“Action” category artwork: Two megaphones and the word “Action” in between them

We Will Emerge: Action

We Will Emerge is a collaborative project bringing together 111 writers, activists, academics, poets, and public servants to imagine a blueprint for a post-COVID America. These submissions center on action and look forward to a more politically engaged and equitable society that’s deeply committed to supporting health and well-being. Contributors for this section of We Will Emerge include Wajahat Ali, Jelani Cobb, and Roxane Gay.


Ayad Akhtar | Wajahat Ali | Kurt Andersen | Imam Abdullah Antepli | Reza Aslan | Karen Attiah | Max Brooks | Rabbi Sharon Brous | Senator Sherrod Brown | Thi Bui | Chelsea Clinton | Jelani Cobb | Molly Crabapple | Mara Gay | Roxane Gay | Gershom Gorenberg | Errin Haines | Leta Hong Fincher | Sarah Kendzior | Hari Kondabolu | Erika Lee | Chris Lu | Karan Mahajan | Alyssa Milano | Tim O’Brien | Ben Okri | Andy Richter | Mayor Michael Tubbs | Bina Venkataraman | Maya Wiley | Andrew Zimmern

Ayad Akhtar

We will emerge poorer, into a world where the fittest are defined by their size of their balance sheets and where monopoly will be the only precondition to flourishing. Human attention—already more profitable than oil—will make the few considerably more wealthy, and exponentially more powerful. Our travails with corona will have hastened the corrosion of our political norms, and now, money paid out without oversight—money in a finance minister’s personal bank account, say—will supplant diplomacy. In a world where unfettered cash is king, the criminals prevail. Perhaps the resulting poverty will be the education most of us need to break the habits of our predatory comforts. Perhaps then, we will emerge and find a better way.

Ayad Akhtar is a playwright and novelist. He is the winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and an Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

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Wajahat Ali

We will emerge and be more generous.

The U.S. is the most powerful and wealthy country on earth that finds creative ways to cut taxes for the rich but can’t provide healthcare for all its residents.

Coronavirus is ravaging our communities. Many will die, especially the elderly, the poor, the immunocompromised, and people of color.

A senior citizen will die waiting for a ventilator in an emergency room. A Black woman from the wrong ZIP code will die because her neighborhood won’t have access to a healthcare facility. A young graduate with diabetes will die because he had to ration his insulin. A frontline physician will die because her state ran out of N95 masks and protective gear.

They could have lived.

What if we emerged as a true “pro-life” nation that values health over profit? Can our collective suffering help us find and embrace a generous spirit that allows us to reform our broken healthcare system and finally provide quality healthcare as a right to all our residents?

We will emerge and find a better way.

Wajahat Ali is a writer and a dad. He failed his South Asian ancestors by not going to medical school, but he married a brilliant doctor instead.

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Kurt Andersen

We will emerge and be more fair.

Economically, most Americans’ boats used to rise together, and that was no accident. Then, starting around 1980, only well-to-do people’s boats continued rising, and that was no accident, either. My hope is that these storms will shake enough sense into enough of us to summon the political vision and to radically re-redesign our economy and make it, for starters, at least as fair as it used to be.

We will emerge and find a better way.

Kurt Andersen’s new book, Evil Geniuses: The Unmaking of America: A Recent History, will be published in August. @kbandersen

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Photo by Marco Lau

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Imam Abdullah Antepli

We will emerge and be more vigilant.

The U.S. population has the lowest voter turnout among all democratic and developed countries despite being wealthier and more developed than many of them.

If the events of the last few years—especially the excruciating months of COVID-19 crisis—do not wake us up from our slumber and laziness about our democracy, I do not know what eventually will. This low and weak ownership of our own democracy is a manifestation of us taking our democratic achievements for granted and an awful failure of appreciation of it. Our founding fathers’ bones must be spinning in their graves.

COVID-19 showed globally what democracies and types of leaderships have been a source of pride with remarkable successes after successes, despite the enormity of challenges. Naming a few. . . the ones that take science seriously, the ones that have higher female and younger leadership, have higher informed citizenry, and more. This crisis also showed which governments and administrations have been a source of shame and embarrassment and caused preventable death and destruction to their citizens.

