Some Changes the Coronavirus Should Bring

Pearl River     In the Age of Trump and the Time of the Coronavirus, there seems to be constant speculation about what changes in our society, habits, and government might be permanent given our collective experience.  Much of this is hyperbole.  One pundit argued that he went “to sleep in America and woke up in democratic socialist Europe.”  Oh, if dreams could come true!  Let’s instead talk about lessons we should learn in this crisis, and things that should absolutely change in the wake of this crisis.

The Affordable Care Act is now ten years old, celebrating its anniversary during the lockdown.  No matter Trump’s rhetoric and Mitch McConnell’s Senate Republican caucus, can anyone make the case that the private health insurance and the patchwork quilt of state health coverage is adequate for our people?  The elimination of mandatory coverage left our hospital network damaged, albeit their greedy pricing of their services, drugs, and the like are major players as well, forced mergers and left us with too many sick and not enough beds, equipment, and personnel.  Millions in states across the country are facing this crisis without any insurance.  That has to change.

How could we not learn that the internet has to become a public utility?  How could we not realize that we finally have to take this matter out of the hands of the telecoms and the pattycake FCC voluntary programs and eliminate the digital divide, here and around the world?  How can all the ideologues who want to argue that education is the answer, despite the facts, maintain their position as the country from elementary to college is pushed into on-line learning, leaving lower income families even farther behind?   Put this near the top of the list.

Living wages, paid sick leave, real unemployment benefits, the play pretend that gig workers are not employees, are all things that we have once again been taught have to be part of the safety net for everyone, especially lower waged workers and their families.   The failure of government in this crisis has to end the argument that somehow the private sector and the magic of market forces are somehow going provide for families.  They never have, and they never will.  That’s why we need a government, it’s time to make them do the job.

I didn’t put this on the top of the list, but our union represents home care workers, nursing home workers, developmentally disabled workers, and the government and society has depended on them for care as much as they do hospital workers, yet they are severely underpaid and under resourced.  Good health care is a top to bottom priority, and we have to guarantee our people that they will be provided for when in care, and when giving care.

Yes, people will finally learn to wash their hands better, but the virus ought to bring forward a host of changes that we desperately need and can no longer ignore.  The temptation by policy makers will be to fight the last war, rather than the next, by putting more respirators and masks into production.  Many of us will include different items in our “run for it” bags and storage closets for sure.  But we need to learn from this that there are fundamental changes that we have to make in protection and provision for our people, and we need to do it now.

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Women in the Draft – Yes

Pearl River     The draft was a central issue in the opposition to the Vietnam War.  It touched all young men from eighteen to twenty-six, and the families that loved them.  It was a terribly unifying horror that was shared throughout the country, forcing life changing, and often life and death decisions at a very, very early age that would determine your future, if you were lucky enough to have one.  There was no choice to register, just as there is no choice to register for young men today, but once registered you might be on your way to Vietnam, Canada, or jail or any space in between that you could find.  You might be able to avoid the draft, but you could not avoid the decision.

Though draft was universal for young men, that did not mean it was one-size-fits-all and equitable.  It was class and race-biased with a vengeance.  During that period, when going to college was not as ubiquitous as it is now fifty years later, if you were a student, you could get a 2-S deferment, as a special middle class your-life-is-more-important-than-mine card.  If you knew someone at the local draft board, you were rolling as well, if you ran into trouble on the grades.  I did time as a draft counselor and in draft resistance during that period in both New Orleans and western Massachusetts.  I stopped when I felt like I was running a college service center.  Dropping out of school to organize, I went through draft physicals in Springfield, Massachusetts and New Orleans.  This was a working-class congregational meeting with the preponderance of draftees were people of color.

Anti-war protests were key, but the draft was the trump card in making opposition to the war grow and prevail.  Working offshore on oil platforms in the summer is shift work. I was on 14 and 7.  Company guys were on 7 and 7.  Coworkers were from Florida, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Alabama, and of course Texas.  If the money was good, the drive in and out was no big thing.  You worked twelve hour shifts and were stuck out on the water.  You talked, and it was surprising in 1967 when I was a teenager to hear the roustabouts and tool pushers state plainly that they would not let their kids go to Vietnam.

Look at our endless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  You want to end a war, institute a compulsory service draft.  You want to end it even faster, given the powers that be, draft women, too.

Not that women can’t fight.  Some 17% of the US military is now composed of women on the front line, as pilots, and any other job that they are able to muster.  They are no longer restricted from combat roles.  As this number grows, it will give some lawmakers pause.  It’s one thing for many of them to volunteer, but as their percentage increases, these old schoolers who want to control their bodies in every other way, are not going to be happy seeing them come back home to their districts in body bags.

A national commission is reportedly recommending that young women be required to register for the draft at eighteen, just as young men do.  I’m all for it.  It virtually guarantees that a compulsory draft will never be used again.

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