The federal government has made it clear that no one is coming to save us from COVID-19. The Biden administration’s interests lie in upholding the status quo and keeping the economy churning at all costs to appease their corporate executive donors. In 2022, it’s more important than ever for the Left to come together to fight back against the capitalist status quo and create a proactive COVID-19 agenda with robust, visionary solutions to end the pandemic with our lives intact.
As we enter year three of the COVID-19 pandemic, our elected leaders from President Biden to Mayor Lightfoot deflect responsibility and push “business as usual” despite the fact that the Omicron and Delta variants are surging and overwhelming hospitals all over the country. Exhausted and traumatized health care workers, who were once labeled as heroes, are now left to fend for themselves. They struggle with staffing shortages from sick coworkers and those who have left the profession all together due to the trauma of a privatized health care system that is driven by profit and woefully under-resourced to contain a global, deadly pandemic.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is pushing new, unsafe guidelines that take away protections for us all by lowering isolation requirements for those infected with COVID-19 from 10 to 5 days, thus leading to increased rates of transmission of the highly contagious Omicron variant. “Let’s be clear: This is about what’s good for business, not what’s good for public health,” said NNU President Zenei Triunfo-Cortez, RN in a December 28th press release from National Nurses United (NNU).
Meanwhile in Chicago, Mayor Lightfoot and Chicago Public Schools (CPS) CEO Pedro Martinez have actively denied offers of support from Governor Pritzker in the form of COVID-19 tests, vaccination clinics, and masks for the district. They also refuse to bargain in good faith and meet the Chicago Teachers Union’s demands for a comprehensive safety plan and mitigation strategies that foster safe working and learning conditions in our city’s schools.
The ruling class and the political elite are working hard to maximize profits at all costs, including the lives of over 800,000 U.S residents lost to COVID-19. In Chicago alone, nearly 7,000 people have died and well over 400,000 have contracted the virus, many now grappling with the long term debilitation of long Covid. At the beginning of the pandemic, 1 in 6 cases of COVID-19 were tied to Cook County Jail. Prisons are currently on lockdown because of the rampant spread of COVID amongst incarcerated people and staff.
Our neoliberal government has funneled our taxpayer dollars to militarization, policing, and surveillance apparatuses with Congress increasing military spending by $25 billion in the last year and Chicago spending nearly $2 billion on policing annually. We deserve our public resources to be invested in programs and services that fight the COVID-19 pandemic such as universal health care, public health infrastructure, free mental health services, and so much more. Instead, the lack of investment results in hell-hole pop-up testing sites, a nationwide shortage of COVID-19 tests, inadequate contact tracing, a lack of free PPE, and a health care system that is nearly at its breaking point.
Societal conditions are bleak at best. When the world seems to be crumbling around us, it is demoralizing, especially to our social movements. Many of us are struggling just to get by and pay for survival expenses like rent, groceries, heat, and health care. When we live in a society where every good and service is commodified, we are forced to sell our labor to survive. Constantly being in survival mode takes away our time and energy to organize and mobilize for the better world we know is possible.
The summer of 2020 had the right conditions for a global, social upheaval. On May 30, 2020 and in the months that followed, we were in the midst of state-wide lockdowns, school closures, mass job loss, an increase in unemployment benefits, stimulus checks, a pause on student loan repayment, and eviction & utility shut off moratoriums. Even in the midst of a global pandemic, people had the freedom to organize and mobilize into the streets because their basic needs were being met.
We didn’t have to fear being evicted from our homes if we fell behind on rent. Tenants began to organize and build more power to fight back against exploitative landlords. Those of us who lost our jobs and sources of income had increased unemployment benefits and stimulus checks to fall back on. Now in 2022, societal conditions are much worse. Increases in unemployment benefits have long expired, it’s been almost a year since our last stimulus checks, moratoriums have ended, and the capitalist class is pushing harder than ever to keep people working, whether they are sick or not, to keep their profits flowing.
For those who were activated, radicalized, and mobilized during the summer of 2020, many may be feeling demoralized at the loss of momentum and lack of structural change. We know we have experienced our share of depression, anxiety, and illness in 2021. However, we have never lost our hope. To be principled organizers, we must acknowledge that this is a lifetime commitment. The struggle against racial capitalism, settler colonialism, and U.S. imperialism is a lifetime struggle. We have to adjust and be comfortable with the fact that our political organizations, mutual aid networks, and social movements will go through ebbs and flows. So what do we do when people are exhausted, our capacity is limited, and morale is low? We must have hope. As Mariame Kaba says, “hope is a discipline”, and we believe in that wholeheartedly.