What if this pandemic functions as an epiphany for all of us as Americans? What if we all renew and significantly increase our ownership of our democracy and act accordingly a result of it?

What if we demand a government that fully represents us in every possible way and manifests the best of us in their actions and policies?

We will emerge and find a better way.

Imam Abdullah Antepli is associate professor of the Practice Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University and senior fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute. He is the founder and codirector of the Muslim Leadership Initiative.

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Reza Aslan

We will emerge and be more discerning. No longer will we say that elections do not matter, or that all politicians are the same. We will not pretend that a politician’s threats to sow chaos in our government can be ignored or not taken literally. When we hear words of racism and fascism coming out of the mouths of our politicians, we will know without a shadow of a doubt that words lead to actions. We will remember all of this because we will have the memory of tens of thousands of dead Americans to remind us.

Reza Aslan is a writer, commentator, professor, Emmy-nominated producer, and scholar of religions. A recipient of the prestigious James Joyce award, Aslan is the author of three internationally bestselling books, including the No. 1 New York Times bestseller Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth.

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Karen Attiah

We will emerge and be more balanced.

American society will learn that its workers deserve more of a social safety net. We trail behind other developed Western countries in work-life balance, parental leave, holidays, and other welfare metrics. Our work culture demands that we work long hours, with little breaks or vacations, and yet we have always trailed behind in productivity compared to other nations. The profit-at-all costs image of the American dream has left us sicker and poorer than we thought. Through this, so many have learned that physical health, and quality relationships with friends, family, and the community are the keys to a fulfilling life. What if we had policies that explicitly supported healthy balances?

We will emerge and find a better way. 

Karen Attiah is a writer and editor for the Global Opinions section of The Washington Post. She is currently writing a book titled Say Your Word And Leave, about her time with the late Saudi journalist and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi and the quest for justice after his brutal murder.

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Max Brooks

We will emerge and believe in public health.

We’ve forgotten the polio outbreaks, the TB sanitariums, the horrible plagues that used to kill and cripple as part of everyday reality. Since the second half of the 20th century, America has been so successful at conquering these plagues that now, Americans no longer fear them. We didn’t want to pay for public health institutions. We didn’t listen to scientists. We even stopped believing in science, rejecting the same vaccines that created the world we take for granted. 

Hopefully, we’ll reemerge as a society that respects the individuals and institutions that keep us safe and healthy. Hopefully, this plague will prepare us for the next one.

We will emerge and find a better way.

Max Brooks is the author of the novels World War Z, The Harlem Hellfighters, and Devolution. He is a senior, nonresident fellow at the Atlantic Council and the Modern War Institute at West Point.

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Rabbi Sharon Brous

We will emerge more loving.

The morning after the virus passes, we will mourn the world we’ve lost. And then we’ll build a new world, rooted in the lessons we’ve finally learned. Like the realization that we’re all connected by an invisible web of humanity that crosses land and sea. And the awareness that the judge of a society is not how we treat the most powerful, but how we care for the most vulnerable. And the irrefutable truth that when we allow profit and political expediency to supersede moral responsibility, when we let our indignation slip into quiet resignation, people die.

The new world we create will upend the systems of oppression and inequity, cruelty, and callousness that have been laid bare in this crisis. In it, we’ll pay teachers what they deserve; treat medical professionals like the superheroes they are; and honor farm, grocery, garbage, and postal workers as essential and invaluable, because they truly are. The new world will be rooted in the shared knowledge that we must live responsibly and sustainably on this planet. In this new world, we’ll know that our bodies are precious and touch is sacred. And our eyes will be trained to see beauty and poetry everywhere.

After the loss and dislocation, the brokenness and grief, when we emerge, we will build a world rooted in love.

Rabbi Sharon Brous is a leading voice in reanimating religious life in America, working to develop a spiritual roadmap for soulful, multifaith justice work in Los Angeles and around the country. Brous is the senior and founding rabbi of IKAR, which was started in 2004 and has become a model for Jewish revitalization in the U.S. and beyond.

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Senator Sherrod Brown

We will emerge as a kinder and more humane society—and a better prepared one.

