Could COVID-19 Lead to Transformation? Revolution?

Our federal government is deeply flawed, leaving the poor to bear the brunt of the virus & allowing the rich to escape largely unscathed. But from this chaos, the real heroes emerge: our states, our healthcare workers, our clerks: us.

After a few announcements, we take an interesting journey with The New York Times, The Atlantic, Vanity Fair, and Democracy Now! While this analysis crosses some familiar territory — neoliberalism run amok, a failed federal government, a profiteering private sector, and our poor, our immigrants, and our youth suffering most from our systemic failures — we conclude with evidence from our states that the combination of values, competence, and sincere concern for our people can result in something like justice. And then we conclude with Democracy Now! and the wise, inspiring words of Bernie Sanders, Naomi Klein, and Noam Chomsky. There is reason for hope, my friends. Read on.

Navajo-Hopi COVID-19 Relief Campaign Expanded

Get updated on the relief effort by listening to Retake’s radio show podcast, available on Monday, but we have also created an action page that has new information on emerging critical needs in Navajo and Hopi Nations. Click here to get information and links for making donations. Spoiler alert: if you have a trailer you can lend or donate, that would be HUGE.

Retake on the Radio

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Retake Our Democracy on KSFR 101.1 FM, Saturdays, 8:30 – 9 am. We’ve figured out a coronavirus-work-around and are using Zoom to record interviews remotely. In our latest broadcast, we interview indigenous activists Janene Yazzie and Kim Smith, two of the leaders of the Navajo-Hopi Nation COVID-19 Relief Effort. This show is uplifting in this time of chaos. I highly recommend listening to the podcast, which is available now. You can listen to any of our podcasts by clicking here. We have radio shows lined up going forward, so you will be able to hear new shows with compelling guests each week, despite the pandemic.

Retake Launches New Zoominar Series

Retake has created a new Zoominar Series beginning this Tuesday night, April 14, at 6:30 p.m., with a PRC District 3 Candidate Forum, followed by a Zoominar on April 21 with our Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard and her General Counsel Ari Biernoff, and a third Zoominar on May 5 with Dahr Jamail and Greg Rogers. Click here for information and to pre-register. You MUST pre-register to secure your virtual “seat.”

Trump Chaos on COVID-19 Reveals a Path Forward

The departments of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services published a report this morning outlining three possible trajectories for the virus with each trajectory depending upon what actions our nation pursues. The report points out that unless we sustain our commitment to social distancing and shelter-in-place we would experience a spike in the epidemic later in the summer. Put another way, all the sacrifice that millions of Americans have made would be for naught.

Fortunately, it appears FOR NOW that those in Trump’s administration who actually understand science and disease and trust data have cajoled Trump into silencing his fantasy land hopes of reopening America “soon, very, very, very soon.” But over the past days, a number of reports have emerged outlining how the US response to the virus has both revealed its systemic flaws and the potential for, indeed the absolute need for, substantive transformation, even revolution.

Will COVID-19 Lead to Transformation? Revolution?

To the historians out there, I recommend The Atlantic’s “The Revolution Is Under Way Already” by Rebecca Spang. It traces parallel developments from the French Revolution and conditions in the US today.

“Fear sweeps the land. Many businesses collapse. Some huge fortunes are made. Panicked consumers stockpile paper, food, and weapons. The government’s reaction is inconsistent and ineffectual. Ordinary commerce grinds to a halt; investors can find no safe assets. Political factionalism grows more intense. Everything falls apart. This was all as true of revolutionary France in 1789 and 1790 as it is of the United States today. “

The Atlantic: “The Revolution Is Under Way Already”

The Atlantic goes on to point out the many surprising parallels between 1789 and today, but for me the more important observation is how the French Revolution was not some carefully, centralized scheme with well known leaders taking charge, amassing a huge grassroots power base that takes over, but rather a series of dislocating events that stirred dissatisfaction just as disparate groups began to connect dots and come together, emerging almost organically but certainly not in a well-coordinated plan. From The Atlantic:

“Human beings are responsible both for much of what is wrong and for much of what could be right about the world today. But we have to take responsibility. In hindsight a revolution may look like a single event, but they are never experienced that way. Instead they are extended periods in which the routines of normal life are dislocated and existing rituals lose their meaning.”

