Opinion: Divisive remarks have no place in Michigan’s recovery

Jim Ananich

The coronavirus has left more than 1,900 hundred Michigan residents dead and more than 28,000 thousand sick. Cases are confirmed in 76 of our 83 counties, as of this writing.

People have lost their jobs. Grocery store employees and delivery service workers are risking their lives in to make sure we can feed our families. Schools are shuttered and children are being forced to expand their vocabulary to include the phrase “social distancing.” And health care workers have become our fiercest warriors in the battle against the virus.

Senate Minority leader Sen. Jim Ananich, D-Flint

At the same time, a few loud voices in the state Legislature have put their energy into criticizing our citizens and belittling the medical community. The one I am most disappointed by is Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, who has taken to social media to accuse workers of being lazy and choosing unemployment over a job.

He says people would rather sacrifice their liberty in favor of “freebies.” Who is he referring to? Is he referring to our local business owners who are using small business loans to stay afloat? Maybe he is talking about the hardworking folks who have showed up to work every day and played by all the rules who now need to apply for unemployment.

A crisis can bring out the best and the worst in all of us. We can choose to lash out in fear or we can unite to defeat this deadly virus.

My colleagues in the Senate Democratic caucus are choosing the latter. For the past several weeks, we have focused on helping our communities cope with the reality of the virus. We’re being advocates for the folks who have called our offices scared about their health or their job. I delivered food to Flint firefighters and workers at my local Meijer store, and worked to ensure delivery of N95 masks to the emergency response center in Genesee County. We are hosting tele-townhalls to provide information and answer questions from the residents of my community.

Senate Democrats are part of a bipartisan workgroup to offer recommendations when the time comes for citizens to get back to work, safely. We must rely on information from the medical community to drive the effort, not rush people back to work and risk a resurgence of the virus.

I believe the men and women who were forced out of their jobs because of COVID-19 want to get back to work. I believe the doctors, nurses and medical staff who are watching people die want us to stay home because it is the best medical advice right now. I believe the small business owners who have locked up their shops are eager to open up again, when it’s safe. I believe parents want their children to go back to school so they can keep learning, but not when the risk of illness is high.

I believe all of us working together is the best way for us to emerge from this crisis and rebuild.

Jim Ananich, D-Flint, is the Michigan Senate minority leader, representing Flint and portions of Genesee County.