This culture prioritizes the hoarding of private wealth over the public good. While billionaires enjoy their riches, the masses live on the brink of starvation. Food shortages during coronavirus are accelerating, and are a reminder of the importance of rebuilding local, sustainable food systems.
We cannot rely on the globalized economy any longer. It is time for the transition to a localized way of life begin in earnest.
By Eoin Higgins / Common Dreams
Images and video of miles of cars lined up at food banks in San Antonio and other cities across the U.S. present a striking example of the economic effects of the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, which has thrown at least 16 million Americans out of work in recent weeks and increased pressure on the distribution centers to provide key staples for a flood of needy people in the country.
“Unforgettable image: thousands of cars lined up at a San Antonio food bank today, the desperate families inside kept safely apart,” tweeted CNN senior editor Amanda Katz. “Breadline, 2020.”
On Thursday, San Antonio Food Bank creative manager Robert R. Fike posted a time-lapse video of the line of cars waiting to get supplies.
“It was a rough one today,” San Antonio Food Bank president and CEO Eric Cooper told the San Antonio Express News. “We have never executed on as large of a demand as we are now.”
The onset of the coronavirus outbreak brought with it economic paralysis across the U.S. and the world, shutting down businesses around the world as people use social distancing and isolation to curb the spread of the disease. In the U.S., where lawmakers have largely dragged their feet on providing unemployed people with help, Americans are increasingly turning to charities like food banks to provide the means of survival.
According to the New York Times, food banks across the country are facing funding shortfalls in the face of increasing demand despite donations from the superrich:
Feeding America, the nation’s largest network of food banks, with more than 200 affiliates, has projected a $1.4 billion shortfall in the next six months alone. Last week, Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, announced that he was donating $100 million to the group—the largest single donation in its history, but still less than a tenth of what it needs.
In January 2019, Business Insider calculated Bezos makes roughly $4,474,885 every hour, making his donation to Feeding America the equivalent of around 22-and-a-half hours of passive wealth generation.
San Antonio was not the only city to see record numbers of people seeking help and miles of cars waiting for food. Pittsburgh, Inglewood, Chicago, and Sunrise, Florida were among cities with packed roads leading to local facilities and massive amounts of food to be distributed.
Feeding South Florida executive vice president Sari Vatske noted in an interview with the Daily Mail that with stay-at-home orders in her state curtailing the available workforce to handle an unprecedented surge in those needing aid, there may be trouble ahead in how to efficiently distribute the food.
“The math is not on our side,” said Vatske.
Featured image via Oxfam, CC BY 2.0. A child stands before mass graves of 70 people dead due to famine in Kenya, 2011.
The Philippines is poor because of a 500-year legacy of colonization. Today, the Philippines is in a neocolonial situation: it is an economic colony.
Poverty kills millions per year. And now, in the midst of coronavirus, government violence, corruption, incompetence, and indifference to the poor is exposed more starkly than ever.
This piece begins with vignettes from Deep Green Resistance organizers in the Philippines, and concludes with a piece from the Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal detailing the Duterte administration’s response.
- Homeless people are being arrested for not following home quarantine.
- A group of children arrested were arrested for violating curfew and put into a dog cage.
- Meanwhile, Senator Koko Pimentel tested positive, repeatedly broke quarantine and was not arrested.
- Companies are refusing to pay workers, enforcing a “no-work-no-pay” policy.
- Distribution of relief goods has been totally inadequate.
- Food shortages and hoarding are exacerbating.
- Countless workers from rural areas are trapped in the capital with no work, little money, and no way to get home.
- Most informal workers, like drivers, have been out of work since March 14.
- Healthcare workers are beginning to die due to a lack of PPE.
- Politicians, celebrities, and the rich are able to access coronavirus testing even they don’t have any symptoms, while poor people with symptoms receive no tests.
- CoViD-positive patients without serious symptoms are being discharged from hospitals but have nowhere to go.
Philippines: The Duterte regime and the COVID-19 pandemic — the case of a weak but authoritarian state
Originally published at http://links.org.au/philippines-duterte-regime-covid-19-pandemic-weak-authoritarian-state
By Reihana Mohideen and Tony Iltis
Update: On March 23, Duterte put to Congress the erroneously titled “Bayanihan Act of 2020”. The word ‘bayanihan’ means community assistance or ‘communitarian’ and the spirit of ‘bayanihan’ means assistance given voluntarily and without any monetary consideration by a member of the community. The title itself is fake, a lie. Nowhere in the bill does the spirit of ‘bayanihan’ prevail. The doctors, nurses, health workers, grocery employees, transport workers and all the frontliners who are heading the fight against COVID19 are not empowered in this bill — instead it extends more power to Duterte, the bureaucracy and his minions. This bill is sinister in many ways, as it aims to give wide powers to a president who’s proven to being incompetent in dealing with the pandemic.
March 23, 2020 — Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal — In the Philippines we have a combination of the worst features of the state under the current conditions of global capitalism. The capacity of the Philippine state to provide even the modicum of public services, systems and related infrastructure, such as health, water, power, housing, public transport, public education, etc., has been gutted after decades of structural adjustment programs, debt and the dictates of neoliberal economic policies imposed by international financial institutions such as the IMF, World Bank, ADB, bilateral and multilateral agreements with imperialist countries, enthusiastically embraced by the country’s technocrats and successive elite governments. This ailing public sector, co-exists with ‘the strong arm’ of a state that has maintained and even increased its capacity to mobilise the military and the police to impose a range of authoritarian measures, from a war against the urban poor resulting in the death of tens of thousands, mainly youth, in the guise of a campaign against drugs, to martial law in the Southern island of Mindanao. Today, this dual character of both a weak and strong armed state, is starkly demonstrated in the Duterte regime’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
As of March 22, the Department of Health reports 380 cases of COVID-19, with 17 recoveries and 25 deaths – a high mortality rate of approximately 7%. With no mass testing undertaken these figures are unreliable. Meanwhile health services are starting to flounder and health workers are falling ill though the anticipated exponential rise of the disease is still ahead of us.
