After years of cuts to public health funding during the Obama and Trump administrations, the United States was primed to suffer at the hands of COVID-19 come early January. While funding has been approved to provide free testing and paid sick leave, 87 million Americans are still uninsured or underinsured. Many Americans work jobs where they don’t receive sick leave, and still go to work when they’re sick in order to pay their bills. Many of these workers, like food service workers, retail and grocery workers, are still working right now- they’re considered essential. It’s extremely ironic that these essential workers don’t receive benefit s or a living wage.
Over 500,000 people are without homes, while vacant residences outnumber homeless people 31 to 1. Many Americans, especially renters, are severely cost-burdened by their housing. Undocumented immigrants stuck in concentration camps and prisoners in jail because of the cash bail system, nonviolent drug crimes, sex work, addiction, mental illness, or petty theft are highly at risk of contracting COVID-19 because of overcrowding and inadequate treatment. 28 people have died in the last 3 years alone while in ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) custody.
40% of Americans are so trapped by their debt that they are one paycheck away from poverty. Senators and representatives have been betting on an economic downfall for a while, and so have corporations continually buying back their own stocks. Then again stock buybacks weren’t even legal until 1982, when Ronald Reagan’s administration legalized them to boost corporate profit in the name of capitalism.
The National Guard has been put on standby in most states and actually has been sent out in three of them, while our hospitals are struggling to keep up with demand. Some poor Americans would receive as little as $600 from the Republican-supported stimulus package.
What are our national priorities? How would you and your community prioritize the funds authorized by Congress? What can we do about it while we’re (mostly) at home?
For the next week, you can download 10 different free e-books to learn more about the systematic oppression of capitalism, racism, colonialism, sexism, and ableism, and what a socialist alternative could bring. If you have trouble reading and would rather watch short films, you can find 23 different short films here that will remain free.
Sadly, on a national scale there isn’t much we can do. Even if we took more extreme (and in my opinion, justified) action and demonstrated outside of government buildings, we would be putting ourselves and each other at greater risk. Some congressional Democrats, including Bernie Sanders, Rashida Talib, Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, and Illhan Omar have been calling for a halt to evictions, a monthly stipend for all Americans, healthcare for all Americans, additional support for healthcare workers, emergency construction of shelters, and a ban on corporate stock buybacks. Meanwhile presidential candidate Joe Biden’s plans do not address homeless populations or people in prison, and Congress so far has been more focused more on stabilizing the stock market than making sure vulnerable populations and workers can withstand this health and economic crises.
Donald Trump didn’t even believe in COVID-19 until earlier this month, and now has used it as an opportunity to push an agenda of xenophobia and corporate bailouts while claiming to support workers. On a positive note, he has issued an order to halt evictions for public housing units, while many private landlords are still pushing for their tenants to pay rent by the end of the month.
So what can we really do?
Huron Valley community and labor activists have drafted demands to the state, local government, and the University of Michigan to use their endowment and implement a 1% tax on top income-earners and businesses to provide healthcare for all, housing for all, financial and material security for all, physical security and immediate care for vulnerable populations, and a public education campaign. You can sign as an individual or as an organization here.
Eastern Michigan University also has 95 million in its financial reserves. What else are reserves for if not for a time of crisis? Young Democratic Socialists of America at Eastern Michigan University is calling for the immediate refunding of parking passes for students who had purchased them for the six weeks not used, paid sick leave or a stipend for all University employees who have been laid off or had their hours cut, and the immediate hiring of additional janitorial staff and social service workers to help house the local homeless population in unused dorm rooms. Shelters in Washtenaw County are already at maximum capacity, and with the stay at-home executive order by Governor Whitmer, homeless people are at greater risk of incarceration, disease, starvation, and death.
You can sign our petition and find a script to send emails and calls to the administration here, along with finding local resources (including Swoops Food Pantry), and signing up to volunteer if you are healthy and able.
Many of us will get through this. Some will not. While a return to normalcy is likely what most of us desire right now, we cannot accept it when it comes, because it won’t last. Capitalism will continue exploiting natural resources, profiting from healthcare, low wages and housing at the expense of the poor, and demanding that we buy into the idea that when the rich do well, all of us are better off.
Others will become disillusioned with capitalism, but will fall into propaganda circles like eco-fascism and neo-nazism where other struggling people will be their enemy, instead of the ruling class who offshore jobs, profit from poverty, and routinely devastate communities. Population growth and generational division between the millennials and baby boomers will be seen as the problem, instead of the endless demand for economic growth that wastes food, exploits addictive behaviors, and creates a culture of isolation and despair that benefits only a small percent of the population.
We have to keep in mind that it is not everyday people destroying our planet and citizens and reaping the benefits of it, but multinational corporations and corrupt governments. As the late Tupac Shakur said, “they got money for war, but can’t feed the poor.”