Congress is challenging us to take to the streets. After nine months of endless haggling, representatives gifted their sickened and increasingly impoverished constituents an underwhelming COVID relief package. Most insultingly, the bill only sends $600 in direct payments to American workers.
The enhanced federal unemployment benefits are half of what they used to be, and unemployment programs that cover gig workers will only be extended for less than three months. Meanwhile, three-martini lunches can now fully be written off as business expenses.
But don’t expect the outrage to advance past social media and into any meaningful form of action. We rally around identity, but not class. Working people in this country don’t stick together, and that’s how the people in charge want it. It absolves them of pressure to actually help out workers. Instead, they can extend empty gestures.
The end result is a stimulus bill that will send out 10 percent of what roughly 12 million people owe in back rent and utilities. In the ultimate “let them eat cake!” moment, Nancy Pelosi said she’s proud of Congress’ efforts. “I would have liked [the payments] to be bigger, but they are significant,” she said.
Those certainly sound like the words of someone who owns a $24,000 ice cream fridge. Happy quarantining!
This has been the most unequal recession in history, and as a result, few people in power know anybody who’s struggling. The $2.2 trillion CARES Act was passed immediately in March, because we didn’t know what to expect. Now after 10 months, we’ve seen the impact of COVID. It’s ravaged Black and Brown and low-income communities, and padded the bank account of almost anybody with a comfortable white-collar job.
And thus, the affected are allowed to descend further into poverty. Out of the $4 trillion spent on COVID relief, only one-fifth has gone to workers and families.
The wellbeing of tens of millions of Americans depends on the whims of ultra-rich octogenarians. That is one messed up system, but we’ve allowed it to happen. Republicans have manipulated working-class white people to vote against their self-interests, successfully scaring them about sex and Black people.
And deep down, most liberals are fine with that. They are perfectly willing to use racist white people as boogeymen, because it distracts from our gross systemic inequities. It groups people in accordance to skin color, rather than income.
The response to the Black Lives Matter protests embodies this phenomenon. Out of the 30 million people who lack healthcare, half are people of color. If you want to actually save Black Lives, uniting around universal healthcare would be far more effective than, say, Chuck Schumer kneeling in a kente-cloth.
Yet, Democratic leadership opposes Medicare for All. It is much easier to retire Aunt Jemima than actually dismantle our corporate business model, which is largely based on the exploitation of poor immigrants and Black people.
Besides, if that were to happen, where would the Super PAC money come from?
White gay men are especially guilty of committing this kind of performative activism. We will post incessantly about the power of Black trans women, and then support Pete Buttiegieg or Kamala Harris, neither of whom want to actually give disenfranchised Black trans women the help they need.
The laughable $600 stimulus checks personify the emptiness of these identity-based movements. Our horrible leaders know there won’t be sustained backlash, because members of the working-class are pitted against each other. We rightfully protest for Black lives, while deriding rednecks.
When Joe Biden takes office, all of the superficial steps will be covered. Pride flags will fly at embassies across the world; pronouns will be in officials’ profiles. But will the nearly 30 percent of bisexual and trans people in poverty receive guaranteed housing or monthly stipends?
Don’t count on it. Poor people receive crumbs; but hey, at least we’ve all changed our profile pictures!
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