Today, May Day (traditionally a worker’s celebration), could be a hinge moment in U.S. history, when a critical mass of voters and others said “Enough!” to the fat cats attempting to use the pandemic to profit further at public expense.
An excellent account of the principles that should guide a compassionate and effective body of investment in caring and recovery—endorsed by too many organizations to count—can be found at the #PeoplesBailout site. People are being asked to show support and solidarity on May Day by showing up virtually in a variety of ways. But the battle to win a #PeoplesBailout will take more than one day.
I have a couple of friends who’ve been using the phrase “hinge moment” to describe our opportunity in this time. I like the sound of it: the door to a more just and loving future can swing open or closed on its hinges. It seems to have been coined by the physicist Freeman Dyson, who suggested that 9/11 may have been one such moment. Will this be one?
Yesterday I watched a live video featuring Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Pramila Jaypal, and Mark Pocan on the need for a just recovery and an end to the excesses of self-dealing and prevarication that have marked the bailout so far. Warren spoke of the Essential Workers Bill of Rights she introduced along with with Rep. Ro Khanna. The entire conversation was a refreshing moment of true humanity amidst a spectacle of greed and manipulation.
I think—I hope—we’ve had enough.
In case you’ve been reading (or heaven forfend, believing) the self-aggrandizing and self-congratulatory statements of #IMPOTUS and his son-in-law, here are just a few true things about the unjust bailout thus far:
An unprecedented number of workers have applied for unemployment insurance, more than 30 million at this writing. This figure, the highest in history, masks a much higher number of those who haven’t been able to get through a choked system to apply, aren’t eligible because of the nature of their work, etc.
Two things are above all wrong with this picture. First, while it was indeed right to expand unemployment benefits in this time, it would have been far better to support everyone previously employed with “paycheck protection” (which could and should be a much bigger part of the next recovery package). It’s much harder to be laid off, go on unemployment, then find another job in a depressed economy than it is to receive a paycheck subsidy via your employer and resume work when your workplace reopens. The differential ways this truth affects African Americans as a class is appalling, as this excellent article by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor explains.
Second, the unemployment system is punitive, as are all other major U.S. social welfare programs. It assumes people are trying to defraud it, and makes the process of getting help difficult and often shameful. In terms of what can be deduced from how the system is actually run, it’s clear the goal of preventing people from getting unemployment benefits is at least equal to the intention of supporting the unemployed. This leads to truly stupid things such as the governor of Kentucky publicly shaming an applicant because that person shares a name with a musical icon. And to vicious behavior such as the Republican governors claiming unemployment benefits will be denied to those who fear for their health in returning to the workplace.
This week, Democrats in the House wrote to the Secretaries of the Treasury and Interior Department to request that $8 billion allocated to emergency relief for tribal governments be released, as not a single dollar has been provided in the five weeks since the CARES Act was authorized. These elected representatives—including Deb Haaland of New Mexico, co-chair of the Congressional Native American Caucus; Ruben Gallego of Arizona, chair of the House Natural Resources Subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples of the U.S.; Raul Grijalva of Arizona, chair of the House Natural Resources Committee; and Assistant House Speaker Ben Ray Lujan of New Mexico—wrote:
As you are aware, the detrimental impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have had a disproportionate health care and economic impact on federally recognized tribes due a chronic lack of essential resources.
We respectfully request the Treasury Department immediately begin to disburse the $8 billion of Coronavirus Relief Funds to eligible federally recognized tribal governments … in recognition of the negative impact that every day of delay has on Tribes.”
So far, no response.
The disbursement of CARES Act funds has been a disgrace. Here’s an article describing how 300 publicly traded companies (i.e., big enough to issue stock) have received bailouts at public expense while small businesses go begging. I’ve been collecting anecdotes from nonprofit organizations that have applied for loans under the Act. While some of them have received funds, most have been rejected with no reasons given. The well-grounded speculation is that since lenders profit from these loans, most are seeking to make a few large loans—minimizing effort and maximizing profit—rather than deal with smaller organizations. People have shared stories about banks making their own rules to deny loan applications, such as deciding they’ll only be open to previous clients.
It’s important to remember that #IMPOTUS et al are using this moment with great energy and ambition to roll back every form of protection for land, water, air, and life hard-won over previous decades. This pandemic and response are exposing the truth of power relations in this country.
As I recently wrote, those who believe climate deniers are really in denial are helping to hide the truth. What if they’ve known what was coming and decided to lie, confuse, conceal their aims to expand and preserve their privilege as long as they can?
Look at the last 50 years: U.S. wealth distribution went from fairly benign to the world’s worst. That’s the same 50 years since Earth Day started.
Just as #IMPOTUS was warned about the pandemic and did nothing except profit at public expense, economic elites were warned about climate and did nothing except make it far easier to profit at public expense. They have stolen our commonwealth to build their own private islands, insulating the 1% from the coming storms. Our lives are the sacrifice they accept as their due.
We need to stop calling them “deniers” or treating their denials as if they were sincere. No politesse. Call out what is being done for the benefit of those who find us dispensable, at our expense, in our names.
More than anything else, naming these truths can make this a hinge moment. The coalitions lining up behind a #PeoplesBailout are truly impressive, suggesting that a critical mass of people who actually care about each other is gathering, one big enough to turn the tide. Let’s see how big of a splash can be made for May Day.
“Nobody Makes Money” by Fantastic Negrito.