Eleven hospitals and medical centres have issued an “urgent appeal” that an “alarming number” of their personnel were under the 14-day mandatory quarantine for individuals exposed to COVID-19 patients, as persons under investigation “continue to flock” to their emergency rooms every day. These hospitals and medical centres report that most of their “regular rooms have been turned into COVID-19 isolation areas,” leaving less healthcare resources for non- coronavirus patients who also have life-threatening conditions.
“The panic is escalating, mortality is increasing, our supplies of personal protective equipment are running short, our frontline staff are increasingly getting depleted as more of them are quarantined or physically and emotionally exhausted, and a number of our medical colleagues are already hooked to respirators fighting for their lives in various ICUs [intensive care units] … Even our ICUs are getting full. Soon we will have a shortage of respirators. We have every reason to be scared; we are, indeed very scared because we feel that we are on our own to face our countrymen in dire need of help.”
Despite the number of DOH-confirmed cases that is comparably lower to infections in other countries, the appeal points out that they are dealing with COVID-19 patients with “increasing mortality“, which in turn exposes their attending medical staff to more danger than usual. The country has no comprehensive universal health care program and one of the most expensive health services in the region.
Instead of addressing the weakness in the health system and infrastructure as its main priority, the Duterte regime’s strategy has been to declare a lockdown of the entire capital region around Metro Manila – the National Capital Region – from March 15 to April 14, which it describes as “imposing stringent social distancing measures”, with land, domestic air and sea travel to and from Metro Manila suspended, mass gatherings prohibited, community quarantine imposed, government work suspended (except for a skeletal workforce) and the suspension of classes. The announcement was made by President Duterte at a press conference ringed with the chiefs of the PNP and AFP, and police and troops immediately deployed at checkpoints to prevent people from travelling in and out of the NCR. No attempt was made during subsequent press conferences given by the President to explain the public health measures to be undertaken, such as testing programs, for which there is now a rising clamour. This was followed by an announcement on March 17 of the entire island of Luzon placed on lockdown described by government officials as an “enhanced community quarantine,” which limits the movement of people going in and out of the island region, home to at least 57 million.
We are currently under “enhanced community quarantine,” which is strict home quarantine for all households, with transportation suspended, provision for food and “essential health services” regulated, and with a heightened presence of uniformed personnel to enforce quarantine measures. This has been enforced with Barangay checkpoints (local checkpoints within Local Government Units), for which a pass is needed to pass through, with very limited movement which includes only the driver of the vehicle on the main highways such as Edsa or the driver and one assistant. These checkpoints, visible outside my bedroom window, now cordon off and isolate barangays around Metro Manila. Except for groceries and drug stores, all shops have been closed. Some barangays have even imposed 24-hour curfews.
Duterte has repeatedly announced that anyone violating this state of enhanced community quarantine will be arrested, including for “resistance and disobedience to persons in authority” under the provisions of the penal code. Students, workers and people simply trying to shop for food are now being arrested.
Unlike in South Korea where the military and police carried out temperature checks, testing, clean up and disinfecting, the armed personnel at the checkpoints here are doing none of this. In the first few days they weren’t even provided with basic safety equipment, such as masks and hand sanitizer.
The most immediate impact has been on workers and the army of the unemployed who make their livelihoods in the ‘informal sector’, who have been prevented from making a living. On the first day of the lockdown this led to tense scenes at the checkpoints ringing the borders of the NCR, with commuters venting both their anger and despair at the checkpoints. The impact on the livelihoods and lives of working people and the poor has been immediate and devastating. Our organisers are unable to provide assistance to the communities that they work in, such as providing food, masks, etc., in meaningful numbers, at most being only able to assist a couple of hundred households at any one time.
Meanwhile, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) has announced a one-time financial assistance of P5,000 for every worker who could not work during the one-month lockdown. This is already a very measly amount (USD 3 per day for 30 days), and yet the assistance can only be procured if the employer sends the required documents to the DOLE. Workers are not allowed to do it themselves. Many are also complaining that their employers do not want to avail of this, as they still want workers to report to work during the lockdown. And for those who are locked down outside Metro Manila, they could not even petition their employer to follow up the assistance. Contractual workers are practically blocked from availing of the assistance as their ‘employer’ is a third party agent which may not even be registered in the corporation list of the Securities and Exchange Commission. Workers in the informal sector receive no assistance, and the government merely advise them to contact the local government units for work related to anti-COVID19 campaign in the communities.
The Department of Social Welfare and Development has temporarily suspended its poverty alleviation cash grants for the social pension and unconditional cash transfer (Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program or 4Ps) as well as the distribution of 4Ps cash cards to the country’s poorest families to supposedly “minimize the exposure of the beneficiaries and DSWD employees to the threats of COVID-19”.
The situation in the Philippines stands in stark contrast to other countries in the region, such as Vietnam and South Korea, which are being looked upon as examples of how to deal with the pandemic. Vietnam, bordering China, with a population of around 97 million, has managed to contain the spread of the disease, successfully keeping the number of cases at 76 (as of March 19), with no deaths, over two months after the first cases were reported. A key part of the containment strategy was to develop a fast and affordable test kit in one month, which according to the WHO should have taken four years to develop. The test, developed by a group of Vietnamese researchers from the Institute of Biotechnology under the Vietnam Academy of Science and Technology, costs about $15, and is capable of returning results within 80 minutes, with a specificity of 100% and sensitivity of five copies per reaction.
South Korea, with a population of around 51 million, as of March 19, has conducted more than 307,000 tests, the highest per capita in the world, with 633 testing sites nationwide. Results are swift, too, coming by text within 24 hours. Korean healthcare, a highly regulated, efficient single payer system, is also prepared to face epidemics. Broad government powers acquired during the MERS crisis has given South Korea one of the most ambitious tracking apparatuses in Asia. Health authorities can sift through credit-card records, CCTV footage, mobile-phone location services, public-transport cards and immigration records to pin down the travel histories of those infected or at risk. Admittedly, a double-edged sword, this tracking system proved to be effective in curbing the recent COVID19 crisis in the country.
