For about a week now, media and liberal hysterics have been riveted to scenes of protestors in many states having outdoor demonstrations to demand that “the economy” reopen. They’re white people, many of whom are hoisting Confederate flags and Trump signs. The most notable has been a young woman proclaiming her pro-choice ideology, not for reproductive rights, but with regard to her refusal to wear a mask, and supporting Trump in 2020. The Media has jumped all over these protests, even though their numbers aren’t great.
It’s a country of 330 million and you’ve had, cumulatively, a few thousand people out to pimp for businesses to open and risk people’s lives. Back in my activist days, Scott Parkin and I organized dozens of actions in Houston–protests, marches, teach-ins, vigils–on various issues with hundreds of people typically attending, and we never got covered in the Grey Lady or WaPo. The Right-Wing spectacle brings clicks and sells papers.
For his part, Trump has incited these crowds, tweeting for his supporters to “Liberate” Virginia, Michigan, and Minnesota, and and invoking the Second Amendment, which wasn’t a call to “protest,” as the media reported it, but indeed an incitement to become violent.
Also, it’s worth noting that he left out instructions to liberate Ohio and Maryland, two states with the same shelter-in-place policies but with Republican governors (neither of whom, not coincidentally, is particularly well -liked by the White House). It’s also worth noting that these protests are not spontaneous uprisings by individuals who want their freedom, but, as the journalist Steve Horn described, they have been orchestrated, paid for, and organized by well-established right-wing groups with money and connections–gun groups, Devos, Mercer, Koch, and so on, the same people behind the opposition to Global Warming. “Plus ça change……”
So this is dystopian America in April, 2020. States are bidding against each other for ventilators and arranging surreptitious drops for masks and other PPE before the feds find out and swoop in and steal them away (like a bad heist movie), people are arranging sewing bees to make masks for docs and nurses, sick folks are not even getting tested and dying at home, nursing homes looking like charnel houses…..and Trump’s little Nazis are out there protesting public health measures on behalf of rich plutocrats who want more people to die so they can make more money.
To be clear, “opening the economy” means that workers in reopened businesses can’t make unemployment claims, so they’re literally faced with risking their lives or losing their jobs–It’s like a Capitalist Fantasy Camp, or a game show where they dangle a low-wage job in front of a hungry group of people and see who’s most desperate to grab it. Trump, these “protestors,” the governors who’ve reopened flea markets, hair salons, gyms, and bowling alleys, are a Death Cult (literally, not just rhetorically). And Trump, even though some lefties think he has a master plan and is outsmarting people, has no ideology other than nihilism and destruction, inciting an open Social Darwinism to bully and terrorize frightened and sick people.
But it’s not all bleak, not at all. The vast majority of Americans, Dem and GOP alike, are turned off, repulsed even, by these Aryan mobs. Only 22 percent support them, while 71 percent of Americans, and 56 percent of Republicans, are concerned that restrictions will be lifted too quickly rather than too slowly. Most importantly, only 29 percent favor reopening businesses “as soon as possible to prevent further economic damage.” And 52 percent say that COVID testing is inadequate compared to only 22 percent who think it’s sufficient.
Polling also shows that Americans overwhelmingly support the efforts of governors who’ve put in place measures to shelter during this pandemic, over Trump, who’s advised Americans to do nothing but die for Capitalism. And on the economy–3/4 of Americans think the government needs to spend more to help people impacted by the crash, so they’re rejected austerity and the Death Cult.
(Another obvious issue here, blatantly obvious, is that these Right-Wing, gun-toting white boys are walking around without any problem while in many cities African Americans are arrested for doing COVID testing or not maintaining adequate distance–and then being tossed into a holding cell with a dozen other people in what seems to be an attempt by Cops to make sure those people get the virus…i.e. manslaughter).
But there’s even better news than the polling, though again it’s not getting the same media attention as wingnuts proclaiming their pro-choice ideology in defense of getting a haircut. For about a month now, workers in various sectors all over the country have been aggressively demanding safe workplaces, better wages, and health care. There’s been a resurgence in labor actions unlike any in decades, maybe generations.
