Jack Halberstam’s brilliant book, The Queer Art of Failure, offers an essential insight for these terrible times: when things are “normal”—predictable, common-place, habitual—whether in one’s personal relations, work life, or politics, life putt-putts along at an expected pace with little fanfare, and without much thought or reflection. Then, an unanticipated crisis, a rupture, an upheaval—one’s partner has an affair, one gets laid off, Donald Trump becomes president—and it’s suddenly time to question everything, challenge the taken-for-granted, rethink basic assumptions, reimagine and rebuild.
This is such a time.
Of course I know as much about coronavirus as any other dazed participant-observer—probably more than Donald Trump and Mike Pence combined, but that’s next to nothing.
I do know that the airlines are on life support, that SXSW cancelled, that the NBA suspended the basketball season, and that I can’t meet my classes in person. I know the illness is spreading exponentially, that official inaction wasted precious time at the start, and that a patch-work health care system (“the best in the world!” according to official messaging) and a hollowed out public medical administration has left the country flat-footed.
I also know that the political class and the 1% know what to do for themselves in crisis: remember 9/11? Immediate and huge transfer of wealth from ordinary taxpayers to big corporations, massive military spending, and the surveillance state rolled out at lightning speed.
Remember the 2008 financial crisis? The housing bubble collapsed, gutting home values and resulting in the biggest loss of Black wealth since the Civil War, followed by a $700 billion taxpayer bailout for greedy and incompetent bankers and a strategy called “quantitative easing” which boosted the value of financial assets owned by rich people. The rest of us were hung out to dry. This also marks the re-birth of reactionary right-wing nationalists world-wide, including Trump and company.
Don’t be surprised that as the ruling class weighs in on coronavirus it will come fully stoked with a predatory agenda—to take one example out of zillions: they are proposing a “payroll tax reduction,” which sounds nice, except that the plan amounts to stealing from and starving Social Security. In 5 years these same criminal bastards will say, “Social Security is broke! We must privatize the system (and let’s stay on message and call it reform!).”
To tale another, the question of cost is constantly raised as people come to terms with the scope of the problem. Deborah Burger, president of National Nurses United, had a great response when she was challenged to explain how the US could afford to make a coronavirus vaccine free for everyone once it’s developed: “How insane and cruel is it to suggest that we have to figure out how to pay for it when we can actually go to war and not ask one question, but to prevent this kind of a disease, we have to say, ‘How can we pay for it?’”
Let’s mobilize and develop our own People’s Agenda. After all coronavirus is potentially instructive and educational, revealing more than concealing, but let’s draw the lessons explicitly. In a country characterized by mass incarceration, vast inequality, militarism, white supremacy, a crisis of homelessness and hunger, a political class refusing to face the imminent environmental collapse, and millions without health insurance, we need to get busy—and fast.
Hyper-individualism and weaponized self-reliance is killing the planet, and it’s killing us. Yes, we are each sacred, each the one of one, but we are also each a tiny member of the herd, a bit of the community, a part of the collective. We must rethink, and rebalance, the “me” and the “we” dialectic. When, 65 years ago, Edward R. Murrow asked Jonas Salk, developer of the polio vaccine, who owned the patent for his discovery, Salk said, “There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?” Health care is a human right, and it’s all about the “we.”
Here are things that coronavirus provoked, and that speak volumes about the shabby policies that had become part of our taken-for-granted; take note:
~~Chicago Public Schools announced that they will provide soap in every school bathroom!
~~The New York MTA said that subway cars will be thoroughly cleaned every 3 days!
~~Detroit officials decided to restore water to homes of poor people whose water had been cut off because of unpaid bills!
~~Amazon told sick workers that they will not be docked for staying home and missing a shift!
~~Uber and Lyft will pay sick-leave for workers out with coronavirus!
~~The US Treasury Department said it will lift some sanctions on humanitarian supplies sent to Iran, the country with the third largest outbreak of coronavirus!
~~Big insurance companies announced (with fanfare) that they will waive co-pays for people with coronavirus!
~~And the government is considering proposals that amount to Medicare for All With Coronavirus!
If you’re not pissed off about all of this, you’re not paying attention.
This is a time to get clear, really clear, and rise up.
Let’s together construct a People’s Agenda:
Support the Green New Deal!
Medicare for All! Health care is a Human Right!
Institute a wealth tax (2 cents on every dollar above…)!
Release all elderly prisoners!
A right to paid sick leave for all workers!
A basic right to housing, food, and water!
Cancel student loan debt!
Open access and no tuition at public colleges and universities!