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Some days it may feel like we’re in apocalyptic times, but in the midst of the chaos and fear, there is reason for hope. The virus has made the ideological debates of the primaries ever more real and strengthens the case for government and the need for solidarity and imagination as we step into the future.
I don’t want to be a Pollyanna, especially when so little is known about what happens next with the coronavirus pandemic, but it’s important now to hold onto hope. So here are a few things progressives should feel proud about—and that I’ve been focusing on.
In the Age of Coronavirus, the Sanders Agenda Isn’t So Radical
If the coronavirus teaches us anything, it is that we are interconnected, and while we each have a responsibility to care for ourselves, we also bear a responsibility to the whole. We are in this together. Justice, we see, is not a moral but an existential issue. People should never have been packed into jails, immigration detention centers, or homeless camps, but at this moment, we do not have the option of looking away. In a global pandemic, our fates are intertwined.
There couldn’t be a better argument for why government and social services matter, for everyone. As social distancing has become required to quell the virus, policies like paid sick leave become no-brainers. Access to free health care becomes less of an abstraction to people in power and more urgent than ever. And relief for students and debtors who can’t work to pay off their loans becomes a duty. Bernie Sanders may or may not be our next president, but his ideas could deeply shape our response to this moment.
Crises Present Opportunities for Big Changes
When Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected in 1932, the country was still struggling through the Great Depression. In 1934, Roosevelt pulled together a Committee on Economic Security and passed the National Social Security Act in August of 1935. It didn’t achieve everything hoped for—and it was added onto over the years—but it’s worth remembering that this program, which is now a pillar of American society, was established in a moment of turmoil.
In last Sunday’s debate, we saw different approaches taken by the two Democratic nominees. While Biden agreed that we can take bold and temporary actions to address the coronavirus pandemic, Sanders made the point that we’ve been in a public health crisis of a different kind for a long time. It is likely that we will get some temporary relief for families, but the question that requires hope is how we ensure we’re making meaningful and lasting changes.
This Time, the Bailout Needs to Be Equitable
Having lived together through the crash and bailout of 2008, electeds and the public are more aware that a stimulus cannot simply benefit corporations; it must also benefit the broader public. The 2011 popular uprising Occupy Wall Street was in response to the inequitable bailout, which saved the banks that then continued to foreclose on families. There were too few constraints and strings attached to the stimulus. This time we can do things differently.
This time, no one should lose their home; this time, new affordable housing must be built. Social Security should be increased and student debts should be canceled. Elizabeth Warren has laid out how she would do a stimulus at this moment, putting the grassroots first. Andrew Yang’s advocacy for a universal basic income is being met with bipartisan support and we may soon see a cash transfer to individuals. Movement and advocacy organizations are already geared up and fighting to make sure that this bailout is not a corporate payday.
The Coronavirus Could Shape How We Think About the Climate Crisis
There was a striking moment in Sunday’s debate when we moved from a conversation about the coronavirus to one about the climate crisis. For a moment, the word “crisis” held renewed force. A crisis is a time when the government can take big actions, mobilize all its resources, and create massive changes in our social structures. If we acknowledge that the climate crisis is indeed a crisis—one that is greater than the pandemic we face today—we can expand our imagination around what is collectively possible.
The conversation around a Green New Deal has already created a new vision for how we can mobilize the economy in ways that transform our energy systems and reduce carbon emissions. While it has not yet been crystallized into legislation, the Green New Deal resolution provides a guide for how we might rethink the way we tackle a global problem at the scale required.
These are hard times, times when we need to be kind, caring, and generous to one another. These are times when we must develop our empathy and recognize that our neighbors may be losing family and friends. But exactly for that reason, these are also times when we must be visionary and expansive. We must be firm and unrelenting in the fight to ensure that this moment is a transformative one, that this moment doesn’t leave anyone behind. In the midst of our isolation, this is the time when we must come together.