Postindustrial Media’s Cofounder and CEO, Dan Law

March 22, 2020

Don’t cut in line

Let’s find ways to support each other in these trying times


By dan law

These are unusual times, for certain.

I hesitate to say unprecedented times, only because one’s proximity to (or, perhaps, distance from) disease, famine, and other forms of acute human suffering is largely a measurement of one’s privilege and circumstances — much of which is out of one’s control. For example, my friends, colleagues, family, and I did not live through Ebola in West Africa half a decade ago. Or myriad other natural and manmade disasters.

In fact, the Internet’s endless meme generator proclaimed loudly this past week, “Your grandparents were called to war. You’re called to sit on your couch. You can do this.” 

Indeed. My grandfather fought on Peleliu. I once watched an HBO miniseries called “The Pacific” (it’s excellent and I highly recommend it for those quarantined — or anyone, really).

Despite the humor and zeitgeist references, for so many of us, this is uncharted territory. We instinctively seek context or the experience of others to help us get our heads around it. And while only a cursory scan of recent history will index endless human hardship, it’s difficult to recall a moment of such great equalization. During a “new normal” check in with my parents (via Facetime), neither of them can recall ever experiencing anything quite like this. 

This is scary. And there’s not a lot of data or assurances from political leaders about “airtight” containment that makes any rationally-minded person feel better. 

And then I have a moment of pause when I think about how this great equalizing is presenting a “some-are-more-equal-than-others” Orwellian element of reality. I can reference Tom Hanks, Rita Wilson, Kris Jenner, Heidi Klum, Idris Elba, Kevin Durant, the Utah Jazz and seven other NBA teams who have been tested for coronavirus. And yet countless Americans without money, access or influence, must wait. 

The tests are coming, we’re told.

And it’s not too much of a mental exercise to identify who among us aren’t getting specialty test kits. Yes — people who are sick should get tested. Full stop. But, an Oscar, reality-TV empire or an NBA championship ring should not allow you to cut in line.

Still, to fret about how this all can be in a society with people who enjoy unrivaled power, influence, and resources is a waste of energy in a stressful time. That is not to say, “Oh well,” as much as it is to encourage the many more of us out there who don’t have golden parachutes that there is power in our collective ability to make an impact — even on a relatively small level. 

This is particularly prescient advice in Postindustrial America, where many small businesses, entrepreneurs, and wage workers live paycheck to paycheck. They sacrifice daily to put food on the table and provide opportunities for their families. As recent data indicates, many Americans cannot afford a $500 emergency. How do we quantify a pandemic on an individual economic level?

It’s too much to comprehend, and probably not completely worthwhile calculus at the moment. To be sure, there will be a time for that analysis. Right now, what is worthwhile are small, but significant measures of sacrifice that can make a difference for neighbors and friends. 

For example, many of us are not filling up our cars with gasoline for our daily commutes. Small as it may be, that’s money that can instead support our friends who work in the service economy or may otherwise be out of work. 

None of this is to be self-congratulatory. We know our individual contributions amount to hardly even a blip. But that’s the standard. That’s the expectation that we should all hold ourselves to. And that’s where we can begin to set an example. It’s not glamorous, but it’s leadership. Uncelebrated, mundane, but valuable leadership. It’s a brand of caring that Postindustrial communities know well.

To be sure, there are real, very big solutions being explored in Postindustrial America. 

Out of Michigan, General Motors, Fiat Chrysler and Ford stated that their manufacturing capacity can transition toward producing much-needed ventilators for our overburdened healthcare system. Elon Musk kind of said the same. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s coronavirus response is considered a national model in crisis management. In Pittsburgh this past week, our philanthropic leaders came together and produced $10 million in emergency aid for health and human services, small businesses, arts and culture institutions, and others who are struggling.

While these may be trying times, what is certain is a responsiveness and resilience — and a penchant for pragmatic problem-solving — that makes Postindustrial America unique. 

And we don’t cut in line, either.

Dan Law is a cofounder of Postindustrial and currently serves as the director of advancement at The Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh. He is also a cofounder and board member of the nonprofit Partnership to Advance Responsible Technology. He lives in the Stanton Heights neighborhood in Pittsburgh’s East End. He grew up in Northeast Ohio.

More Stories from Postindustrial