Philippines, with a population of 109 million, has only six testing sites across the entire country — three hospitals in the NCR, and one each in Baguio, Cebu and Davao. There’s now a rising clamour for mass testing. A petition by Scientists Unite Against COVID-19, an alliance of more than 1,000 biologists, health experts, and other individuals, as well as 336 organizations, has called for widespread testing to be conducted, as mitigation strategies such as social distancing and community quarantine are not enough and for expanded, decentralized, testing facilities across the country.
According to March 10 media reports, only 2000 kits were available. Duterte’s family members and other Duterte cronies have been given preferential treatment, even though they don’t meet the Department of Health criteria that only the elderly, those with underlying conditions and those whose ailments have progressed to severe or critical would be tested for the virus. People have commented angrily on social media, with some labelling it a “test kits crisis”, describing the preferential treatment given to the President’s family and cronies as “shameless, obscene and disgusting”. On March 21 media reports said that 100,000 new test kits have arrived, donations from China, South Korea and Brunei, but this will only be for testing of severe or vulnerable persons under investigation and not for mass testing.
A test kit was quickly developed by scientists from the University of the Philippines and is capable of fast detection of the novel coronavirus, but it will only be available for use only after two to three weeks, the time it will take the Department of Health to validate the tests.
Some local government units (LGUs) are taking the initiative. The Pasig City Mayor ordered thelimited mobilization of tricycles in the city to bring health workers and patients with immediate medical needs to hospitals. His appeal to the national government to allow the use of tricycles for public health and safety, since a maximum of only two passengers are allowed in the vehicle, was rejected. All Pasig City Hall employees will be paid full salaries with hazard pay and overtime for those employees in the frontlines. The City of Marikina is another LGU taking positive steps, with the initiative to set up local testing units using the University of the Philippines test kits. The regime has responded by threatening mayors with criminal charges, saying they would “closely monitor the compliance of LGUs in the directives of the Office and to file the necessary cases against the wayward officials.”
Duterte has announced a ₱25.1 billion ‘war chest’ to fight COVID-19, but only ₱3.1 billion has been allocated to actually combat COVID-19, including the purchase of test kits and drugs, while the ₱14 billion boost to the tourism budget will, we suspect, be used to “bail out” the anticipated losses of airlines, hotels, casinos, resorts, and tourism-related capitalists. Only ₱2 billion has been allocated to compensate workers affected by the crisis.
The left and progressive movement here has been campaigning against Duterte’s military response to a public health crisis and has been put forward a platform of demands that include: Mass testing for all citizens; Free hospitalization of victims, persons under investigation (PUI), and person under monitoring (PUM) for COVID-19; Mass disinfection in all communities; Food and water rationing for workers and the poor; Distribution of face masks, hygiene kits, vitamins, and contraception; Assistance to farmers, drivers, and other affected workers; Release of 4Ps for beneficiaries; Paid emergency leave to uninsured workers; Refund tuition to students due to class suspension; Price control of commodities; Electricity, water, and communications to be provided 24/7; Allowing vehicles and tricycles to provide transport to medical workers and people with medical needs; Suspension of rent, water, electricity, communications, and other fees; Disarming the large numbers of military and police forces deployed so as not to cause terror to the people; and a debt moratorium.
Internationally, authoritarian trends are also being inflamed, corporate profits prioritised and public health measures relegated to an afterthought at best. According to March 21 media reports, the US Justice Department has asked Congress for the ability to ask chief judges to detain people indefinitely without trial during emergencies — part of a push for new powers that comes as the coronavirus spreads through the United States. The move has tapped into a broader fear among civil liberties advocates and Donald Trump’s critics — that the president will use a moment of crisis to push for controversial policy changes. And even without policy changes, Trump has vast emergency powers that he could legally deploy right now to try and slow the coronavirus outbreak. British government statements on ‘herd-immunity’ have more than a hint of eugenics.
As of March 23, 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has killed 14,655 people worldwide. More than 77% of these deaths are outside China, where it started. In less than three months it has gone from being an outbreak in Hubei Province, to a global medical, economic and social crisis. Data from China suggests many countries are at the beginning of an exponential rise in infections. Comparisons of death tolls and number of cases in different countries show large differences in the death rate between countries. These do not follow a simple, linear pattern of rich countries fairing better than poor countries, although this is one trend (Italy’s GDP per capita is more than three times that of China’s and South Korea’s GDP per capita is slightly lower than that of Italy, for example). They reflect differences between countries in wealth, priority given to healthcare, willingness and ability of governments and states to take control of the economy, social solidarity and trust between society and authorities responsible for the response to the pandemic. Overall, capitalist society is proving unable to respond rationally to the pandemic, which will massively increase the death toll and the social and economic impacts.
The COVID-19 crisis needs to be considered as part of the environmental crisis created by capitalism that is threatening humanity with extinction. Scientists for some time have been warning of increasing frequency and severity of epidemics caused by novel pathogens, with recent pandemics including SARS, MERS and Swine Flu providing warning. Climate change itself increases the spread of pandemics. Moreover, the causes of pandemics such as COVID-19 include many factors also fuelling climate change as well reflecting the more general breakdown in the world’s ecosystems, and their ability to sustain life, as a result of the capitalist mode of production. Factors include industrialised agriculture, wilderness and ecosystem destruction, concentration and movement of people, and pollution. Unless the global environmental crisis is addressed, there will be an in increase in the frequency and severity of novel pandemics. In this regard pandemics are no different to the typhoons, fires, droughts, etc, whose increased frequency and severity is associated with the looming Anthropocene apocalypse.
Imperialism has exacerbated the crisis in many ways. Decades of structural adjustment and imposed debt have left the countries of the Global South without the health and social welfare infrastructure needed for normal times, let alone during a lethal pandemic. The international division of labour that creates unprecedented wealth for the Western capitalist ruling class involves massive labour migration of workers with little or no access to healthcare, while absurd degrees of international travel — for “business” and leisure — are part of elite lifestyles. Imperialist war further degrades the ability of societies to provide healthcare, while horrifically increasing the need for it. War also creates massive population displacement. War, poverty and racist immigration policies have created a large population of highly mobile, undocumented people with no access to healthcare and well beyond the reach of any screening or tracking. The European and US capitalist economies are dependent on the labour of undocumented refugees and migrants.
