THE steady, relentless cancellation announcements came rolling in late last week, hour by hour, minute by minute.
By Friday afternoon, I had become almost numb to them.
Festivals, parades, concerts, theatre performances, church services. Things people had put thousands of hours and untold love into. Not going to happen.
Savannah is known for — and our local economy is largely dependent on — two busy seasons, centering on March and October of each year.
Spring 2020 will simply be the spring season that Savannah didn’t have. The St. Patrick’s Day without a parade, or even Mass at the Cathedral that morning.
And that’s in the best-case scenario, unfortunately.
The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare every weakness of America’s economic, social, and educational fabric, one by one:
• Wall Street gets more bailouts while Main Street still gets nothing
• Our profit-driven healthcare system makes centralized response in the public interest nearly impossible
• Self-quarantine means not being able to pay rent or bills, as shift workers/tipped workers have little or no PTO and often no health insurance
• Internet access should be a public utility
• Public school shutdowns are difficult because so many children literally only get fed during school hours
• An antiquated elections system almost completely dependent on retired elderly poll workers who volunteer their time
• The move to online learning will expose the massive top-heaviness and cost inefficiency of our higher education system
• Universal Basic Income (UBI) no longer seems like such a “crazy” idea, does it?
And that’s just off the top of my head. I’m sure you can add to the list.
Drilling down into my own area of expertise, being editor in chief of a local newspaper, the question begs itself:
What does “The Events Paper” do when there are almost no events in town?
Ordinarily, we’d be gearing up right now for big-time Savannah Music Festival coverage, with at least two covers in a row dedicated to it.
But, the Savannah Music Festival, along with most everything else of note, has been canceled or postponed for the duration.
A city dependent in large part on the service industry seems poised, as I write this, to follow the lead of other cities and institute some kind of comprehensive limitation on public gatherings and on the food/beverage industry.
As a grassroots, independent, and very hyperlocal newspaper we too, are quite dependent on local small business and the local entertainment and service industry.
So we will feel their pain too.
What should Connect Savannah’s mission be during this pandemic and resulting community pause, however long it lasts?
We are now going through a very interesting, and I hope ultimately beneficial, conversation about how to be “The Events Paper” when there almost no events in town, with more canceling every day.
So we are turning enthusiastically to the idea of building and encouraging grassroots solidarity with local people, businesses, artists, and entertainers during this trying time, outside the event-driven environment by necessity.
Our print paper is by necessity smaller than usual this week.
The very rapidly-changing and extremely fluid nature of this pandemic means that for the time being, there simply isn’t enough material to fill a normal-sized print edition that we know will be current by the time it hits stands.
That last part is really important.
Stay linked with us at connectsavannah.com and our social media platforms for breaking, up-to-date news, which we will continue to provide in even more volume than before during this time.
Hopefully, when we eventually get to the other side of the pandemic, these lessons and experiences will make for a stronger journalistic outlet in the long run.
We have opted this week to focus on that sense of local solidarity, on how local people are responding to the pandemic, in terms of their events, performances, and small businesses.
One of the more popular things to say these days is “we should put people over profits,” and of course that’s true.
But most of the time when we say “profits,” what we really mean is... people.
People who need to pay rent, need to pay bills, need to be able to make their car insurance payment, need to pay student loans, need to put food on the table.
A friend of mine, Rev. Ben Gosden, senior pastor of Trinity Church, says it best:
“If you hear (or see) a small business mourn the losses coming as a result of this season of social distancing, know that it’s not helpful for you to lecture them on how ‘some things are more important than profits.’ Odds are you’re not talking to the CEO of Amazon or Disney,” Gosden writes.
“They’re more likely to be the owners of restaurants, coffee shops, bars, and other establishments that offer your community space to be together. And those profits you shame them over represents their livelihood — food on their table, braces in their kid’s mouth, hope for a retirement one day, etc,” continues Gosden.
“Small business is an important part of the social fabric in our local communities. And when you’re tempted to shame a business owner for grieving the temporary loss of that livelihood, just take a breath and remember how selfish and privileged you sound.”
I couldn’t have put it better myself.
We’re all in this together, now more than ever, and Connect Savannah will change and adapt to serve the public, as long as it takes.