We Are at a Turning Point – But Which Way Will We Turn?

Protest in front of the U.S. Capitol building in Washington D.C. on June 6, 2020. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

For two weeks now hundreds of thousands of people have been protesting the racist execution of George Floyd by a cop in Minneapolis. People have been out in the streets from morning until night in all 50 states, in over 700 U.S towns and cities. And the protests have spread in a show of solidarity in major cities all over the world.

After months of crisis people are right to be angry. Starting in February we watched as a virus became a pandemic, as governments in the US and most all over the world failed to act to protect their citizens. Instead their major concern was to keep production running and their profits rolling in. The safety, health and very lives of essential and frontline workers were sacrificed as they were forced to continue working without testing, and adequate safety protocols and equipment. And this criminal negligence has cost many their lives, at least 600 health care workers have died in the U.S. already. As of June 7 there have been over seven million cases and over 400,000 deaths worldwide and over two million cases and over 112,000 dead in the US. And, there is no end in sight.

Finally the governments had no choice but to tell people to stay at home to prevent an even wider spread of disease and death. This shelter at home meant an abrupt shutdown of the economy. Tens of millions have lost their jobs and economists are saying that it is possible that 40% will not get their jobs back even if the economy begins to recover. Many people have also lost their health insurance, and their ability to pay their bills. Schools were shut down leaving many students with no way to complete their education.

The federal government passed several bailouts that mainly gave billions to big business. But many ordinary workers and small businesses were left out. At best some got a $1200 check and began to get unemployment insurance, which was hard to access, even if you qualified.

Working class and poor African Americans suffered the most. Racism has kept so many in poverty and with little or no healthcare so Black people have a higher rate of pre-existing health conditions making them more vulnerable to Covid-19. Also many Black workers are in essential and frontline jobs so they were more exposed than other sectors of the population. And many live in crowded quarters, so it was harder to social distance and keep the virus from spreading in their communities. Then with the economic collapse Black people saw their already high unemployment numbers swell even higher. The only population that was hit as hard were Native Americans living on reservations.

Then came the murder of George Floyd, in broad daylight, in front of witnesses, recorded on a video that went viral. All the pent up anger, all the weeks of being stuck at home, all the worry about getting sick, all the economic hardship, all the anxiety about the future, combined with the history of systemic racism dating back to slavery led to a response that exploded into the streets.

Now two weeks later, where are we? And where are we going? Many people have connected the dots and see how these three successive crises are linked together. And many people have concluded that it is those with money and political power today who bear the responsibility for what has been done to us. But how do we change all of this? What should we do?

After a few days of silence Democratic Party politicians have begun to try to put themselves at the head of the protests, to steer them into the usual channels. They are proposing commissions to study the problems, and new laws to stop police violence. They say that the most important thing for the protestors is to vote and elect them to office in November. This is not new.

We don’t need more commissions or new laws to reform the police. The police have one main purpose – to defend the order and property of the 1% against us. And while it is certainly understandable why many people want Trump and the Republicans out, we can’t fool ourselves into believing that our real problems will be solved by voting. Those who are elected will be responsible to maintain the same system, no matter what they may say during their election campaigns.

What we do need to do is to continue to be organized and to use our vast power to defend ourselves. When the pandemic hit it was healthcare workers, grocery workers, transit workers and delivery workers who insisted on health and safety precautions for themselves and others.

When George Floyd was killed, the politicians and police chiefs acted quickly to arrest and charge those four police officers because of the huge pressure by tens of thousands who went out in the streets.

If we don’t want to continue to pay for their crisis, we will have to fight against the evictions that are coming, against the budget cuts that are being planned, against the lay offs and wage cuts that are being threatened, as those in power will try to continue to put their profits before our lives.

But it isn’t enough to keep mobilizing to defend ourselves against their attacks. What we really need is to get rid of the capitalist system which benefits the 1% at the expense of the majority. Then we could create a new society, which would guarantee a good life for the majority.

So what will the future hold? That is up to us.

Featured image credit: Reuters, Lucas Jackson