For much of four decades, many Americans saw government as the problem, rarely the solution. After weeks of the pandemic, Americans overwhelmingly understand that government must do things that the private sector simply cannot do.

Think about childcare. For millions of families, high-quality childcare, at a cost of thousands of dollars per child, is far out-of-reach. Yet, hundreds of thousands of childcare workers—people who take care of our most precious resource—are not paid a living wage. The only solution? Childcare should be a public good.

When we see the pandemic in the rearview mirror, we will have the opportunity to begin anew with a blank slate, to address the issues of climate, public health, and racial and class disparities—especially in health, housing, and intergenerational wealth. America now recognizes that government—that means all of us—can help solve our most confounding problems.

We will emerge and find a better way.

Sherrod Brown is the senior U.S. senator from Ohio. His most recent book is Desk 88: Eight Progressive Senators Who Changed America.

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Thi Bui

We will emerge and be more creative.

Over the last century, Americans went from being citizens to being consumers. When we see things about our country that we don’t like, our apathy about voting or otherwise effecting change is rooted in this limited way we have been trained to see ourselves: go shopping to support the economy, and buy things even if we don’t need them.

Stuck at home and dealing with shortages, though, many of us re-learned how to make things ourselves. Then, our larger systems began crashing hard, and we were forced as a whole to reckon with the shortcomings and inequities in our country, from tech gaps in schools, to wealth gaps in healthcare, to racial injustice in the streets. We are learning that the status quo is neither okay nor unchangeable. We are awakening to the possibility of imagining and creating new systems that actually take care of us. All of us.

We will emerge and find a better way.

Thi Bui is a cartoonist, educator, and organizer, and author of the graphic memoir The Best We Could Do.

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Photo by Andria Lo

Chelsea Clinton

We will emerge and be more committed to public health.

At the federal and state level, we have disinvested in—and discounted—public health. As a country, we have allowed poverty to be synonymous with poor infrastructure, from lack of clean, safe water to polluted air, damaging kids’ health before they even start kindergarten; this is especially true for kids of color. In many states, we have accepted deadly risks to our immunocompromised and infants because some people don’t want to vaccinate themselves or their children. We did not replenish the Strategic National Stockpile for years, when we should have done so at a minimum, annually. And, there remain far too many barriers—cost being only one—for qualified, motivated people who want to be doctors, nurses, epidemiologists, virologists, and healthcare technicians in our country.

More recently, we did not build coronavirus testing capacity or personal protective equipment (PPE) reserves when we should have been racing to do both since January. We have a couple thousand contact tracers across the country at local and state health departments when we need hundreds of thousands for COVID-19 alone. As a result, we have made our already vulnerable—our elderly, people living in poverty, communities with high rates of preexisting conditions, people in our jails and prisons—even more so.

We can fight environmental racism and ensure everyone in the richest country in history has clean, safe water to drink and air to breathe. We can make vaccinations the rule for every child, except those with legitimate medical exemptions. We can ensure that nothing in our Strategic National Stockpile ever expires. We can make it easier for qualified people to be part of protecting patients and public health. We can build a public health force of contact tracers and develop testing protocols that enable us to rapidly scale our COVID-19 efforts—and protect public health in the future. We can ensure that universal health coverage includes all of this and more. Universal insurance is necessary to protect and improve health, but it alone—as we’ve seen across the world—is itself not enough. We have so much to do to save lives now and in the future.

We will emerge and must find a better way.

Chelsea Clinton is vice chair of the Clinton Foundation and teaches at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University. She completed her Ph.D.  in international relations at Oxford University, examining the first decade of the Global Fund to Fight HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria. She is also the author of several children’s books, including the No. 1 New York Times bestselling She Persisted: 13 American Women Who Changed the World, and the coauthor of The Book of Gutsy Women and Grandma’s Gardens with her mom Hillary Clinton, and Governing Global Health: Who Runs the World and Why? with Devi Sridhar.

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Jelani Cobb

We will emerge and be more humble. 

