Who’s Behind the “Death Marches”

by Peter Scheckner April 22, 2020

The toll of Covid-19 as of April 22 (grossly underestimated):

  • Global cases: 2,492,107 today
  • Global deaths: 171,211
  • U.S. confirmed cases 804,548
  • U.S. deaths: 40,167

Overwhelmed healthcare workers across the country are taking to the streets to demand safer working conditions and more personal protection equipment to help them fight the coronavirus pandemic.

New York City transit workers have suffered 68 deaths and 2400 illnesses due to lack of any safety measures until April 15. Amazon and other “essential” workers are protesting their lack of protection and growing illness rate.

While some states are beginning to see a leveling off of new cases, others have not yet reached their peak. Public health experts warn of any attempt to re-open society at all until case rates have fallen for at least two weeks and widespread testing is available to track any new outbreaks. The CDC warns that a second wave of infections is likely in the fall. There will be no true safety until a vaccine is widely available.

Meanwhile, in the states of Kentucky, Minnesota, Virginia, Idaho, Utah, New York, Ohio, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Nevada, Colorado, Wisconsin, New Hampshire, Michigan, Texas, and Oregon, hundreds of conservatives have staged mass protests against social distancing orders—and top right-wing media figures are cheering them on. Trump is egging them on also, tweeting “LIBERATE MINNESOTA” and then, “LIBERATE MICHIGAN” and then, “LIBERATE VIRGINIA, and save your great 2nd Amendment.” Trump said he was not concerned that the large gatherings of protesters could spread the disease to others. “No, these are people expressing their views. I see who they are and I see the way they are working,” Trump said. “They seem to be very responsible people to me. They’ve been treated, a little bit rough.” (CNBC, April 17)

*In Michigan the protest was organized by the Michigan Freedom Fund and the Michigan Conservative Coalition, the former of which is backed by the billionaire family of  Trump’s Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos. MLive reporter Malachi Barrett highlighted the president’s influence on the rally goers, calling it “half protest, half Trump rally.”

* Over at Fox News, a number of top hosts had nothing but praise and encouragement for protesters demanding a return to normalcy. “They want to keep us away from churches and synagogues. They want to make sure we don’t go back to work. They don’t get it. The American spirit is too strong, and Americans are not gonna take it,” host Jeanine Pirrosaid on Sean Hannity’s Wednesday show. “And what happened in Lansing today? God bless ’em, it’s gonna happen all over the country.” An hour prior, Tucker Carlson hosted Michigan protest organizer Meshawn Maddock and thanked her for her service. “Thank you for coming on tonight, and thank you for exercising your constitutionally protected rights as an American. Bless you,” he said, denouncing Whitmer’s “mindless and authoritarian” leadership and saying he hopes “she loses her job.” [Democratic governor Gretchen Whitmer is facing the third-worst outbreak in the U.S.]

Fascism in the Open

Confederate flags, automatic, military assault rifles, military gear, and Trump paraphernalia, including Trump flags are often on display at these all white so-called “Death Marches,” in which protestors demand the economy get restarted, that these states get “liberated” and “tyranny” be laid to rest. Many of these marchers, although not their sponsors, probably need a paycheck of their business to re-open, just like workers all over the country. But instead of making demands on the government, these right wingers blame hoaxes about disease, vaccines, health professionals, non-white workers and immigrants for their problems.  They make no demands of Trump or the billionaire class, and so their movement is welcomed by those in power, who are glad to hide their guilt in managing this crisis so badly. But as it is, the people at these rallies are at great risk to contract the coronavirus. And, of course, so are their families and friends, and you and me and anyone else just walking by.

Trump is supporting these attempts to “liberate” state economies, end the “lockdowns,” support the Second Amendment, end the tyranny of the state, ban abortions, oppose immigration, (signs seen at many of these protests) so that it looks like he—and not the mostly Democratic governors of these states– genuinely cares about the welfare of everyone (minus, of course, immigrants, people of color, inmates, patients in nursing homes, the homeless, and the indigent generally—those who are dying many times the rate of white people).

As it turns out, probably none of these rallies for work are spontaneous, worker-led events. Virtually none are multiracial or multi-ethnic, which would reflect who is disproportionally being sickened and killed by COVID-19. They are organized principally from Washington D.C. by two overlapping groups: Freedom Works Foundation and Americans for Prosperity. The latter was established in 2004 by Charles and David Koch of Koch Industries, the second-largest privately owned company in the United States with 2017 revenues of $110 billion. (David died in 2019.) The Kochs are the wealthiest and most influential deniers of climate change and climate science in the country. After Obama became President in 2009, Americans for Prosperity organized against global warming regulations, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act , the expansion of Medicaid and economic stimulus, and cap and trade, major proposals of Obama’s first term.

According to Jane Meyer’s book Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right (2016) the Kochs have funded a number of organizations that together work to influence academic institutions, think tanks, the courts, statehouses, Congress, and the American presidency. The Koch family and their political activities, along with Richard Mellon Scalfe and John M. Olin and the DeVos (Betsy is the sister of Eric Prince, the founder of the world’s largest private mercenary force, originally called Blackwater and now called Academi) and the Coors families.

FreedomWorks Foundation, Americans for Prosperity, and the Tea Party Movement (launched in 2009) have several policies in common: they are dedicated to a free market economy with limited government, which shamelessly translates into the government should exist for the wealthy, nothing much more. Ronald Reagan who began to dismantle social services (beginning with social security—“nothing but a welfare program,” he infamously said) when he took office in 1981 is an ideological founding father and Ayn Rand is a literary muse.

These groups oppose any government-sponsored health care programs; are for school choice (that is, non-public education); are generally climate science deniers, and against any regulation of the environment. Since the Koch family’s fortune—the second largest privately-owned company in America– comes largely from oil, natural gas, chemicals, minerals, and fertilizers among many other subsidiaries, naturally the Koch family opposes any EPA regulations. Their favorite politicians at the moment are Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and Scott Walker the Republican and viciously anti-union former governor of Wisconsin. In 1958 Fred C. Koch founded the anti-communist John Birch Society.

What Workers Need

What workers all over the country, and not just workers but the homeless and the destitute, need is a guaranteed income and comprehensive health coverage which, of course, the US Government won’t provide. Instead, there are 3.6 million filings for evictions each year, which will only worsen once the temporary pause is over. The eviction ban passed by Congress in March only covers rental properties financed through the Housing and Urban Development or backed by the Federal Housing Administration, but many landlords are ignoring even this limited no-eviction act. Post pandemic, millions of workers will remain unemployed when businesses shrink or fail to re-open. Millions will then be without health insurance while many will suffer long-term consequences of the virus or neglected chronic conditions. Millions will be food insecure and deeply in debt. If there were a genuinely anti-racist, pro-working-class movement, these marchers would be demanding unlimited unemployment insurance, universal health care, no evictions for renters or home owners, and free COVID-19 monitoring. The demonstrators would try to maintain a safe distance from one another as long as infection is a danger.

In contrast, the “marches for jobs,” organized by right-wing billionaires, are using the misdirected anger of protestors, some of them undoubtedly just trying to get a pay check, who will be endangered both by COVID-19 and by the toxicity of their political mentors.

Peter Scheckner recently retired as a Professor of Literature from Ramapo State College of New Jersey

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