I wrote a guest column that was published in my local newspaper (“What or Who is Behind the Reopening Protests”) and it prompted a strong response from a neighbor in my community. I wrote this follow up column as a way for us to continue that conversation.
This man and I volunteer together as election workers and we have worshiped together. I consider him a friend so it’s important to me that I clarify some misunderstandings he seems to have about what I said. When conversation partners correctly understand each other’s position, then we can move on to discuss issues more constructively.
First, I am not arguing against reopening. Rather, I am asking the question our nation is struggling to answer: Do we reopen quickly or do we reopen safely? I say we should reopen as safely as possible even though it may not be as quick as we all would like. I say we should prioritize the needs of those who are working on the front lines of this pandemic and find ways to support their health, safety and well-being; to use their concerns as our guide.
For example, we’ve been hearing about the COVID-19 outbreaks among the employees in meat processing plants, some right here in Texas. A recent Dallas Morning News article (April 25) reports on the epidemics showing up in the JBS meat packing plant in West Texas and the Tyson Foods chicken processing facility in East Texas. The article cites data that “shows that both areas have low median incomes and a widespread lack of health insurance coverage.”
Low-wage workers who already lived on the edge now are teetering on the precipice of disaster. They already were underpaid for the essential and valuable work they do for all the rest of us. They already struggled to find affordable housing, to put food on their own family tables or have access to basic healthcare. And if they happen to be undocumented workers in our factories or in our fields, they already lived in the shadows with no ability to protest their poor and often dangerous working conditions.
Now, because of the pandemic, the crisis of inequity has mushroomed. A New York Post article (April 18, 2020) reports that the JBS company is “being probed…for bribery and has been accused of price-gouging during the COVID-19 crisis.” This, while workers at their own plants are still underpaid, under protected and lacking access to medical care when they are sickened by the coronavirus.
Low-income workers are not the only ones subject to economic and social inequities. A new analysis, jointly released by Americans for Tax Fairness and the Institute for Policy Studies, shows that from March 18 to May 21, 2020, unemployment soared to 38.5 million people while the wealth of 635 U.S. billionaires increased by 15% ($434 billion) to a mind-boggling total of $3.38 trillion. (That’s why I say we should always follow the money.)
These are only a few examples of an “old normal” that has not been working for a long time.
My friend John took issue with my use of the term “new normal.” (You called it: “Orwellian!” Really, John?) Many of us are talking about the possibilities that may arise from this awful pandemic and dreaming about how our society can use this opportunity to create a new normal that works for everyone.
Our parents and grandparents endured their own cataclysmic events in the Great Depression and the Second World War. The United States emerged from those hard times successfully by creating their own new normal: the New Deal. Ever since then, we have enjoyed Social Security benefits, an impressive interstate highway system and a wide, growing middle class. The changes were huge, but we know these were only beginning steps. We yet have much work to do together if we are going to continue to create a society that is fairer, an economy that is healthier and a future that is brighter.
This kind of New Deal/New Normal is an example of what so many of us are talking about and working toward during this current crisis.
Our parents and grandparents overcame the devastating crisis of their generation and created something good and hopeful for us; now it’s our turn. How will we work together to craft a good and hopeful future for the coming generations?
Billionaire Wealth, U.S. Job Losses and Pandemic Profiteers (Inequality.org)
Reopening the Economy Is a Death Sentence for Workers (Institute for Policy Studies)
The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival is calling for people across the country to Stay in Place! Stay Alive! Organize! And Don’t Believe the Lies! Right now, states are beginning to reopen against the best recommendations of doctors, public health officials and other experts. State legislatures, governors, and the federal government are putting millions of people, especially the poor, at great risk by reopening too soon.
At the same time, the government continues to offer piecemeal responses to this pandemic and the growing economic crisis that have put profits over people. We must come together to demand that all of our elected leaders act on the responsibility they have to protect and provide for every person in this country, not just during a national crisis, but at all times.
Texas’ coronavirus hotspots are in rural counties, near big meat-processing plants (Dallas Morning News)
Crumbs for the Hungry but Windfalls for the Rich. Op-ed by Nicholas Kristof in The New York Times.
Historian Heather Cox Richardson writes Letters from an American. Here she quotes Antonio Gramsci: “The old world is dying, and the new world struggles to be born. Now is the time of monsters.”
This article was published in The Paris News on May 24, 2020.