A significant number of American workers have concluded that this economy has failed them. Despite the Trump, and liberal media and Democratic, rhetoric about a “perfect” or “strong” economy, there were signs that the U.S. was heading for trouble well before COVID hit, but the onset of Coronavirus and state shutdowns made it clear as disease, death, shutdowns and layoffs roared through America. Working people are doing it for themselves, and Union leadership has been either not supportive or downright obstructionist, even cheerleading for the deadliest Capitalists.
In the biggest actions so far, Amazon workers, especially in the New York/New Jersey area, have had wildcat strikes and slowdowns. Amazon, which made $11 billion in profits and paid no taxes in 2019, has fired workers for organizing shutdowns or even discussing collective action. Nevertheless, Amazon workers and their comrades at Whole Foods, also owned by Bezos, have persisted (though Big Brother Bezos is keeping a close, electronic, eye on them), as has Instacart, and have more actions planned. In mid-March, the Big 3 Automakers had to finally shut down operations after a wave of Wildcat strikes. Garbage workers in Pittsburgh and Perdue Poultry employees in Georgia walked out due to safety concerns.
And undoubtedly the most inspiring example of solidarity has come from nurses, who’ve physically put themselves in front of the hospital protestors to prevent them from further harming anyone there.
In most industries there has been some level of protest over the lack of basic items like masks and gloves. In Santa Monica, in Liberal California, ten nurses were suspended for refusing to work until they were provided with N95 masks. Nationally, nurses are filing lawsuits and planning White House protests over the lack of safety measures afforded them. GE workers struck to shift production to make more masks. And that’s a huge issue in all these strikes.
They’re not for more money per se, though that’s surely part of it and should be, but they’re taking collective action to make Americans safer, to save lives. It’s for the commons, not the individual. And there are countless mutual aid groups all over the country too. It’s easy to despair and be afraid, and plenty of reason to, but we’re not staring at a dead end. Collective action has been impressive thus far.
A simple Google search will come up with countless hits on labor actions in the past 6 weeks, and there’s now serious talk of a General Strike. It’s not November 1917, but there’s a hard-rain-a-gonna-fall. After a decade of austerity in which the ruling class has become unimaginably richer while wages have remained stagnant, workers have gotten off the canvas fighting. Teachers strikes and the Flight Attendants uprisings, and now nurses–predominantly female unions to be noted–have been more active and aggressive for some time now, and 2020 is shaping up to be a heated year for the class struggle.
So by all means be outraged by the scenes of little Nazis and Confederates in the streets demanding the right to die for Captain Dow Jones, but remember that the number of people involved in labor actions has been exponentially larger. Make your way through the chatter and remember that the forces of movement have the strength and momentum, and the better future they’re fighting for has more power than nihilism.
But would a story about class politics in America be complete without a discussion of Liberals . . . .
As American healthcare, the economy, and the political system have been exposed to the world as a disaster, as a failed system, Liberals have been silent, or, just as often, have made things worse. I use the phrase “liberal civility,” but it’s actually much more damning than that. Liberals have a vested stake in the success of Capitalism and as much as they hate Trump, they fear the people, the rising of the workers, collective action, as much, maybe more.
Amid these terrible protests, as the president’s tweets incite violence, there’s been nothing but silence from Democratic leadership–nothing from Biden, from Pelosi (other than a tour of the ice cream in her freezer: “Let them Eat Haagen Dazs”) or other leading Liberals. Michigan’s Governor Gretchen Whitmer, who’s honestly done a good job throughout this as she’s had to maneuver through Trump’s attacks to try to get equipment to save lives in a state where it’s non-white population is getting crushed, stood her ground amid the protests but made the obligatory remarks about the hooligans and thugs having the First Amendment right to protest. Yet they had guns and were blocking traffic at a hospital, which isn’t a protected constitutional right–just ask all the Black folks who’ve been arrested for not maintaining social distance.