The United States saw a small outbreak in a part of China many Americans had never heard of and dismissed it as something that happens “over there.” Our leadership encouraged this kind of thinking. When the first cases of it emerged here, there was more denial and dismissal, and it was based not in any scientific assessment of the threat but the mere idea that we are above being humbled in such a way as we’d seen in China, and by then, Italy, Spain, and France. And now, the provincialism has drawn its boundaries not at national borders, but ZIP codes. Even at this moment, where more than 180,000 Americans have died, there is a reluctance in places where the pandemic has not touched as deeply to concede that New York and Chicago, and even New Orleans, are not “over there.”

There are other blindnesses that are fed by our arrogance. For years, we’ve heard the praises of the billionaire “job creators” sung from every official perch. But they’re not the ones risking their lives to make sure the  No. 14 bus is still available for those of us who still have to commute. They aren’t reusing worn out face masks or working triple shifts in the disease-vector emergency rooms in our city hospitals. Or, god save you, hopping on a bike to ferry Thai carryout to the homes of people who are too shook or too vulnerable to brave a trip to the grocery store. History shows us that those who cannot be humble can be humbled. But even more basically, our attitudes are antagonistic to the idea of our common human vulnerability—a point that the virus, unfortunately, has understood from the get-go.

We will emerge and find a better way. 

Jelani Cobb is a staff writer at The New Yorker and professor of journalism at Columbia University.

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Molly Crabapple

We will emerge and be democratic socialists, or we will emerge as either alienated Eloi or serfs for an Amazon more powerful than any state. What do I mean here? I mean that the coronavirus is already making every fissure of our society into a gaping, ruinous chasm. If the rents were too high before—they are now insurmountable, and homelessness can mean death. If immigration detention centers were already concentration camps, now they are rapidly morphing into death camps—and the same goes for the notorious Rikers Island. The dehumanized warehouse work/gig work/farm work/care work upon which the entire world rests has become life-risking, but no better compensated. And though we’re ruled by a mad idiot king, we’re also ruled by all too sane local politicians who cloak their incompetence in calm technocratic PowerPoint briefings, and whose every backroom deal reveals the deepest contempt for those of us who are not rich. That’s where we are now, but we can emerge better. We can insist that these apartments we live in are our homes and that we are not leaving. We can demand freedom for immigrants locked in cages and people rotting in jail on parole violations or awaiting trial. We can assure that people whose scorned labor moves this earth are paid as such and not the marketing plankton, hedge fund vultures, and McKinsey consultants. We can grow tomatoes, reject bullshit, know our neighbors, hang banners from our windows, read books, organize our coworkers, and fight for a world that belongs to all of us.

I’m not saying we will. This isn’t an exercise in Manifestation as promoted by The Secret. I’m not even saying it’s likely. But it’s what we need, especially as the more comfortable amongst us are thrown downwards in a rapidly stratifying, rapidly warming world. We have one more chance, maybe. It would be a shame if we didn’t seize it.

Molly Crabapple is an artist and writer in New York, and the author of two books, Drawing Blood and Brothers of the Gun (with Marwan Hisham), which was long-listed for a National Book Award in 2018. Her reportage has been published in The New York Times, New York Review of Books, The Paris Review, Vanity Fair, The Guardian, Rolling Stone, The New Yorker, and elsewhere. Twitter: @mollycrabapple

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Mara Gay

1. We will emerge with a better understanding of our own history, and our role in it. We will fight for one another.

2. We need to vote, march, and show up like we’ve never done before.

3. We will emerge and find a better way.

Mara Gay is a member of The New York Times editorial board, writing about politics and New York. She lives in Brooklyn.

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Photo by Tony Cenicola

Roxane Gay

We will emerge with purpose and rage.

The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed just how pronounced the fractures in our society are and how many people are falling prey to those fractures. In the future, we will do our best to ensure that the next time we are faced with a global crisis, we will be prepared to meet that crisis and protect everyone—not only the wealthy or the comfortable, but the most vulnerable among us. We will address the socioeconomic disparities that contributed to a disproportionate number of African American women and men succumbing to this virus. We will hold our leaders accountable and demand that they lead not only in word, but in deed. 

We will emerge and find a better way.

