Rona + Racism Requires Radical Solutions

by Eddie Wong.

The air is thick and brooding on this hot summer night. Sirens, shouts and cries mingle in restless anticipation. In the distance, the sound of muffled thunder signals the coming storm. Suddenly, the sky splits open, bolts of lightning slash through the darkness over and over. Trees, buildings, cars, animals – everything – frozen momentarily in an awesome spectacle.  As the sound and fury fade, we sit in wonderment. This is how the last few weeks have felt to me.  Decades of pent-up anger about racism and the crushing economic and health hardships brought on by COVID-19 merged with startling clarity to herald a new awakening.

Protests in Oakland,CA stretched on for days and a curfew was imposed to curb civil unrest.

Like many of you, I am trying to make sense of this tumultuous moment when everything seems to be changing and yet we’re still stuck on a treadmill going nowhere. I don’t think our country has been through a more intense time of non-stop demonstrations, civil unrest followed by more police violence followed by the idiotic statements of a racist President, e.g. “Kung Flu” and “we need less testing.” It’s exhilarating to see thousands upon thousands of people shouting, “No Justice, No Peace” and “Say Their Names” across hundreds of cities and towns from coast to coast and across the globe.  It’s also a bit frightening to see little social distancing and people without facial masks marching and shouting, but so far, knock on wood, the infection rates have not spiked due to the demonstrations which were all outdoors. Now that the demonstrations have subsided and the curfews have been lifted, what comes next?  How do we make sense of this moment? How are we going to transform this awakening into a sustained movement for change?”

Making Sense of This Moment – Black Lives Matter

Ta-Nehisi Coates, National Book Award winner for Between the World and Me and author of “The Case for Reparations” (The Atlantic, June 2014) was interviewed recently on the Ezra Klein podcast about the Black Lives Matter demonstrations.  Coates recounted a conversation he had with his father, who was a former member of the Black Panther Party. His father characterized the uprisings in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s as completely different from the one today. “The idea that black folks in their struggle against the way the law is enforced in their neighborhoods would resonate with white folks in Des Moines, Iowa, in Salt Lake City, in Berlin, in London — that was unfathomable to him in ’68, when it was mostly black folks in their own communities registering their great anger and great pain,” said Coates. “I don’t want to overstate this, but there are significant swaths of people and communities that are not black, that to some extent have some perception of what that pain and that suffering is. I think that’s different.”

Anyone watching TV could see that the demonstrations were led by Black people but populated by White people, Asians, Latinx, Native Americans, Jewish Americans, and many other folks with a preponderance of young people.  Certainly, the video of Minneapolis cop Derek Chauvin asphyxiating George Floyd by forcing his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes was seared into the consciousness of people and moved them to act.  At the same time, there’s something deeper and unique to this moment – a personal identification with feelings of powerlessness as a health care system decimated from years of underfunding and a callous President allowed the pandemic to rage and kill nearly 125,000 people in the U.S.

Demonstration for George Floyd in Minneapolis, MN.

The Rona and racism are like a double helix, strands of inequality woven into the fabric of capitalism.  More on this later in the article, but for now, let’s call this moment for what it is: THE SYSTEM IS FUCKING BROKEN AND WE ARE THE ONLY ONES WHO CAN FIX IT.

This new realization manifests itself through the call to “Defund the Police” that spread widely out of the protests. A month ago, this demand would have been dismissed as “you can’t be serious, we need police to fight crime.” But the police murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Rayshad Brooks who are the most prominent among the 88 African Americans shot to death by police so far in 2020 reveals a system that practices Black lives DON’T matter. African Americans face daily harassment by police.  Here’s one example that is repeated in cities all over the U.S.:  26% of people stopped by San Francisco police in 2018 were African Americans even though they only account for 5% of the population (Source: “Black people in California are stopped far more often by police,” The Guardian Jan. 3, 2020.)

The death of Carlos Ingram Lopez, a 27-year old cook who was restrained face down on the ground by Tucson police for 12 minutes in April is also igniting Latinx protest of police brutality. A police body cam video released in June shows Ingram clearly in distress and begging for water and saying that he couldn’t breathe. Yet, he was restrained and died of sudden cardiac arrest. He posed zero danger to police.

