DSA COVID-19 Bulletin #10

DSA COVID19 Bulletin

The DSA COVID-19 Bulletin from the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) is designed to keep working-class people informed about the evolving COVID-19 crisis and its political implications. If you’d like to get the DSA COVID-19 Bulletin by email, sign up here, and share this link with your friends and comrades! Anyone can sign up. New bulletins come out at least once a week.

In This Issue

Capitalism is the Virus

On the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, coronavirus is tearing through societies with weak safety nets — and some are seeing a silver lining to all the suffering. Maybe the earth is healing at last, suggested viral tweets about newly clean water or wildlife returning where people retreat. Maybe humans are the virus.

These takes were quickly memeified as it turned out that many were based on bogus media reports, and posters rightfully pushed back on the faulty logic at work: “humans” aren’t the problem — it’s capitalism and its misallocation of resources that has been causing such ecological destruction all along.

Some online commenters called out this anti-human rhetoric as examples of “ecofascism,” the use of ecological goals to justify authoritarian, racist practices of population control. This is a real ideological danger that we must guard against, but a lot of the bad ideas now being called “ecofascist” could just as easily be linked to plain old elitist liberal capitalism, which has a deep history of blaming certain kinds of people for ecological crises really caused by systemic forces.

Societies shaped by capitalism are prone to mystify the forces that deprive us of clean air and water and give us uncontrollable viral outbreaks. The very system that pollutes the shared commons of our planet, and generates the climate emergency we were already living under when COVID-19 hit, is the same system that spawned this viral disease throughout the world. It’s the same system that has for decades privatized, monetized, and dismantled public health infrastructure, making it impossible for wealthy nations like the United States to confront the pandemic without mass human suffering and death.

It’s a system whose imperatives drive companies to abandon life-saving development and manufacturing of lifeline vaccines and antibiotics in favor of heart medicines, addictive tranquilizers, and male impotence drugs. It’s a system that rewards the relentless extraction of profit from every human need — food, energy, shelter — while denying paid sick leave, medical care, protective equipment, and fair wages to the laborers who meet those needs.

The pandemic is intensifying the existing crisis of care worsened by decades of neoliberal austerity policies, and that crisis, in turn, is intensifying the severity of the pandemic. And, of course, it disproportionately harms those already vulnerable in a society marked by labor precarity, incarceration, and racial capitalism. Meanwhile, Donald Trump and the usual suspects are spreading blame, in sensational, bigoted terms, everywhere except where it belongs. And in response, Democrats like Joe Biden are taking a look in the mirror and getting more racist to match.

A tiny fraction of existing viruses erupt into pandemics. The capitalist system that transforms a minor natural disruption into a social, economic and political disaster will be unable to handle large-scale natural disruptions like climate chaos. This short-run crisis foreshadows the kinds of conflicts and ecofascist “solutions” that will only fester under ecological pressure — unless we organize real alternatives for the masses.

Recession is No Climate Solution

The coronavirus pandemic has done something that environmental activists and politicians hadn’t yet managed: shut down whole sectors of fossil-fueled industrial activity worldwide. Global estimates forecast that the coronavirus crisis is triggering a greenhouse gas emissions drop of around 5.5% since last year, the largest ever annual fall in CO2 emissions in human history, more than during World War II or any previous economic crisis.

As stark as that is, it’s still much less than what scientists say we need to limit warming to less than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures to avoid the worst impacts of climate change — cutting as much as 15% per year to achieve net zero emissions worldwide within 2-3 decades. Under capitalist conditions, an economic decline that big could be catastrophic for many people.

The vast human suffering caused by economic crises is no climate solution. And history shows that CO2 emissions will just come roaring back if things return to business as usual, as the ruling class is clearly longing for now. And of course, the people hoarding the most wealth in our global economy are also the ones polluting the atmosphere with the most greenhouse gases, and they’re rarely the ones who suffer in capitalist downturns.

Lockdowns, social distancing, and forced austerity won’t save the world from warming. We need a massive, fundamental transformation of our energy systems to make the global economy run for the benefit of people and planet, not the profits of capitalists. This crisis itself isn’t a climate solution, but it is a chance for us to reimagine and build power for a better future.