Roxane Gay is a writer, cultural critic, and editor.

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Gershom Gorenberg

We will emerge more united.

Israeli society is riven with tribal divisions, and the deepest chasm has always been between the Jewish majority and Arab minority.

The part of society that has gradually become the most integrated is the health system, as more and more Arabs have become doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and other medical professionals.

The epidemic put medical workers on the front line against a threat that has no ethnicity. In the moment of danger, it revealed what the country could be in times of calm, if we can overcome the politics of fear and division: a place where we are able to respect our differences as we are joined by dedication to each other’s lives.

The government put together in the midst of the crisis is built on the old fears. The impact of the epidemic and the shared effort to overcome it will take time to absorb. When that happens, perhaps, just perhaps, we will be able to create a shared politics of hope.

We will emerge and find a better way.

Gershom Gorenberg, an Israeli journalist and historian, is the author of the forthcoming War of Shadows: Codebreakers, Spies, and the Secret Struggle to Drive the Nazis from the Middle East. His previous books include The Accidental Empire: Israel and the Birth of the Settlements, 1967-1977. He is a columnist for The Washington Post and a senior correspondent for The American Prospect.

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Photo by Evan Simko Bednarski

Errin Haines

We will emerge to a new normal.

The dual pandemics of coronavirus and racism have laid bare the long-existing inequalities for women, people of color, and other marginalized communities. We stand now at the intersection of everything, amid a national reckoning that has spilled into the streets in cities across the country, with racism the only public health issue as urgent as COVID-19 for many Americans.

What if we emerged as a nation finally and fully ready to confront systemic racism and inequity with structural change? Are we really all in this together—not only in this moment, but so that future generations are not fighting our battles tomorrow?

We will emerge and find a better way.

Errin Haines is editor-at-large at The 19th, a nonprofit newsroom focused on the intersection of gender, politics, and policy. She is based in Philadelphia.

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Leta Hong Fincher

We will emerge and be more just.

The coronavirus pandemic has exposed the catastrophic public health consequences of rising strongman authoritarianism around the world. The science-denialist failures of aspiring authoritarian Trump have led to a staggering death toll in the United States of over 180,000, more than the number of Americans killed in World War I. Other strongman leaders around the world have also bungled their pandemic response, from Bolsonaro in Brazil and Putin in Russia to Xi in China—where the virus originated—leading to hundreds of thousands of needless deaths. In America, racism has exacerbated the pandemic, killing Black people at disproportionately high rates. Black and Brown women are more likely to be essential workers risking their lives on the front line of the pandemic than anyone else, underpaid and undervalued.

Yet, I derive hope from the extraordinary breadth of #BlackLivesMatter protests across cities and small towns in the United States, which have grown into a global movement against anti-Black racism. I derive hope from some of the women-led countries that have successfully contained the coronavirus, such as Taiwan and New Zealand, giving us a glimpse of what our world might look like if we embraced intersectional feminism and had equal representation of women at all levels of government.

Even as the global pandemic continues to worsen, we need to keep protesting against systemic racism, patriarchy, police brutality, authoritarianism, and so many other injustices. And especially in the face of the Republican Party’s antidemocratic, voter suppression efforts, we must turn out in massive numbers to vote this president out of office.

Our freedoms are under assault, but if enough of us keep fighting, we will emerge and find a better way.

Leta Hong Fincher is the author of Betraying Big Brother: The Feminist Awakening in China and Leftover Women: The Resurgence of Gender Inequality in China. Twitter: @letahong

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Photo by Nora Tejada

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Sarah Kendzior

We will emerge and be more honest. The exploitation of the coronavirus crisis by the Trump administration and other political actors was predictable, and therefore to some extent, preventable. The mafia tactics they used to shake down states and the apathy they demonstrated toward victims continued a long pattern of abuse.

Coronavirus is not only a public health crisis, but a political crisis. To fight it, we need officials who not only work for the public good, but who hold accountable bad actors endangering the lives of Americans. The era of elite criminal impunity must come to an end. But this will only happen if we are honest about the severity of the crisis. Folks need to stop mistaking malice for incompetence, and officials must hold those who profit off of American pain accountable. We will emerge and find a better way.

