hope that a silver lining will be that many of those norms we thought to be true and that we were so gripped by will be shed through the course of this pandemic. If there is any hope, that’s it.

Michele Goodwin:

You know, and on that note, as you say that, for so many decades, there have been women calling for a different organization of work anyway, the possibility that work could be done in very different kinds of structures, and we’re seeing that now during COVID, and so you’re right. Both of you are absolutely right. I couldn’t have had better guests on the show today.

Thank you so very much for lifting up so many communities by what it is that you do, for giving voice to those who otherwise seem to be voiceless and also vulnerable. Your leadership is just a tremendous force in so many ways, and one sees that very clearly through COVID, but I saw it even before then. So it is my honor to have you on the show today. Thank you both very, very much.

As we close today’s show, let’s listen to one more clip of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg from her 1993 Supreme Court confirmation hearing:

May Ruth Bader Ginsburg's Memory Be a Blessing
Ruth Bader Ginsburg at her Senate confirmation hearing for her appointment to the Supreme Court on July 20, 1993. (Wikimedia Commons)

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg:

I saw my role in those days as an advocate in part, and as a teacher in part. Because one of the differences about gender discrimination and race discrimination is that race discrimination was immediately perceived as evil, as odious, as wrong, as intolerable.

But the response that I was getting from the judges before whom I appeared when I talked about originally sex-based discrimination, then I began to use the word “gender,” I’ll explain that perhaps later, but … “What are you talking about? Women are treated ever so much better than men!”

I was talking to an audience that thought immediately that what I was saying was somehow critical about the way they treated their wives, the way they treated their daughters—their notion was far from treating them in an odious evil discriminatory way, women were on a pedestal. Women were spared the messy, dirty, real world, and they were kept in this clean, bright home. And so it was trying to educate the judges that there was something wrong with saying, ‘Sugar and spice and everything nice and that’s what little girls are made of.’ That that was limiting the opportunities, the aspirations of our daughters.

Michele Goodwin:

Guests and listeners, that’s it for today’s episode of “On the Issues with Michele Goodwin.” I wanted to thank my guests Randi Weingarten, Fatima Goss Graves and Representative Katherine Clark for joining us and being part of this critical and insightful conversation, and to our listeners, I thank you for tuning in for the full story. We hope you join us again next week for a bonus episode where we will be reporting, rebelling, and telling it like it is, with special guests tackling issues related to an extremely relevant issue: Can the president suspend the election?

We will be joined by Karen Greenburg, Rick Hasen, Rep. Mikie Sherrill and Stephen Vladeck. It will be an episode you will not want to miss. For more information on what we discussed today, head to MsMagazine.com. If you believe, as we do, that women’s voices matter, that equality for all persons cannot be delayed, and that rebuilding America, being un-bought and un-bossed, and reclaiming our time are important, then be sure to visit us at Apple Podcasts.

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This has been your host Michele Goodwin reporting, rebelling, and telling it like it is. “On the Issues with Michele Goodwin” is a Ms. Magazine joint production. Kathy Spillar and Michele Goodwin are our executive producers. Our producers for this episode are Maddy Pontz, Roxy Szal and Mara Virabov. The creative vision behind our work includes art and design by Brandi Phipps, editing by Will Alvarez and Marsh Allen, and music by Chris J. Lee. Stephanie Wilner provides executive assistance.