A Recipe for Revolution When Government is Willing to Let Us Starve
By Sunny Dell
People talk of revolution like they make New Year’s resolutions. They all sound so committed and serious at first, and then the idea fades away as the days tick by and inconvenience settles in. But what happens when it’s more inconvenient to not revolt, when we have no other choice but to fight for our lives? What happens in a moment like this?
Before we explore that, let’s recap the current situation.
Rough estimates show that at least 31 million people are unemployed in the U.S. More than 174,000 people in the country will have died from Covid-19 by the end of Wednesday — far more have been hospitalized and will face long-term health issues even after recovery. Schools are largely empty as kids are forced to learn over Zoom meetings and the virus has run rampant on campuses where kids have returned.
There are no family gatherings, no birthday parties, no nights out at the movies, no friends at the bar. The jobs remain scarce and go first to the most seasoned of those let go in March and April when everything normal came screeching to a halt. The “essential” work available is a risk if you live with anyone elderly or who has an underlying condition.
In a miraculous accomplishment by today’s standards, the bipartisan CARES Act helped millions with direct stimulus payments and extended unemployment benefits. The bill helped traditional workers and the growing number of “gig workers” and independent contractors who increasingly make this country go around.
For a moment, it looked like we might be alright, but all of that help would only be so helpful if our nation stepped up to help control the virus that pushed us to this brink.
But that’s not what happened. The president mocked mask requirements and encouraged dissent among his base. The team tasked with leading us through the darkness of a health crisis were kneecapped time and time again. And as the months ticked by, the virus only grew more deadly. States reopened and then closed again, with businesses gathering dust.
And then, the money ran out. The pandemic unemployment assistance was cut off at the end of July and many people opted to use their last checks to pay for groceries and utilities, not knowing when they’d see more help or the promise of a decent job.
Still, there was an underlying hope, an almost certainty that Congress wouldn’t possibly let people struggle too long. We knew they’d play chicken and make a show of it, but they’d of course pass a stimulus bill that would pull us back from the cliff. After all, the HEROES Act was passed by the House in May and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would eventually come around to compromise on the bill and bring it up for a vote.
Except that never happened. The worst came true. As the end of July approached, McConnell tossed out a dismal and incomplete stimulus proposal that has still not been accepted by his own party members or the president himself, who hijacked the process from the start. The HEALS Act was $2 trillion shy of what the HEROES Act called for and slashed away at unemployment, neglected states and failed to protect the election. The details don’t seem to matter anymore given that neither bill is going anywhere.
Wednesday, Senate Republicans tried again with what’s being called a “skinny bill.” It’s so skinny that it does not include direct stimulus payments and cuts the PUA benefit in half. There are some concessions for states and the U.S. Postal Service, but short of what was requested, and let’s be honest, it does little to help people who need it most right now. While the Senate sits at home on recess, people are scared and many are hungry.
Our government has failed us.
When Donald Trump gave away those tax breaks for the wealthy, the deficit ballooned. In March, the administration seemed fine with printing more money so long as they could give the lion’s share to corporations, and they did. But now, now that people are quickly running out of every option, have tapped every account and are nearing the bottom of their change jars, now it’s suddenly too much to ask to dig in a little more to help us out.
What happens when millions are soon evicted? Traditionally, families would combine resources. A single mother and kids would bunk up in grandma’s house and together they would try to make ends meet until there was solid ground again. But those grandmothers are at risk of dying if they catch the virus, and at least one person would be expected to work in a warehouse or grocery store, exposed to the unsuspecting masses and anti-maskers. Bunking up with multiple generations at this point could be a death sentence for those we love.
So, where the hell do we go? What the fuck do we do now?
This is the moment for revolution, not because it sounds like fun or because any of us really want it, but because we have no other choice. We should be reluctant about something so drastic, it should take an extreme set of circumstances to bring normal people into a standoff with our government. But this is an extreme moment and other options are running thin.
There is talk of a general strike on Sept. 1, mostly on social media and at first disjointed. There was a beauty of sorts in the disorganization of it, a true grumbling coming from real people looking for a way to direct their fears and anger, but more they were searching for something more tangible – an end to the means. They want to know they can pay their fucking rent, that they can feed their children, that the water won’t be shut off and that maybe we can all get back to a normal life again someday.
There are organizations now pulling together to make the general strike a thing, where those who do still work, especially for large and well subsidized corporations, don’t show up to do the job. There’s encouragement not to shop and participate in the economy. Those things will have an impact — it’s amazing how much this country depends on people participating for even just one day. But one day is not going to cut it this time. Legislators are used to taking a one-day hit and depend on the fizzle after. They can wait out the one day.
It’s time to think bigger, to make them take notice, for us to take power back and force them to work again for the people. Yes, we need a strike, but one that lasts and comes at them in a coordinated and multifaceted way. The only move worth making right now is one that they will feel.
We strike from work and shopping both in stores and online. We refuse to pay taxes or bills. We don’t buy gas or pay tolls. Simply, we turn what’s left of this economy on its head until they realize it doesn’t turn without us. But we don’t stop there.
We forward our bills to the White House and let them overwhelm mailrooms. Show them what those mounds of stress look like. We peacefully and quietly stand in front of the homes of elected representatives who are fighting against our interests. They expect us to be violent and destructive, but that allows them to quickly dismiss us. We make a show of our presence with an eerie silence — they’ll have to decide to shut their blinds or look us in the face. Either way, it’s a decision and they’ll feel it. We occupy federal lands in our own states. If they’ve taken our ability to live, we’ll find new places to call home.
The trick is to keep the demand simple and avoid temptation to fix everything all at once. That never works. We tell them it will continue until the HEROES Act or a suitable stimulus is passed, that they will not rest until we can breathe again. And when, not if, we win, they will know that we are done playing around. They will see that we’ve found the power of masses against tyranny of the few and that we will do it again if they turn their backs on the people.
It’s best to opt for diplomacy and democracy whenever possible, but they have stripped us of our ability to be patient. Our landlords are no longer patient. Our power companies are no longer patient. We can no longer be patient.
If we do this, and we must, we have to go all the way. Who will save us now if we’re not willing to save ourselves? We have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, but the promise of this country is not guaranteed. It’s something to be fought for and we were given the constitutional tools to fight. We’ve been complicit far too long — we’ve made it easy for them to trample us under their expensive shoes. Stop making it easy.
You may think I’m crazy or militant, but I’m not. I love this country and I love the promise of what it can be. I love the idea of the polis, the politics of everyday life that truly derives from the will of the people. But it’s hard to love anything when I can’t feed my family, and I know I’m not alone. We can do what we’ve always done and shy from the fight while we suffer and they flourish, or we can fight back and make this place work for us. Your call.