A Green Stimulus, Not a Fossil Bailout

A great danger in this moment is an inability to break through capitalist realism, the sense that it’s impossible to imagine another way to live besides this one. The stimulus packages and bailouts that the U.S. government considers now will shape our lives in the weeks and months ahead, but in this crucial next decade, they will also impact carbon emissions that shape our planet’s climate for millennia.

Shortsighted recovery packages could pump up the gas on the economy to pre-pandemic levels, ballooning carbon emissions at a time when they must rapidly decline to zero. The multi-trillion-dollar stimulus bill passed by Congress last month, the largest fiscal stimulus package in modern U.S. history, had nothing meaningful to say about clean energy or the climate.

This is at a time when fossil fuel companies are flailing because global oil prices have plummeted due to a glut in supply and collapsing demand during this pandemic — and this week, oil prices crashed completely and went negative for the first time ever, leaving Washington paralyzed over what to do. As the shale boom from fracking has gone bust, U.S. banks have already been preparing to seize their energy assets. But Big Oil could still bounce back unless government policy radically changes. Instead of bailing them out, it’s time to quickly lay the groundwork for nationalizing the fossil fuel industry so we can phase it out through public ownership.

As the pandemic recedes, economic recovery efforts are a critical juncture that will either reinforce existing fossil-fueled capitalism or lay the groundwork for a more equal, democratic, and low-carbon economy for all, in which essential services like water, energy and internet are decommodified and all can survive and thrive in flourishing communities on a healthy planet. In a just society, no one’s ability to stay alive should depend on their ability to work or to pay.

Right now, 22 million workers have filed unemployment claims over a four-week span, with the number of actual jobs lost surely much higher. This is the largest, most sudden drop in employment since the Great Depression, a crisis calling for an unprecedented response to match. A society with 30 percent unemployment, mass food and housing insecurity, and millions dead from the pandemic and an overwhelmed healthcare system is a society in which political possibilities expand — both to the right and the left. The right will surely use such conditions to accumulate even more power and wealth, as they always do with “shock doctrine” tactics. But the crisis, and the awakening consciousness of its causes, also presents socialists with opportunities to engage new forms of self-organization and create new forms of resistance — and relief.

We need a People’s Bailout. And even though Bernie Sanders is out of the presidential race, he continues to lead in Congress with strong demands for the next coronavirus relief package. As the climate and jobs crises loom larger, Bernie’s Green New Deal is looking more sensible and fiscally sound than ever. Now is not the time to fall in line and let establishment Democrats water down and co-opt our ambitions.

While the GOP presses for stimulus spending that binds worker relief to the whims of capitalist employers, a Green Stimulus offers the opportunity to pivot through this crisis to the clean energy infrastructure our future demands, with dignified, unionized jobs for all as well as public investments in frontline communities and forms of care work that are more critical than ever during and after a pandemic. Projects to retrofit homes and public buildings for energy efficiency, reconfigure transit, and overhaul food systems and farming will employ millions of workers displaced by the pandemic — and will do so with family-sustaining wages and relevant retraining.

This economic slowdown and social distancing period can be a wake-up call for masses of people to consider how living differently can be much better for all. This crisis is revealing what kinds of work are really essential — and what kinds of production and consumption are really necessary to keep society going. It’s a time to think about how we can work, produce, and consume sustainably, with workers’ labor fairly valued. We can meet the real needs of all people while rapidly decarbonizing the economy and leaving room for biodiversity, shifting from the profit-driven overproduction and frenetic consumption required under capitalism to shorter workweeks and abundant public leisure. There is enough on Earth for people everywhere to have what they need to live well.

Workers Take Power

Across the country, people are self-organizing under pressure from the twin crises of pandemic and neoliberal austerity. Labor actions by Instacart, Whole Foods, and Amazon workers to force better health protections and expand paid time off. Wildcat strikes by sanitation workers, auto workers, poultry workers, and warehouse workers. Unionized nurses have rallied to protest shortages. Detroit bus workers bargained for fare-free bus service. GE workers demand repurposing jet engine factories to make ventilators.

Tenants are organizing rent strikes. In Los Angeles, homeless families are seizing vacant homes. Mutual aid groups are emerging to coordinate grocery deliveries and childcare.

