Over the last two years, there have been record numbers of worker strikes in the United States not seen since the depression. Since the recession and COVID-19 pandemic started this winter, there have been many wildcat strikes in response to workers having their pay cut and being required to work in hazardous conditions even though they are deemed essential. Now, as the government demonstrates its unwillingness to provide basic protection for the population even as it injects billions of dollars to big industries and banks, support for a general strike is here. We speak with Kali Akuno of Cooperation Jackson about the plans being made for the first general strike on May Day, what that will look like and how the campaign will be sustained over time.
Popular Resistance is holding a national Zoom meeting on April 29 to provide information on ways people can participate in, support and amplify the first of many general strikes. More information at bit.ly/MayDayMeeting.
Kali Akuno is a co-founder and co-director of Cooperation Jackson. Kali served as the Director of Special Projects and External Funding in the Mayoral Administration of the late Chokwe Lumumba of Jackson, MS. His focus in this role was supporting cooperative development, the introduction of eco-friendly and carbon reduction methods of operation, and the promotion of human rights and international relations for the city. Kali also served as the Co-Director of the US Human Rights Network, the Executive Director of the Peoples’ Hurricane Relief Fund (PHRF) based in New Orleans, Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina. And was a co-founder of the School of Social Justice and Community Development (SSJCD), a public school serving the academic needs of low-income African American and Latino communities in Oakland, California.
Margaret Flowers (MF): So this week we interviewed Kali Akuno of Cooperation Jackson, about the upcoming plans for a general strike.
KZ: That’s right. A general strike that he and his organization, Cooperation Jackson, and other organizations including ours, Popular Resistance, are getting involved in. It’s a really important 2020 year effort. Pretty exciting. Big opportunity. It could be another Occupy if it takes off.
MF: And as our preparation for May first, we are holding an information call on April 29th at 7 p.m. Eastern time, and we will provide people with information about how they can participate and support the general strike. So go to bit.ly/MayDayMeeting.
KZ: It’s important to do that because it’s unusual to hold a general strike in the middle of a pandemic when people are being told to stay home. There will be a lot of creativity involved in this general strike.
MF: Right, but people can still do it, so find out how. And there’s information about that also at popularresistance.org. So let’s talk about some things that are in the news. Let’s start off as we have been lately with a little bit of an update on COVID-19. The United States now has around 800,000 cases that we know of documented. Many people are saying it’s likely much higher than that and over 41,000 deaths.
KZ: So when you project will be the million cases.
MF: Well at this rate we’re going a hundred thousand cases every three to four days. So by next week when we do this show we may be around a million cases.
KZ: We doubled our deaths in the last month from 20,000 to 40,000.
MF: And as you’ve documented on popular resistance, the number of deaths each week right now in the United States from COVID-19 is higher than the number of deaths from cancer and almost as high as heart disease. Those are the one and two killers.
KZ: That’s a week-to-week comparison of how many people die from those kinds of common killers to this new one, COVID-19. And we’re in the top two right now with COVID-19. It’s it’s a pretty serious pandemic. People should not underestimate it as people New York City know, but people around the country now are starting to see.
MF: It’s really sad that at this time when we’re in the middle of a global pandemic and cases are continuing to rise and deaths are continuing to rise that the Trump Administration is talking about cutting funding to the World Health Organization.
KZ: Oh he’s doing so many things wrong. He’s done so many things wrong on this pandemic from the beginning. His administration knew about this before January and did nothing. It’s pitiful and really an example of incompetent governance. And it really should knock him out of running for president for that reason alone.
MF: You say that every week which is why I kind of chuckled a little bit but people are actually wondering if they can hold the president criminally responsible for his negligence in handling this pandemic.
KZ: Well now he’s trying to encourage these protesters around the country, going out to urge Governors who are doing the right thing to stop doing the right thing. And these protesters, you know, hundreds and thousands of people actually are going to make the virus worse. They are going to create new hot spots where these protests are occurring. They’re out they’re not wearing face masks. They’re not doing anything to protect themselves. It’s absurd and President Trump is liable for that.
MF: I think it was the governor of Michigan who said that they may actually make it be required that there are longer restrictions because if there’s a surging cases. And it’s interesting because I think Ohio was one of the early states to have these reopen protests, and I noticed today on the tracker that Ohio is having an increased number of cases. I don’t know for sure if that’s related. But you know Ohio is not out of the woods yet and people should not be asking to reopen at this moment.
KZ: I think it’s probably too soon to be related, but it’s certainly an important coincidence that when these fringe group protesters are urging reopen the state, the state’s becoming a hotspot State. The reality is you can’t reopen until we have the basic tools: widespread testing and the ability to track people who have been positive to see who they’ve been relating to. Tracking and testing. And we can’t do either at this stage. And so if these protests really want to open the economy back up again, that’s what they should be protesting for. They should be proposing for lots of money for testing and lots of money to hire and train people to become trackers. That’s how you can reopen the economy.
MF: Yeah. I just read today the center for Medicare and Medicaid Services statement on what’s required to reopen some of the places in the country that might not be having so many cases. And that is exactly what they say. And that is definitely not in place yet in the United States. What do we see? Governors are still scrambling to get tests. Which state was it that just bought some tests from South Korea?
KZ: Our state. Maryland just bought thousands of tests from South Korea. We’re going through a very big upsurge in Maryland, right now. In addition to those two testing and tracking, we also need better care. It’s interesting to watch doctors talking about the virus and how they respond to people because it’s always changing. They’re learning so much.
MF: It’s still very new.