Liberals, for generations now, have been mostly weak and anemic. The GOP can
impeach a president for a botched blow job, steal a presidential election, Swift-Boat a candidate, accuse a nominee of pallin’ around with terrorists and question his birth place and smear him in the most vile racist ways and steal a Supreme Court seat, and they just take it, like Charlie Brown getting ready to kick the football that Lucy is holding. If you really want to resist the GOP and Trump and the Plutocrats, you have to first go through the buffer zone that protects them–Union Bosses, Democratic Politicians, and the Liberal elite.
Amid the greatest health crisis and economic crash in a century, what have the Liberals done? Supported a $2.5 trillion bailout that gave scads of money to banks, corporations and fugazi small businesses (like Ruth’s Chris or Shake Shack, which makes lousy burgers by the way), but only a one-off $1200 to working Americans and an extension of unemployment benefits. While Americans are literally dying in nursing homes or their own homes because there aren’t enough COVID tests, Nancy “Dove Bar” Pelosi and her Ice Cream Bunch have suggested
Medicare-for-All and extension of COBRA, an emergency medical insurance that’s usually very costly and not very good, for 20 million-plus unemployed (to be fair, they’ve recently suggested that the government pick up the bill for COBRA, so they’re not making the jobless totally fend for themselves, but the idea remains risible nonetheless and doesn’t address the continuing crisis in healthcare that will be even worse when COVID finally wanes).
[Update: And just last night the Senate passed a new aid bill which offered hundreds of billions to “small business,” while excluding any support for the Post Office or enhanced voting laws for people who might not be able to go to the polls. The Democrats caved on the whole bill, but claimed victory because they got $25 billion, a paltry sum, appropriated for COVID testing. Despite allegedly representing a constituency of working people and the poor, and despite overwhelming support for increased aid to working-class Americans and huge support for the U.S. Postal Service, they cratered. But they’ll take you in stern terms from now until November that you must vote Blue, no matter who].
America has an autocratic and unpopular president whose policies have minority support (small minorities on some issues) yet the alternative political position is anemic, and has been for at least a half-century (that’s a story too exhaustive to explain here but will be the subject of a future essay. In the meantime, for a kind of audio-history of American Liberalism, check out Green and Red Podcast, particularly episodes 1-2, 4, 6, 11, and 13).
Liberals have the dilemma of rhetorically defending the interests of working people, the poor, and other minority groups while in fact being allegiant to Wall Street and corporate America. So in the end, they’ll always be loyal to the cutting-edge Capitalists rather than the people they sweet-talk every 2 or 4 years for votes.
So amid this current multi-crisis, the Dems are pushing COBRA and trying to outflank Trump from the right on COVID, instead of pressing on his utter failure to acknowledge or respond to a global health calamity. Instead of pounding him on the disasters befalling America, which would be a concession of the failures of Capitalism, their nominee Mezzo Morto Joe Biden, who’s already vowed to veto a Medicare-for-All law (which is even more astounding and horrific because that presumes it had passed a Democratic-controlled senate) has decided to …. Blame
China has now become the whipping post for both the GOP and Dems (a trend which I, not humbly, point out that I saw coming at its outset). So amid this colossal cluster-screwup, you have two parties, one to the Attila-the-Hun Right and the other drifting there, ignoring the catastrophic health care crisis, pretending that Capitalism can be fixed with a little trim around the edges and a few aspirin, and ignoring the anger of millions who want a real choice in politics, not laws and officials hand-picked by the ruling class. While nurses and workers are literally risking their lives, Liberal politicians are dithering and tweaking the rough spots of an-already destroyed political economy.
Liberals are always demanding “civility,” from their adherents. You know, “when they go low, we go high.” But when they go low, “we” lose. In fact, that whole use of “we” is absurd. “We” don’t matter. The ruling class doesn’t give a damn about “us,” GOP and Dem alike. “We” are
essential expendable when the economy, when the needs of plutocrats, demand it, but otherwise we’re obliged to vote and STFU.
So when you see a story about Right-Wing crazies, boosted by monied political groups, out protesting, remember that there are exponentially more unhappy and angry workers ready to act. As the great populist Mary Lease said during the crises of the 1870s in the Agrarian heartland, it’s time to “raise less corn and more hell.” What better time to start?