The use of crippling economic blockades by the Western imperialists, the US in particular, further exacerbates the crisis. Before the COVID-19 pandemic appeared, Venezuela and Iran were both already struggling with severe shortages of medicine and medical equipment due to US sanctions. In Iran this has meant the impact of the pandemic has been particularly devastating. The chaos created by major imperialist wars on Iran’s eastern and western borders means that this devastation is rapidly spreading to neighbouring countries. The six decade-long blockade of Cuba is threatening a particularly perverse impact on the global COVID-19 pandemic. Confirming that the blockade is a response to the positive example set by Cuba’s socialist revolution, the impoverished, blockaded island has prioritised healthcare to such an extent that the US elite cannot hide from its own population the fact that Cubans have significantly better healthcare than working class Americans! Moreover, Cuba has pioneered “medical solidarity” with more doctors and health workers serving poor communities throughout the world than the World Health Organisation. The BBC reported on March 22, that the pandemic-traumatised population of Italy (a rich imperialist country) were enthusiastically welcoming the arrival of Cuban medical personnel while European Union officials fretted over the “bad optics” of Italians seeing aid arrive from Cuba, China and Russian, but not the EU. The Western countries could provide finance and technology to enable Cuba to increase its worldwide medical solidarity. Instead the US is working on tightening anti-Cuban sanctions to prevent countries from receiving Cuban medical aid.
The COVID-19 pandemic has illuminated many normally invisible social and economic relationships of capitalist society and has exposed much of its exploitative and irrational nature. Paradoxically — because people are its agent of transmission — the pandemic is both anti-social and social. It is anti-social because the fear of contagion from other people can exacerbate the social divisions, individualism and alienation inherent in capitalist society (and ruling class entities are enthusiastically using the pandemic to fuel these, for example US leaders calling it “the Chinese Virus”). But it is social because combating the virus is dependent on recognising that the overall health outcomes for everyone (included society’s most privileged) is dependent on the outcomes of the whole of society, including the most exploited and marginalised. This is true for both within and between nations.
Marxist geographer David Harvey wrote on March 20: “The economic and social impacts are filtered through “customary” discriminations that are everywhere in evidence … the workforce that is expected to take care of the mounting numbers of the sick is typically highly gendered, racialized and ethnicized in most parts of the world. It mirrors the class-based work forces to be found in, for example, airports and other logistical sectors. This ‘new working class’ is in the forefront and bears the brunt of either being the workforce most at risk from contracting the virus through their jobs or of being laid off with no resources because of the economic retrenchment enforced by the virus. There is, for example, the question of who can work at home and who cannot. This sharpens the societal divide as does the question of who can afford to isolate or quarantine themselves (with or without pay) in the event of contact or infection.”
COVID-19 has also illustrated that the ineffectiveness of military/police/border security responses in protecting the elites from some aspects of ecological collapse (including pandemics) does not stop these being the default responses. The neoliberal capitalist state is unable to deal with crises even when it would benefit capitalist society to do so. Social solidarity is a necessity for surviving catastrophe but in capitalist society social solidarity is a challenge to the existing order. The responses of Vietnam and Cuba reflect the merits of socialism both in terms of rational organisation of society (and use of infrastructure and resources) and in terms of social cohesion.
The inability of capitalism to respond to this pandemic that threatens the whole of global capitalist society — including its elites — is reflective of capitalism’s genocidal and suicidal response to broader environmental apocalypse. The demands that the movement has campaigned for now re-emerge with a deadly relevance and urgency. Let’s put them up again, adapted to the current context. All of the above demands show the necessity of our campaigns and of socialism.
How a culture behaves during a time of crisis is directly related to how it used to behave before the crisis. The capitalist authoritarion nature of the Duterte regime seen now is no more than an extension of the capitalist authoritarion nature of the Duterte regime before the pandemic hit. In the book “Deep Green Resistance“, Aric McBay uses a few potential scenarios to describe how the conditions during a collapse will differ based on what the conditions were before the collapse.
By Black Ouioui, a French DGR sympathizer / Image: Norbu Gyachung, CC BY 4.0
The yellow vests movement has been struggling for six month now. Half a year. This is a record-breaking movement in France by its length. Commentators no longer refer to the May 1968 movement, but go back to several democratic protests that occurred during the 19th century. This movement is interesting for the ecological resistance, first because it gives an insight of what future social instability or chaos might look, like in phase 3 of the decisive ecological warfare (DEW), due to the grow of inequalities and ecological disruptions. It is also very interesting in a tactical point of view, because that kind of future mass movement could constitute strong levers (as only few people are part of the radical movement) to help the resistance, in an opportunistic way, to harry and destabilize civilization, with the unintentional help from people who are little concerned by ecological issues. The simplistic and anthropocentric yellow vests saying “end of the world, end of the month, same struggle” designed in order to reply to the unfair pseudo-ecological taxes, could, not for the reason they primarily think, have unexpected ecological benefits by disrupting the techno-industrial system. Then, the question to us is how can we support and strengthen these movements whenever they spontaneously emerge in order to achieve these benefits.
The yellow vests movement started in October 2017 on social networks with a great fed up against the president Emmanuel Macron’s policies. His policies are mainly in favor of the riches and the big companies, doing them one fiscal gifts after another, while the country middle class is becoming poorer and poorer. The movement was specifically triggered by the increase of the fuel tax, the hardening of mandatory vehicle safety inspections (with the unsaid goal, behind security and ecological arguments, to stimulate the growth of the cars sales) and the reduction of the speed limit from 90 to 80 km/h. The increase of this tax was part of a pack of so-called ecological measures of the “extreme centrist” and liberal government of Emmanuel Macron. The minister of ecology Nicolas Hulot, known for being anything but a radical ecologist, resigned a few weeks earlier in August 2018, denouncing his own powerlessness in this government and the impossibility for him to implement the ecological measures he aimed at. This man, quite popular in France, was only a store front for the government. Actually, the current trend in liberal politics is to make poor classes bear the weight of the pseudo-ecological transition, via guilt, individual change and taxes rather than global systemic changes, industry restriction and fair laws, that would, for instance, tax the airplanes fuel, which is « duty free » for the airlines, at the same level than people pay for everyday fuel.
