Pamela Addison is, in her own words, “one of the shyest people in this world.” Certainly not the sort of person who would submit an opinion essay to a newspaper, start a support group for strangers or ask a U.S. senator to vote for $1.9 trillion legislation.
But in the past five months, she has done all of those things.
Her husband, Martin Addison, a 44-year-old health care worker in New Jersey, died from the coronavirus in April after a month of illness. The last time she saw him was when he was loaded into an ambulance. At 37, Ms. Addison was left to care for a 2-year-old daughter and an infant son, and to make ends meet on her own.
“Seeing the impact my story has had on people — it has been very therapeutic and healing for me,” she said. “And knowing that I’m doing it to honor my husband gives me the greatest joy, because I’m doing it for him.”
With the United States’ coronavirus death toll — over 535,000 people — come thousands of stories like hers. Many people who have lost loved ones, or whose lives have been upended by long-haul symptoms, have turned to political action.
There are Marjorie Roberts, who got sick while managing a hospital gift shop in Atlanta and now has lung scarring; Mary Wilson-Snipes, still on oxygen more than two months after coming home from the hospital; and John Lancos, who lost his wife of 41 years on April 23.
In January, they and dozens of others participated in an advocacy training session over Zoom, run by a group called Covid Survivors for Change. This month, the group organized virtual meetings with the offices of 16 senators, and more than 50 group members lobbied for the coronavirus relief package.
The immediate purpose of the training session was to teach people how to do things like lobby a senator. The longer-term purpose was to confront the problem of numbers.
Numbers are dehumanizing, as activists like to say. In sufficient quantities — 536,472 as of Wednesday morning, for instance — they are also numbing. This is why converting numbers into people is so often the job of activists seeking policy change after tragedy.
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