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This should be a start-from-scratch moment. The pandemic is not just a health crisis. It has made clear what Nation readers already know: A tiny elite in the US siphons off the wealth while most people struggle from paycheck to paycheck. Since mid-March, America’s billionaires have increased their combined net worth by $434 billion—even as nearly 40 million workers have lost their jobs and some 100,000 people here have died from Covid-19. The dead are disproportionately black, Latinx, and Native. This isn’t surprising; this is how tragedies go in America. As Nation contributing writer Zoë Carpenter argues in this issue, “While Covid-19 is novel, its impact at the community level was predictable.”
With this crisis, working people can see the fragility and cruelty inherent in our systems of health care, housing, and employment in the US. But it is up to the left to translate this collective outrage into the building blocks of a more just society.
Nation contributing editor Mike Davis starts our “Time to Think Big” special issue with news of worker-led uprisings: “Refusing to die for profits or endanger family members, rank-and-file workers have rebelled on a scale not seen since the early 1970s.” From bus drivers in Detroit and poultry workers in Georgia to fast food workers in Chicago and nurses across the country, we’re seeing “not just the stirrings of revolt,” he writes, “but an ever-broadening insurgency led from the grass roots.”
The populist anger is there, ripe for political transformation, notes Nation strikes correspondent Jane McAlevey. She argues that the left’s big ideas will require massive government spending—and that means taxing the rich. In order to deliver a Green New Deal, Medicare for All, and tuition-free college education, progressives need to build a mass movement targeted at eliminating austerity politics.
Meanwhile, The Nation’s justice correspondent (and humorist), Elie Mystal, questions why Americans have “remained tied to an Industrial Revolution idea of workers showing up to the giant widget place so an overseer can motivate them to produce profits.” The bonus of radically changing this paradigm: no more commuting.
Every evening at 7 in New York City, the US epicenter of Covid-19, residents bang pots and applaud to thank essential workers, including nurses, child care providers, and home health aides. But as Nation contributing writer Bryce Covert explains, “Just because we’re finally calling care workers heroes doesn’t mean we’re willing to pay them more.” So what will it take? Covert reports on organizing efforts to demand that society finally value their labor.
Essential workers would surely benefit from strong unions, yet organized labor remains “paralyzed,” longtime labor activist Bill Fletcher Jr. writes. He criticizes large trade unions for protecting their own shrinking fiefs, just when an inclusive workers’ movement is needed most.
Right now, labor isn’t getting much support from the Democratic Party. According to national affairs correspondent John Nichols, “Democrats once dreamed the biggest dreams: of thwarting the politics of hatred and…achieving economic and social and racial justice and peace and prosperity.” Today, however, they’re a party of tax credits, means testing, and marginal corrections to capitalism. He argues that if the party is to transform America, it must embrace the vision of a bolder, more expansive New Deal championed by Franklin Roosevelt’s popular vice president Henry Wallace.
Finally, Julian Brave NoiseCat interprets another, far older American legacy. He writes that “us Natives,” having survived pandemics and so much else, are a “postapocalyptic people” who “have something to lend to a broader humanity that now faces its own existential crises in the form of disease and climate change.” Indian Country is NoiseCat’s model for emerging from this cataclysm with the full knowledge of who you are, where you’re from, and what you stand for.