Political lessons of the pandemic
Here in the US we first confronted covid at a moment in time when our political Left was only beginning to emerge from four decades of Reaganism (as practiced by both Democrats and Republicans) and an even longer period of anti-communism. So early in the pandemic a lot of folks - myself included - proposed various pie in the sky reforms that would have protected more working people and perhaps greatly lessened the impact of the pandemic. These ideas did not translate into real demands on the ruling class because we lacked the degree of political organization necessary to turn ideas into effective campaigns.
Then, in the late Summer of 2020, as vaccination rates rose and transmission rates fell, it looked as if the worst of the pandemic had passed. A combination of fatigue and economic hardship made it increasingly difficult to hold people back from the rush to "reopen the economy."
But the last three months have provided millions of people a crash course in how capitalism works. What are the lessons bitterly learned.
* We now know that returning children to in person classes had nothing to do with the quality of their education or concern for their mental health and everything to do with getting people back to work. Our elected officials prioritize private profit over the health and well being of students, parents, teachers, and school staff.
* We now know that our private for-profit and insurance-driven healthcare system is grossly inadequate to meet people's needs.
* We now know that our elected officials and the people whose campaign contributions keep them in office or provide them with lucrative careers when they leave office view disabled people and chronically ill people as impediments to making profits and therefore expendable.
* We now know that when the politicians call millions of service workers "essential" what they mean is that keeping those workers unorganized and low paid is essential to their profitability.
• We now know that, under capitalism, scientific agencies like the CDC will bend and twist science to protect private profits. And we know that no matter how desperate the human need, patents and intellectual property laws governing the flow of medical and scientific knowledge will protect profits at the cost of human lives.
And we now understand that the "new normal" we are being sold fuels our deepest feelings of depression, frustration, fear, anxiety, and anger. The corporate-owned media says that the problem is "lack of civility," "cancel culture," "political correctness," "karens," "road rage," "boomers," "millenials," "snowflakes," "rednecks," "libtards," and a dozen other labels. But really, we are beginning to see that the source of our fears and anxieties is the growing awareness that we live in a system that is indifferent to human suffering - our suffering - except to the extent that it generates private profit.
This new knowledge and rising consciousness can decisively change the political landscape in the US, But that happens only if it translates into the desire for independent political organization and action that puts our needs, the common needs of all working people, first.
What are those common needs? It's not difficult, in this moment in our history, to see.
We need quality universal healthcare that doesn't depend on our employment or access to private insurance.
We need a system of public health that values everyone and guarantees a high quality of life to those of us who are disabled, chronically ill, or aged.
We need schools that care about children - all our children, no matter their test scores or the zip code in which they live. And we need teachers paid well enough and with class sizes small enough, and with resources ample enough that they want to and can make a career out if teaching our children.
We need workplaces that pay us all a living wage and guarantee our dignity with safe conditions, decent schedules and adequate time off. We need the ability to organize unions without interference from employers and union-busting law firms.
We need cities organized around human communities not corporate employers. Communities that respond to crises by supporting people, not by jailing them and a legal system that treats all of us as people with rights not as inconvenient objects.
And we need a social and political system that values and will work to preserve our natural environment and to find ways to advance humanity that are consistent with protecting the planet.