You’re an Environmentalist During a Pandemic Lockdown. What Does That Even Mean?
We’re All Staying Home, But Can We Still “Mobilize”?
If you’re someone who cares about the planet and all of the beings who live here, then chances are you’ve been feeling a bit helpless lately. (Us too.) As we’re faced with the Coronavirus pandemic, environmentalists are seeing the world galvanize around an important health and economic crisis. It’s a weird moment for activists, who tend to be poised for “action” not stasis.
What does Coronavirus mean for the environmental and social justice movements—for the future of democracy and the planet? How important is it for activists to organize right now, and how can we mobilize… without going anywhere at all? In a sea of unknowns, how do we pick a direction forward?
THE TIMES THEY ARE A-CHANGIN’
We’re in a moment of crisis. As public health is threatened by COVID-19, economies around the world are shutting down, borders are closing, and governments are scrambling to ensure their citizens have access to healthcare and economic stability. Nobody can say for sure how long this will go on, or what the lasting impact will be. One thing’s for certain: we’ll never be the same after Coronavirus.
“Only a crisis — actual or perceived — produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around.” —Milton Friedman
This quote opens a recent video that Naomi Klein narrated for The Intercept, about Coronavirus capitalism. She draws on her 2007 book, The Shock Doctrine, to describe disaster capitalism, a practice where people in power use major disasters to pass free market policies that wouldn’t normally be accepted. Already, we’ve seen the current administration use this crisis to propose cuts to Medicare and Social Security, roll back environmental regulations, and secure big bailouts for fossil fuel industry polluters.
But disaster capitalism isn’t the only way forward. Thanks to grassroots groups and progressive public figures who have advocated tirelessly for policies like Medicare For All and a Green New Deal, capitalist ideas are not the only ones lying around. This is a crucial moment for supporters of the environmental and social justice movements to come together and fight harder than ever for the progressive policies we need.
WHAT DO MEDICARE FOR ALL AND THE GREEN NEW DEAL HAVE TO DO WITH CORONAVIRUS?
Imagine this: what would the crisis look like if we had a single-payer system in place that guaranteed healthcare for everyone? Instead of teenagers dying from lack of insurance and workers avoiding medical care for fear of accruing thousands of dollars in debt, universal healthcare would encourage people to get testing and treatment no matter the cost. In a country where nearly 45,000 people die each year due to lack of insurance, improving access to healthcare means better collective immunity and less devastating effects when something like a virus hits. Additionally, a centrally regulated system could have led to more coordinated testing and a more efficient response to the lack of protective gear for healthcare workers.
Passing Medicare For All now would not only ensure that anyone can get testing and treatment for COVID-19, it would also provide essential care and affordable prescription drugs for folks dealing with other health issues, and give our healthcare system the funding it needs to deal with a crisis like this one.
In addition to health, the Coronavirus has caused severe economic impact. In just the last two weeks of March, nearly 10 million people filed for unemployment, and many more have felt the effects of this pandemic. Rather than settle for bland plans to stimulate the economy through the stock market or with no-strings-attached bailouts for polluters like fracking companies, airlines, and cruises, progressives can champion the Green New Deal as a better solution.
The Green New Deal is a framework, a way of writing policy that centers environmental and social justice at all times. It proposes a federal jobs guarantee that would provide green jobs (like building solar and wind power, updating old infrastructure, retrofitting buildings, and restoring wetlands… oh my!) to everyone who wants one. This would give people employment and economic security to look forward to once shelter-in-place orders have lifted.
The Green New Deal would also tax polluters instead of bailing them out, providing a steady stream of funds into the federal budget. By centering frontline communities, a just transition to green energy, and putting a down payment on our future, the Green New Deal will help workers and the overall economy get through this crisis and build resiliency before the next one hits.
“Instead of rescuing the dirty industries of the last century, we should be boosting the clean ones that will lead us into safety in the coming century.” —Naomi Klein for The Intercept
HOW YOU CAN HELP THE ENVIRONMENTAL & SOCIAL JUSTICE MOVEMENTS FROM HOME
Even though we can’t knock on doors, march in protest, or rally together in solidarity, there is a lot that we can do for people and planet today. Here’s how you can take action while in isolation (it might make you feel hopeful, too):
Support The People’s Bailout
Call/text/email/tag your elected officials to demand that any bailout or stimulus bill will adhere to a framework that centers healthcare for all, social justice, and an investment in a future green economy.
Support Candidates Who Champion Medicare For All And A Green New Deal (Gnd)
Vote for them, donate to their campaigns, or volunteer to make calls and texts to voters. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, and many other progressives are running for elected office this year. We encourage you to do some research into who is on your ballot this year (all the way from president to city council!) and vote for the folks who support these policies.
If you’re not sure who will be on your ballot, find out by entering your address into this Sample Ballot tool. You can also check if your elected officials have been endorsed by Sunrise Movement (a group advocating for the GND) and see if your representatives in Congress support Medicare For All with this handy checklist by National Nurses United.
Educate Yourself On Medicare For All And The Green New Deal
Take this time at home to learn. The more you know, the better you will be able to explain to friends & family, and that’s important for spreading information and showing people that these policies are not only possible, but can have a positive affect on their lives. This video and this article are inspiring and informative, or if you already know about the GND and want to start advocating, Sunrise School is an excellent resource. For Medicare For All, read this article and check out this great series of videos for the facts.
Practice Mutual Aid
Last but not least, lending a helping hand is one way of building relationships with people whose lives will be impacted by what happens next. Helping out your neighbors right now is a way of building community, the same community that you can then organize to advocate for progressive policies. Check out this comprehensive resource for all things mutual aid during the Coronavirus crisis.
Remember, if you’re feeling hopeless, you’re not alone. These are trying times, but we will continue to work towards the future that we all deserve.
Written by Faye Lessler, a California-born, Brooklyn-based freelance writer and advocate for regenerative sustainability. She enjoys writing mission-driven content while sipping black tea in a beam of sunshine.