By Tess Joseph
Throughout the pandemic, we have undoubtedly navigated terrifying, exceptional conditions. But few of the crises we have managed are new, and most are not inevitable consequences of a deadly virus. Rather, they are caused and exacerbated by profound injustices that far precede 2020.
As Luke Savage writes, “COVID-19 has simply accelerated a basic trend underway for decades—namely growth for those at the top and stagnation or regression for the less well-off.” During the pandemic, while the stock market is “quite literally soaring,” millions are struggling with joblessness and financial insecurity. In essence, the economy is not unitary: a “good” economy for the rich is not good for the poor. Put bluntly, COVID-19 exposed the inequalities fundamental to capitalism’s very existence, intensifying the suffering that was already intimately familiar to millions of people in the U.S.
For example, companies laying off countless employees throughout the past year is not the primary issue. The problem is that unemployment has unnecessarily devastating consequences. Whether or not there are jobs available, people need to eat, care for their health, and have a safe place to live.
We have a right to survival, and that right cannot be predicated on the whims of corporate payrolls. Housing, food, and healthcare are non-negotiable; our ability to meet these needs cannot depend on our jobs or lack thereof. Losing a job should not cost us our human rights.
Susan Yeon Choimorrow reminds us that the difficulty of survival, which has certainly intensified during the COVID-19 pandemic, is not our fault: “We haven’t failed. This country has failed us.” The U.S. government’s failures to protect and support us, while inexcusable and unforgivable, have been recently tempered by stimulus packages. We at the Woodhull Freedom Foundation join Choimorrow in celebrating the most recent package, which “extends paid leave, keeps up increased food assistance, supports the safe reopening of schools, and dedicates funds to help essential workers afford child care.” While egregiously delayed and arguably not robust enough, this historic assistance from the government will help people.
We believe that the expansion of the safety net under the conditions of COVID-19 should continue in post-pandemic times because all people, but particularly those experiencing poverty, need and deserve support. (And people needed such support long before the pandemic.) Like Choimorrow, we acknowledge that these “fixes” are for a seemingly permanent crisis in America—that of violent injustice and inequality—and should thus be permanent. We cannot reach and enjoy sexual freedom when our basic human rights are conditional.
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