Millions of people already couldn’t afford to keep their lights on before this crisis, and many private utility power providers are still cutting off energy to workers and families who can’t pay during the pandemic. Many utility customers are caught in a patchwork of regulatory policies, and may still be waiting for electricity restoration or racking up fees without a clear sense of where they stand with their utility.

Hundreds of groups are organizing for a coronavirus relief package that includes a moratorium on utility shutoffs, and many are also calling for a revamp of the entire energy system, which provides private utility corporations a steady stream of profit for shareholders much more reliably than it provides customers with energy. It’s time to assert democratic public control over utilities, so renewable energy can be deployed reliably for all as a guaranteed human right. DSA organizers across the country are leading campaigns for energy democracy, toward a world where everyone has access to clean energy without fear of cost, shutoffs, or life-threatening pollution.

These are struggles for immediate relief and protection, but they’re also struggles of the working class towards a consciousness of its power against capital. It can lay the groundwork not only for responding to the Covid-19 pandemic, but for a robust response to the climate emergency that will intrude as the pandemic fades.

The original New Deal was only possible through militant struggle from organized workers, with massive strike waves that grew in strength throughout the 1930s. Are we at the beginning of another era-defining strike wave? If workers keep raising expectations and raising hell to win the world we want, this crisis might just be the beginning of the decade of the Green New Deal.

DSA Announcements

  • Want to learn more about DSA? Join us on April 25th for a Q&A. RSVP here.
  • Is your chapter organizing to fight back in this crisis? Let us know. And, if you want to start a project and need help getting it off the ground, email covidintorganizing@dsacommittees.org.
  • Want tips on organizing in the time of coronavirus? Have tips to share? Check out the

Online Political Events

  • On Saturday 4/18, Labor Notes held a virtual conference on organizing strategies for the labor movement during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond, including talks on organizing co-workers against Trump, workplace health & safety, and a just recovery against the climate crisis. All panels and workshops were livestreamed and are available to watch on their Facebook page
  • On Monday 4/20, Detroit DSA’s Black and Brown Alliance hosted a BIPOC Roundtable on Building a Diverse Socialist Movement, with guest speaker Linda Sarsour & DSA organizers from across the country. Watch the stream on Facebook.
  • On Tuesday 4/21, DSA for Bernie held a panel on our fight beyond Bernie, featuring Jacobin’s Meagan Day & Micah Uetricht, NPC members Megan Svoboda & Kristen Cervero, and former Bernie staffer & Detroit DSA electoral co-chair Jess Newman for a discussion about our lessons from the campaign and what we can do not to “demobilize” in the wake of Bernie dropping out. Watch the stream on Facebook.
  • Climate strikes are shifting online with a 3-day Earth Day Live event involving climate groups from all over the U.S. April 22-24 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day.
  • On Sunday 4/26 at 8pm ET, DSA’s Ecosocialist Working Group invites you to a mass call on the book “A Planet to Win: Why We Need a Green New Deal”, with co-authors Thea Riofrancos, Daniel Aldana Cohen, and Alyssa Battistoni, and organizer Sydney Ghazarian to talk about organizing in the midst of a global emergency heightened by a trio of ongoing crises — ecological breakdown under global warming, social breakdown under massive inequality, and public health breakdown under threat of the Covid-19 pandemic. RSVP here.

How’s it going out there? We want to hear about your mutual aid efforts, organizing wins, and how you’re taking care of one another and avoiding despair. We’ll be featuring stories from chapters across the country — submit your stories!

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Global health crisis, economic collapse, and a democracy in peril. It’s hard to imagine a better time to join the largest socialist organization in America.

 

During the pandemic, Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) is practicing social distancing for our members’ safety and to slow the spread of COVID-19.

As the largest socialist organization in the US, we believe it’s essential to share information about what is going on in the world during these unprecedented times — the nature of the pandemic, the looming depression, the responses (or lack thereof) of our government, the deadly negligence and abuses of for-profit corporations, as well as the heroic organizing, resistance, and mutual aid by workers fighting for a working-class solution to the coronavirus pandemic. We also want to share ways that you can get involved in this fight.

There has never been a more important time to be in DSA. Join, renew your dues, or switch to monthly here.