Sarah Kendzior is the author of the bestselling books The View from Flyover Country and Hiding in Plain Sight. She is the cohost of the podcast Gaslit Nation.

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Hari Kondabolu

We will emerge and be more critical of the system.

The stock market and economy have been discussed with as much intensity and despair as the number of coronavirus cases and deaths.

Supermarket cashiers and delivery people are now referred to as “essential workers” but are not compensated as such. In fact, many don’t make living wages.

Early on, there was a shortage of personal protective equipment and ventilators. States then had to compete against each other for these items on the open market, during a pandemic, driving up their costs and slowing down their delivery to hospitals.

With the president’s encouragement, states have now reopened even though mass testing is still not widely available. I suppose this doesn’t matter, since CEOs will get to continue “social distancing.”

This country invests billions in the military and homeland security to supposedly “protect Americans.” How is not being adequately prepared for a pandemic keeping the homeland “secure?” Does it matter whether you die by terrorism or by disease?

Furthermore, how secure is a country when Black people have been killed by the police for generations? How safe is our democracy when police forces can act as judge, jury, and executioner without being held accountable?

This nation may not have been prepared to protect its people from a pandemic, but it was more than ready to respond to protesters calling for an end to systemic racism and brutality, with a militarized police force equipped with tanks, tear gas, and rubber bullets.

The U.S. is able to murder its people or suspend their rights at the drop of a hat, but to heal them? Well, we need to see what the market says about that.

You know who your real friends are when things are at their worst. If it wasn’t clear before, American capitalism, in its current form, is no friend to the American people.

We will emerge and find a better way.

Hari Kondabolu is a Brooklyn-based standup comedian and writer who has been described by The New York Times as “one of the most exciting political comedians in stand-up today.” His documentary, The Problem with Apu, is available on Hulu, and his most recent standup special, Warn Your Relatives, is on Netflix.

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Erika Lee

We will emerge and be more welcoming.

The United States is known as a “nation of immigrants,” but another tradition of xenophobia has too often compromised our welcome of immigrants and refugees.

Our fear and hatred of foreigners and those identified as outsiders has been embedded in our history, economy, politics, and culture. It has been perfected under the Trump administration. From the Muslim ban to the wall, the government has restricted almost every type of immigration with a cruelty and racism that has few historical parallels.

But the outcry against these policies has also been unprecedented. A multiracial and interfaith movement of humanity has risen up to challenge Trump’s bans, walls, and raids. To welcome the stranger.

We will vote this xenophobe-in-chief out of office. We will hold our elected officials accountable to not only reverse these extremist immigration policies, but also create a truly equitable immigration system. In the meantime, we will act ourselves to welcome immigrants and refugees into our country and our communities.

We will emerge and find a better way.

Erika Lee is the director of the Immigration History Research Center at the University of Minnesota and the author of several award-winning books, including America for Americans: A History of Xenophobia in the United States and The Making of Asian America: A History. @prof_erikalee

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Chris Lu

We will emerge and build an economy that works for everyone.

It’s true that pandemics don’t discriminate based on wealth. But the impact of a crisis of this magnitude falls disproportionately on the millions of Americans living on the financial edge. Despite a decade of stock market gains, far too many people are working longer hours for the same pay, while facing rising healthcare, education, and housing costs. We need to build a more inclusive economy that addresses systemic inequities and creates real opportunities for all Americans.

We will emerge and find a better way. 

Chris Lu is a senior fellow at the University of Virginia Miller Center. His 20-year government career includes serving as White House Cabinet Secretary and Deputy Secretary of Labor.  Twitter: @ChrisLu44

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Karan Mahajan

We will emerge and be less obsessed with commerce.

At the end of the COVID crisis, hundreds of thousands will be dead, and countless millions will be out of jobs. Those of us lucky enough to have held on to employment will not only thank our stars but also feel, I’m sure, that it’s our duty to step out and hit the malls and patronize restaurants—anything to get blood pumping through the economy again. And even those without the means will probably want to celebrate their release from corona prison by throwing themselves back into the familiar hurly-burly of American capitalism.

