Several weeks ago, as our nation braced for the COVID-19 pandemic, I felt a sense of community and camaraderie that I haven’t experienced since the weeks following 9/11. Everyone seemed to genuinely care about the wellbeing of their families, friends, and neighbors, except for toilet paper, for whatever reason. Service organizations mobilized and volunteers stepped up to serve the needs of the most vulnerable in communities across the country – it was a beautiful thing.
But here we are, just a few short weeks later, divided once again. Tensions are high, animosity is palpable and the personal attacks have resumed. We have fallen back into a “us versus them” mentality where zip codes and neighborhoods lose relevance and political affiliation becomes a litmus test for patriotism.
A line in the sand has been drawn. On one side, there are those who continue to embrace stay-at-home orders, social distancing, and other measures to prevent the spread of the virus and overburdening our healthcare system. On the other side, some are becoming restless as one executive order after the other threatens the solvency of businesses, the livelihood of employees, and the viability of local economies.
Unfortunately, the dynamics of each faction have been oversimplified to fit a narrative that suggests one side is enlightened and un-American while the other is misinformed and patriotic. But it’s not that simple. Life experiences help shape our views of the world so while some are eager to believe one side is more justified or righteous than the other, it’s their perception of the situation that persuaded them either way. It’s not a matter of fact or fiction.
To put things in perspective, the person who supports stay-at-home orders and is fiercely advocating for face coverings and social distancing could be a caregiver at a senior living facility or the parent of a child with a compromised immune system. Then there’s the small business owner who opposes stay-at-home orders and is protesting policies that are hampering their ability to engage in commerce because they just laid off dozens of employees and shuttered their business of 20 years. Obviously there are valid points on both sides of the debate. We just have to be willing to listen.
Make no mistake, the complexity of the social and economic challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic coupled with a deepening recession will be tremendous. Solutions will require a thoughtful approach that embraces compassion, collaboration, and an understanding that America’s darkest days are followed by its finest hours.
Kevin Mahmalji is the founder and principal of Two Rivers Consulting based in Florence, Colorado. With more than 10 years of experience in public policy advocacy, strategic communications, and nonprofit management, Kevin offers a wide range of professional services including public relations, government affairs, fundraising, community engagement, and more.
Before founding Two Rivers Consulting, Kevin worked as a political operative for numerous statewide campaigns in Texas, Wisconsin, Iowa, Virginia, and Colorado. These efforts included a presidential, senatorial, gubernatorial and municipal campaign, as well as issue advocacy. Kevin’s background in electoral politics demonstrates his proven ability to work under extreme pressure, meet critical deadlines, cultivate support from diverse stakeholders, and build diverse coalitions.
In his free time, Kevin likes to give back to his community through volunteerism. He’s currently President-elect of Florence Rotary Club, Vice President of the John C. Fremont Library District Board of Trustees, Board Member of Action 22, and an active member of the Florence Chamber of Commerce. Most recently, Kevin was invited to join the Steering Committee for Colorado’s Rural Philanthropy Days where he serves as the Co-chair of the Marketing Committee. He is frequently seen at or around his co-working office at Emergent Campus in historic Florence, Colorado.