The call to “defund the police” comes with the realization that past attempts to reform the system and change behavior of the police have not worked. People do not need another commission to study the issue and make recommendations that go ignored. Law enforcement needs to be reconstituted in ways that result in less death and violence to people of color. After the murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO in 2014, that police department and several others were forced by consent decrees to reduce racial disparities and police brutality.  The Minneapolis Police Department was a pilot site for programs that included implicit bias training and an early intervention program to flag officers who needed more coaching in conflict management. Officer Chauvin, however, continued as a training officers despite his record of 17 prior complaints of abuse. Mandatory body cams, prohibitions of chokeholds, and other reform measures don’t seem to be able to alter a culture where police violence against Black and Brown people is common practice, e.g. Chicago police report that 70% of subjects of use of force are African Americans while they are only 30% of the city population.

Thus, the majority of the Minneapolis City Council has gone on record to dismantle the police department and reallocate resources to support mental health teams and community street teams to de-escalate conflicts.  There would still be a public safety and crime prevention force, but it would target towards crimes like rape, robbery, assault, and murder.  Given the nature of the city charter that requires a minimum number of police, Minneapolis voters will need to pass a ballot measure on Nov. 4, 2020 to allow the city council to reallocate resources for a new public safety department.

People’s Budget Long Beach rally at City Hall, June 16, 2020. Photo by Hunter Lee/SCNG.

Advocates for “defund the police” point to Camden, NJ which abolished its police department in 2013. Police officers had to resign and reapply for new positions with the county and be retrained in de-escalation and community trust building. The number of police officers doubled and their increased interaction with the public has been double-edged. On one hand, the police are seen more as part of the community but there has also been an increase in citations for petty crimes. Overall, complaints about excessive use of forces has dropped by 95% from 2012 to 2019 in Camden and the homicide rate of 67 in 2012 was reduced to 25 in 2019.  For more details read How Camden, New Jersey Reformed Its Police Department

Radical changes such as dismantling the current police force and moving to a public safety model are only possible because people have risen up and demanded it.  Advocates in New York and Los Angeles are putting pressure on their city councils to address the bloated police budget, $6 billion and $1.8 billion respectively. The New York City Council vote on June 18, 2020 for more police reform measures such as a chokehold ban, which was demanded in 2014 after Eric Garner’s death.  LA Mayor Eric Garcetti proposed moving $150 million out of the police budget.  It remains to be seen what real change comes from these efforts, but the Camden experience and others show that people want the police to be helpful to the community rather than being an occupying force.

Lastly, the current wave of marches, vigils, and online organizing around Black Lives Matter raises the larger issue of structural inequality and ways to address it including reparations for the descendants of enslaved Africans.  This topic requires a much deeper analysis than I can do within this article. Suffice it to say, reparations are certainly justified as a means of redressing an historic wrong and should be extended to African Americans as well as other groups whose lands and labor were stolen, i.e. Native Americans and Mexican Americans in the Southwest. For a quick overview read  a Brookings 2020 Policy Report by Rashawn Ray and Andre Perry Why We Need Reparations for Black Americans

Making Sense of This Moment – Rona Don’t Give A Shit and Neither Does the Ruling Class

The Black Lives Matter movement addressed the power of the people to deal with racist cops and a brutal system of incarceration and disenfranchisement. It’s an ongoing fight that exists in the midst of an unprecedented pandemic.  We have never had to deal with a health crisis that affects every single person on the planet.  If climate change didn’t convince you that our fates are linked globally, this pandemic will surely spell it out: no one is safe until everyone gets a vaccine.  We hope a vaccine will be developed as quickly as possible, then tested and distributed freely, but that may not occur until late 2021 at the earliest. Meanwhile, we need some treatment plans to lessen the debilitating effects of the Rona.

After three months of shelter-in-place and the devastating loss of lives, jobs, income and livelihoods, the Dumpster-in-Chief and allied governors urgently want us to go back to work, back to the malls, back to the land of magical make-believe where we carry on just like the good old days.  Trump’s call for less testing in order to lower the number on infection rates is transparent; he doesn’t mind murdering us all as long as the Gross Domestic Product ticks upward.  The fact is Rona don’t give a shit about us upping our consumption to jump start the economy. Rona don’t give a shit about the relative merits of Taylor Swift, Kanye, or the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. It is agnostic on Coke vs Pepsi.  Rona just don’t give a fuck. Rona’s sole mission is finding a new host, i.e. your respiratory system.  And people-to-people contact without masks is a sure-fire way for Rona for find new homes.

