Someone wrote me asking ‘what were my hopes for 2021?’ I replied that before talking about hopes and opportunities we first need to acknowledge our collective shame in failing last year to build an effective national protest movement against the policies that led to the avoidable deaths of hundreds of thousands of ordinary people and the economic ruin of tens of millions more. The impacts, of course, have been grotesquely amplified in communities of colour and amongst the low-wage workforce. (Here in California two-thirds of the dead bear Spanish surnames.) Minority senior citizens are reckoned to comprise a majority of the 110,000 nursing home deaths highlighted in the New York Times yesterday: a massacre equal in number to a common estimate of those killed by the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.
From late March onwards the momentum for such a movement was generated by hundreds of rank-and-file protests and job actions by healthcare, food industry and service workers, with Nurses United as a national voice. In some areas, DSA chapters and BLM groups organized support activities while immigrant and prison rights activists attempted to draw attention to the pandemic explosion inside prisons, jails and detention facilities. But there was no real attempt at national coordination or the creation of an inclusive emergency coalition. Nor can I recall a single progressive publication editorializing in favour of national protests and movement building.
One might have expected the leadership to have come from Sanders and Our Revolution, but while Bernie applauded workers and offered progressive proposals for congressional action, his camp was almost entirely absorbed in getting out the vote in November. In effect he abdicated what had been a major premise of his campaign: the integral role of protest in galvanizing voters. The national union response was equally electoral and on the part of many unions, chillingly low-key. While BLM repeatedly demonstrated that masked and distanced protest could safely return to the streets, liberals and too many progressives stayed bunkered down and harmless.
As a result, Trump’s neo-fascist mobs – criminally active vectors of infection – ended up owning the pandemic or, perhaps more accurately, the economic sacrifices that Republican policies imposed. For its part, the slow-brained and mechanical Biden campaign allowed health and jobs to be counterposed as priorities, giving away millions of votes to Trump. Nor did the Democrats press the most obvious populist button available: the immense upward transfer of wealth to Bezos and the zillionaire class.
A national protest movement would have opened a second front for BLM and changed the election dynamics. It would have highlighted the specific union and community organizing campaigns that should be priorities for support in 2021. It would have kept Medicare for All on the top of the agenda and prevented the current marginalization of progressive voices inside the Biden administration.
The left needs to face the fact that despite the huge popularity of its ideas and the dynamic example of BLM we remain clueless and disorganized as a national force. We need to stop looking for electoral silver-linings and get ourselves together. Renew our commitment to BLM and work like hell to build a multi-issue national coalition for life and justice.
Read on: Mike Davis’s granular analysis of the US election results.