In October-November 2018, people started to put a yellow vest on their car dashboard (a few years ago, it became mandatory to keep one in every car for security reasons), in order to show their disagreement with Macron. This was a huge success, with a majority of cars on the road displaying it. Then, it took the form, since the 17th November 2018, of huge protests every Saturday, not only in Paris but also all across the country. Other actions are also conducted during the week, including the permanent occupation of hundreds of traffic circles. It managed to cause millions of losses to businesses like supermarkets, multinationals, and, among others, luxury shops on the Champs Elysées.
The movement was first watched suspiciously by a part of the left-wing for several reasons, but mainly because they believed the mainstream media’s speech. First, it looked anti-ecological and formed of “rednecks”, many said. Cars, as everyone acknowledge now, are part of the ecological problem, and the movement started as a popular protest against the fuel tax (coined pejoratively by some as a « Jaquerie », a term that refer in France to Middle Age protests against taxes). Also, as a popular mass movement, very diverse political tendencies were represented. Nationalism and sovereignty, as cross-political tendencies (from left- and right-wing both), are quite common in the movement. The national flag, seldom used by the left (except by Jean-Luc Mélenchon who tried to bring it back into fashion to prevent from the extreme-right monopolizing it), is often present in the occupied places or during the protests. This made many think that the movement was led by extreme right-wing people, but later this turned out to be wrong. Along the same lines, the presence of racists and anti-Semitics have been over-emphasized since the beginning by the media in order to discredit the movement.
Actually, mostly, those taking part to the demonstrations were new to politics and militancy, and never formerly campaigned. Like vomiting, it was natural to them, everywhere in the country, to reject as a whole the current political system, all parties included, that was cooking them on a low heat. It was visceral. This led them to banish all party banners or distinctions. Many of these people are anarchists without even knowing it. All actions, blockading, occupations and protests are self-organized, principle deeply rooted into the movement.
Consistently, no official authorization requests, with some official leader that would be responsible for the protest, were sent to the administration, which is decreed by law in France. This is a natural consequence of the fact that the movement was spontaneously born on social networks, rejects the government rules of the game and is almost totally horizontal. People are very mistrustful to any representative, who could negotiate and betray his fellows by compromising with the authorities. Some people in the movement have more influence than other, but either they refuse to become representative of the others, because they don’t feel legitimate, either when they try to, they are immediately rejected by the majority of the others.
The movement also came quickly, due to police clampdown, to a high level of violence, with bloody police confrontations and devastated urban areas. The violence levels culminated the Saturday 6th of December 2018, when the people came in front of the Elysée, with a helicopter ready to extract Macron if by chance they succeeded to enter the palace (at this time a lot of people were burning or guillotining life-size Macron dolls across the country), and more recently the Saturday 23th March and the May Day 2019 with new hardcore clashes in Paris. A funny Saturday was, at the beginning of January, when people used a pallet truck to smash open the front door of the ministry of the government spokesperson Benjamin Grivaux.
Since the beginning, the only political answers to the movement are denial and frightening post-truth answers, which challenge the understanding of anyone with a minimum of intellectual honesty. The police clampdown worsens every week. Now, the yellow vests not only risk to loose a hand or an eye because of riot guns and grenades (with thousands of injured people, some of which victims of war wounds say the hospital staffs), but also risk suffocation. By their unheard amount, concentration and composition, the chemical weapons the police now use can no longer by called “tear gazes”. The gazes that are being used since the 13th of April cause suffocation, burns, non-stop vomiting, consciousness loss. Many kids or elders passing by are also hit.
All these things are quite new to French leftists, and far from the usual, almost traditional, protests the militants are used to, like trade-union-like ones or Occupy-Indignados-like ones. It is uneasy to protest side-by-side with persons that are sometimes politically or socially far from us. For these different reasons, unsurprisingly, the trade unions are very reluctant and, until very recently, seldom called to protest with the yellow vests or, at least, to a supporting strike.
Moreover, except the black bloc, this level of violence is completely unusual to most pacifist leftists and syndicalists, whose order service usually get along with police forces to supervise the protests (and, as I saw in December 2018, sometime block the tail of the procession to let free rein to the police for repressing the yellow vests that are at the front!). The trade-unions called to protest for May Day, but Philippe Martinez, the president of the CGT, had to sneak out because he was scared by the violence of the police clampdown!
Since the beginning of the movement, I finally observe the idea that pacific protests are ineffective gradually spreading in circles that I knew to be pacifists, with a higher violence level tolerance than before. The yellow vest sum it up in the saying: “no breakers, no 20h” (20h refers to the evening news in France). This shift is perceptible in a growing part of the population, despite the unanimous condemnation of violence in the media by the whole Paris intelligentsia (which is very annoyed by the Saturday chaos in its streets), main-stream personalities, journalists, and politics.
Happily, the few extreme right-wing people who took part to the first demonstrations either gradually stopped to mobilize or gradually tempered their opinions by an osmosis phenomenon that, fortunately, occurred in the company of people from other political sides. Very unlikely, according to the caricature the media tried to picture them, within a few weeks, the movement resulted in people to unite in favor of social justice, whatever their political background was, and for the introduction of direct democracy measures in the constitution like the unanimously claimed Citizens’ Initiative Referendum (RIC). Their first 42 claims of the beginning of December were enlightening. Weeks passing, as the goals of the movement got more clearly defined, left-wing militant started to join the popular movement. Interestingly, even if most of their claims are social justice ones, they still often refuse to be politically labeled as left-wing, in order to exclude nobody. The no banner principle is still strictly applied (except for the yellow ones, and the anarchist ones maybe).