The unpreparedness and the lack of a timely response to Covid-19 in the U.S. reveals that the priorities of the ruling elite are all about maximizing profit and the hell with the rest.  Despite ample warnings of a potential pandemic on this very scale from officials in the Obama administration and the World Health Organization, Trump dismissed the dangers and continued to offer anti-science nonsense that the virus will just “fade away,” which is something most of us wish he would do. The sooner the better.

Meanwhile, the Rona is on the march.  On June 24, CNN reported that coronavirus cases are increasing in more than half of the states in the U.S. including some of the largest states such as California and Texas.  Aggressive re-opening in Texas, Arizona and Florida have led to record highs in the infection rate, e.g. Texas set a single-day record with 5,489 new infections. New York, New Jersey and Connecticut recently announced travel restrictions on visitors from states with high infection rates.

Newport Beach, CA, May 24, 2020. Photo by Marcio Jose Sanchez, AP.

A scan of developments in countries like South Korea, which bore the brunt of Covid-19 weeks before the U.S., show new spikes even after months of lockdown.  In May, 500 schools were closed in Seoul and parks, art galleries and museums were shuttered to dampen down the infection rate.  Extensive contract tracing, testing and isolation of the infected has led to a partial re-opening on June 19.  It’s quite likely that areas in the U.S. will need to reimpose shelter-in-place to curb the new wave of infections.

While testing has increased in the U.S., we are nowhere near the 40 to 50 million tests per month recommended by Assistant Secretary for Health Adm. Brett Giroir.  Ashish Jha, Director of the Harvard Global Health Institute said, “We need two to three times that number of tests, if not more, if we’re going to have a shot at keeping our economy open and keep our people protected during the fall and winter.”(Politico, “Next Testing Debacle: The Fall Virus Surge,”6/17/20).  Testing is not going to be helpful without contact tracing to identify people who could also be infected.  Tom Frieden, former director of the Center for Disease Control and NY City Health Commissioner, cited a need for 300,000 contract tracers to be employed.  An NPR survey in late April revealed that there are only 11,142 contract tracers employed in the U.S.  Since there is no clear leadership coming out of Washington, D.C., people must demand that local officials immediately find ways to address the need for more testing and tracing.  Use every city council meeting and every public forum to make local officials pledge to find the resources NOW.  Pressure at the local level gets pushed up through the state and finally to the national level. There’s not a moment to waste, and while we’re at it, let’s take proactive steps to ensure better health care in the communities of color that have become COVID-19 hot spots.

Health Inequality Leads to Higher Infection Rates

All the inadequacies and injustices of our society, much like the case with police brutality, have become painfully clear during the pandemic. People of color are dying and getting sick at a much higher rate than their proportion of the population due to health problems linked to racism, i.e. access to adequate primary health care, exposure to toxic elements due to proximity to pollution centers, hypertension and high blood pressure induced by daily exposure to racial hostility, and a host of other factors related to poverty.  These inequalities also extend to the heavy toll experienced by people of color in terms of job and income loss due to the pandemic.  Any recovery plan that does not factor in pre-existing inequalities is doomed to perpetuate further inequality.

When I started research for this article, I was struck by how a bad situation is now so much worse due to Rona. Here are some key facts that show the impact of racial disparities:

Nationally, African Americans are 25% of those who have tested positive and 39% of fatalities while comprising just 15% of the population. (Source: “Racial Equity and Covid-19” by De’zhon Grace, Carolyn Johnson and Treva Reid, Capitol Weekly, May 4, 2020.)

As of April, less than half of African American adults were employed.  White families have five times the liquid assets as Black families do ($49,529 vs. $8,762). (Source: “Racism and economic inequality have predisposed black workers to be most hurt by coronavirus pandemic,” Economic Policy Institute report, June 1, 2020)

Asian Americans, which is a category that covers many ethnic groups, are often lumped into “others” in reporting data. Namratha Kandula, MD and MPH and professor at Northwestern University, and Nilay Shah, MD and MPH, suspect that many Asian Americans are at risk with Covid-19 given the higher prevalence of Type 2 diabetes and heart disease among Filipinos and South Asians than white Americans. (Source: “Asian Americans invisible in COVID-19 data and public health response,” Chicago Reporter, June 16, 2020).

