Near 60,000 more dead by August, the latest model says. But that’s okay, the President says, the governors say. We know who will have to pay.
From the beginning of the North American project, there has been a method –divide those who labor by layers of misery, levels of payment, locales of living. And make those separations obvious, by color, by gender, by language. And teach them to hate and fear one another. As capitalism grew in sophistication, the methods of separation did also, from enslavement to eugenics to nationalism and identity politics. Some think it is being mitigated by time and education, by compassion and movements. But let this pandemic show that little has changed.
A hundred years ago, my grandfather was one of more than fifty million people around the world whose lives were cut short by the Spanish flu. The disease mainly killed young adults, men and women who were just stepping onto the stage of life. Now the coronavirus, a new flu, is invading the bodies of hundreds of thousands of people from East Asia to North America, turning our lives upside down. However, unlike the Spanish Flu, its main victims are the elderly, the grandparents, like me.
In New York City and all around the country, activists are finding creative and safe ways to demand the release of prisoners in jails, prisons, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention. Yesterday, about 25 cars and as many bikers and those on foot from Close the Camps/Cosecha and other groups stood, rode, and drove around New York Governor Cuomo’s office. The cars honked and the standing protestors chanted, gaining much support from the few onlookers on the street. We demanded that Cuomo use his emergency powers to release immigrants and prisoners in NY state custody in order to save their lives. The caravan then proceeded to circle Times Square and ended at an ICE office on 26th St where Close the Camps had its first civil disobedience action last summer.
The current pandemic has made the racial inequality in the US glaringly apparent if there was anyone who was not already aware of it. Countless articles have been written which document the much higher rate of infection and mortality for black and Latin workers in the US. Most reports, however, have responded to these glaring statistics with the hope or a vow to find a remedy, to cure the inequality which we have known has existed for hundreds of years. What few have acknowledged is that the capitalist US economy depends on racism for its functioning. Thus what we can actually expect, bar a mass movement to the contrary, is a return to hiding racial inequality and blaming the victims.
The two million prisoners in jail for crimes and the 38,000 undocumented immigrants detained in the US today are in grave danger of dying in large numbers from the Covid19 pandemic. Needless to say, the fact that the majority of those detained are black or Latin is a major factor in their lives being devalued by the rulers of capitalist America.
The current covid19 pandemic exposes the complete lack of concern of US capitalism for the welfare of working people. The just do enough mentality that governs public health and health care in ordinary times creates a system that cannot cope with surges in demand. Not only did the government fail to prepare for the emergency that was evident since January, but the fragile health, economic and social situation of so many workers could lead to a poor outcome for millions. The huge racial chasms that divide US workers at all times will turn into differential body counts. Only mass action by workers and students will guarantee that we come out of this alive and ahead.