KZ: Yeah, that’s great that they’re learning, and it’s so interesting how whether you become ill from the virus in a serious way is about your immune system. And then it looks like it attacks everywhere in your body from head to toe. Every major organ can be under attack. We’re seeing a lot of kidney, liver, heart, as well as lungs. It’s a much bigger attack on the body than we initially thought of it. Initially it started as pneumonia, but pneumonia is not the only way people die from I’m COVID-19.
MF: It’s causing inflammation of the heart and heart attacks. It’s causing kidney failure requiring dialysis. It’s causing liver disease as you said, diseases of the gastrointestinal tract. So it’s pretty lethal, actually. There was a great article by Kaylee Rogers in 538.
KZ: I know it’s a weird location, 538, the political website.
MF: Yeah, I but I think Nate Silver said that he was asked to look into it. He’s such a good numbers kind of person and people said, can you answer the question? Is this just another flu? And so he looked into it and he looked at…
KZ: Well, this is a health reporter looking into it…
MF: RIght. Not Nate Silver. 538 looked into it. And so what they looked at was comparing it to like SARS and MERS. So the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome that started in China in 2002… There were only about 9,000 cases worldwide of that, and under 800 deaths. And then if you look at the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, MERS. There have been since it started, worldwide 2,500 cases and just under 900 deaths. And they say that the reason that is is that those viruses were much less infectious than COVID-19. They had to really get deep down into the lung tissues. The virus did to be able to find a place to grab on and get inside the cell and start replicating, whereas COVID-19 can just get into the back of your throat. That’s where the receptors are and it starts growing there, and then can get down through your bronchi and into your lungs. Also because the mortality rate was so high with SARS and MERS, people tended to die instead of infecting other people. If you look at COVID-19, half to three-quarters of the people who are infectious are carrying it around and don’t even know that they have it.
KZ: And they can be infectious for a long time.
MF: Yeah, they can and they’re highly infectious in the days just before they show symptoms. And this is the one of the criticisms I have of the CMMS report, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services report, on what conditions need to be met… call for people to be screening frequently in the workplace for symptoms. But the reality is that you’re going to be infectious before you’re showing symptoms. So really what they should be doing in the workplace is routine testing to screen for it.
KZ: There really is not a good routine tests available. that can be a quick test for COVID.
MF: People have been talking about possibly having a quick test soon. We haven’t seen it yet.
KZ: It doesn’t exist this point. So that’s one of the that’s one of the things that’s ironic about COVID-19. People have been saying, “most people don’t get sick.” But that’s a problem, because if most people aren’t getting sick, don’t know they have it, they are spreading it. MERS and SARS both made you sick, and you get six seriously, so you can’t spread it because you’re in the hospital. But with COVID-19 you’re out walking around with it. If we allow people to leave their homes.
MF: And then just one other quick thing… comparing it to the swine flu, which infected a lot of people. They think worldwide since the swine flu started in 2009 about a billion people have been infected with it, but it’s a much milder disease and it’s mortality rate is about 0.1%. We’re talking with COVID-19, we’re not sure yet, but people are saying between a 1 and 3% death rate. So if it’s a one percent death rate that’s 10 times more deadly.
KZ: So it’s kind the worst of both worlds. It spreads easily, silently. People even know they’re spreading it, and for some people becomes very deadly with a relatively high death rate.
MF: Right. That’s why it’s become such a pandemic, because of those characteristics.
KZ: And that’s why we have these lockdowns, the economy closing down, for COVID but not these other illnesses or for the seasonal flu.
MF: Right, and we wouldn’t have to be locked down so long if we actually had a healthcare infrastructure, a public health care infrastructure. The ability to test. All these things that other countries have that handled it really well like South Korea. They were able to act quickly, take it seriously, contain it, and now they’re monitoring it.
KZ: What’s so interesting looking at Nicaragua and Venezuela, two countries that have economic problems because of US economic Warfare, as well as Nicaragua being the second poorest country in our hemisphere after Haiti. Both countries are handling it very well, because they have a community-based health system. Doctors in every community. Health workers that can go door to door and talk to residents, find out what potential problems are, advise them how to avoid getting ill. If someone is ill get them taken care of right away. But we don’t have that. Even in China, in Wuhan, they went door to door in order to stop the spread of this illness.
MF: They had 1,800 teams of five people that were doing that type of surveillance. And you know, also if you talk about Venezuela, they have a food program. So people are able to stay inside because they can get food delivered to them through their community organizations, through what’s called the CLAP program. And that’s a problem for Nicaragua. They haven’t actually closed down yet, because they need to be out and working in order to feed people. Nicaragua doesn’t have the mechanism in place to get money to people.
KZ: They’re too poor. Basically in Nicaragua… It’s a poor country. For many people if you don’t work that day, you don’t eat that day . And so they can’t close the country down.
MF: But Venezuela… of all the countries in Latin America it has the lowest case numbers so far. They’re doing a very good job, but I think what’s sad about Nicaragua, and what our listeners need to be aware of, is that there is a campaign going on by the right-wing opposition, using their International media connections in the UK and the US to just totally lie about Nicaragua. It’s like what we experience all the time with Venezuela..
KZ: These are all the same groups that are funded by the United States, National Endowment for Democracy, trained with social media by United States, have media Connections in the United States. They’re part of the regime change apparatus of the United States, and the putting out incredibly false stories about Nicaragua. Multiple newspapers report that Daniel Ortega was dead.
MF: I know. The BBC, the New York Times.