Researchers are trying to determine why Asian Americans are nearly 50% of the fatalities among COVID-19 cases in San Francisco while comprising only 35% of the population. (Source: “Asian American COVID-19 death rate in SF concerning,” NBC Bay Area, May 20, 2020.)

By now, you’ve seen pictures of Chinatowns and other Asian enclaves with shuttered storefronts. Forty percent of U.S. businesses are in the high-risk of closure because of COVID-19 and Asian Americans own 16% of these businesses (25% of all accommodation and food services; 16% of retail trade, and 15% of other services. (Source: “The financial risk to US. Business owners posed by COVID-19 outbreak varies by demographic group,” Pew Research Center report, April 23, 2020.)

New York Chinatown during pandemic lockdown.

Latinx are overrepresented among people infected with COVID-19 in 29 of 35 states that report Latinx cases, according to Rogelio Sáenz, professor in the Demography Department at the University of Texas at San Antonio.  Latinx are 18.5% of cases in South Dakota where they are 3.9% of the population; Iowa 27% of those infected while being just 6.0% of the population; Wisconsin where they are 27.1% of cases vs. being 6.9% of the population; and Kansas where they are 40.0% of cases vs. being 12.0% of the population.   Meatpacking facilities, which have a large Latinx workforce, are centered in these states. In the last two weeks, the infections have increased for Latinx people and they now constitute 34% of all COVID-19 cases while being only 18% of the population (Source: “Many Latinos Couldn’t Stay Home. Now the Virus Cases Are Soaring in Their Communities,” New York Times, June 26, 2020)

Latinx women are the most unemployed group among all workers at 21% as hotels, restaurants, and stores have shut down. (Source: “Hispanic women immigrants, young adults, those with less education hit hardest by COVID-19 job losses,” Pew Research Center report, June 9, 2020.)

Native American infection rates are among the highest in the nation. In New Mexico, 57% of all
COVID-19 cases are Native American while they are only 11% of the population. Their death rate is 19 times other populations. Some of the causes of the higher infection rate are pointed out by Al Jazeera reporters in a June 24, 2020 post: 30% of homes in the Navajo Nation, which spans 27,413 square miles across Arizona, New Mexico and Utah have no running water. There is a high rate of obesity and diabetes (the two conditions are linked) in part because there are only 13 grocery stores in this sprawling area and people must rely on packaged and canned foods.

The high infection rates for people of color are correlated to their status as low-paid essential workers who cannot do their job remotely. We are the truck drivers, food service workers, warehouse stockers, nurses, janitors, and farmworkers who keep the supply chain going so that others can safely work from home and shelter in comfort.

Latina worker at unidentified meatpacking plant.

Lastly, people who are imprisoned in the penal system and through ICE detention are slammed by COVID-19. According to the Equal Justice Initiative, prisoners are infected with COVID-19 at a rate 2.5 times the general population; 44,000 prisoners and staff were infected as of May 21,2020 and 462 have died.  People held in detention by ICE similarly are impacted as social distancing and hygiene are compromised by overcrowding at jails and detention centers. The Center for American Progress reported in a June 16 blog post that 50% of the 5,096 detainees tested by ICE were positive for COVID-19. There are 1,623 cases and 3 detainees have died. There are nearly 25,000 people in ICE detention and the infection rate could go as high at 72% according to the Vera Institute of Justice.

Public health care is woefully inadequate for the underserved.  Currently, 30 million people in the U.S. have no health care coverage and the layoffs in the public and private sector in coming months could force up to 35 million off HMO plans. Laid-off workers will have to seek health coverage via COBRA (Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act), which typically costs $600/month per person or more, apply for the Affordable Care Act Marketplace in a special enrollment period, which will offer subsidies if your individual income is less than $49,960/individual or $103,000/ family of four, or enroll in Medicaid, which is open to workers whose monthly income has fallen below 138% of the federal poverty level ($1,467 for an individual or $3,013 for a family of four).  Cuts in state budgets will severely impact Medicaid services unless the federal government offers additional aid to meet the swelling enrollment.

