On Monday, March 16, my life was upended by Colorado Governor Jared Polis. I lost my both my jobs at the Manitou Springs bar I worked for the night after he made a public announcement requiring all bars to limit their services to takeout only. I was a dishwasher and also a janitor. I’d been working at the bar for the past three years. Thousands of other people in Colorado also lost their jobs that fateful night, and in the time since, tens of thousands more in the state have become unemployed, too, because of similar edicts from Governor Polis.
I loved my jobs. I loved the staff.
I began working there after burn out forced me to leave a social media marketing job. I was happy at the bar. It was a sanctuary for me. Most importantly, the two jobs at the bar were essential for me as I continued to search for other gainful employment.
My jobs, and consequently, my life, were deemed “not essential” by the governor. I wasn’t important enough. Maybe the governor thought I would personally get people infected? I don’t know. Maybe I was at high risk of acquiring a deadly disease? But then that would be every day I washed the plates and forks and knives of people who ate at the bar. I can think of a few diseases I could have easily contracted. As a janitor, in which I also cleaned the bar, I again was at risk for exposure to diseases and viruses. In the three years I’ve worked at the bar, the worst thing that has happened to me was a temporary bout with eczema, and it was easily treatable. But somehow, to Governor Polis, none of this mattered because he had public policy to implement.
And just like that, I was unemployed, expendable, and basically deemed worthless. My jobs were the sacrifice for a confusing approach to public policy. One day not long after I lost my jobs, the governor encouraged Colorado residents to go outside, and the result was too many went outside. More draconian measures and edicts were issued from the governor’s office. In Arizona, a medical expert made a great point that restaurants and bars need not shut down but instead implement other measures such as distancing tables six feet apart and so on.
Anyway, the morning after I was forced to leave my jobs, I was looking for work online. I was hoping to avoid collecting unemployment insurance because I want to work. I like working. I have struggled with finding gainful employment for most of my adult life, in some part because I am deaf.
I’ve tried to start various businesses through the years and was working on one project for Manitou Springs before the pandemic hit. Now, the project is not going anywhere, and job hunting … I would much rather rip my teeth out with a fishing line and a motorcycle than repeatedly go through the job hunting process. But I have little choice: I want to work and I need to work.
I realize the pandemic is a huge public policy problem. Information is too fluid these days. Fear and paranoia seem normal online. In the interactions I’ve had with people at the park and on the sidewalks, most seem reasonably not too worried. For myself, it is a struggle between anxiety and optimism, ambition and depression. Links between unemployment and suicide exist, and as many people with disabilities can tell you, learned helplessness is a plague to be avoided. Today, after nearly two weeks of not working, being forced to stay in Albuquerque with family after being laid off, I worry more and more people will develop helplessness sickness, feel unworthy, give up, and a host of problems, from drug abuse to marital problems to suicides can follow. This is a potentially huge problem in the making right now as millions of people in Colorado and around the country have no jobs and no real light at the end of a long, darkened economic tunnel.
While Congress and the president fight over and sign stimulus packages, time is running out. Stimulus checks are only a temporary solution to a long-term unknown. For me and for tens of thousands of people in Colorado, the solution is for us to go back to work again. Relax rules and regulations. Allow people to innovate. Reconsider and repeal some of the draconian measures implemented, such as lifting the requirement bars and restaurants only serve takeout, and allow them to seat tables six feet apart, among so many other things.
I want to go back to work. Today.
Paotie Dawson is a resident of Manitou Springs; a photographer, volunteer, and active in his community.
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