A Plan for Black Lives in the Coronavirus Emergency
The previous commentary, Black Lives in the Green New Deal, described how the uprising in response to the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer is developing toward a movement addressing the multifaceted oppression of Black people in America. This commentary presents the highlights of a program developed by the Movement for Black Lives that addresses both the emergency needs of the coronavirus era and the fundamental needs of a society struggling with inequality, oppression, and climate change. While it focuses on the problems of Black people, the solutions this program proposes will be for the good of all.
Black people are two-and-a-half times as likely as White people to catch COVID-19 and substantially more likely to be unemployed as a result of the pandemic. George Floyd, in addition to being murdered by racist police, was infected by COVID-19 and lost his job when the restaurant he worked for closed because of the pandemic. Protecting Black lives requires not only immediate change in policing and long-term transformation of American society; it needs an emergency program to address the devastating harm being done to all people – and especially to Black people – by the COVID-19 pandemic and the COVID-19 Depression.
Shortly before the murder of George Floyd, the Movement for Black Lives (M4BL) issued “A Vision for Black Lives: Policy Demands for Black Power, Freedom, & Justice.”  In addition to its long-range program, it proposes solutions for the COVID-19 pandemic and the depression-level unemployment it is generating. While its focus is on the needs of Black people, this Vision addresses the needs of all people. It includes actions that can and must be taken right now, but also opens a way for deeper transformation addressing inequality, climate destruction, and the threats to democracy. It closely resembles the Emergency Green New Deal plans laid out in previous commentaries in this series.  Here are a few examples selected from the comprehensive M4BL demands.
Prisons have been crucial COVID-19 hot spots as well as embodiments of racist criminal justice policies, so it is fitting that M4BL’s coronavirus plan starts with prisons. Several of their proposals would immediately reduce prison populations and thereby reduce the overcrowding that promotes transmission and makes social distancing almost impossible. They call for pardoning or commuting the sentences of people 50 and older who have served 10 years in custody; elderly, pregnant, ill, and immune-compromised people; and people who have served at least half their sentences. For those remaining, face masks and other protective equipment and supplies should be readily available for free and institutional protection plans should be established and made known.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed both the inadequacy and the racial bias of American healthcare. The M4BL plan addresses the immediate COVID-19 crisis by demanding free testing, treatment, and services for all with no co-pays for COVID-19 related illness. More broadly, it calls for Medicare for All single-payer universal healthcare. It emphasizes that these policies should be applied to all people living in the United States, including undocumented and incarcerated people.
The pandemic has also endangered essential and frontline workers, such as healthcare, grocery store, and pharmacy workers; cleaners and janitors; lawyers and legal workers; social workers; childcare providers; delivery workers and many others. Those at risk are disproportionately people of color. The M4BL program demands that workers should be provided with the necessary protective equipment and training to ensure their safety, including masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, disinfectants sprays, and cleaners.
The Coronavirus Depression is creating an immediate housing crisis for the more than forty million people who have lost their jobs, a disproportionate number of them people of color. The M4BL program includes a moratorium on mortgage payments and taxes and a freeze on all rents and utilities. It calls for making buildings with vacant units, empty hotel units, and unused Airbnb apartments available to house sick and at-risk people and others in need of housing – with Housing Provision Commissions to allocate housing to those in need. And it demands access to residence suitable for quarantine for all, including the disabled.
Today’s overlapping crises are being used to further undermine democracy through multiple forms of disenfranchisement. The M4BL program defines essential means to ensure that all people have access to the ballot and do not have to risk their health to vote. It calls for nationwide emergency mail and online voting to make sure all people can vote; early voting; automatic registration; and voting rights for incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people.
The M4BL program includes provisions to address the immediate economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. It calls for eight weeks of paid sick leave for all workers. It demands paid family and medical leave for those who are caring for the sick or for children not able to attend school. It proposes a minimum wage of at least $30 per hour for all “essential workers” — those required to work or in frequent contact with the public. It demands an immediate Universal Basic Income for all to recognize and compensate unpaid workers in the “care economy” who provide childcare, domestic work, and other necessary services. It proposes that – as a condition for stimulus loans and investments – financial institutions cancel student debt and freeze payments on other forms of debt. And it calls for universal access to food and other basic necessities, including food stamps, housing assistance, and unemployment insurance.
The M4BL supports a $2 trillion federal investment package targeted towards working people, small business, and state and local services rather than to financial institutions. It demands that crisis aid to businesses should ban stock buybacks, CEO bonuses, layoffs, and furloughs. It specifies that expansion of social services and federal investment should be paid for by a tax on “extreme wealth.”
The M4BL demands also include long-term economic solutions that not only address the immediate crisis but “pave the way for a just recovery that doesn’t prioritize corporations and leave our communities behind.” They call for a Green New Deal that “advances comprehensive structural reform toward national climate resiliency and preparedness”; ensures “public control of key industries, utilities, and natural resources”; and catalyzes “people-oriented public spending” that transforms the national economy to one that is “just, equitable, and sustainable.” They endorse one of the key elements of the Green New Deal, a “jobs guarantee” for all that will employ millions “to transform our economy towards renewable energies that stabilize both our nation and our climate” under the Green New Deal.
People who think of the Green New Deal (GND) as primarily a climate proposal may be surprised to see it incorporated as a central demand of the Movement for Black Lives. But perhaps it should not come as such a shock. People of color are far more likely than the population as a whole to suffer the consequences of global warming; to acknowledge the threat of climate change; and to support efforts to counter it. Many leading proponents of the GND are themselves people of color, and its program has always made “raising the bottom” central to its plan to combat climate destruction and inequality. The first House resolution on the GND included as one of its five goals to “promote justice and equity” by “stopping current, preventing future, and repairing historic oppression” of “indigenous communities, communities of color, migrant communities, deindustrialized communities, depopulated rural communities, the poor, low-income workers, women, the elderly the unhoused, people with disabilities, and youth.”
The program of the GND is integral to the demands of M4BL. Conversely, M4BL’s “Vision for Black Lives” fills in many of the specific policies the GND will need to achieve its goals of justice and equity. And it spells out many of the elements needed right now for an Emergency Green New Deal to meet the COVID-19 pandemic and the COVID-19 Depression.
This article first appeared on the Labor Network for Sustainability page. Reproduced with the author's permission.