The Atlantic: “The Revolution Is Under Way Already”

The Atlantic goes on to describe how the virus is causing exactly the kinds of dislocations and discomforts that create the necessary disquiet that are the preconditions of radical change. But the most poignant observation to me, is the degree to which the virus is causing all of us to recognize how inter-dependent we are, how the myth of the triumph of the individual is a false narrative, that our heroes are not in Washington but in our grocery stores, our hospitals, our childcare centers, our neighborhood bistros.

“The pandemic and resulting public-health crisis have caused an abrupt and salutary revaluation in which cleaners, care workers, grocery-store stockers, and delivery drivers are gaining recognition for the essential work they have been doing all along. Taken together, these changes may not look like a revolution—but real revolutions are the ones that nobody sees coming.”

The Atlantic: “The Revolution Is Under Way Already”

“The Revolution Is Under Way Already” is an uplifting and most illuminating piece, drawing many other surprising lessons from our times. It set the stage perfectly for the pieces we examine next, an editorial from the NY Times and a piece from Vanity Fair, before turning the post over to a series of very both revealing and inspiring videos. Well worth your time: Click here to read the full Atlantic report.

NY Times Editorial: What Could Be Post COVID-19

In its excellent editorial “The Nation We Need,” the New York Times first lays out how the national response to the pandemic has revealed what America has become before delineating the extent to which neoliberal policy has led to a nation unwilling to use government to benefit its people.

“The present crisis has revealed the United States as a nation in which professional basketball players could be rapidly tested for the coronavirus but health care workers were turned away; in which the affluent could retreat to the safety of second homes, relying on workers who can’t take paid sick leave to deliver food; in which children in lower-income households struggle to connect to the digital classrooms where their school lessons are now supposed to be delivered.

NY Times: “The Nation We Need”

You could fill a book with examples of how unfairly and unevenly low-income America and most specifically communities of color, immigrants, individuals in jails and prisons, front line workers in hospitals and markets, are bearing the brunt of the coronavirus. How the coronavirus has played out is indeed entirely consistent with how America has played out over the past 70 years.

The NY Times editorial correctly notes that these manifestations of gross injustice are not the whole story. The editorial goes on to describe how current US policy has utterly abandoned the role of government as a source of support, coordination, priority setting, and leadership, abandoning that role to the private sector.

“The United States does not guarantee the availability of affordable housing to its citizens, as do most developed nations. It does not guarantee reliable access to health care, as does virtually every other developed nation. The cost of a college education in the United States is among the highest in the developed world. And beyond the threadbare nature of the American safety net, the government has pulled back from investment in infrastructure, education and basic scientific research, the building blocks of future prosperity. It is not surprising many Americans have lost confidence in the government as a vehicle for achieving the things that we cannot achieve alone.

NY Times: “The Nation We Need”

The graphic at left is from #universalhealthcare. It depicts the number of Americans who have lost healthcare coverage in the last two weeks due to losing their jobs. Below it are the numbers of citizens of other countries who lost their coverage due to employment disruptions. Enough said. For tens of millions of Americans, you are on your own and coronavirus has made that ever so clear.

The NY Times describes how the privatization of care in America has resulted in profit, but very little care. They then describe historic reform efforts that have resulted during times of US crises after the civil war, before and after the great depression, and during Johnson’s Great Society.

The Times doesn’t sugar coat these reform efforts, pointing out how freed slaves were subject to Jim Crow, and how the advances of the New Deal drew a red line around communities of color, excluding them from benefiting from those reforms. “The Nation We Need” concludes by suggesting that when the COVID-19 virus has been contained, the US will have the opportunity to create something new, but to do so we need to restore our belief that government can operate on our behalf.