KZ: The Guardian, which is basically a CIA paper…
MF: … saying, oh, well, where is Daniel Ortega? Maybe he’s sick? Maybe he’s died? So, of course he came out and gave a speech…
KZ: A fantastic anti-war speech CALLING for the end of nuclear weapons and applauding the country for how they were responding to COVID-19.
MF: But people need to be aware because even Publications that people might think of as being very esteemed, like the Lancet, carried an article…
KZ: That was a letter, not an article. It was not a peer-reviewed article but a letter from some people who wrote Nonsense about Nicaragua.
MF: So question it. Whenever there’s a country that’s in the crosshairs of the United States and you’re hearing things in the media, it’s always good to question it. And of course Nicaragua is part of the State Department’s “Troika of Tyranny” right now, targeting Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba. Another thing that’s happening is out of the COVID-19 crisis and the economic recession is that there have been a lot of strikes going on. We’ve talked about this/ A lot of workers that are striking, just wildcat strikes because of the working conditions, pay being cut as we talked aboutrecently. And so there’s another kind of strike that’s being done and that’s rent strikes, because the state is doing a lot to help homeowners and landlords, but tenants are not getting help, and so New York City is planning for a massive run strike on May 1st.
KZ: May 1st is a big day for all sorts of strikes, as we’ll talk about with Kali Akuno.
MF: They’re basically saying that there’s been a three-month moratorium on mortgages. Landlords are getting tax abatements, but tenants… there’s been a 90-day moratorium on evictions, but what they’re saying is that at the end of that moratorium, all of that rent is going to be due, and if they can’t pay the rent they think there’s going to be a wave of evictions. So they’re asking for a cancellation of rent for April, May and June. And you saw an interesting statistic on April rent.
KZ: One-third of the rents due for April of not been paid, and I think that’s really rooted in the reality of how poorly the government has responded to the coronavirus economic crash. They didn’t fund people enough. Twelve hundred dollar checks, which many people still have not even gotten yet, even though the rent has been due, has not arrived for a lot of people. And it’s only $1,200. Canada is giving $2,000 a month for the duration of the crisis. That’s what the United States should be doing as well. That would at least cover rent for most people. A family who has two people, that’s $4,000 and money for children as well. So then people would have money to live on, to buy food to survive this economic collapse that has been triggered by the coronavirus.
MF: And another sign that people are really struggling are the bread lines. We’re seeing all kinds of reports around the country of extremely long breadlines. Schools have been converted into food pantries. Food pantries are running out of food In Chicago they turned their Sports Arena into basically a food supply place.
KZ: Some of the images of these food lines are really astounding. They look worse than the depression in the 1930s. Very long lines. People waiting in cars for hours. Car lines. Thousands of cars. Waiting to pick up a package of food. And the problem also developing related to food is that the supply chain is breaking.
MF: You know people that work in the food industry are getting sick and then they don’t have the workers.
KZ: From slaughterhouses to grocery store workers, and so if people get sick, we really don’t have enough essential workers and essential workers aren’t paid well, so people don’t want those jobs. Our supply chain is weak.
MF: Another interesting facet of our food supply chain is that so much of it is geared towards restaurants, towards bulk purchasing. And so you see farmers in California plowing over their crops. You see Dairy people in Vermont pouring their milk out.
KZ: People crushing their eggs.
MF: In Maryland, they’ve come up with an interesting solution. They’ve kind of come together ,and they’re putting together these food boxes of either prepared meals or fresh produce, and they’re asking people to register online. They’re offering them at a very low price, and then one day a week they have it set up in a way that those boxes can be picked up. It’s a way to get this bulk food, you know, so it’s not just being destroyed.
KZ: It really shows our country is a failure. We’re not adapting. We’re now into April. This started in late December. In January became clear, but we’re now four months, we’re still not adapting.
MF: So we wrote our newsletter this past weekend. And the last four weeks we’d written about how the 2020s was a decade of transformation, and we wrote about various aspects… the economy, healthcare, the environment, foreign policy, how those could be transformed. This week we focused on the “how” to make that transformation possible. And the general strike is one big part of it. We need a mass social movement. But the other part is, how do people respond in this current electoral environment where you have to really awful candidates in the major parties.
KZ: That’s one thing that really kin of generated the newsletter. People kept asking us, “what do we do with Biden versus Trump?” Neither one of them is going to give us what we want, what the people’s necessities are. What’s needed to protect the planet. Neither one of them are visionaries for the future. A failed businessman and a corporate Democrat who really don’t have a lot of new ideas. And so we started to talk about that and think about it, and decided to look at the history of the United States, because this is not the first time that the two parties been out of touch with the people. It’s happened over and over again from abolition of slavery, foreclosures against farmers and the 1890s, the monopoly conditions in the 1900s, low wages, child workers. I mean, there’s so many issues that the government has been refusing to act on over the years. But despite the fact that two parties did not represent the people, people found ways to win. And lots of changes, from workers compensation to unemployment to retirement security, to Social Security. Lots of changes happened because people organized. And it was a combination of two things. It was one: organizing social movements, and then second: supporting third party campaigns. And the third party campaigns didn’t win, but they put issues on the agenda, and that agenda then was pushed by the social movements. They worked in synergistic relationship between social movements and third parties and they were able to push these issues forward, get them on the national agenda. The whole New Deal, you can look back, was the Socialist and Progressive Party. It was their platform from the 1910s to the 1920s. If it wasn’t for Huey Long, threatening a 1936… the got assassinated in 1935, but he had developed a mass national following for a redistribution of wealth. And FDR before that election enacted Social Security and other New Deal reforms to prepare for that election. So the third party threat was very critical there.