The time many leftists and ecologists took to enter in motion (for those that did it) is at the same time wise, and an error. Of course, waiting and observing, when we face an uncertain situation, is wise. But this is also a strategic error, because timing is strategic. And I am the first to recognize my error. Opportunities do not necessarily occur twice. The repression arsenal of the power grows weekly bigger and bigger. Drones, new authoritarian laws, semi-lethal weapons, more powerful chemical weapons (forbidden by the Geneva convention, and used against our own population, what a joke!), urban tanks, chemical marking of the demonstrators with synthetic DNA in the water canon, automatic face recognition with AI, psychological techniques for terror, censorship and targeted arrests in collaboration with Facebook…
This is also an error because we let the others do the toughest job, in the darkest of the winter. And finally because when you miss the departure, it is difficult to catch-up the train. It would be a shame that the French left miss the revolution they have been expecting for ages, isn’t it?
I noticed something of interest for us, that was little commented (but fact-checked) among the huge feed of daily news. Among all the arbitrary arrests, the government targeted and sued ordinary people (who sometime got months of jail) who, in Facebook comments, naively encouraged or called to block refineries and (for a retired man) to blow them up if the government didn’t give in the people’s claims. This means the government is very afraid of that kind of blockage, which can paralyze the country within a few day. It can be quite fast, as we have only a few refineries in France.
About this, the government did a master stroke in Novembre 2018 just after the first protest. They postpone their new tax on heavy trucks to avoid the truck drivers to join the yellow vests. Indeed, the drivers know how much the country depends on them, and know how to block easily all the country’s large retailers and fuel supplies. Their protests are usually very efficient and listened to by the power.
Radical ecologist could strengthen movements like the yellow vests and use them as levers. If they do not directly serve the ecological movement, on one hand they serve social justice, with is always desirable, and on the other hand, they also destabilize the techno-industrial system by blocking supermarkets, breaking multinationals front stores, cutting roads and borders, or blocking oil refineries. In December 2018, the French power was surprised and destabilized by the breadth and the strength of this movement, and this is the kind of weakness we are looking for to generalize in the future.
While gentle ecologists pacifically parade in useless climate walks, at the same time, yellow vests are having violent assaults with the police in other areas of the city, breaking bones, loosing eyes, hands, and for some of them, dying. As radicalists, given the choice, we should know were the battle takes place and not to be late.
This is of course a brief and incomplete account of the yellow vest movement, whose forms are very diverse and shape-shifting.
by One Struggle
At its best, the Supreme Court is meant to make the Constitution adaptable to the changing needs of society. In reality, it is the top tier of a capitalist, bureaucratic ladder that turns human need into semantic arguments for the sake of parceling out freedoms just enough to pacify the masses. It speaks clearly to the interests served by this system when an institution that asserted African Americans are not people (Dred Scott v. Sandford 1857), permitted compulsory sterilization of the intellectually disabled (Buck v Bell 1927), and condoned Japanese internment (Korematsu v. United States 1944) still has relevance and power today.
The Supreme Court has been using that power to further corporate personhood and weaken the power of the collective. With President Nixon’s nomination of Lewis Powell Jr. onto the Supreme Court in 1972 came the presence of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s special interests for decades to come. In a memo to the Chamber shortly before his appointment, Powell wrote of the U.S. economic system coming under attack by everyone from Communists to college students. He urged that businesses take a more active role in defending themselves from this siege, especially through direct involvement in politics. Since then, the Chamber has had increasing influence over the cases brought before the supreme court and their decisions. Their input can be found in the majority of cases concerning the proliferation of corporate rights.
Front row, left to right: Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Associate Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, Associate Justice Stephen G. Breyer. Back row: Associate Justice Elena Kagan, Associate Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr., Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Associate Justice Neil M. Gorsuch. Credit: Franz Jantzen, Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States
Cut to modern day. The Chamber has won 69% of the cases in which they have been involved in since John Roberts became Chief Justice in 2005. In Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the court found that political spending is a form of protected speech under the First Amendment and the government may not keep corporations from spending money to support or denounce individual candidates in elections. Horne v the Department of Agriculture, reported as “small-time farmer” Marvin D. Horne taking on the government, actually concerns “Raisin Valley Farms,” the largest raisin producer in the California valley where most of the world’s raisins come from. The supreme court’s defense of their monetary compensation on the basis of the fifth amendment right to compensation from government takings sets precedent that will stand to benefit large corporations and drag us deeper into a reality where a business can have all of the same rights as a person, but with enough money and power to structure the entire country to their benefit. In both of these cases, the Chamber of Commerce filed multiple briefs in order to influence the opinion of the court. Meanwhile, average Americans who do not spark the interest of massive lobbying groups are toiling away in the lower courts, being issued arrest warrants by judges in collusion with collections agencies, and being jailed in a return to debtor’s prisons thought to be a thing of the past.
What naturally follows the bestowing of human rights to corporations is the stripping of those rights from the rest of the population. In AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion in 2011, corporations gained the power to force consumers to individually file lawsuits against a company, allowing them to protect themselves from class action lawsuits by consumers (Oh, is that a Chamber of Commerce amicus brief I see?). This legal protection was expanded this year to employee class action lawsuits in Epic Systems v. Lewis (wow Chamber we really can’t keep meeting like this). One month later in Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, the court ruled that government workers who choose not to join unions may not be required to help pay for collective bargaining, effectively crippling public sector unions. Corporations have successfully cultivated legal ground for exploitation of their workers and relieved themselves of the need to be accountable to their customers.
Brett Kavanaugh. AP photo/ Dennis Cook
That is where we have been and where we are now, but where are we headed? President Donald Trump, a blunt force for the fascist fraction of the capitalist class, has nominated his second supreme court justice. In Brett Kavanaugh, big business will find yet another bedfellow in the high courts (here is his endorsement from the Chamber of Commerce). He has consistently shown that his loyalties lie with the wealthy and not working Americans, a position that seems painfully redundant for today’s supreme court. Who stands to benefit from the appointment of a judge that the NRA has vowed to spend $1 million to get into office? The Judge has stood staunchly against unions in the majority of cases that have come before him. In Midwest Division-MMC, LLC v. NLRB, when nurses were denied union representation in peer-review meetings, Kavanaugh sided with the hospital and their need for confidentiality over the worker’s rights. In NLRB v. CNN, Kavanaugh sided with CNN in their removal of unionized workers and denied that they took part in unfair labor practices. He has expressedopinions that undocumented workers are not eligible to unionize and, furthermore, negate the power of the unions they participate in. His stance on net neutrality blatantly favors the interests of large telecommunications agencies. In 2016 he went after the Consumer Protections Bureau, stating that their structure is unconstitutional and the President should have the power to fire the director. People are understandably concerned about his standing on social issues, but more troubling is his love affair with big business and direct opposition to workers. Kavanaugh’s appointment not only threatens decisions like Roe v. Wade, but also intensifies the onslaught of Fascist consolidation.
