Pandemic and protests

KTLA/MGN Large crowds gathered in Huntington Beach to protest the closure of Orange County beaches

It’s not surprising that certain individuals and groups in U.S. society are starting to publicly protest the ongoing quarantine measures in place because of the COVID-19 virus.

From the several hundred (mostly) men who strapped on their guns and drove around the capital of Michigan to the Brooklyn Orthodox community members protesting the fact that they cannot hold traditional burial services for their dead, the frustration with the current situation was certain to spill over into these types of scenarios.

Many of those protesting also include small farmers and business owners and small-time contractors. Their growing anger at the orders stems from the need to make a living. Indeed, they could lose everything for which they have worked.

Yet, at this point in the progress of the virus, I think the quarantine is still the right thing to do. However, it’s the very nature of the agents of repression to use any uncertainty to consolidate their control. At the same time, the protests in Michigan and elsewhere seem like little more than temper tantrums.

But the fundamental reason to protest the quarantine regimen is the fact that people need income to live. It is the refusal of the U.S. government to ensure that everyone who works for a living receives a livable income—during the lockdown—that is causing the most trepidation among people. If such a thing were guaranteed, then most people would accept the situation.

Instead, the only U.S. residents certain to come out on the other side of the quarantine with their assets intact are the wealthy. They want us to go back to work so they can build their portfolios, not so we can survive.

I am very wary of the potential for the quarantine to be used by the state to drastically curtail the freedoms of regular people. As anyone who has been paying attention is well aware, this process has been going on for decades. The pandemic has provided the perfect cover for an even greater intensification.

Indeed, if fascism becomes the political reality in the United States, many of these overgrown “proud” boys with guns will be the stormtroopers for that regime.

Although virtual protests seem to be the right tactic right now, that might have to change. No matter what form they take, those protests should begin by demanding a guaranteed income for all working people—including immigrants, no matter their status—who have lost jobs or businesses. There should be a demand for health and safety protections and hazard pay for those considered essential workers.

There should be a demand for a humane system that allows for the release of people in jails and prisons, including immigrants. And there should be a demand for free testing and a free vaccine when one becomes available.

There should be a demand for Medicare for all. And there should be a demand for a special tax on billionaires to pay for these demands.
The potential alternative is a dystopia that only the prince of darkness will revel in.

Ron Jacobs is an activist and commentary writer living in Vermont.