We have seen absolutely no evidence from the current administration that this government can function in response to our needs. So, from whence does the requisite hope for the future and trust in government emerge? It can come from two sources: our cities and states, who have heroically sought to overcome federal dysfunction and grapple with the disease with integrity, honesty, and resourcefulness. But just as important, our hope should spring from each other, the heroes in each of us that we see now so poignantly demonstrated by our healthcare workers, our grocery clerks, our first responders, our neighbors.

Fifty Independent Nation States Heroically Patch Together a COVID-Response & Hope for Our Future

We’ve seen Governor Cuomo almost nightly demonstrating a stark contrast with President Trump. Governor Newsom in California, Governor Pritzker in Illinois, and Governor Lujan Grisham here in NM each have taken proactive, science-based approaches, and their efforts are saving thousands of lives. These politicians are not perfect and I suspect we will find that errors were made in one or more of their efforts. But their work has been transparent, honest, and as science-based as can be expected when they are operating in a chaotic, Darwinian, every-state-for-itself environment. Vanity Fair’s explosive article, “Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker: ‘Trump has caused a greater number of deaths across the country’ ” by Joe Hagan, outlines with specific details how the federal government has created an utter free-for-all in which states compete with the federal government for desperately needed supplies, with states having to outbid each other, driving up prices, rewarding corporate greed with obscene profits, and allowing Trump to stockpile supplies and distribute them in ways that appear highly political. From Vanity Fair:

“Pritzker said he spoke with Trump directly two weeks ago and was promised a number of supplies. A “fraction” of what was promised was delivered, he said, and in one case the order was completely botched. ‘They promised us 300,000 N95 masks, and we got 300,000 surgical masks,’ he said. ‘They did promise us 300 ventilators, which we got. They were operational, unlike the ones that went to California, but we had to go check every one of them because we understood that the ones that went to California were broken.’ “

Vanity Fair: “Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker: ‘Trump has caused a greater number of deaths across the country’

And also from Vanity Fair:

“I mean, for me to go out and compete against California, New York, and countries outside of the United States to get the lifesaving equipment that we need—and, oh, by the way, I’m also competing against FEMA and the federal government—it’s outrageous,” Pritzker told me. “It’s outrageous.

We’ve had to just finally say, ‘Well then, we’re not going to rely upon any promises that are made, and we’re just going to act as if we’re an independent nation here,’ which isn’t the way this ought to work.”

Vanity Fair: “Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker: ‘Trump has caused a greater number of deaths across the country’

On this point, Pritzker is wrong. This is precisely how America is supposed to function, with corporations holding the upper hand and our national leaders promoting policies that solidify their grip and enable profits to be the designed outcome, at the immeasurable expense of the states and the people they serve. The Vanity Fair article explains the dynamic playing out in state after state. A separate article from Bloomberg News outlines how this played out in Colorado, while underscoring how Trump is using stockpiles of critically needed supplies as political largesse, rewarding Republican Governors and punishing Democrat Governors. For now, most of these Democrat Governors are being muted in their criticism of this dynamic, knowing that to speak up could cost supplies and lives, but come summer, the truth will be told and more will speak up like Gov. Pritzker.

In closing, I want to return to Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine. Her premise is that out of chaos emerges opportunity. To date, it has been oligarchy that has seized these opportunities to solidify their grip, increase their power and profit, and diminish the rest of us. But this virus, and the battle lines being drawn, are pulling away the curtain. The greed and the complicit GOP leadership are being exposed. But that has occurred before, and the oligarchs have been able to brand themselves as heroes against terrorists, against hordes of refugees, against the media, and emerge unscathed. But the virus is doing more than expose their duplicity, it is exposing very, very clearly how much the rest of us need each other and how the real heroes are our neighbors, our clerks, our hospital workers. Now it is vital that we carry that message to the American people. We are not being served well, indeed, we are not being served at all. And this is not new; it is just more brazenly apparent than ever before.

