Something I glaringly failed to address in my post on the difference between the LA & Mpls uprisings was the influence of the Coronavirus.
The influence was undoubtedly huge. 20 million Americans newly out of work, bored, and looking for an excuse to get outside. Millions more across the globe. People spending way too much time watching the news and social media. People, perhaps (given the news source) learning of the disproportionate impact of the Coronavirus on people of color, the dramatically higher death rates for Black and Native people. For all of those reasons, as well as the shocking, indefensible murder of George Floyd on camera, people went out in the streets and stayed out. For better and worse, the virus became a less urgent, less important problem.
I’d like to dig into this a bit more, if you don’t mind.
Covid-19 also exposed the greed of our government and the corporations that influence it. It turns out we can provide free health care to the entire population when we need to, and that not doing so measurably hurts all of us. We can pay higher wages to essential hourly workers. We can stop evictions. We can provide everyone with a basic income, one which freaked out fiscal conservatives because it was paying people more for not working than they were paid to work. I’ll say what should go without saying: that the problem here is not that the check from the government was too high, but that their previous incomes were untenably low.
The lies of our capitalist system were stripped to the undergarments in this health crisis, and then systemic racism tore off the flimsy remains. Lots and lots of stunned, outraged, unemployed White people joined the unsurprised, outraged Black folks who have been out there for centuries demanding Justice. And those White folks kept joining, kept marching, kept helping. Even folks like me, who are employed but working from home, have a lot more flexibility in our schedules since we don’t have to be at a designated location for some arbitrarily designated time frame every day. Why not stand up? Why not demand change? There is a serious problem, and I have the time, so why not do something about it?
I think this is why capitalism sanctifies Work. We are unequivocally, continually told that work gives people dignity, that employment gives self-respect, that people find meaning and identity in work. Even the “liberal” media accepts this as gospel. Sure, some people feel that way, but when you think of most of the jobs that most of the people do, they’re just jobs. They may be better jobs or worse jobs, but most of us are not following our passion. We’re working to live, not living to work, yet we believe our value as humans is measured in our ability to hold down a job. Most of us work a lot, because we can’t make enough money working, say, 30 hours a week to support ourselves, because wages are too low or because we have been convinced that “supporting ourselves” isn’t enough; that we need more things, that more things will make us happy. So we give up time we could spend with our lovelies and furballs, or making art, or protesting the inequities of the world in order to make more money. We may hear about bad things, bad laws, bad governing, but who has the time to deal with that? We’re drunk and immobile in front of the AppleTV after a pointless, exhausting week of Work.
Fuck it. We’ve got the time and we’ve got the impetus. We also see that the story we’ve been told about what can’t be done is bullshit. We can provide health care, housing, and basic income to people. Nothing is immutable. Statues can be torn down. Neighborhoods can protect themselves. Police departments can be defunded. White people can admit their racism and privilege without self-immolating. Look at what our time and energy can do. Look what our imagination has yet to achieve. And look at how anxious White leaders are to get us back to normal. Their normal was a nightmare for millions. Our normal was deadly for Black people, for Native Americans, for immigrants, for the homeless, for the poor. Don’t let them convince you it wasn’t; don’t let them drag us backwards. They’re afraid of change because they know it will threaten their wealth and power. Naomi Klein told us how Capitalists use disasters as an opportunity to privatize and profit from anything they can get their soft, white hands on. Keep fighting, comrades. Be vigilant. Ask for help when your tank is low. We’ve found our strength and progress in community and public space; don’t let them commodify it.