The genie has escaped from the bottle, revealing the deep injustices and cruelties that are embedded in US capitalism and its warped relationship to the peoples it rules, and the world.
The coronavirus pandemic has upended the economy and the lives of millions of people. In so doing it has exposed the wreckage of a country living under the rule of billionaires and the military industrial complex. The health care system is controlled by corporations and therefore cannot meet human needs. The United States gave up its large scale manufacturing to China, the country which it both demonizes as the source of infection but also begs to produce more ventilators, masks and other medical equipment.
The response is what one would expect from a politically backward nation like the United States. The president is unqualified for his position and offers no leadership. Although pointing out Donald Trump’s faults is too easy and cannot be the sole basis of any analysis. The systemic shortcomings impacting us now were all in place before he was elected. The oligarchy’s rule over government is obvious and can no longer be kept hidden. The governmental remedies proposed to date are an effort to give corporations a massive bailout with no strings attached, but only meager crumbs for the people.
The chaos will eventually end but life will not be the same. A system that is inherently antagonistic to human needs is unlikely to return the few public benefits we had left. Disaster capitalism is quite real. Just as the New Orleans school system was replaced with charter schools after hurricane Katrina in 2005, the closing of schools due to COVID-19 may end with the same result across the country.
Charter school profiteers will argue that online learning is just fine and that children won’t need class rooms or teachers anymore. Jobs that disappeared in the wake of business closings may never come back. If workers can function at home and communicate via teleconferencing, they may be told not to return to their places of employment again. Those who cannot utilize these systems will become redundant. The means of getting rid of the few benefits we still had will be endless.
It would be quite tragic if 2020 ended like any other year, with a belief that an electoral victory for one part of the duopoly will save us. The machinations of the democratic wing have been disgraceful, as they coalesced around an obviously ill man in order to crush demand for even a small bit of reform.
The presidential election must be one part of a wider campaign to bring true justice to this country. COVID-19 is an opportunity to demand change while the people are paying attention to the crisis. A return to normalcy is the opposite of what we need. This is a moment to think about what should be the new normal and what should be jettisoned forever.
In order to minimize the post-COVID-19 damage, the list of demands must be formulated right now. These should include monthly payments for every person for the duration of the pandemic and continued support for those in need afterward. The health care system must be permanently placed under full public control. Medicare for All is a small part of what we need. Rent and mortgage payments must be suspended, and loans should be forgiven. Water and electricity shut offs should end and a right to these services must be established. The Internet must become a regulated utility too.
It is a positive sign that some states are freeing prisoners. These actions are proof that the prison population could be cut in half at the very least without posing a danger to the public. This is another demand that must outlive the pandemic.
Most importantly, we cannot allow the removal of any pre-COVID-19 protections or claim that public education or other public benefit can be diminished at all. Schools must be reopened and fully staffed. The laid off must be returned to their old jobs.
The idea of American exceptionalism must die. China and Cuba are sending medical teams all over the world while the United States scrambles to provide for the basics. If Americans learn nothing else from this crisis, they should observe that the countries they are told to hate and fear are doing what their “great” nation fails to do.
The genie cannot be stuffed back into the bottle. All the contradictions must be exposed and opposed. The demands for justice and real democracy should outlive this pandemic. If we wait and hope for one $1,000 check, the deaths and illness will have been doubly tragic. This historic opportunity for transformational change must not be lost.
Margaret Kimberley’s Freedom Rider column appears weekly in BAR, and is widely reprinted elsewhere. She maintains a frequently updated blog as well at patreon.com/margaretkimberley and she regularly posts on Twitter @freedomrideblog. Ms. Kimberley lives in New York City, and can be reached via e-Mail at Margaret.Kimberley(at)BlackAgendaReport.com.
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