Who is the Rosie the Riveter of today’s Covid-19 pandemic crisis? Could it be you?
Rosie the Riveter was a cultural icon of WWII (1939-1945), who was created as a composite of the spirit of the women of her day who made the war effort successful as she worked in aircraft assembly factories and shipyards, many of which were redeployed to produce munitions and war supplies. She became the subject of a popular wartime song and the iconic face of posters that appeared everywhere.
Judged by today’s standards, Rosie would be an undervalued woman whose rights were infringed upon by a male dominated culture–and that would be true in the world of today. But Rosie rose above the limitations of her day to be the symbol of victory. The war time posters of Rosie were one of the first portrayals of independent feminine power. Rosie was a first step of many steps in a struggle toward women’s empowerment that continues today.
So who is our updated Rosie of today facing a world supremely challenged? The last 80 years have been tumultuous, but we haven’t had a period of crisis like the pandemic of 2020 that has literally affected almost every single human being on this planet since WWII.
Just as WWII represented a world united against a common enemy, there we find ourselves today. It seemed as unlikely then as it does now to put together an alliance against an unequal enemy. At the time of WWII, democracy was considered too weak and feeble to solve the complex issues of the world of that time. We needed a strongman–someone who lead the world without being questioned–an Adolph Hitler. If Hitler and the Axis won, democracy died.
Yet the Greatest Generation united. WWII represented an alliance of allies that drew together the minds, hearts, blood, sweat and tears of people around the world. The major western nations threw their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities behind the war effort, blurring the distinction between civilian and military resources.
It was the bloodiest war in world history; between 75 and 80 million people died in WWII. Throughout the war years, up until the end, it looked very possible—even likely–that the Axis forces would win. WWII was the war that, had we lost, it would have redefined the freedom and geography of the entire world. It had to be won.
Could we be the Next “Greatest Generation”?
So who is Rosie the Riveter today, that iconic representative of the Great Generation? Could it be you? Could it be me? Could we be a catalyst for the New Next “Greatest Generation”?
The Greatest Generation, the term coined by newsperson and author, Tom Brokaw, came about because of the leadership of our great grandparents, who were formed in the crucible of WWI, the Great Depression, the greatest financial crisis to date (1929 to 1939), followed by WWII (1939 to 1945).
Since then we have experienced one war after another, but all these horrific events affected only some parts of the population. Like the pandemic of today, WWII affected everyone.
A Lot of Great Things have Happened in the Last 80 Years–But We’re Not Great
The Rosie the Riveters since WWII have been the inventors and developers of technology that has changed the world. They are the entrepreneurs that have taken processes and put them online–the Steve Jobs, the Jeff Bezos, and the thousands programmers taking businesses online and inventing the apps. At the local level here in Austin, one of the leaders who has driven the new technology that drives our world is Brett Hurt, Austin pioneer in many successful technology ventures, now CEO and co-founder of data.world, and Austin investor. We are the Jetsons, lacking only in personal flying machines (the only invention I have regretted not having in my life :-)).
But we have not invented a form of effectively working together–we are a world of warring camps and distracted unfocused people looking at our phones. Much larger than the threat of the pandemic is our own leadership failure at almost every level. We are not great when it comes to a cohesive society–the whole is less than the sum of its parts in building institutions that can handle the real problems of over-population, problems that link together the diseases of the world and literally bring about the specter of living alone and fearing contact with each other for the rest of our lives.
The last 80 years have constituted the single greatest period of technological progress the world has ever known. With Google and a few clicks, I can know the answer to any question that has an answer. The downside has been a leadership that looks for power, not outcome. We have a society that is connected by social media and at the same time light years apart in outlook.
In this war against Covid-19, the stark truth is that we are losing. We do not have the leadership at the top or the unity as a people at the national level to win. Now is the time for Rosie the Riveter. The job is too big for any of us, but if we have the spirit of Rosie, we’ll find a way. Let’s be the New Greatest Generation.
So who are the Rosie the Riveters of today? Who are the heroes of the New Greatest Generation?
Heroes See Issues–Not Ideology. Picture an old western movie. The rattlesnake slithers out from behind the rock into a group of children. A bystander draws his gun to shoot, but someone stops him and says, “Before you shoot, I need to know a little bit about your views on stuff.” We need to solve issues, not lock down in ideology. Today we have to limit infection and death, keep our businesses running, help people who are suffering, save our economy and the future of our children. These issues all contradict each other and there are no good solutions. To politicize these issues rather than solve them is a high crime and misdemeanor for which we will not be forgiven.
The New Greatest Generation “Does the Deal.” You see people every day defying common sense by congregating in dangerous settings and not wearing masks. Yet we’ll celebrate healthcare heroes in the 2020 pandemic. The number of infected people continues to undeniably double and double again. We know doctors right now who are treating Covid-19 patients at their own peril, seeing many live but experiencing death daily. The same is true of nurses and hospital workers. With them are millions at risk every day, police and fire, military, workers maintaining our streets and utilities, picking up our garbage, working in grocery stores, delivering our food, and so many more. We do not take any of this people for granted and we will never forget them.
The New Greatest Generation Invents the Future. Out of the crucible of some of the most difficult times, I am a part of really essential workers who are reinventing the future. Just a few months ago, how we are reinventing organizations would have been thought of as preposterous. They told us you have to go home, you can’t travel to other offices, and you have to keep your company functioning and profitable–and it’s working!
I am so essential I can’t believe it. Keeping our economy alive, is the work of essential employees. So:
- If you’re at home working on a computer keeping your organization moving in new directions, you too may not be on the frontline, but you are essential.
- If you’re giving yoga classes online, you are essential.
- If you’re working as a psychotherapist on Zoom, you are essential to the health of the nation.
- If you’re a banker, working with clients to help keep their businesses stay afloat, you’re an essential worker.
- If you’re a designer or marketer, helping clients pivot their businesses to online, you’re an essential worker.
Some officials have pictured today’s WWII Rosie the Riveter heroes as people who wear masks in public and stay home–and wait this thing out. That’s a part of the answer, but I don’t think it’s the full picture at all for these times. That would be like a soldier landing at Omaha Beach on D Day in WWII and hearing their sergeant say, “Men, they’re firing real bullets! Get back in the boats, hunker down, and stay there until they quit!”
The virus is the enemy fire. But we are not in retreat! We have no idea when the pandemic will be over. Will we be able to stop it through safety measures? To a certain extent. Will there be a victory in an effective vaccine? We hope that will happen, but we’re not waiting around until it does.
There is a heroic role for every one of us in this war. We may be on the front lines of fighting the virus in hospitals and labs. Or we may—as most of us are—be the essential workers who do the right thing by wearing masks and socially distancing….and who exercise the creativity, innovation and grit to keep the economy afloat in the meantime. We have to do the work, invent new ways to close deals, and make our revenue goals no matter how long this lasts.
Will I personally survive the pandemic? I have no idea, but no matter what happens I’m working to invent the future for those who follow. I want to be part of the new Greatest Generation. You, Rosie and I will do it together!