MF: Well with Bernie Sanders out of the race a lot of people who support his reforms like a national improved Medicare-for-all and free college education, those kinds of things, are looking for a way to continue to have that voice. And I think as we outline in the newsletter, there are third-party candidates out there who are talking about those kinds of ideas. So you can find that at popularresistance.org under the newsletter section. Let’s talk about three recent court cases that are of interest. One is that Attorney General, William Barr, just filed saying that the 9/11 families will not be able to have access to the documents they’ve been trying to get. And that’s what President Trump said he would help them get.
KZ: These poor 9/11 families have been denied and denied denied. It looked like because Trump said they were going to get it, they might. Barr took a long time to decide and decided against them. He’s keeping those documents secret.
MF: Yeah, he’s using what’s called the states secrets privilege. And it’s interesting because he won’t even tell the lawyers why they’re too secret. So that’s sparking lots of curiosity there.
KZ: There’s already so many questions about the 9/11 catastrophe. The 9/11 commission… even the two chairs said that the commission was inadequate. It was rushed. It wasn’t funded, didn’t have access to information. So even that commission questioned their own findings. And so it’s going to remain an unsolved issue until these documents and other information are released.
MF: Another investigation that’s been going on for quite a while now is the Flynt prosecution around the change in the water supply that resulted in high levels of lead in the water and lead poisoning, and people were worried because the prosecutors said last year that the statute of limitations on that criminal case would be up at the end of this month. Now they’re saying that they have a legal strategy and the investigation will continue. People shouldn’t worry about that statute of limitations.
KZ: Be very curious to see how that turns out.
MF: And then the Keystone XL pipeline. the KXL pipeline that people have been fighting in the US for a long time… A court in Montana ruled that the Army Corps of Engineers, the US Army Corps of Engineers violated the law when it issued the water permits. And so now they’re validating those and that’s probably going to stop construction. A lot of other cases continue to go on around this pipeline, but that’s a victory.
KZ: That’s a big victory. They rushed the permit. So I’ll add one more legal case, since we’re taping this on 4/20, a holiday. I observe every year since I’ve been a longtime activist for ending marijuana prohibition. There’s another lawsuit going on in Massachusetts. Cannabis dispensaries are suing the government because they were not allowed to stay open, but the alcohol shops were. You can buy medical marijuana just not legal adult marijuana, and they should be open. So they’re suing to try to get the right to open during the pandemic.
MF: I wanted to follow back up on the Keystone XL pipeline because as we’re taping this another amazing thing is happening. Has this ever happened? I don’t know. The price of oil is now negative.
KZ: sIt tarted the day that $11 drop to one cent and drop 237 as we went to taping was at 3650 negative. In other words, you know, you get paid $36 to take the barrel of oil.
MF: Yeah. I was just seeing how the oil companies were actually leasing tankers to store the oil because they have so much oil they don’t know where to put it. So this is a really interesting phenomenon. You know, where is this going to go?
KZ: Well, this is going to first off go to a major series of bankruptcies for the fracking industry in the United States, which already was living on borrowed time and borrowed dollars because they were not turning a profit. You already saw a lot of bankruptcies the last two years. This is going to escalate those bankruptcies greater. The fracking industry is in deep trouble, but it’s also real important for investors, because this could change the whole investment paradigm around energy. People are going to see that oil and gas are likely stranded assets. They’re stranded assets. Not just because of the shutdown of the economy now. They were already moving in that direction because of the reality of climate change, and the reality of electric cars. Things were changing on the energy front. Wind and solar. Thermal and wave energy were getting cheaper than oil and gas and coal.
MF: They’ve been very expensive for a long time, and they like to build…
KZ: So the situation is changing. I think it means investors are going to say, “I don’t want to have those stranded assets and they have got start finding ways to get out of the oil and gas industry.
MF: Well, that’s what Financial Times says. They say the oil crash is only a taste of what awaits. The energy industry, the end of hydrocarbons as a lucrative business, is a real possibility. We are seeing that in dramatic form in the current oil price crash. So we talked about how in a pandemic and the recession or depression occurring… during a pandemic the recovery is a very slow, long recovery, as opposed to a war where there’s a lot of destruction and then an immediate need to rebuild all that infrastructure. A pandemic kills people, but it doesn’t destroy structures, and so we were talking about how important it would be if this was an opportunity to rebuild our whole economy around clean energy. A carbon-free, nuclear free economy and really tackling the climate. It could create millions of jobs for people and a healthier environment. There’s all these reports now that people in areas of the country that are highly polluted are dying more frequently.
KZ: You can see the blue sky now too.
MF: Well, you know people who have been polluted have a more weakened respiratory system, and they’re more likely to have severe illness or die from COVID-19. But now that we’ve all been in our houses all this time, the emissions have really significantly reduced and so this is really a huge opportunity for us to stop the destructive ways, that path that we’ve been on for a long time, and really change how we’re doing things.
KZ: Well, the energy they not is not just the energy infrastructure, which by itself is trillions of dollars a year, and according to Howie Hawkins, who’s done the most detailed review of this can read a budget everything on how we talk is about US tens of millions of jobs created. So it’s gigantic. So with the 22 million people unemployed, tens of millions of jobs created and a lot of those other people go back to their old jobs, but still a lot of new jobs could be created. So we also have structure that’s failing separate from the Green New Deal. Bridges, roads, mass transit. I mean the society of civil engineers has for years been giving the US a bad rating in its infrastructure and calling for trillions of dollars in spending. So the combination of that kind of spending, as well as on infrastructure, as well as green New Deal spending to transition. The economy is multi trillions of dollars, almost like rebuilding the entire country, because when you talk about the green New Deal you’re talking about housing that needs to be uplifted so it’s more efficient. And talking about parking lots becoming energy producers, and about community gardens of energy. There’s so much to do to build and create a clean energy economy that’s sustainable, that it’s going to take trillions of dollars in investment.
