First published in the Dorchester People for Peace Update, April 10, 2020
A crisis can highlight faultlines in a society that are less visible in “normal” times. It is now impossible to ignore that our fragmented and mostly privatized healthcare system is not up to the challenge of a virus pandemic. A government infrastructure weakened by decades of corporate neo-liberalism is incapable of producing and delivering vitally-needed life-saving medical equipment or personal protection supplies even for healthcare workers in direct patient care – nor is it able to deliver timely relief to workers and small business who face economic disaster. And while establishment opinion has been almost unanimously opposed to universal public health insurance as a right, millions of newly-laid-off workers are facing the loss of health insurance provided through their jobs. Decades of massive incarceration, even for minor, non-violent infractions are exposing imprisoned populations to potentially fatal plague conditions from which there is no escape. And in a society deeply scarred by institutional racism, it is no surprise that communities of color are suffering disproportionally from the covid-19 outbreak.
We are also being reminded about who really matters in making a society function and allowing us all to survive. Healthcare workers, of course, but many others too. As British labor Party leader Jeremy Corbin said in the video I linked to last week: “We can all now see that jobs that are never celebrate are essential to keep society going. Think of the refuse workers, the supermarket shelf-stackers, the delivery drivers, the cleaners. They are often dismissed as low-skilled. But I ask, who are we least able to do without in a crisis – the refuse collector or the billionaire hedge fund manager? All of those workers need so much more than our thanks. Right now, they need our help. And as we look beyond the crisis, they will need our respect.” Some economists are predicting that the post-virus recovery may intensify inequality as low-paid workers will continue to bear the brunt with lower wages and continued joblessness. But the wealthy and privileged could bounce back quickly and extend corporate control over the economy. Think Amazon, for example, which is already expanding its employment and market share.
Meanwhile, as our leaders speak of a “war” against the coronavirus, actual deadly wars continue to be prosecuted far away from home. It is worth remembering that horrific as the deaths from corvid-19 may be, they pale in comparison to the slaughter perpetrated by wars old and new. Nearly 60,000 Americans – and millions of Vietnamese – lost their lives in a distant conflict that had nothing to do with defending the United States; more recently, millions have died directly and indirectly from US wars in the Middle East; in one day a US atom bomb killed 150,000 Japanese civilians in Hiroshima – with another 80,000 in Nagasaki a few days later; hundreds of thousands died in the “conventional” firebombing of Tokyo, Hamburg and Dresden. Altogether, 20 million people died in the First World War, 80 million in the Second World War and 5 million in Korea. I do not write this to minimize the tragedy of US deaths that may result from the coronavirus, but to emphasize that a response to this crisis must also include a self-examination of how many in our country see warfare as normal and inescapable. In fact, the warped budget priorities of feeding Pentagon gluttony while starving areas of real social needs at home are contributing to people dying from corvid-19.
The “war’ on coronavirus is not just a bad metaphor, but like the infamous “War on Drugs” and its consequent surge in mass incarceration, it contributes to a mindset that makes this crisis worse. Now more than ever, we need to say out loud and often that WAR IS NOT THE ANSWER. And neither is “returning to normal” after this crisis passes.
What we need instead:
Minnesota Rep Ilhan Omar tweeted a video of FDR proposing s “Second Bill of Rights” in 1944 that would establish the universal right to -A decent job -Medical care -A decent home -A good education -An adequate wage -Economic protection during sickness, accident, old age, or unemployment. She adds: “It’s time to revive it.” (Click on the image or the link to watch)