We’ve been fed the belief that our system of government has built-in checks and balances against the absolute corruption of absolute power. Bourgeois democracy and its state apparatus do not serve our interests. Instead, state institutions and their representatives exist to divide, disorganize, and pacify us. Courts make rulings that throw piecemeal concessions toward our bourgeois democratic rights while simultaneously eroding our power to band together and fight back against the interests of the capitalist class. Laws and legislation are made deliberately confusing through legalese and opaque proceedings in order to keep us from exercising our true power – the power that lies in our direct, organized action. Justice comes from people organized as a social force, fighting for their interests.
Currently, the retraction of bourgeois democratic rights has the country crying Fascism, but its root is in the social, political, and economic arrangement – capitalism – that has reached a structural crisis, thanks to banking and finance. Violence based on toxic ideologies are meant to rally a base of support for policies that will only make the rich richer. In order to truly resist Fascism, we must recognize that capitalism is still the problem. We must be vigilant against the capitalist alternatives. We must recognize that the state apparatus and institutions like the Supreme Court fundamentally exist to protect the wealth of the few while screwing everybody else over. We must be aware of these interests on our streets, in our workplaces, and in our communities. We must resist them globally. We must resist them nationally. We must resist them locally.
It’s a familiar story. On his final journey toward Jerusalem, Jesus stops in Bethany to eat at the home of Simon, a leper. A woman enters with an alabaster jar of expensive ointment; she breaks the jar and pours the ointment on his head. Her gesture invokes the fury of some of those present. The ointment was worth a year’s wage, they grumble. It could have been sold, and the money given to the poor.
“The poor will always be with you” was Jesus’ righteous and innocent enough reply. Jesus clearly did not pretend by his remark to be shedding new light on the problem of poverty. And when we remind ourselves, as we so often do, that “the poor will always be with us” (as they always have been), we are merely borrowing a manner of stating a fact we all accept without a second thought. It was a fact as unquestioned in Jesus’ time as it is today. But it is not exactly a fact about the poor – that they always have been (and always will be) with us. It is one of those collectively held assumptions that constitute the mythology of our culture, the culture of what has become our global civilization.
It is not an idle myth, that the poor will always be with us, but a vital myth, a powerful and essential means of sustaining our culture and the business of it as usual. It is a myth that has haunted me throughout my two and a half decades of feeling and actively expressing both compassion and indignation in relation to the persistence of hunger, homelessness and poverty in our affluent nation and abroad. Most of this time I have spent working in a soup kitchen and homeless shelter, trying, I suppose, to escape my own affluence and privilege as well as meet basic human needs and challenge the political powers.
The cultural ‘purpose’ of the myth is as clearly straightforward as it is debilitating to the caring activist: there’s no sense in trying to end poverty, except in our dreams. The dreams are reflected in our rhetoric, but under the surface we realize that the prize we can reasonably strive for is amelioration.
Consider, on the other hand, that poverty as we know it is not and has never been the fate of humanity, but instead is largely a product of civilization, as we know it. Columbus and other European explorers and colonists, for example, did not discover poverty here in the Americas; they created it. Defined in terms of security, control and access to life-sustaining resources, poverty and affluence take on a meaning apart from our conventional ‘standard of living’ measure. This reinterpretation prompted anthropologist Marshall Sahlins 50 years ago to identify tribal hunter-gatherers as the “original affluent societies”. He recognized a kind of wealth enjoyed – and enjoyed equitably – by tribal people that far surpassed in value the benefits we associate with having wealth in our culture. Perhaps because we have begun to change our own conventional measures of wealth, hunter-gatherers are beginning to be perceived by us in a more favorable light. My students do generally pause to consider if the Native Americans were ‘poor’ when encountered by European explorers, but then uniformly insist that they were not.
And although scientists discovered over a century ago that humans lived in this hunter-gatherer way for hundreds of thousands of years before the ‘Agricultural Revolution’ spawned our civilization and culture a mere 10,000 years ago, our history and our collectively held and lived mythology reduce the human experience to civilization-building. Our collective frame of reference not only omits the vast human experience prior to our history, it excludes the experience of humans flourishing in egalitarian tribes concurrent with our history. There are still today scattered pockets of tribal people who have never known the kind of poverty we take so for granted. This vast experience suggests that poverty is a function of culture, not of nature, which is relatively immutable.
So one way we perpetuate the myth of never-ending poverty is by continuing to believe, against the facts, that our history, the history of our culture, our civilization is the history of humanity itself and that anyone outside or predating this history is a poor, half-human savage. Many of us individually will nod to the facts when confronted by them. This matters little, because mythology is something a culture of people buy into together and give expression to in the way they live as a group.
In the same vein, a second and more recent source of fuel for the myth is that, in an important sense, we really don’t want poverty to go away. It is therefore convenient to believe that the poor will always be with us (as they have always been). We don’t want poverty to go away for at least two broad reasons.
The first is that our economic system necessarily generates poverty; but more specifically, our own employment increasingly depends on it. One day at Amos House, a young man was ejected from the soup kitchen for a rule infraction. On the curb outside, he shouted back at our social worker, “you know, if it wasn’t for me, you wouldn’t have a job!” I still ponder that remark 10 years later.
Automation and cheap foreign labor have challenged our economy to find new ways to sustain growth and keep people busy, and our economy has responded brilliantly. The service ‘industry’ has taken up the slack. As the Agricultural/Industrial Revolution displaced not only laborers, but also the life-sustaining role of small communities (tribes and then villages), it created tremendous neediness and marginalization, adding to the effects of automation. The demand for services to address mounting social problems provided the new raw material. Private and public service programs nicely fit the bill because they ease the pain and give the appearance of an effective response without actually solving the problem. Indeed, the kinds of short-term, palliative interventions provided by services often permit the problem to worsen long term. Additionally, this neat economic solution has inspired the cultural fabrication of more frivolous needs and wants to which an infinite number of new services can be introduced to stoke the furnace.
