Hear me out: saving the lives of the working class is good, actually.
On December 1st, our beloved Midwest Socialist published an op-ed from Chicago DSA member Hephestion Bolaris entitled “DSA Should Stay Neutral On Mask And Vaccine Mandates”. The backlash was swift on Twitter, with dozens of users criticizing the agnostic stance of remaining neutral during a pandemic that has claimed the lives of over five million people worldwide.
To my knowledge, this question has never been considered by Chicago DSA’s current Executive Committee or by General Membership. In absence of this conversation, one could ironically make the argument that before the previous piece was published Chicago DSA had remained largely neutral in the ongoing debate surrounding vaccine mandates within Chicago.
In fact, searching Chicago DSA’s Twitter shows only 4 results for the term “mandate” – two from before the year 2020 and none of them relating to a mask or vaccine mandate. But with the emergence of both the Delta and Omicron variants, we are overdue for a socialist perspective on masks, vaccines, and other solutions to this unending pandemic.
Comrade Hephestion states that, “Whenever possible, we should avoid the issues that divide us”. I could not disagree more. By avoiding issues that we deem “politically divisive” we would be betraying countless allies that deserve our solidarity as socialists, no matter how unpopular it becomes.
Hypothetically, if DSA only makes political moves that survey incredibly well across both aisles, you still have to ask “where’s the threshold?” The previous Op-Ed refers to both of these mandates as divisive based on polling data, but in my opinion the cited polls show robust public support – 69% of voters support mask mandates in schools while 57% support vaccine mandates in the workplace. I think it’s riskier to remain neutral when there is such massive public support for this.
Even if a majority opposed mask and vaccines mandates, the reality is that many of our positions as DSA are “divisive”: Palestine, police abolition, and abortion rights to name a few. Should we abandon these projects as well if we can’t get a majority to support them? For example, in February 2020, unions were heavily divided on the question of Medicare for All. But I think we can all agree that the pandemic revealed the need to fight for it, whether or not all unions are on board. This is our responsibility as socialists: to promote and fight for genuine solutions to the crises of capitalism.
Neutrality On Vaccine Mandates is Betrayal
Since former President’s Trump’s eviction from the Oval Office, there has been a sea change in how Republicans and their allies view the vaccines produced under Operation Warp Speed.
In March, Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene was effusively showering the former President in praise for his Operation Warp Speed. A mere 128 day later, we find that she has flipped her position to be entirely Anti-Vaccine – a position she would have viciously opposed had the GOP retained control of the White House in 2020.
I do not believe that it is in solidarity with the working class to cede this fight to the disingenuous propaganda being produced and repeated by reactionaries from across the country, including the former President, Tucker Carlon, and even local reactionaries like FOP7 President and Future Failed Mayoral Candidate John Catanzara.
Despite the best efforts of the right wing misinformation industrial complex, the science has remained clear that the vaccines are saving lives, such as this data point from Texas’s Department of Health and Human Services: “Unvaccinated people were 20 times more likely to experience COVID-19-associated death than fully vaccinated people.”
If we remain silent and neutral in the face of this threat, we are allowing unnecessary deaths, with many of those being working class people who may have been misinformed or outright lied to. It’s also an open secret that most of the people spreading vaccine hesitancy are themselves vaccinated, including most, if not all of the conservatives mentioned throughout this piece. Public health and social work have significant class barriers that many workers in the field have heavily criticized. If these professions were more accessible to the working class, perhaps we could have been able to vaccinate enough people to prevent many of the variants now emerging. Unfortunately, we will never know.
While Hephestion is correct in pointing out that (at least according to polling data) many “blue collar” workers are experiencing vaccine hesitancy, he fails to point out that the surveys referenced addressed this. From the August 3rd Axios Ipsos poll: “However, it is important to note that among the unvaccinated, approximately half continue to express an openness to the vaccine. Among these, half say an employer mandate or a raise or bonus for vaccination would convince them to get the shot.”
For the other half of the unvaccinated population who were not open to the vaccine surveyed by Axios Ipsos, mandates were the “the best performing measure” converting 1 out of every 8 people.
To me, the answer seems obvious – mandates protect not only our immunocompromised and disable comrades, but the greater population at large. Vaccines appear to be the only true solution we have moving forward if we ever seek to reach a “Post-Covid” society.
Despite our differing views on this issue, I’m grateful to Hephestion for starting this much needed conversation. He was absolutely correct in diagnosing the real enemy as the profiteering pharma companies, as the current variant seems to have stemmed from a failure to equitably produce and distribute vaccines to the global community. A proposal temporarily waiving the intellectual property rights to the vaccines has been stalled in the World Trade Organization for over a year now, allowing Pharmaceutical stocks to continue their bull run on the stock market in exchange for millions of lives across the globe.
We cannot allow fears of unpopularity keep us from acting when lives are at stake. If far-right groups like the Proud Boys are actively promoting anti-vax positions and organizing protests against vaccine mandates, then it’s time for us to discuss our socialist strategy for ending the pandemic. Such a strategy must include mask and vaccine mandates which are proven to save the lives of workers. In the words of antifascist organizers around the country: “We Keep Us Safe: Wear a Mask and Vaccinate!”
Thank you to both Ken Barrios and Elena Gormley for contributing to this piece.