As the Covid-19 Crisis Deepens, Grassroots Organizers Take Action

As the Covid-19 Crisis Deepens, Grassroots Organizers Take Action

As the Covid-19 Crisis Deepens, Grassroots Organizers Take Action

Progressive ideas on housing, health care access, wage subsidies, and more are entering the mainstream at a startling pace.


EDITOR’S NOTE: The Nation believes that helping readers stay informed about the impact of the coronavirus crisis is a form of public service. For that reason, this article, and all of our coronavirus coverage, is now free. Please subscribe to support our writers and staff, and stay healthy.

Let’s start with the Noise. With the United States now the epicenter of the Covid-19 pandemic, Trump, who ought to be meeting 24/7 with titans of (bailed out) industries to demand that they produce medical supplies at speed, is instead spending a good part of his time picking fights with governors he doesn’t like. A couple weeks ago, when Washington was the most impacted state, Trump thought it appropriate to call Governor Jay Inslee a “snake.” Now he has taken to juvenile name-calling against Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, calling her “Half Whitmer,” and demanding that state governors show him fealty in return for his granting their requests for federal assistance.

Because Trump’s blathering has such huge consequences, it morphs into the Signal as well. In the middle of a cascading public health crisis, in which Detroit is a new hot spot, this is what Trump tweeted:

I love Michigan, one of the reasons we are doing such a GREAT job for them during this horrible Pandemic. Yet your Governor, Gretchen “Half” Whitmer is way in over her ahead [sic], she doesn’t have a clue. Likes blaming everyone for her own ineptitude! #MAGA.

Excuse me for asking, Mr. President, but to borrow a question once lobbed the way of the demagogic Senator McCarthy, have you no sense of decency, sir? And, no, you are not doing a great job. The United States now has far more coronavirus infections than any other country; doctors and nurses are having to ration and reuse personal protective equipment; there is a critical shortage of ventilators; and hospitals systems are close to being overwhelmed, with horrific numbers of fatalities, within weeks. If that’s your definition of a great job, I shudder to think what your notion of failure looks like.

Meanwhile, Whitmer reported that she had heard from medical suppliers that they were being urged by the White House to divert shipments away from her state. This is so grotesque that it would be hard to believe, but it’s part of a pattern: In a fit of pique, this same president withheld vital recovery assistance to hurricane-hit Puerto Rico, and several times he’s threatened to withhold aid from fire-ravaged California. It’s also of a pattern with the way Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have used the pandemic to score political points overseas, most recently by denying civil war–torn Yemen vital medical assistance, and by pressuring the IMF to deny Venezuela an emergency loan to beef up its pandemic response.

It’s on a par with the cruel opportunism with which the administration has used the emergency as an excuse to lock out refugees and deport asylum seekers without any semblance of due process—a depressing contrast with Portugal, which has granted asylum seekers temporary residency status during the crisis so they can get medical care.

And it’s up there with Trump’s wanting to take advantage of the chaos in virus-ravaged, economically embargoed Iran—where hundreds of people have died after drinking industrial alcohol that the rumor mill suggested would render people immune to Covid-19—by pushing the Pentagon to begin planning massive strikes against an Iranian-backed militia in Iraq.

Meanwhile, as people around the world are confined to their homes, creative political organizing continues. Behind those closed doors, seeds are taking root. Organizers in Montreal, where protesters are refusing to pay rent while the economy has been put on hold, recently began urging rent-strikers to hang white sheets from their windows. Since then, similar rent-strike movements have cropped up in New York and other US cities—and in turn, many cities and states have attempted to address tenant concerns by mandating temporary moratoriums on evictions. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, along with local politicians in New York, have started to push for not only a national eviction moratorium but also, more daringly, a three-month freeze on economically hard-hit tenants’ even having to pay rent.

That’s all part of the Signal. Progressive ideas on housing, health care access, wage subsidies, and more are entering the mainstream at a startling pace. Those ideas will be vital in helping to forge a new and fairer social compact as we emerge from the crisis.

Meanwhile, stay healthy, stay safe, and, with the election only seven months away, find ways to stay engaged.

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Katrina vanden Heuvel
Editorial Director and Publisher, The Nation

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