Losing one’s job or having to close a small business because of the pandemic already causes stress as bills mount and the rent or mortgage becomes due.  Having to deal with staving off a possible COVID-19 infection WITHOUT health coverage is extremely cruel, but in our for-profit health care system, people are just shit-out-of luck.  Undocumented immigrants who comprise from 50% to 75% of the agricultural workforce must not only harvest the crops but have zero coverage for health care or economic relief and yet they are performing essential work that keeps America fed. (Source: “Farmworkers, Mostly Undocumented, Become Essential During Pandemic,” New York Times, April 2, 2020.)

We will never cut down the infection rate without free or vastly subsidized coronavirus testing and treatment.  European countries have been able to knock down previously high infection rates because their public health services have extended care to all who need it.  Once more, the Rona has brought out the need for radical change. Unless we get a grip on testing, tracing and treatment, we will have periodic upsurges of the Rona for months if not years. This reality hasn’t sunk in with the present Administration as there is little federal oversight and little national leadership over the patchwork of conflicting policies on reopening enacted by the states.  The soaring death rate in Texas has compelled conservative Texas Governor Abbott to pull back on reopening the state and encourage use of facial masks.

The Water is Rising, and the Boat is Sinking

I am not by nature one who likes to read economic news. I suck at math and the economy is a mystery to me. Yet this crisis drives me to scour the business news to make sense of things. I’ve learned that there are two economic realities – one for the rich and one for everyone else. My assumption was that social distancing meant a severe downturn since economists estimate that 60% to 70% of jobs are dependent on consumer spending. Indeed, businesses had to close causing workers in the leisure, food service, retail and service sector to be furloughed or laid off.  Sales went down, unemployment went up. But the stock market recovered most of its losses in May, although it is currently diving downward with the new resurgence of COVID-19 in the southern tier of the US. America’s billionaires saw their fortunes soar by $434 billion during the U.S. lockdown between mid-March and mid-May according to a report from Americans for Tax Fairness. (Source: “American billionaires got $434 billion richer during the pandemic,” CNBC News, May 21, 2020.)

The CARES Act passed on March 28 pumped $2.2 trillion into the economy with $500 billion to be dispensed by the Department of Commerce to aid corporations many of which already receive large federal subsidies, e.g. transportation, agriculture, energy and housing. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D- NY) offered this blistering critique: “What did the Senate Majority fight for? One of the largest corporate bailouts with as few strings as possible in American history. Shameful.”  Republicans say that there is no money for expanded social programs, but they wholeheartedly approve of the Federal Reserve backing up the financial markets with billions in loans and subsidies via a $500 billion buy-back in Treasury bonds and $200 billion in mortgage-backed securities. For more head-spinning details go to Wall Street Wins Again by Nomi Prins

A public outcry over the need for additional bail out packages to benefit the people can restore some measure of justice. And the battle is on right now as the $600 boost in weekly unemployment benefits will end on July 31.  Congress extended this benefit until January 2021 with the passage of the HEROES Act on May 15, but Senate leaders have declared the bill “dead on arrival.” The Senate plans to consider its own relief bill after July 4.

The HEROES Act also included another round of stimulus payments of up to $6,000 per household, cancels up to $10,000 for some student loans, suspends interest and payment on student loans through September 30, 2020, provides nearly $100 billion for rental assistance, provides $75 billion to prevent mortgage defaults and property foreclosures, and offers  $13/hour hazard pay premium on top of essential workers’ regular salaries.

The Indian Health Service needs $9.1 billion to serve Indian Country, but it’s current budget is $4.3 billion.

 

The number of people who are relying on unemployment assistance is 30 million when you include self-employed workers.  That figure will most likely rise as the renewed shutdowns occur.  In her June 23 article, “The Second Great Depression,” The Atlantic writer Annie Lowrey estimated that 42% of lost jobs will never return. Over 100,000 small businesses have closed permanently.  The Payroll Protection Plan has allocated $670 billion in loans to small business, but that program has ended and was only meant to be a two-month bridge. Companies, both big and small, are unable to pay off accumulated debts and the pandemic is the nail on the coffin as there is to revenue to finance the debt. The bankruptcy rate in March was 18% higher than the rate in March 2019. (source: “A Flood of Business Bankruptcies in the Coming Months,” Voice of America/AP, April 26, 2020.)