Yet, I hope that—even amidst the renewed frenzy to participate in commerce—many of us will recall a time when (though suspended in fear) we were able to lead simpler lives: when, instead of seeking comfort in purchases, we depended on our immediate relatives, friends, partners, or roommates for happiness; when we returned to the slower pleasures of cooking, reading, and listening to the radio. If this happens, we might find ourselves waking up to a society with lowered expectations and lower economic growth, but with a higher shot at happiness—a society that prides itself on quality of life, rather than the speed at which life consumes itself.

Karan Mahajan grew up in New Delhi, India and lives in Providence, Rhode Island. He is the author of Family Planning and The Association of Small Bombs, which was named one of the Top 10 Books of 2016 by The New York Times. @kmahaj

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Alyssa Milano

We will emerge and be empowered. Empowered and armed with the blatantly obvious and unavoidable cries of inequity and disparity that plague our planet. And ready to rise up for the most vulnerable. Because we are not healthy unless we are all healthy. We are not safe unless we are all protected. And we are not free unless we are bound together. Like that of a single global voice echoing past the imaginary lines that separate us.

We will emerge and find a better way. 

Actress and activist Alyssa Milano has been in the spotlight for most of her life. She chooses to shine that spotlight on causes that matter deeply to her. Her advancement of #MeToo sparked a viral movement of women fighting against sexual harassment and assault, and she has been involved in Time’s Up since its inception. She recently joined the ERA Coalition’s Advisory Council. In the wake of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Milano became one of the founders of NoRA, a coalition dedicated to combating the NRA money in political campaigns so that common sense gun reform can be enacted. For 15 years, she has been a UNICEF national ambassador. In 2016, she received their Spirit of Compassion Award for her dedication to their mission of advocating for the protection of children’s rights, helping meet their basic needs and expanding their opportunities to reach their full potential.

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Tim O’Brien

We will emerge and be more demanding.

We will demand more of ourselves, our loved ones, and our leaders. The U.S. has weathered decades of skyrocketing income inequality, political fractures and passivity, and fraying communities and institutions. COVID-19 has laid bare how vulnerable and inadequate this has left us—and how much work we have to do to restore what has eroded.

We will emerge and find a better way.

Tim O’Brien, an award-winning journalist, is a senior columnist with Bloomberg Opinion and the author of TrumpNation.

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Ben Okri

We will emerge wiser.

Perhaps it has taken the spiritual austerity forced upon us by the pandemic to see how bloated our lives have become. We have wrought damage on the earth, we have exploited her, and we are bringing ourselves closer to environmental catastrophe. We have taken and taken. We are meant to be custodians of the earth. The truth, which we refuse to face, is that our civilization has become the greatest threat to our civilization. We have become our very worst enemies. Almost everything we do is driving us toward catastrophe. We are racing toward it with our lifestyles and our economic decisions.

It is hoped that the lockdown has given us a warning. We must change our lives or perish. It is hoped that this brief existential pandemic, which might be a sign of things to come if we do not change, will also compel us to emerge wiser and more just and to tear out all forms of racial discrimination from our institutions and from our hearts. This could be the moment when, after 400 years, America overthrows the evils of racism, so that all her peoples can live out the fullness of their potential here on earth.

We will emerge and find a better way.

Ben Okri was born in Minna, Nigeria. His childhood was divided between Nigeria, where he saw firsthand the consequences of war, and London. He has won many prizes over the years for his fiction, and is also an acclaimed essayist, playwright, and poet. His latest novel, The Freedom Artist, was published by Akashic Books. Prayer for the Living is his latest short story collection.

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Photo by Mat Bray

Andy Richter

We will emerge and be chastened, hopefully.

For a number of years, we as a populace have been fucking around, ignoring harsh realities and failing to hold a lot of truths to be self-evident. We have been behaving as if our personal comfort and amusement override the existential needs of our planet and every living thing on it.  We have treated our governance as entertainment, a grotesque television show in which conflict is favored over competence. And we have allowed the very wealthy to make absolute pigs of themselves.

