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Failing the Dress Rehearsal

By David Braga

It’s hard to see past the COVID-19 pandemic — which will likely still be with us months from now, maybe even years — but if we can pause, grab a set of binoculars, and try to peer into the future a bit, what’s coming over the horizon is likely even more grim than the horror already unleashed by this virus.

More important than what' s coming though, is the way we can project our national (and perhaps global) response to the upcoming crises. The United States hasn’t just botched the Coronavirus response, it has failed at such a spectacular level that certain hard-hit states have higher mortality counts than entire European nations, despite the population difference. The reasons for this are myriad — the cost of healthcare and the difficulty to access it, the slow response in locking down the country, premature reopening, a general “fuck around and find out” attitude against a virus that most certainly is content to find out — but the picture they paint is a clear one. We have failed, spectacularly. We could be looking at 200,000 dead by year’s end. Perhaps more.

Prevention is one area; response is another. While one may be able to debate whether the richest country in the world should ever run out of PPE or Ventilators or Hospital Beds, there can be no argument regarding the response to this crisis. We have failed to protect citizens at every level, while ensuring that capital has the room to breathe and grow. Consider the $1.5 Trillion pumped into the markets to keep things stable back in the early days of the pandemic, and contrast that with the paltry $1,200 stimulus many Americans received, which is sufficient for, at best, a month’s living expenses (and that’s in an affordable city or state). Where was the mass mobilization of national wages to freeze rent and mortgages? Where were the heavier lockdown measures to stop air travel and close businesses without forcing working class Americans to choose between paying their bills and playing Russian Roulette with infection? The lack of an adequate social safety net in America is no surprise; what has become truly chilling is the refusal to create one to combat the situation, even on an ad-hoc, on the fly manner. We’ve been very active doing nothing. Meanwhile, the populace grows poor, people face evictions and foreclosures, and the small businesses that our politicians seem to care so much about are forced to make ungodly choices between trying to make a living and potentially killing their workers. Make no mistake: our country has the resources to make sure everyone has the resources to get through this without putting themselves in harm’s way. What is happening is that our elected officials on both sides of the aisle are actively choosing to not help, and given the tenacity of the virus itself, mass mobilization against the government as a protest is rendered even more impossible.

The situation is dire. What comes next is worse. Without discounting the horror or tragedy of the COVID pandemic, we should recognize that our nation ’s failure to respond as a sort of dress rehearsal for the twin crises on the horizon — the economic fallout of this pandemic, and then, not as far down the line as we might envision, the climate crisis and the geopolitical hell-storm that will come with it. If we can’t rely on our nation or our representatives to give us basic protections from a virus, how can we expect them to ever address the mass movement of refugees and economic turmoil (to say nothing of the physical destruction) brought on by climate change? COVID is offering us a terrifying but valuable insight into how such a crisis would be handled. Think of this as the dress rehearsal. It’s not going well. So — to ask the ancient question that always bears repeating — what is to be done? How to organize against a state that does not care about your own existence? How to organize a general strike when you could end up homeless or default on your mortgage? How to mobilize in huge numbers when the chance of infection is still high? None of these questions have easy answers, but they do all require one common characteristic: solidarity. Solidarity by those who now already know they will be left behind come next crisis because we’ve been left behind by this one. Solidarity with all those opposed to a world where human lives are not as important as stock margins. There are no easy answers, and the options for solutions are growing narrower by the day. Perhaps then, it’s best to start in another place and work from there. Instead of asking how to fix things, let’s start with the ultimate problem:

If the capitalist system is not here to protect or aid you then of what use is that system?

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