MF: Right, and as we wrote in our last newsletter, not this week, but the past week, talking about the environment. It’s the factory farming model that we use the United States that is putting us at more risk for these types of what are called zoonotic diseases or infections, where the infectious agent jumps from an animal to people and so, you know, we’re already starting to see kind of a change in the food system. Many farms that sold to restaurants are now finding ways to sell directly to people. People are looking to their local economy… with the slaughterhouses shutting down, people are looking to their local farms for the proteins that they want to eat.
KZ: So all that’s also part of the Green New Deal, because we need a generative agriculture.
MF: And localized Agriculture. And yeah, so they lost opportunities here, even in the midst of this really severe an awful crisis that is causing death and suffering, and not just from the infection, but from the economic insecurity that people are facing. So this is an important time for us to come together in solidarity, and that’s a great and that’s a perfect segue to our interview with Kali Akuno, to talk about how we’re going to do that. So, let’s take a short musical break and we’ll be right back.
MF: And now we turn to our guest, Kali Akuno. Kali is a co-founder and co-director of Cooperation Jackson, and he’s a longtime human rights and social justice advocate. Thank you for taking time to join us Kali.
Kali Akuno (KA): Thank you.
KZ: Kali, first off, let’s just talk about how Mississippi and how Jackson are dealing with the COVID-19 crisis and the economic collapse. What’s happening in your area?
KA: Well, here in Mississippi… on the one hand you have the city telling people to stay in place, offering pretty stiff penalties to folks who are violating various orders. And on the other hand, you have the state Governor who’s basically following Trump’s orders of encouraging everybody to put themselves in danger and get back to work. So there’s a lot of mixed messages here in Mississippi and you see the results of it every time you go out to grab something to eat or to get some supplies. You see it. There are different folks. Who are wearing masks? There are others who are not wearing masks. We’ve had a few demonstration similar to what’s happening in Michigan, Ohio and other places like that. So, you know, it’s all over the place here in Mississippi. Unfortunately, and we are one of the states I think most ill-equipped to actually deal with this this virus, with this with this pandemic. We do not have the medical infrastructure overall to deal with folks Health in the best of times and we definitely aren’t at capacity now. There is an undercount here in Mississippi, both of who’s infected and how many have died. It’s pretty severe. We may never know, in fact, how many have been touched by this in one form or another. Anecdotally we see in our media community in West Jackson its impact particularly amongst the homeless population, pretty significantly a number of folks… we will never probably be able to verify this but just circumstantially we know that there are a good number of homeless members of our community, more than 10 now from this is last checking yesterday who have died since the the end of February. And there are many more who are sick. So these are some of the things going on here in Mississippi. And in Jackson in particular, it’s a very uneven approach. It’s a very all over the place, mixed message type of orientation. And unfortunately, I think it’s creating the situation where we’re going to be dealing with this pandemic for a long time. Anyone thinking that this is going to be one more month or two more months, I can tell you from the conditions that we’re facing here that is a bold-faced lie, and we better start getting ready for much longer duration of this particular epidemic.
KZ: So I just want to say it’s funny about those mixed messages when I think of Trump’s daily briefings. It’s constantly mixed messages.
KA: That’s right. It’s incredible how…
KZ: Mixed message confuse the public.
MF: Right. I wanted to actually get your thoughts because last time we interviewed you we were talking about, you know, we need to be ungovernable and fight for what we need. And now we see these right-wing people who are being funded by dark money through Koch brothers and other things like that who are, you know, these kind of right-wing fascist groups. Proud boys and all that coming out and being ungovernable, defying their governor’s orders. And the president is openly egging them on. I’d love to hear your thoughts on that.
KA: Well, I’m glad you brought up the first piece about the money. I’ve heard no commentary in the mainstream media about the money and who’s funding this and the pattern that they’re using and we need to really follow that and study it because it speaks to some very nasty times ahead of us. I’m afraid to report, number one, they’re just following the Tea Party, bringing that out, you know, for a new purpose. And that’s where all the dark money comes in. The Koch brothers in particular. And all the different types of right-wing foundations that are set up. You can see they’re very much in play with the level of coordinated messaging and spins that they’ve had from day one. And the talking points clearly that the right has received around how people can be sacrificed, that they’re willing to sacrifice. And that the other talking point that it’s better to save the economy and to save the American way of life. More than they care about human life. I mean, that’s literally their talking point. And this is coming, we should know, directly from the top. I think they’ve been very strategic in how they’ve rolled this out. You know, they have Trump talking about how we need to get the country going again and talking about it how it’s best for the economy and, you know, we want to get people back to work. I think Trump was testing the waters on a constitutional basis about how much power could he have. And you hear him going back and forth, you know, was it last week? “Well, I can I have the ultimate power to determine when everything goes back open” and then the governors on the coast, you know, particularly in New York. California, saying “no, you do not” and then creating their own coalitions with their neighboring states just to determine when they would jointly open. And then him backing off but only to a degree in saying, “okay, you guys kind of have the authority” but he threatened to withhold aid, you know, from those States. And then said it is kind of up to you, but I’m going to have different states, the republican-led states… have them start agitating from the ground up, and from state senators and state representatives, start putting out these wild claims and these very, I mean, I don’t know what to say, what I really think on the airwaves right now, but to come out and just blatantly say, “this is only going to kill two or three percent of the population and that’s okay. We can live with that.” I think we really just have to be honest and call it out. Just looking at how this particular pandemic is rolling out and how many Black, Latino and Indigenous people are being killed due to the nature of how the society was organized before the crisis, built around the very deep institutional racism that existed in society since its founding. And so for them to make this call saying only two or three percent. It winds up having a very distinct racial tone when you look at it. The fundamental essential workers and how they’re being literally sacrificed by this logic and by this push. So it’s a very dangerous call and then when you really mix that in with many of the other things that folks haven’t taken notice of … that Trump has really instituted on the federal level, you know. They’ve eliminated all almost every EPA guideline that you can think of so the level of pollution that is going to be allowed in the ramping back up. It’s going be catastrophic. If you want to look at it from an environmental perspective, all the gains around clean water and clean air that have been made in the month and a half that there’s really been kind of the slow down. Those are not only likely to be erased but just be eviscerated by the elimination of the environmental standards that they eliminated. They’ve also eliminated various types of labor protection laws, you know, very quietly, very steadily, very stiffly. And so the right is reorganizing society in the midst of this pandemic and I hope that we can reach everybody with enough time for them to understand how this reorganization is taking place, to put enough people in motion to fight back.