All of this has led to the clusterfuck we are now living in. I don’t pray, but if I did, I would pray that the needless deaths of SO many will make us change course. I would pray that the arrogantly inept mishandling of this disaster will shock us into a better morality, will make us realize how much we need each other, and how almost no choice is made in isolation.

We will wake up. We will emerge and find a better way.

Andy Richter is an actor and writer who resides in Burbank, California. And get this—he has a podcast, “The 3 Questions with Andy Richter.”

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Mayor Michael Tubbs

We will emerge and be America again (America never was America to me).

The land where liberty and justice and opportunity for all is a real thing.
The land where all humanity is deemed essential and we distance from bigotry.
The land whose policy reflects the truths we hold self-evident that all are created equal, have inherent dignity, and therefore deserve:
a universal basic income, healthcare, access to housing that is affordable, and paid sick and family leave.

We will emerge and find a better way.

Michael Tubbs is Stockton’s first African American mayor and the youngest mayor in the history of the United States to represent a city with a population over 100,000. Mayor Tubbs has been recognized nationally as a staunch advocate for structural change and the provision of an economic floor for all.

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Bina Venkataraman

We will emerge and be able to see contagious compassion as the true measure of progress.

The pandemic and the protests have exposed the farce of measuring a society by how far its stock market soars, how high its buildings reach, or how fast its technologies make us. These measures can matter for a moment, but our progress is limited by the reach of our compassion, in our lives and in our politics. A society is only as healthy as its most vulnerable citizens, only free and safe when it ensures everyone is free and safe, only able to grow when it heeds the future and does not forsake justice.

We will emerge and find a better way.

Bina Venkataraman is the editorial page editor of The Boston Globe and author of The Optimist’s Telescope: Thinking Ahead in a Reckless Age. She teaches in the Department of Science, Technology, and Society at MIT and formerly served as a climate and science policy adviser in the Obama White House. Twitter: @binajv

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Maya Wiley

We will emerge better.

A year before the coronavirus pandemic hit us, we had 30 million of us living in this country uninsured. And more than half of those people were Black and Brown. And so many of them work. They work, and they can’t see a doctor when they’re sick because they don’t have health insurance on their job.

And whether that’s Ms. Betty who cleans out the bedpan or Ms. Carmen who brings a meal to an elderly person she cares for, these are people who we now understand as essential.

Essential workers.

We will emerge and find a better way.

Maya Wiley is a civil rights attorney, racial justice advocate, and University Professor at The New School, where she teaches urban policy and founded its Digital Equity Laboratory. Wiley is former counsel to Mayor Bill de Blasio, and former chair of the NYC Civilian Complaint Review Board, which oversees police misconduct complaints.

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Andrew Zimmern

We will emerge and be more empathetic.

In enduring great tragedies, human beings can rise up and out from their ordeal with an increased capacity for expressing more patience, kindness, and care for each other. After racing to grocery stores to get food for our children, will we see refugees abroad seeking better lives for their own children the same way ever again?

After many of us wait in lines for basic social services in the COVID-19 era, who among us can ignore our brothers and sisters for whom that’s always been a part of life? After this terrible viral crisis abates, how can we continue to ignore our broken and inequitable food system that works so well for one America and fails the second one so completely? After struggling to find quality care for our own loved ones or standard protective equipment for frontline responders, who could tolerate a society that doesn’t provide our best for, well, everyone?

Turns out, in America, even the coronavirus wasn’t colorblind.

And then the police in my city killed George Floyd.

There are two Americas. For everything. We can’t tolerate that, ignore it, or wish it away any longer. So if you were waiting for your moment, I think this is it. As a friend told me last week, “If you actually care, act like it.”

I know nothing will change until I do. So I’m showing up for a long, hard fight. And I am going to keep showing up. I want us to emerge from this horrific place we are in right now today. I want a more empathetic world for my child to grow up in. As my friend reminded me, “You’re always on the right side of history if you’re fighting for people to have basic human rights.”

So why am I optimistic after 400 years of proof to the contrary? Because I don’t believe the glass is half full or half empty.

The glass is refillable. And now is the time.

Andrew Zimmern is an Emmy-nominated television personality and producer, and a four-time James Beard Award-winning chef, teacher, and writer.

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