Renters in the 12 million units in buildings with federally backed mortgages will see an end to eviction protection by late summer. (Source: “Black community braces for next threat: Mass evictions,” Politico, June 12, 2)

While the Republicans may object to the HEROES Act extension of payments to workers and small businesses, they will face the voters’ wrath in November if they do nothing but prop up Wall Street and corporations with bailout packages.

I’d like to turn your attention to the state and local level where the economic collapse is most dire due to the loss of sales tax revenue.  Unlike the federal government, state and local governments cannot print money and balanced budget laws compel them to slash spending to match diminished revenues.  According to Josh Bivens and David Cooper of the Economic Policy Institute, “recent estimates indicate that state and local governments will face a shortfall approaching $1 trillion between now and the end of 2021…Without aid to state and local governments, 5.3 million workers will likely lose their jobs by the end of 2021.” (source: EPI Working Economics Blog, June 10, 2020).

In May, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced plans to furlough 64% of the state workers to cover an immediate shortfall of $80 million.  Ohio has announced $775 million in cuts mostly in education and Medicaid. On June 24, New York Mayor Bill De Blasio announced the possible layoff of 22,00 city workers in the fall to cover a $9 billion drop in revenue.  In Los Angeles County, a portion of the sales tax dedicated to addressing homelessness is expected to have a $55.9 million shortfall jeopardizing plans for new housing and mental health services.

A crisis of this magnitude requires a massive federal response. The CARES Act allocated $9.5 billion to state governments and $5.8 billion to cities and counties.  Many cities and towns were left out since only localities with a population of 500,000 or more qualified for the additional support. The HEROES Act would provide $1 trillion in federal aid to state and local governments with $915 billions of it used for flexible aid, i.e. to cover shortfall in any number of areas.  Getting this approved in the US Senate will be very difficult, but at least people should know the scale of problem.

Now is the time to push for comprehensive changes as the Federal Treasury can literally print money to cover the tremendous cost of responding to people’s needs. University of Wisconsin at Madison economist Timothy Smeeding has suggested that the federal government cover the entire cost of Medicaid thereby saving states $250 billion.  An additional $44 billion would extend the child tax credit program and subsidize childcare.

Organizing for a People’s Budget

The energy generated from the Black Lives Matter marches and demonstrations has carried over to campaigns led by grassroots activists to reshape funding priorities in city budgets across the nation. The call for defunding the police and reallocating funds towards social services and health care coincides with the June 30 deadlines most cities have to adopt a budget for fiscal year 2021.  Activists in Los Angeles, New York, Nashville, Long Beach, Oakland and other cities have been holding community hearings to develop alternative budgets for years. Now, there is heightened public awareness of the need for government to prioritize people’s needs vs more police.

LA protests over police abuse. Photo by Unilad news.

The People’s Budget LA Coalition was convened by Black Lives Matter – Los Angeles and it includes multinational, multi-sectoral participation from Bend the Arc: Jewish Action, Ktown for All, La Defensa, Sunrise Movement LA, Trans Latina Coalition, Labor/Community Strategy Center and many other groups.  The coalition surveyed nearly 25,000 Angelenos from over 50 organizations and held a participatory budget making session on May 24, 2020 that engaged 13,300 people via Zoom and Facebook Live. A key feature of the People’s Budget would take the present allocation of $1.8 billion for the LA Police Dept, which is 54% of the city budget, and reduce law enforcement and policing to just 6% of the city budget.  The bulk of current police funding would instead go towards “Universal Aid and Crisis Management,” which would comprise 45.61% of the city budget and support housing, food, healthcare, economic assistance and emergency relief.  The People’s Budget would allocate 25% of the city budget towards “Reimagined Community Safety,” which includes family counseling, restorative justice programs, community-led crisis response programs, gang prevention/intervention, and domestic violence prevention/intervention/recovery.

These bold programs, which can be seen in full at The People’s Budget Los Angeles 2020-2021, have not been fully embraced by the LA City Council Budget and Finance Committee, which will present a final budget before the full council by June 30.  Only $133 million in cuts to the police budget were approved at the committee’s June 22 meeting. The fight for a People’s Budget will continue as the city requests additional funds from the federal government to provide services that will be gutted due to lack of sales tax revenues. This coalition lays a foundation for a protracted effort that goes hand-in-hand other efforts to elect more progressives to the LA City Council.

