art by Molly Crabapple
In honor of the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, I want us to imagine a new economy. Think of a world where, when we are faced with a global pandemic, the government helps transition our industries to produce ventilators and personal protective equipment (PPE) that will save lives. Instead of fighting massive layoffs, we get to work producing what society actually needs. While our essential workers keep society functioning, they can take every precaution necessary to ensure they do not contract or spread the virus, including taking paid time off. By paying essential workers a dignified salary, we will have enough garbage collectors, grocery store workers, delivery people, and nurses to weather the pandemic without overworking anyone. People whose jobs have been impacted by the pandemic don’t need to worry about eviction or hunger, because we have universal basic income. Everyone is guaranteed access to the internet in their homes, allowing us to quarantine safely. Flourishing neighborhood communities care for each other’s varying needs when social distancing makes life harder for everyone, especially the immunocompromised. We don’t need to worry about the virus spreading through our prisons, because we’ve ended the War on Drugs and learned to rehabilitate people without subjecting them to inhumane conditions. Our response to the pandemic is dictated by our commitment to public health.
In reality, we’re being asked to put our lives on the line to stabilize an economy built off of exploitation. When Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick tell us there are “more important things than living”, he is advocating for corporations, not you and me. Meanwhile, corporations deny essential workers basic protections against the virus, leading workers in Amazon warehouses and grocery stores across the country to go on strike. Laid off General Electric workers across the country are demanding GE put them back to work to build ventilators for the crisis. Community organizers are continuing to demand the release of immigrants held in detention facilities and prisoners held in jail in order to prevent the rapid spread of virus. Immigrants held in detention centers in California are going on hunger strike to protest inhumane conditions and complete lack of protective measures in place. Nurses are standing up to the anti-lock down protests, and demanding the federal government ensure adequate supply of PPE. Time and time again, the most vulnerable people are the ones risking everything to keep themselves and the rest of society safe. CEO’s don’t mind having blood on their hands so long as their profit margins are kept wide. In a neoliberal capitalist economy where nothing is guaranteed, workers have to fight for their health and safety.
If this is how our economic system handles COVID-19, the next ten years of ecological breakdown brought on by the climate crisis will be devastating. With unemployment reaching Great Depression levels, the future is daunting. I want a Green New Deal economy that puts general well being of all over the luxury of a few. We don’t want capitalism’s mass unemployment, we want a federal jobs guarantee that ensures union jobs for all. And the good news is, there is plenty of work to be done. Transitioning our energy grid away from fossil fuels will take a massive industrial effort of scientists, engineers, and construction workers. We need to work to make every home and building energy efficient and sustainable. Let’s get our hands dirty restoring coastal wetlands and rebuilding communities that have been devastated by oil spills. As we shut down our factory farms, farm workers in local and regional agriculture can help bridge the gap between rural and urban society. Cooks in our restaurants and in our public school kitchens will have healthy local produce to prepare. We need people to construct public transportation that goes between cities and across state lines. As we transition towards a sustainable economy, care work will become central to everything that we do. We need enough teachers, social workers, nursing home workers, and nurses so that every person gets the individualized care they need. No more huge class sizes and caseloads. We need to make sure care workers are supported while they nurture, uplift and heal us. Artists, musicians, writers, dancers, directors, and content creators all have a part to play in this new economy. Art can be integrated into the buildings we create and the lessons we teach. We can have public art displays on every block instead of eyesore billboards advertising the newest hard cider.
Taking on the decade long project of the Green New Deal requires us to acknowledge this country’s settler colonial past. The persistence of racial disparities in our country is a moral condemnation of the capitalist system. In our new economy, we must attempt to pay back the debts we owe to Black and Indigenous people of color through varied forms of reparations. We need a nationwide reckoning with how racism continues to ravage communities of color.
What I find the most exhilarating about a Green New Deal economy is the freedom it promises- dignified work and enough leisure time to make my life however I see fit. At least for now, these are day dreams of a possible future. When Amazon workers go on strike to protest their working conditions, they are fighting for a new economy. The beauty of the next decade lies in the action we take to transition away from a destructive capitalism, and towards a care based socialist economy.