Change is upon us. The confluence of crises brings us to an historic crossroads. We are confronting an ongoing pandemic the likes of which we haven’t experienced since 1919 – 1920; joblessness and economic depression unparalleled since the 1930’s; and an uprising rooted in confronting a neo-fascist government, white supremacy and the deadly dimensions of American apartheid that is now surpassing the rebellion of April 1968 initiated in response to the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.
The combination of these factors means that we are without question facing a combination of challenges unparalleled in this country since the Civil War. The ground is shifting beneath our feet. We are living, learning, and struggling. This we know: things cannot, and should not, return to the way they were before the start of the global pandemic and the shutdown of the world economy. Why?
The “normal” world roiled by this pandemic is deeply unequal, inequitable, exploitative, extractive, and repressive. It is deeply fractured around capitalist colonialism, racial oppression, gender, sexuality, nationality, and religion. It is this real world dystopia that has led to the needless death of more than 115,000 people in the United States of COVID-19, with at least 25,00 new infections daily. The vast majority of the infected and dead are Black, Brown, and Indigenous people. In the midst of the pandemic, it is this dystopian world that right-wing Republicans and neoliberal Democrats are determined to force-march us all back into against our will. Rather than following the proven best public health practices and developing a scientific, medically determined response to the pandemic, they are putting profits over people in order to save the capitalist system. As a result, they are treating working people like disposable objects by forcing millions of people to risk their lives working in life threatening conditions. If they were serious about truly saving lives, they would alter the socio-economic system to address the needs of the moment. But this was never on offer.
Treating people like disposable objects however is nothing new. As the experience of Black people in the United States clearly indicates, this disregard for human life is standard practice and procedure for this system. Enslaved Africans and their descendants, who built the concentrated wealth of this empire, have been disposable since the colonization of the Americas, the advent of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, and the subjugation of chattel slavery. They became the “free labor” for the “free land” stolen through genocide of the indigenous peoples. But, capitalism has never stopped there. The few who benefit from this system have always treated working class people, of all races and nationalities, with various forms of ill intent and disregard. Examples abound. Think of the 600 medical workers, more than half of whom are people of color, who have died so far in the Pandemic because a for-profit hospital system refused to invest in their protection. Consider the countless numbers of miners who have died of black lung disease and tunnel explosions. Or the millions of migrant farm workers who labor in pesticide drenched fields. Or the untold number of factory workers and urban dwellers displaced by automation and globalization.
There are powerful and clearly defined forces that are doing all they can to shape the future in their own interests and on their own terms. They include multinational corporations, financial institutions, and the political parties who serve their interests. Unfortunately, at this crucial moment, the working class and oppressed peoples in the United States are not organized as a concentrated counter force operating in our own interests. As a result we lack the ability to wield political power.
This doesn’t mean that we don’t have the capacity to shape the future. Far from it. Through our labor, paid and unpaid, and other social relationships and contributions, we, the working class, are fundamental to the functioning of this society. Without us, nothing could move, nothing would work, nobody would eat, and no profits would be made. We have witnessed the potential of this power through the course of this pandemic. People across the United States and the world have engaged in strikes and shutdowns for hazard pay and to protect themselves from life threatening working conditions, as governments hedged and delayed on shutting down, sacrificing thousands of lives. We have seen it in the moments when workers and communities have insisted on producing what is most needed to protect human life. We have seen it in mutual aid efforts in cities, towns, and rural areas throughout the country, where millions of people are feeding, clothing, and housing each other and those in need in their community based on the principles of reciprocity and solidarity. This mutual aid movement demonstrates how the democratic self-management of our collective labor can benefit us, rather than the owners of capital.