Public Comment

We Must Become Loving, Fierce, and Brave Now

Thomas Lord
Monday May 18, 2020 - 04:44:00 PM

What a terrible predicament we're in during this pandemic shut-down, but there are some very bright silver linings. Let's consider three big problems we face:

Problem: The climate emergency

Scientists tell us that we are out of time. Our greenhouse gas emissions must fall very sharply this year, and every year for years to come. If we get to, or very close to, 0 emissions this decade, there's a ghost of a chance. If we fail, scientists tell us every tree a young adult sees today, in every forest on earth, stands a good chance of dying during her lifetime. They tell us that not only trees but species of all types will die off so rapidly that there are questions about whether we'll be able to keep eating. This is the world we have been preparing to leave those young adults and children! Our society as a whole is doing this to generations who are already alive!

The silver lining? This "shut down" of large parts of the economy has, overnight, reduced our greenhouse emissions far and fast. In fact, at the moment, we have reduced emissions farther and faster than has been accomplished in the entire history of the environmental movement. And if nothing else, look at the sky. You have never seen air this clean, for this long, in the Bay Area. 

The predicament: Capitalism poses us a nasty predicament. If we restart the engines of capitalism and try to "reopen", to return to something like how we lived last year, instead of reducing emissions by 16% or 20% this year, we'll only see a temporary, smaller drop - perhaps 9% in recent forecasts. In the years that immediately follow a reopening, we'll more than make up for even that 9% drop. Emissions will return and grow. We will seal a terrible fate for the young adults and children among us. 

Problem: The pandemic vs. wages 

If we were, tomorrow, to return to life just as it was last year, scientists tell us that COVID-19 would spread so rapidly, and gravely injure or kill so many, that our lives would be even more disrupted than they currently are. By sticking to quarantine for now, we can avoid a total crisis. At the same time, this is causing an economic crisis for 10s of millions of people - possibly a majority of the workforce. It's a very frightening time for many people who are confronting a full market, but with no money in their pocket. 

The silver lining? The shelves are full! The production that is vital to our thriving is still going on. Oh, sure, there are glitches but they're just glitches. It's already become easier to find toilet paper for sale. Flour and yeast will return. The only problem is that on one side we have full shelves -- on the other, a rapidly growing number of people with empty pockets! 

This is our chance to fix that. We have no choice but to drag out the loss of wages - to keep the shut-down going. Otherwise, the pandemic will rage. We have no choice but somehow put necessities into the hands of those with empty pockets, to keep them in their homes, to put those that lack homes into homes, to ensure that everyone can access healthcare. We can work this out, and we have to. Like they say: every crisis is a mix of danger and opportunity. Let's focus on our opportunity to make a society that is more forgiving of empty pockets, no matter how they arise. 

The predicament: Nearly every necessity we need in order to thrive is made by but a tiny fraction of the global workforce. We can see that plainly now, during the shutdown. So many out of work, but the shelves are full and the shortages are easing. Many of those still working operate in dangerous, horrifying conditions just to have a pittance of money in their own pockets. 

Those dangerous, harsh jobs only exist for one purpose and one purpose only: profit. To endure the pandemic in good shape, we must - even if we think it only temporary - agree to produce much that we need more safely, even if that harms profit

And we must find ways to distribute that produce, even to those who lack wages right now, even if that harms profit

We can do this but think of who will resist, who will fight us. Every politician from the White House, through the Congress, to our local officials. They are all eager to "reopen" and restore profits - even at the cost of public safety. They are already trying to do it. Every capitalist claims that their profit is the only moral course, and the only possible mode of human organization. They are wrong, of course, but they are serious. 

So once again, at the heart of our troubles right now, sits capitalism. Capitalism is our biggest danger. Capitalism threatens to ruin our planet with warming. Capitalism threatens to starve anyone caught with empty pockets. 

Now is our opportunity to break capitalism's rules - because we have no choice. At least for now. 

Problem: The pandemic vs. our personal lives 

For most of us, the quarantine is personally hard to endure. Some of us are stuck at home alone. Some are with roommates, friends, or family who we may love quite a bit. But confinement together stresses any relationship, confinement alone stresses every individual. It is a time when none of us can really do much going out to meet up with people we know, or meet people we don't. This is hard on all of us. We can't stay like this forever. 

The silver lining? Now is a time when we can imagine a slightly different way of life. What if, as the pandemic fades, and it becomes safe to be near one another again, what if we could do that while still holding on to all this new free time? Couldn't that be wonderful? More time to meet people, to share good times. More time for more people to help educate the children. We would have more time to live freely, to develop ourselves, to enjoy life on a suddenly less polluted earth, one that might even turn the corner on climate change. 

The predicament: No surprise, it's capitalism again. Profits in capitalism happen only when we sell our time to someone else who is buying it to turn a profit. And the more of our time that's sold, the bigger the profits can be. So if we try to emerge from the pandemic more free, with more free time, once again, we can expect strong push-back from every politician, and every capitalist. Capitalism only exists if we sacrifice all of our free time on its alters, sell all our time to someone else. This has got to be stopped. 

So what can we do now? 

Nobody can form some big, central plan of action for today's problems. Nobody can publish a convincing blueprint of how we'll force the farms, the meat packing plants, the grocery stores, the hospitals across the nation to become safer for workers. Putting more of us on those jobs so that everyone involved can work fewer hours (but not few wages!) should help. Even at jobs wherein scarce skills are needed - nursing for example - the rest of us can offer help like operating ppe factories, or helping with whatever non-medical tasks we can do in hospitals. 

The workers already doing those jobs can help lead us in figuring out how we can pitch in to share the work and make them safer. That is where the knowledge of how to heal our systems of production resides: not with any great revolutionary leaders, certainly not with the politicians and capitalists, but with the people who do the work. 

I know it's true that we could run this joint much better than you.
I know it's true. The only reason you do it is for the cash the cash the underage ....
You ain't ever seen the tracks and the tacks will be washed out soon Now you could not care less about how it's gonna end That's not part of the plan Because capitalism ruins everything that's worth doing 

Aside from sharing out the vital work more fairly we have one more duty to one another: holding tight to our free time, our time to be whole people, and not, under any circumstances, accepting any kind of work that involves a rise in greenhouse gas emissions. 

No central leaders can tell us how to do this: the detailed knowledge it will take is scattered among all of us. Everyone knows piece of it.some 

Instead, we have to all recognize on our own what needs to be done, and start seeking each other out and working with one another to do what is now, more than ever, absolutely necessary. 

We must be loving, fierce, and brave now.