KZ: These violent protests in Michigan and Ohio… come in with their guns and their threats. It reminds me of the seeds of that 2000 election when they were…
KA: storming the Electoral boards in, Florida.
KZ: … Tea party. And now it’s evolved into this. It just gets worse and worse. But let me let me change to a little bit different focus on this, looking at COVID-19 and the economic collapse. What do you see those crises highlighting as far as fault lines in the US economy and political system?
KA: We could talk about this for days. Let’s start with this designation of essential, and again, who gets to determine that, right? So here in Mississippi one of the things that was deemed essential were gun shops, ammunition shops, lethal weapons shops, and then that was mirrored on the federal level by federal guideline that Trump put out… that this was essential and that they should stay open and their businesses be protected. Now, I’m bringing this up because ventilators and face masks, two things this pandemic has shown very clearly are essential for saving lives, particularly frontline workers. And those who have been stricken by this virus. We cannot produce enough of those in this society to go around in the time of a crisis, but we can produce unlimited weapons. Virtually unlimited weapons and unlimited ammunition in a time like this, and to distribute it at a time like this. It speaks to some real deep fault lines and contradictions in this society that we are more prepared to kill life than we are prepared to save life. And that the political leadership in charge now, it’s just perpetuating this motion, this direction, very openly and very blatantly. And I want people to really just think about that who are listening. There are other fault lines, but I want you to really just think about that because we still are now well over a month or two. Most of the shutdowns that have happened still are competing for PPE with the federal government. They’re still being charged by the corporations that produce these materials. The Chamber of Commerce right now to a certain extent is dictating federal policy in an emergency response to ensure that profits are maximized. Not People’s Health. Not people’s safety and security. But their profits are maximized in regards to how this response is going to be dealt with. This is the stated policy of the President and of the Senate. And then look at the impact that it’s having on people’s lives. Let’s just look at Detroit for another critical fault line. One of the basic things that every doctor or nurse would tell you is that your frontline weapon against COVID-19 is being able to wash your hands repeatedly, you know, throughout the day. There are tons of people in Michigan and Detroit and Flynt and cities in between who still don’t have running water. Or if they do have running water, it’s contaminated water. And these primarily are black and white working-class communities that have been screaming about this particular fault line in our society now for almost well over a decade. And you have a situation in Michigan where I know at least directly in Flynt… State officials and local officials were sued for how they violated the human rights of the people that they were supposed to protect and serve. And the courts basically, you know, these conservative courts through the motions away, and basically just said it’s up to you to fix your own water problem, when we don’t have the individual capability to deal with the public infrastructure. There’s a reason why it’s public and there’s a reason why it’s there for sanitary purposes from lessons that our communities learned from science around having clean sewage and that have an open sewer. And things of that nature that we learned from the 19th century. And basic scientific analysis. Then here we are in the 21st century and folks are suffering because of their race and because of their class.
MF: Let’s get into the call to action that cooperation Jackson has issued earlier this month. You’ve put out a call for a general strike. Can you talk about the genesis of that call to action? Who is behind promoting that and yeah, let’s start with that.
