Covid-19 policy lessons (in the New York Times!)

And how that came to be

I am very honored and excited to share with you a piece I wrote for The New York Times’s opinion section — as part of a special package on the anniversary of Covid-19. It went online Thursday and it’s in print today. (I ran to CVS this morning and definitely confused the cashier when I bought multiple copies).

The piece essentially looks at policies we put in place at the local, state, and federal level throughout the pandemic that a year ago would have struck most people as radical and politically naive. We released prisoners. We banned evictions. We mobilized to deliver hundreds of thousands of tech devices to homes without internet. We moved the homeless into their own independent living spaces. We did a lot quickly, and the sky did not fall. But as we near the end of this crisis, and many of these emergency interventions are expiring, we’re really at a crossroads about where we go next, and what kind of society we’ll choose build in Covid’s wake. I argue essentially that we have a window over the next few months to push for bigger structural changes, and we can do that. That raising awareness is never enough, but we need to understand what we have done over the course of the pandemic when there was will to act, and what our government still can do. That it’s up to us to demand it.

You can read it here. And the full package of anniversary pieces here! (Or pick up a copy today)

A lot of people have asked me how did this happen? And it’s a good question. It started with an email I got out of the blue from an editor, Max Strasser, in early December, subject line “Possible assignment for you?” We had a phone call and he explained they were commissioning pieces for this anniversary package in February or March, and he thought I might be able to do this piece that would require reporting on more radical policy experiments that occurred over the pandemic, and write something about how things are now reverting back to pre-pandemic times. I spent a couple weeks in December doing research. But after the Georgia Senate runoffs in early January, I and many people I spoke with were recalibrating political expectations. Things that seemed more far-fetched in December suddenly seemed a whole lot more possible, at least for a brief window of time. I made the case to Max to reframe the argument slightly, that we could certainly go back to how things were and forget all that we’ve learned, but really there is an opportunity we have now to push forward a lot more. And whether we do that is in large part on whether we understand that we can. And to recognize what we’ve done. These windows of political opportunity don’t come around so often. He liked it, and I spent the next six weeks or so doing more interviews. I didn’t tell anyone about this because honestly, they didn’t send me a contract until 2 days before it was published, and I just really was not sure if it was actually going to happen. Normally I would never do a lot of reporting for an assignment that I was not sure was happening, I just can’t afford as a freelancer to take that time, but there are always circumstances in which you break your own rules and I thought well if this one does work out it will be worth it. But I better not tell anyone in case it falls through and then I’ll be embarrassed. I didn’t even tell my parents until about a week ago.

So that’s the backstory. We did eight rounds of edits, and I was able to help mold the argument into something a little different, more along the lines of, we have this chance now to do something, to build on what we’ve learned. Will we?

I know if it weren’t for readers like you who have helped me to put a lot of this kind of policy reporting into the world before, the NYT wouldn’t have seen me as someone who could do this assignment justice. So thank you.