Protest of George Floyd’s murder in Long Beach, CA.

The Long Beach People’s Budget Coalition presented its proposal to the city at a press conference on June 16, 2020. “For the past two years, the People’s Budget campaign has forced conversation and action for equity and justice in Long Beach’s city budget,” said Mac Harris of the Invest in Youth Campaign. “Because Black, Latinx, Cambodian, Filipino, white and other members of the community came together, Long Beach started reversing historic patterns of disinvesting in communities of color.” Similar to the LA People’s Budget, the Long Beach plan prioritizes health programs, public libraries, and the parks and recreation program which only receive $93.5 million (17% of the city’s budget) versus the $243.8 million (44% of the city budget) for the police.  Given the multinational and multi-ethnic composition of Long Beach, the People’s Budget calls for more investment in the city’s Language Access Policy and “free, universal legal representation to immigrant residents facing deportation, regardless of their background.”

Whether it’s Milwaukee, Wisconsin where the African American Roundtable in alliance with 65 organizations is calling for the city to remove $75 million from the police department budget and allocate it to public health and housing or Nashville, Tennessee where the People’s Budget Coalition organized community testimony on the proposed FY 2021 budget from 6:30 pm to 5:00 a.m. the next day, there are sterling examples of local activism that can one day push for the adoption of radical solutions to age-old problems. Make no mistake, dismantling the present police force and adopting a community service model for public safety is radical; it gets to the root the problem which is police violence.  These demands for an end to police brutality loop back to the Black Panther Party’s demand for community control of the police.

While movements are building at the local level, pressure needs to be applied at the federal level too.  The Congress, the President, and the Federal Reserve have the power over U.S. monetary policy and their approval is needed to expend the trillions of dollars that will be needed to oversee a national strategy to deal with COVID-19 and  to provide economic support to laid off workers and to shore up small businesses. Moreover, we need to develop a strategy for green jobs, a fully funded public health care system, direct economic relief to workers with special attention to communities of color which have been disadvantaged in terms of education, access to job training, and access to financing for business.  Overall, we must craft a recovery plan that is climate conscious and global in outlook.  The People’s Bailout coalition, a formation with over 800 organizations from environmental groups, labor unions, religious organizations, and community organizations, has established some principles to help guide a fair and just recovery. See the five principles at The People’s Bailout

Making Sense of This Moment – Conclusion

I must admit that as I did research for this article, I felt overwhelmed by feelings of loss, sadness, anger and frustration. I knew the situation was bad with Rona’s Terminator-like prowess, but the worsening situation with willful lies from the White House and misguided policies at the local level do not provide much hope. Nothing will slow Rona down especially when people ignore science and blithely assume that they are untouchable or that coronavirus is a hoax.  What really depresses me is the sheer magnitude of the problem with its layers of revealed inequality, blatant robbery of resources for the wealthy, and defiant displays of white supremacy, racism and xenophobia from the White House – acts that stoke the violent, racist, anti-Semitic and anti-immigrant Christian nationalist militias.  These are dangerous times and we must learn to build strong coalitions and protect our communities by any means necessary.

Tarika Lewis, former member of the Oakland Black Panther Party and designer of the Black/Asian unity poster, stands with Josh Felise, volunteer, at the Oakland Chinatown clean-up event. Photo by SF Eater.

I’ll end with one image that was repeated in U.S. cities and in Europe as protestors tore down and defaced monuments erected in honor of slave traders, slave holders, Confederate generals, and racist politicians.  These were spontaneous acts of politically conscious masses of people. There was no plan; there was no memo. There was just the righteous anger of people who recognized that the old order must be dismantled.  The demonstrators made their point clear in many creative ways and city officials acceded to the demands overnight.  As the symbols of oppression are abolished, the conversation that ensues drives the consciousness of the need for radical change among the public.  Conversely as President Trump declares executive orders to protect the monuments of Confederate soldiers, the public sees how custodians of the racist past are truly desperate and morally bankrupt.  Who are the true defenders of American ideals today?  Is it Trump or is it Bubba Wallace, the African American NASCAR driver who led the campaign to remove the Confederate flag from all NASCAR events? Is it the Latinx protestors or is it the armed militia who tried to bully the crowd in Albuquerque from tearing down the statue of Spanish colonizer Juan de Oñate, who cut off the feet of 24 captured Acoma Indians to terrorize others? By tearing down these monuments to men who brutalized Africans, we are setting a new moral standard and projecting a vision for a new society that recognizes past and present injustices  and strives to establish an equal and just society.