KA: Well, we were the first group. Cooperation Jackson wasn’t the first group to put out a call before us. There was a called General Strike 2020. They put out a Facebook call and then there was another group called Corona strike and the IWW was one of the groups behind the general strike, as well as several key YouTube personality figures who are behind it as well, some of whom have millions of followers. And then the forces that put together the corona strike were many of the critical forces that did the media and communications infrastructure of Occupy Wall Street right there in New York City. So folks who have some experience. And we also did a lot of the work relief work around the Hurricane Sandy relief effort. Also in New York. So some people with some critical experience. I think in the struggle as I would say, our particular call came from our direct local experience of this kind of schizophrenic. I hate to use that term but it’s the best I can think of right now, the response that we saw going on in the state of Mississippi and how Mississippi and Florida are very intentionally were being opened earlier in March. It’s kind of test runs for this right-wing approach and policy, and they were doing it in a very coordinated way, and for us when we heard Trump say that he wanted the country back open on Easter or following Easter and they wanted this big opening, we thought that that was basically a death sentence. So that put us in motion and say we need to call for all workers everywhere to strike for their lives because if folks go back to work too soon before there’s some critical medical control of the situation, and it’s kind of flat lined out in terms of the number of new infections… would be basically a killing field for the people in my community who are working on the front line. So that was kind of just a real emotional response that my organization had through a lot of conversations on our end, as we were trying to figure out, given the resources and the tools that we had. What would be the most appropriate response for us to defend ourselves and defend our community? We initially try to just do the Mutual Aid work that we knew how to do… myself and many others are survivors from Hurricane Katrina. We learned a lot of mutual Aid skills 15 years ago battling the aftermath of that human catastrophe. So we kind of jumped in motion there. Luckily we were in contact with many folks on the front lines in Italy who were at that time like two or three weeks ahead in their experience dealing with COVID-19 and they told us they had done some mutual Aid work and told us do not do that if we don’t have the personal protective equipment. The reason they told us to stop is because they did it and didn’t have the PPE and all of the people who volunteered got sick and some of them died. So we headed their advice from direct experience. We backed off, figured out a new way that we could support our community, which for us started with a call for political action and we were very much inspired by the the Wildcat strikes. They were just popping up all over the place in Memphis. It’s in Georgia, in Detroit. And we saw just a tremendous amount of motion with various forces of labor that we ourselves are connected with, including some of the Amazon workers in some of the organizing work that’s going on around Whole Foods, and we just said let’s just take a risk. We know calling for a general strike under conditions like this might be seen by many as wild or premature, but we’d rather take that risk. In calling for it, it seems just a hundred lives from folks staying away from work on me first then just to sit and be inactive in this period and allow the right-wing to really dictate what is going to happen in society who’s going to be protected. So we put forward that call. Fortunately we’ve been able to combine forces with General Strike 2020 and with Corona strike. So we’re starting to do planning and coordination with each other for a major set of activities. It’s on May Day, on May 1st to have people striking in place. And for those who can to send a clear message to their employers that number one: they have to ensure the workplace is safe. And the number two :that we’re not going to go back to the way things were, and that there’s going to be some major changes afoot that workers and working class communities and oppressed communities are going to be asking for on the heels of this. That is our the middle message that we’re trying to bring home in right now… it’s really trying to reach as many people as possible, to hear this word and to take to organizing in your community, whatever action you deem is appropriate to send a clear message to the President and his allies that people are more important than profits, and that people come before the economy.
KZ: You know, even the before COVID-19 and the economic collapse strikes were just massively happening in the United States. The last two years there have been record numbers of strikes. And so we’ve been covering that and we’ve been writing about how the people, the working-class understands their power, that the general strike could be a game-changer. That’s right. And especially now that people are seeing that they are the essential ones to keep the economy going.
KZ: If the essential workers say, no we’re not going to keep the economy going. When it’s unfair to us where it’s risky to us doesn’t even provide us with health care or sick days. I mean basic, you know, basic fairness. People say no to that and stand up. It is incredibly powerful. And now that general strike takes so many forms. You told me my rent strikes you talking about the dead strikes. That’s right and people staying on at work and and it could be even it could start even small with we’re going on May first. We’re going to take half the day off and we’re going to keep building on that next week. We’ll take a full day off work start we’re going to Two hours off on May First. We take 4 hours or next week and we’re going to keep building, and as it builds you’re sending a message to the power structure that people are getting organized. How do you see the logistics of a general strike? I know it’s with these kind of things. We know we helped to organize Occupy as well, and lots of actions and we did that. We did the protection the Venezuelan Embassy last year.
KA: How can we predict how these things play out…
KZ: Even though we can’t predict it, can you give us a sense of how you could see a general strike playing out in 2020?
KA: One of the ways that we’re trying to put everybody in some combined motion. We want to do a 24-hour broadcast to combine all the different motion together. And with that we’re asking all the different folks who are taking action to give a live report of their actions, you know, using some form of media that many of us now have available at our fingertips. So to record it on Facebook live or Instagram live or to use Periscope and other equipment like that to highlight your action and to upload it so that everybody is aware of it and we can share it and broadcast it as far as wide as possible. We’re also asking everybody who can strike in place, you know, if you’re the millions of people who are already at home, many of whom are are now being just totally… They’re having their lives totally dominated by Zoom meetings. Did take like you mentioned, you know, if it’s just an hour off, or two hours off, take their time off and then communicate your support for whatever demand it is that upholds… be it a rent strike or whatever. And if you’re willing, take a picture, let’s selfie, which so many of us do now, you know, almost daily and post it and state which of the demands that you support and why and how you want to move and see the society going forward. And we’re trying to gather literally tens of millions of those and encourage people to do that. Striking in Place. Those who are in a position to do that, and they communicate with everybody is broadly as possible. Then we are also encouraging everybody to do action jams. And what do we mean by that? There are a ton of targets who have to meet our demands. So target the president. Target your local Senator. Target the corporation that you work for. Target the local corporation that we work for that is not securing your life or securing your future, and raise a demand that you think is appropriate, or that you think that you need.
KZ: …to transform and improve your situation.