A second reason why we cling to the continuation of poverty, and also to marginalization more broadly, is that many of us, at least, need a place to actively express our care and compassion. We need people – beyond our immediate family members – to care for in the absence of the tribal context within which we once freely shared our care with other members in a mutual support network. I’m like my dog, Pearl, who without the opportunity to hunt instinctively, finds herself playing out the hunt in our house or backyard (sometimes in absurdly comical ways). I can’t say that humans are instinctively compassionate or that we were meant by God or anything else to live in tribes. But there is clearly a compassionate streak in us, expressed more in some people than in others, and humans have lived tribally for 99% of our time on earth. Tribalism is a way of life that has tested out, notwithstanding its relatively recent setback in the face of our own civilizational expansion (Despite how the balance of this competition appears to us, it is too early to call the match.)
Mutual care, generated more by survival needs and self interest than by altruism, is the basis of support in the tribe. In our world, this support has been supplanted by services, mainly professional services working within a service system. Service, in fact, is simply the attempt to meet needs outside the context of community. Just as we do not use the word ‘service’ to label the care we provide within our families, likewise there is no equivalent concept of ‘service’ among tribal people. For individuals with an especially caring disposition, the service system provides the only available outlet, other than the care provider’s own family. The weakening nuclear family, however, like the extended family, clan, village and tribe before it, has increasingly surrendered its support function to professional services. Following this trend, we could all soon find ourselves supported by service providers alone.
John McKnight makes a compelling case that the professional service system is a poor substitute for the kind of support system only a genuine community can provide. It is inferior on many counts, not the least of which is that it frustrates the caring service provider who enters the field of teaching, health care or social work in order to give care only to face one systemic obstacle after another. McKnight insists that the professional service system and its network of private and public institutions and agencies are not geared to providing care, only professional services. To give and receive care, there is no substitute for community. I consider the tribe to be the archetype of community in this sense.
So far I have identified our collectively held assumption that “the poor will always be with us” as a tragic, self-fulfilling prophecy based on mistaken assumptions. I have also named four factors contributing to the perpetuation of the myth and the consequent perpetuation of poverty:
- We collectively believe that human poverty is an inevitable part of the natural order in general and of the nature of humans in particular.
- We understand that, in fact, the poor have always been with us.
- An increasing number of jobs and institutions (and the economy itself) depend on the continuation or worsening of poverty and marginalization.
- The marginalized provide caregivers somewhere to direct their compassion.
A revised understanding of the inevitability of poverty lends itself to at least two general change strategies. Although activists like myself tend to favor more action-sounding suggestions, the first and perhaps most radical thing we can do is help surface our cultural mythology and replace it with principles of living that will work better for us – and possibly lead to the elimination of poverty. For “the poor will always be with us” we might substitute something like: “The universe consists of cycles of creation and destruction, birth and death, but within this framework, the earth will provide.” Our planet and its abundant and richly diverse community of life offer an adequate and acceptable support system for us, as they do for all other species. No one should languish in the kind of marginal destitution we commonly call ‘poverty’. This strategy is one of learning and relearning.
The second avenue is building community – finding small and more ambitious ways of reintegrating ourselves into small-scale economies of support founded on trusting relationships. In My Ishmael, Author Daniel Quinn distinguishes between a tribal economy founded on the exchange of human energy:
and our economy that is founded on the exchange of products, including service products:
To the extent that we can transfer our faith and reliance from the products system to the communal support system, we contribute to the atrophy (and eventual elimination) of the products system, its institutions and political structures and jurisdictions. The kind of poverty we are familiar with has been with us through the emergence of our civilization because it is inherent in the culture of our civilization, if not in civilization as a mode of social organization in general. Poverty can be eliminated, but it will require a fundamental break from the way we have been thinking and living.
Our current worldview, allegiances and psychological attachments strongly favor the prevailing way of life, as does the usual default assumption that the world is simply going to continue on its trajectory toward a ‘more and bigger’ version of what we have today. But like a recessive gene, our capacity to trust the earth and live by each other’s support and unique gifts lies within each of us, dormant for the most part, but ready to surface and engage after an initial adjustment process. Many disaffected youth, still partially dependent on the products system, have nevertheless chosen to live tribally simply to support their refusal to eke out a living in the usual way, preferring the freedom and vitality of life on the outside. Less dramatic experiments, ranging from intentional rural communities to urban block association activity, point in the ‘give support/get support’ direction.
By the standards of tribal wealth, even our financially well off are quite poor. In my facilitation work with the materially comfortable in churches and nonprofits, I find a surprising receptivity to this disturbing message. A million dollars, for example, is not enough to insure against having to spend the last decade of life in a nursing home. One source of hope for me – as distant as it appears – lies in the potential for defection within the middle and upper classes. As ‘winning’ the products contest rewards us with a life that is increasingly accelerated, virtual, alienating and superficial – as well as ecologically perilous – the rewards of abandoning the game we play for life with the trees and sky – and each other – will prove increasingly irresistible. The ‘simple living’ trend of the past decade may portend a shift that is deeper and more widespread; this shift could provide a catalyst for the cultural break necessary to end poverty.
It certainly lies outside the box to imagine rich people releasing their hold on product wealth and the means of creating it, but this will be a natural side effect of their shifting attention in the direction of acquiring a different kind of wealth. The marginalized poor would then have a better chance of reestablishing access to land resources. Unfortunately, the prevailing models of development in poor communities and countries are the models offered by the products system, which the poor themselves generally look to as the only way out. Alternatively, organizations committed to reducing poverty should emphasize strategies that regenerate the kind of self-reliant, give support/get support community life that can regenerate the kind of wealth we have paved over with a product-driven culture of winners and losers.
This essay is adapted from Jim Tull’s new book, Positive Thinking in a Dark Age. A somewhat different version first appeared in The Other Side, May-June 2002, Vol. 38, No. 3. Republished with permission.