Solidarity from An Unemployed Service Industry Worker

By Zara Stevens (March 17, 2020)

I’m a bartender.

I lost the totality of my income tonight when my state shut all bars and restaurants down in the face of this global pandemic. I am without work now, not because I was fired for incompetence. Neither was I fired for negligence. My business wasn’t closed down for incompetent management. Like so many of us, I’m unemployed for no reason other than the fact that the arena of my line of work is potentially unsafe for society at the moment.

I’m fearful. I’m sad. I’m worried not only for my own immediate economic future, but for that of those with whom I work, and for those with whom I share a line of work. My state is not the only one to have made this decision, and it will not be the last, and I have been fielding conversations from my fellow service industry folks, from many states, all night, and for the past few days, as my industry takes the frontline economic hit of this crisis.

I can report to you that we are sharing love and encouragement amongst ourselves. And that it extends to you, our patrons. We are pledging support to one another, with our limited and rapidly dwindling means. We are proud to have served as long as we could. Our chins are up. We are scraping a silver lining from the bottom of this barrel. We love you, our patrons, regardless of how hard a line we may have had to draw with y’all during business as usual. We want you healthy. We want you safe. We want you dancing and happy in our establishments, enjoying good food, good company, and good drinks. …This is going to end. We are going to be serving you again soon, and we very much look forward to that day.

Until then, let it be said that this is not a political issue for us. For us, this is a matter of food on our table. This is a matter of our bills going unpaid for an indefinite number of weeks or months. This is a matter of our personal debts increasing, and our nights growing evermore sleepless. Many of us have dependents. Many of us do not have the modern luxury of a partner with an income that is (for now) guaranteed. Some of us work for small family businesses, and we worry about our beloved employers’ ability to weather this economic storm. Others amongst us work for larger businesses, and we worry about their loyalty to us as both workers and human beings. We are the canaries in this collapsing economic coal mine, and we are not comforted by facile political debate. Our fears are not allayed by conspiracy theories. We are not lulled to sleep by misinformation, nor are we distracted by platitudes. We are actively focused on the very real needs of the most vulnerable within our communities, because we are living amongst them in the indefinite economic insecurity of this moment — and, truthfully, many of us live our entire lives balanced, at the best of times, precariously on that dividing line.

We hope against hope that you do not join us in this place anytime soon. We are not asking for pity. We are not begging sympathy or financial support. We do, however, respond with gratitude to solidarity and compassion. We bow deeply to skill-sharing and the pooling of excess resources. We appreciate, immensely, your non-partisan acceptance of our very frightening personal experience in these unprecedented days. We recognize that illness knows no political party, no class boundary, no religious affiliation, no racial division, no sexual or gender orientation, no age or professional distinction. When we speak aloud about our experiences in this weird new reality, however temporary it may be, we do so in the spirit of solidarity and transparency. We remain largely positive as we metabolize our grief and anxiety.

Though our businesses may be temporarily shuttered, our memories are long. We have sat with you during your most difficult moments. We have toasted your triumphs. We have fed you, watered you, laughed and cried with you. We’ve called you cabs. We’ve helped you avert shitty dates. We’ve cleaned up after your most embarrassing moments. We’ve danced with you, sung with you, talked you off the ledge. We know better than most that a horrifying moment passes, and this current one will, too. We are going to be so happy to pour you another drink, serve you another steak, and, fuck yes, to bring you more ranch dressing, once all of this clears.

Until then, from the relative comfort of our homes, we send you our love, our joy, our understanding, and our continued solidarity. We implore you to shed the lens of politics in this challenging time, because we know from recent firsthand experience that we are all concerned about the same things — the continued viability of our home lives, the continued health of our loved ones, and the continued fervent hope for this pandemic to dissipate.

We wish you health. We wish you happiness. We wish you easy passage through this unique moment in recent history. We’ve watched you overcome so much, and we know you’ll make it through this, too. We’ll see you on the other side!