What is giving us hope in 2022? For one, the Chicago Teachers Union struggle against CPS leadership and Mayor Lightfoot is a source of hope. Students, parents, organizations, elected officials, and community members are rallying together to vocalize their support for our teachers and students and the safe working and learning conditions they deserve.
Hope is also the creation of new mutual aid projects like the Chicago Quarantine Fund which was started by comrades affiliated with Chicago Community Jail Support, Chicago DSA, and other affinity groups. As Omicron surges, many service industry workers face the brunt of the virus because of their high rates of contact with the public. Without universal paid sick leave, access to free N95s, hazard pay, and stimulus checks many workers are faced with the decision of going to work and exposing themselves to the virus or staying home and losing their only source of income. The Chicago Quarantine Fund was created to raise funds to distribute to people who are quarantined to recover from the virus or staying home to protect themselves and their loved ones from exposure. As of January 7th, the fund has distributed over $9,000 and has set the goal of raising $15,000 to be able to provide funds to everyone who has requested aid thus far and open the fund back up for new requests. If you’re in a position to redistribute resources, please send funds via CashApp to $ChiQuarantineFunds or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
We believe collective struggle and mutual aid is key to navigating our society out of the COVID-19 pandemic and towards the brighter future we know is possible. If our basic human needs like housing, food, water, education & healthcare are not being met, we will never be able to build the militant and powerful movement we need to end racial capitalism.
In 2022, we hope the left can come together over our shared struggles under COVID-19. We need to set a proactive agenda in the form of shared political demands that we can rally around to end the pandemic and build the better world we know is possible. The virus has upended all of our lives, and those in power continue to normalize mass illness and death. We will be grappling with the long term impacts of COVID-19 for decades to come. The political elite and ruling class will continue to deflect responsibility for the pandemic, but we can put forth our visionary solutions to end the pandemic and revitalize our communities. People need hope, and as leftists, we must always be organizing projects, campaigns, and mutual aid efforts that provide for our communities’ basic needs. We also must inspire, activate, and mobilize people to join our movement. We have to be vocal, strategic, and planning for the next global uprising so that we are prepared. In the summer of 2020, we saw the possibilities of what can change when people all over the globe take to the streets to demand a better world.
To get ourselves ready and organized for the next mass mobilization, we must center COVID-19 in all of our movement work from political organizations & collectives to mutual aid spaces to labor organizing to day to day conversations with our families, neighbors, and friends. What are some demands that can help us end the pandemic and create societal conditions for a better world? For us, these are some of the demands we’ve been hearing on social media and in movement spaces, and we strongly believe we must unify around them.
- Decarceration of jails, prisons & immigrant detention centers to liberate incarcerated people and stop the rampant spread of COVID-19.
- Universal health care free at the point of service for all regardless of immigration status that includes free, widely available COVID-19 testing, adequate PPE, mental health services, and financial investments in public health infrastructure.
- Workplace protections for all workers that include regular testing, access to PPE, hazard pay, robust paid sick leave policies, actual living wages, and the right to organize a union.
- National moratoriums on evictions and utility shut offs, cancellation of all rent and mortgage debts, and free housing for all. No one should be living on the streets in the wealthiest nation in the world.
- Cancellation of all student loans, free public education from pre-K through higher education, and free childcare for all.
- A Green New Deal to transform our society by ending our reliance on extractive, destructive industries and practices like fossil fuels, deforestation, and industrial agriculture. Without this we will only see more pandemics and plagues in our future.
- Universal Basic Income (“UBI for you and I”) to help provide for the working class as we navigate a world of persistent pandemics with rolling economic shut downs and individual quarantines.
What are some political demands you would add to this list? We know we haven’t captured them all and the possibilities for a better world are endless. If we can dream it, we can build it.
We know it’s easy to feel defeated, depressed, and anxious in today’s conditions. However, we also believe in the power of people coming together through shared struggles and mobilizing to effect deep, structural change. As movement organizers and organizations, we must be the ones to strategize and plan so that when the next uprising happens we are ready to take action, lead, and absorb the masses into our movement spaces. It’s time we get to work.