Protesters place a video projection of George Floyd on the statue of Confederate commander Robert E. Lee. Richmond, VA. This statue was removed a few days later.

The following video from CBS News on the protest and removal of the statue of Robert E. Lee in Richmond, VA and the establishment of a new memorial by African American artist Kehinde Wiley entitled “Rumors of War” encapsulates the multiple perspectives at play today. The old must make way for the new and in the process create opportunities for healing and beauty. We have been through the fire and we will surely face more storms.  Our only hope for survival is to stand together, fight together, and build together.

Author’s Bio:  Eddie Wong is the editor/publisher of East Wind Ezine.

10 Comments

  1. ALEX HING on June 28, 2020 at 5:43 am

    Brilliant work Eddie. Thanks. Your article can touch off many necessary discussions.

  2. Eddie Wong on June 28, 2020 at 7:05 am

    Thanks for your kind words, Alex. There’s a lot of facts and figures to fade through in the article, but my main point is that the health crisis and economic hardships are going to worsen to unimaginable degrees of suffering. We have to SEIZE THE TIME and mount maximum pressure locally and nationally to achieve the people’s priorities. What might have been considered “insane” demands a while ago like income support, free food, free housing, free health care are now absolute requirements for working people to survive.

  3. Taiji Miyagawa on June 28, 2020 at 1:35 pm

    Great work, Eddie Wong! Thank you for doing the research work and putting all of the numbers together.

    • Eddie Wong on June 28, 2020 at 9:00 pm

      Hi Taiji, as I did the research the more it is apparent that capitalism is a con game. Large corps get public subsidies and have access to loans in order to build up, but it’s all based on debt and incoming revenue to service the debt and/or acquire more companies. So when the pandemic shutdown happened, the house of cards is collapsing and the taxpayers are being soaked again for their bailout. With no end in sight for the pandemic, we’re going to have to push for more radical changes liked extended income support and free health care into 2021.

  4. Jennifer Brouhard on June 28, 2020 at 6:16 pm

    Excellent article. The peoples’ budget of LA and Long Beach are something for us to model in Oakland.

    • Eddie Wong on June 28, 2020 at 8:56 pm

      I was really impressed about how they’ve strived to build a broad multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-sectoral coalition. It’s hard work, but we share common goals and are more powerful together than in our silos. I think Oakland Rising has held people’s budget hearings over the past few years, but I don’t know much about them. Hope you’re doing well.

  5. francisco rocky garcia on June 30, 2020 at 7:28 pm

    Well researched and an inspirational article brother. Zoomers don’t play! I’m encouraged by their righteous spontaneous actions here and the international mutual support garnered. I sense a little Last Poets in your narrative. Preach, brother. This could be our moment. A moment to vindicate and honor our heroic sisters and brothers who sacrificed so much to see their efforts fall short. I see brother Hampton’s vision realized. Efforts need to be sustained and not co-opted by neoliberals.

    All Power To The People. Black Lives Do Matter!

  6. Leianne Lamb on July 6, 2020 at 5:00 pm

    Thank you for the wonderful article – it was such a comprehensive look at what’s happening and why we’re now at this pivotal place. I felt compelled to act and pulled together a program of Asian and African American solidarity in the Arts a couple weeks ago to discuss how we’ve had many touch points in history where we’ve shared the same struggle and continue to see this in theater arts today. Would you be up for continuing this discussion on how Asians can navigate a new path?

    • Eddie Wong on July 6, 2020 at 9:28 pm

      thanks for reading the article, leianne. thanks for organizing the arts discussion. i saw it mentioned on Facebook but didn’t have time to check it out. I’m definitely interested in furthering the discussion any time. hope you are well.

      • Leianne Lamb on July 6, 2020 at 9:43 pm

        Thanks awesome Eddie! Can you let me know the best way to contact you? Looking forward to talking to you!

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