Washington, DC. Tuesday, March 17th 2020
I got an email from energy company Pepco today saying that they have “suspended service disconnections” and are “waiving new late payment fees through at least May 1…” When I called American Airlines yesterday in order to cancel my upcoming flights, they told me that I can call and re-book travel to any destination for that same amount before the end of this year without incurring any change fees. My hotel reservations were fully refunded.
Across the nation, local and state governments have suspended evictions: in San Francisco, DC, Denver, Seattle and Miami, to name a few. There’s an emergency bill in Congress that would make testing for COVID-19 free (although insurance companies had to step in and correct Trump when he announced last week that treatment would also be free). Cities are arresting fewer people and releasing some inmates early. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin is in talks with Congress to send out checks to people, adding that “we don’t need to send people who make a million dollars a year checks.”
If it feels like you’re in an alternate universe reading that, it’s because you kind of are. In the span of roughly a week, some of the sharpest spears of our system have necessarily been dulled. Even big corporations and deeply corrupt politicians are talking about filling in a few of the gaping holes inherent in a capitalist system. And while I appreciate, particularly as a free-lance journalist and performer, actually getting a refund and some airline credit, the larger question is: why isn’t this how we operate all of the time?
If we can stop evictions and keep people housed, why don’t we just do that in general?
If we can give people access to healthcare for free, why don’t we just do that in general?
If we can stop arresting people for addiction, why don’t we just make that the new normal?
If we can move embarrassingly close to a one-time basic income drop, why don’t we just have basic income?
In other words, why don’t we just have basic human rights all the time?
Well, because that’s not how capitalism rolls. And to be clear, you won’t wake up tomorrow in a new utopia with windmills and free noodle salad. We’re still very much crunched under the boot heel of capitalism. Coronavirus tests are still painfully hard to come by (even with “good” insurance), and aren’t being administered frequently enough. The proposed worker bailout is woefully inadequate and supports big industry far more than the average worker. Indeed, while we’re still struggling to figure out how to make ends meet and pay for medical care, those airlines and hotels are looking at massive bailouts. Big oil and gas, the behemoth threats to our collective future, could get handouts courtesy of the American taxpayer. Also thanks to you and me, the Fed just injected $1.5 trillion into Wall Street in order to prop up the stock market. So really, while Mnuchin says that he’s not sending checks to millionaires, that’s not quite true. The income inequality gaps remain vast, the hoarding of financial resources continues. This well-oiled machine continues to crank, and it is still propping up the most wealthy at the expense of the rest of us.
It’s just that in times of crisis like this, the keepers of the status quo recognize that we the people can’t afford to carry all that extra weight. So, they open a release valve in order to bolster the base – so that the top doesn’t tumble. They give us just enough to keep us quiet and, for the most part, alive. They have no intention of keeping those valves open or even less so, of making those valves fundamental factors of a well-functioning system.
And yet, the top may still tumble. However, that is largely up to us.
The combination of a global pandemic and an economic crash has led us to a fork in the road. The past week and a half has displayed the failings of capitalism in a spotlit shit show. We have seen how the government has failed to prepare and respond adequately due to its profit-over-people foundation. We have seen how mutual aid efforts, as always, have sprung into action; preparing and responding in solidarity with the most marginalized communities in this country.
In short, we have seen what the system is capable of and what we are capable of. We have seen what our power can do, not only in terms of caring for one another, but in terms of how integral our labor and our consent is to the “normal” functioning of this horrifically lop-sided and oppressive system.
With this juxtaposition in view, which path do we take?
Do we go down the path of momentary mutualism – treating solidarity and community as merely ways to weather a storm when the system inevitably falls apart? Or, do we use it as a key organizing moment – a time to take the path that builds upon this work in order to have and to hold human rights beyond the crisis? Do we take this moment to activate against the system that always fails us – so that when they try to restart evictions, ramp up police brutality, cut off our water and profit from our illness, we collectively say “Fuck No.”
I say we take the latter path. The path of most resistance – resistance to oppression, injustice and destruction. The path that builds rather than destroys – the path of love, respect and solidarity, instead of the path of fear, isolation, greed and despair. Sure, it won’t be easy or necessarily comfortable but tell me, what comfort is there to be found in this system? What comfort is there in propping up a failing and flailing empire?
If there ever was a time to build upon this, this solidarity of the shaken, the downtrodden, the forgotten – it is now. An election year that highlights our total lack of democracy, flanked by a global pandemic our government failed to prepare for, accompanied by a capitalist financial meltdown. From these ashes, we should rise – and indeed, we must, if we hope to find our future.