KA: So we we are trying to make it as easy as possible for everybody to be engaged in this, on this first day of action and to really communicate the importance of that, for us to see that we’re not alone, that we can act in unison, in solidarity, even in a time like this, and that the tools that we now have at our disposal, particularly in the communications fields, make it possible for us to connect and to demonstrate our solidarity in ways that weren’t even possible 20 years ago. And so breaking the kind of isolation is one of the main things that we’re trying to do, and really trying to have roll out on May 1st. So people gain a collective sense of our overall strength and power, that we’re not alone. We don’t have to suffer in isolation alone. And then we still have the capability to act collectively to uplift our voice and give birth to our demands and give a mandamus to our demands to change society. So those are some of the ways that we are encouraging people to take action and the communicate their action and to be in solidarity with each other on May 1st. We also taking up when we know things are the Are not going to change on me first in and of themselves, even if there’s hundreds of millions of we going to send a clear message, but best believe the forces of the right are going to fight against anything and everything that we put forth. So we have to be in this on a protracted basis. So the idea of emerge in some conversation that we’ve been having trying to figure this out and coordinate everything that we should start on May 1st, but that every first we should continue so that you’ll be at action on June 1st there being a Action on July 1st. There be an action on August 1st because we know this is going to continue for a while and even if the virus itself Peter’s out the economic catastrophe that’s in its wake is going to be with us for a while and the debts that people are queuing right now trying to survive be it for for rent being having to use, you know credit cards those who have those to put food on the table or the pay for utilities that’s going to be with us. And so we’re And the need to act in unison to make sure that these debts go away that people are allowed to have running water and electricity and the roof or they over their head for months to come. If not years to come, you know where they don’t have to basically pay for it because they’ve been unemployed. There is now what a record 22 million people have been fired or laid off in the course of a month. And if you add that on to the folks who were are basically structurally unemployed and primary unemployed you’re looking at Upwards to to by some estimates for 40 million people. So we’re already a Great Depression levels. And one of the things that we want to do is start encouraging is folks who are unemployed to start organizing unemployed counselors in your community and start practicing Mutual Aid and raise demands their to start really practicing direct participatory governance in your community. So these are these are some of the ways that the it can roll out and we’re encouraging and roll out to take place.
KZ: Yeah, that’s that’s really excellent. I just loved it. The idea making is a campaign is so important as it has to build interestingly in 2020. We have two incredibly bad presidential candidates from the to Wall Street parties Biden and Trump who are terrible on labor…
KA: …terrible and equality, terrible on corporations
KZ: I mean, it’s the year to do this. It’s a great year do this
MF: That’s right. Yeah, and the it’s critical the way that you are structuring this to have regular actions. If we think about the yellow vests and France who have been protesting for over a year and out weekly. No, this is what it requires and that allows more people to see it and join into it. We don’t have a lot of time but can you talk a little bit about the demands cooperation Jackson This put out a list of Demands and you like us and many others have been saying this is not the time to be asking for small things. We need to really transform the system to change the way that things are right now. Can you talk a little bit about those demands?
KA: We’ll try to be brief as possible meaning to things that yourselves ourselves have been to hiding for years are now possible. I have to stick that and folks need to know that so Medicare for all or well as I would say universal healthcare is a real possibility. Now, that’s one of our key demands Universal basic income also very possible right now and not just for some short term duration, but as a structural change the structural shift democratizing Finance public banking that is now possible. I mean we See that with just the the trillions of dollars that the FED is just pumping out the prop up the economy and the prop up the corporations that they deem worthy. Right and I say that because we have to know what is happening to the post office. You know how the Republicans are literally trying to kill it in this moment, but saving Airlines in gun shops and things of that nature, so we want to bring that particular piece home because some dimensions of how finances or Nods and constructed are very much at the heart of why we’re in the predicament were in now. We also are calling for broad abolition. You know that we have to create new ways to integrate people in the society to make sure that these are don’t turn into kill boxes. Basically, which the prisons are fundamentally become. We also call in for Dan into ice and end of these detention centers to end all these crazy restrictions on the freedom of human. in movement of capital can roam free people should be able to roam free in move where they think is that’s advantageous to secure good life for themselves and for their family within, you know, principal rules of Harmony, of course the particular with the environment in the community that they’re a part of what calling for all of the US military infrastructure and intelligence infrastructure and all the billions of dollars and trillions of dollars that go there that those be shut down and all of those resources Should be redirected course all the social programs that are needed to organize and live in a society that takes care of human beings and put human beings first. We’re calling for all of the basic Social Services to be upheld and expanded. So that’s you know free childcare that’s free education from K through postgraduate degree. If so desired because this this Society our society has the ability to to meet all of these demands that is the critical thing. We want people to understand and it’s showing very clearly right now that we don’t face unlimited resources. We Face a lack of political will and so we’re trying to really Elevate that and make sure that these structured demands become front and center towards creating a new Society one that is Equitable and just for everybody regardless of race religion nationality sex gender language. Our society has the capability the resources to create something that we’ve dreamt about what we know was within the actual technological expertise that we’ve gained over the last couple of hundred years. It’s time to really push and make a new Society possible
MF: think it’s critical that we do that as you outlined at the beginning of the interview. What’s at risk here if we don’t organize with the direction that we’re currently going. It’s not a pretty picture of what we’re facing.
KZ: Thank you. They talked about two to three percent people dying. That’s six to ten million people. That’s what we willing to accept.
MF: That’s crazy. So just again quickly. How can people get more information or how can they plug into this effort? Is there a hashtag that’s being used that people can…
KA: We’re encouraging everybody to use for hashtags. This is what are just kind of new Coalition that is emerging isn’t is encouraging? So in all of your messaging general strike 2020 Corona strike made a 2020 It’s strike for our lives. Those are the four hash tags that were asking people to use across the board to communicate just a general thrust of where we’re going where we’re headed and how we’re envisioning kind of wielding Collective power from here on out.
MF: Right? Well, thanks again calling for taking time to talk with us and for all the work that you’re doing. It’s is truly important work and we encourage our listeners to plug into this effort.