Today is Earth Day and by a horrible coincidence the skies over Los Angeles and the canals in Venice are clear. Global oil consumption has plunged, but not because we have finally brought fossil-fuel capitalism to heel. On the contrary, it is the same unfettered corporate power that has driven global warming — unabated even in the face of evidence that it is causing untold suffering and death — that has produced the coronavirus crisis: the commodification of rights and goods that should never be commodified, in particular in this instance for-profit healthcare; gross economic inequalities stoked by white supremacist and patriarchal ideologies; and political priorities that ignore social goods and starve the government infrastructures needed to respond to the viral outbreak.
This dark irony is lost on corporate, government, and media elites whose only frame of reference has been to “get the economy going again.” (To be clear, media elites are a subset of corporate elites.) With jaw-dropping brazenness, they are getting on TV and saying that public-health restrictions have “gone too far,” that people’s health and safety have to be subordinated to profit imperatives, and that killing a few old folks is a price we should all be willing to pay for Wall Street’s sake.
This death-worshipping mantra extends to the planet as well. Last night the PBS New Hour’s take on the oil market’s collapse was “no one is consuming energy at the rates they used to” and that oil prices would continue to suffer “until that corrects itself.” I guess they call it the Petroleum Broadcasting Station for a reason.
But if ever there was a moment to embrace “keep it in the soil,” it is right now. The “problem” is not that that people are burning less fossil fuel, for fuck’s sake, and the “solution” sure as hell isn’t to ramp up greenhouse gas emissions again.
We are confronted in this crisis with so many injustices and avoidable horrors: health care supply shortages brought on by years of austerity; illness, death, and terror in jails, prisons, and concentration camps; compounded race and class inequities resulting in much higher morbidity and mortality rates for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color; the plundering of public coffers to further enrich the already obscenely rich; corporate greed that sacrifices workers’ health and lives to save costs and covers it up by calling them “essential workers” and “heroes” because heroes are people who sacrifice for the good of… well, in this case, corporate profits; government actions — from restricting immigration to rolling back environmental regulations — thrown in while we are all busy trying to survive.
In the midst of this carnage and suffering, there are people — so many people — who are refusing to be bound by the limits of the imagination imposed by capitalist death culture. Mutual aid is flourishing in so many ways. Workers are organizing and striking. Health care workers are protesting. Churches are rediscovering that it’s not the building that makes them followers of Jesus.
We are essential. Essential workers. Essential to each other. And we are invaluable — there is no price for a human life, for “re-opening the economy,” for Amazon’s production quotas, for public hospitals without enough PPE or ventilators, for people evicted or foreclosed from their homes. These acts of economic violence cannot be justified, no matter how great the profit from them is.
To the 1%, we are essential as generators of profit but expendable as human beings. We are dehumanized and commodified, but the Achilles heel of capitalism is that we are still essential for them to profit: “Without our brains and muscle not a single wheel would turn.”
So we are here to serve notice — we are not going “back to normal.” Normal is what got us here. Normal was a crime against the people and the planet.
We demand a world in which food, shelter, and health care are rights. A world in which billionaires do not exist, where everyone has a home and no one has a dozen. Where cities and towns are designed around human needs, and farms grow food for people rather than for profit. A world that runs on renewable energy, where the sun and the wind and the water are not “owned” by Exxon or Monsanto or Pfizer. A world where there is no Exxon, Monsanto, or Pfizer. This world we demand — it is essential.