Figuring out what to put on the cover of each Reader issue is one of the most rewarding and at times most stressful aspects of my job. When a cover really comes together, it’s a beautiful thing: I rush into the office on Wednesday morning to see the newly printed copies, basking in the glow of the final product.
There’s been no office to rush into for the past month—the entire Reader editorial process, from pitches to proofs, happens remotely. Still, my life is among the least upended by the coronavirus—I still have an apartment to lounge around in, a paycheck to cover my bills, and a paper to design every week. For this week’s cover, the publisher suggested that we pay tribute to the essential workers—the grocery store clerks, gas station attendants, doctors, pharmacists, postal workers, and others—whose lives have been so gravely impacted by the pandemic. In an e-mail to the illustrator, Nguyen Tran, I described these workers as “putting their lives on the line,” which Nguyen took as inspiration to depict these workers on a literal tightrope walk, the disease roiling beneath them.
I love this cover because it beautifully represents the precarity in which these workers now find themselves. Many call these workers “heroes,” and while their efforts are in large
part what separate us from an even more horrifying social collapse, I think the term obfuscates the fact that many of them put themselves in harm’s way every day simply because they have no other choice. That a cashier making $12 an hour could have no choice but risk their lives every day is indicative of our profound political failure to protect the most vulnerable in this country. We cannot go “back to normal” after this crisis has ended, because the seeds of its cause were embedded in “normal” from the beginning. Whatever comes out of this situation, I can only hope that it is more equal and more just than what preceded it. v