The video below is from DemocracyNow! Talk about heroes. Where would we be without their nightly honesty and their deep dives into the issues impacting our lives. In the segment below, Amy Goodman first offers Bernie Sanders the stage as he backs out of the presidential race while making clear there is a movement to continue to build. His central point is that we have won the battle of ideas and so many of his platform policies that had been viewed as crazy five years ago are now mainstream. But he also makes clear that winning the battle of ideas is not the same as winning the power to implement those ideas. And therein lies the importance of a movement. Goodman then passes the mic to Naomi Klein who does a brilliant job, as always, of connecting the dots. Finally, Noam Chomsky in just a few words, drives home the point: It is up to us and we are worth fighting for.

In solidarity,

Paul & Roxanne

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6 replies

  1. For most of us, the French Revolution is distant, terrifying, and poorly understood. For something closer to home,’s resident history professor has a series on “The Times That Try Men’s (and Women’s) Souls” and the run up to the American Revolution and then the Civil War. From the most recent installment, one can find the links to all the earlier episodes starting with 1774.

  2. Will this epidemic lead to a revolution?

    It is true that many revolutions have started as widespread uncoordinated uprisings as documented in the Atlantic article. This was true of the French Revolution, The Revolutions of 1820 (a wave of revolutions attempting to establish liberal constitutional monarchies in Italy, Spain and Portugal), the Revolutions of 1830 (a wave of Romantic nationalist revolutions in Europe), the Revolutions of 1848 (a wave of failed liberal and republican revolutions that swept through Europe), the 1905 Russian Revolution (the failed revolution against Tsar Nicholas II in Russia), the Mexican Revolution of 1910-1920 and the February 1917 Russian Revolution that deposed Tsar Nicholas II. (The October Revolution in Russia, in which the Bolsheviks took over the provisional government of the Russian Republic was, in contrast, a well-coordinated and planned coup d’etat, rather than a widespread uncoordinated uprising). This was also true of the more recent Arab Spring uprisings and the ‘Color Revolutions’ (various related movements that developed in countries of the former Soviet Union, People’s Republic of China and the Balkans during the early 2000’s).

    Although the idea of a revolution may seem appealing to those wishing to sweep away what is considered an unjust socio-economic order, be careful what you ask for. Looking through this (by no means comprehensive) list of widespread popular uprisings we find that the results were often long periods of civil and external warfare (French Revolution, Russian Revolution of 1917, Mexican Revolution, Arab Spring and Color Revolutions) brutal periods of ‘political cleansing’, featuring often indiscriminate mass incarcerations and executions by both sides (seen in almost all of the cases listed above) and often delivering an end state that is in many ways less liberal and/or egalitarian than that which existed before the revolution (as was the case after many of the Revolutions of 1820, 1830, 1848, the Russian Revolution of 1905 and most of the Arab Spring uprisings and Color Revolutions).

    One thing that the history of popular uprisings shows is that they rarely occur without eventually resulting in widespread violence, they are very difficult to control or direct and that the final outcome is almost impossible to predict.

  3. Coming from Ohio and knowing a lot about the rural population, I do not believe one can assume that the oppressed population will welcome any revolutionary change. The vast majority of the white rural population there are Trump supporters, gun advocates, fox news addicts, spreaders of hideous right-wing conspiracy theory junk on fakebook, and anti-vaxxers, to name a few of the issues. Those that do have jobs are among the most oppressed – questionably “essential” factory workers, manual laborers, warehouse workers, Wal-Mart, etc. They are screaming for this “stay-at-home” thing to end. They hate the “gummint” no matter what. It’s difficult to break through the lies and delusional misinformation.

    I realize that a lot of progressives do not want to hear this, but it really is true. I don’t know how we can break through to these people. This thing could wind up going in a lot of different directions, including the right-wing much-anticipated civil war.

  4. The Times piece is especially strong in asking us to consider an American society that is “more just, more free, more resilient.” (It is the beginning of a series). How can we call forth a New Mexico that meets these goals of more justice, equality and resilience?”

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