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Mother and child during COVID-19. Photo by vperemen.com

One lesson a year of COVID-19 has taught us

Fighting for a new systemic vision Expanding democratic ownership

A year ago on this day, the World Health Organization declared that COVID-19 had become a global pandemic. The twin crises that unfolded with that declaration—an unprecedented health crisis and an unprecedented economic crisis, both revealed the wrongly constructed and badly corroded foundations of a system that not only failed to protect our health and wellbeing but actively helped to make both worse as the year progressed.

The consequence is that nearly 530,000 people have died from COVID-19 in the United States and more than 2.6 million people have died around the world thus far. The economic effects have touched billions of people globally; if you have not lost a job or income as a result of this pandemic, you no doubt know someone who has. You certainly know of a favorite business that is no longer open because of the ripple effects of pandemic-related shutdowns.

When we published our “Owning Our Future” document last year in response to the systemic challenges highlighted by the pandemic, we foresaw two possible futures. In one, we give at best a nod to the deep inequities of the current system as we race to restore it to what it was. Its most benign expression is “build back better”—but better for whom? What we already see is that the same class of wealthy people who came out ahead after the last financial crisis in 2008 is getting even further ahead today. In that sense, it’s wrong to say the system is broken; extractive capitalism continues to operate as designed, extracting wealth from the many and concentrating it in the hands of the few. 

We still believe another future is possible, “one that leads to a just, reparative, democratic, antiracist economy of broad prosperity and shared power,” as we wrote in “Owning Our Future.” Glimmers of that future are in the Biden administration’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan that Congress sent to the White House on Wednesday, such as the inclusion of a fund that can support the preservation of locally owned and employee-owned businesses, or a monthly $300-per-child payment to parents that could lay the foundation for a universal guaranteed minimum income.

We have the capacity to move even more boldly into that future if we are not seduced by the glitzy promises of a superficial and ephemeral recovery that paints over rather than reckons with structures of racism and inequity. For many people, the pandemic has ripped off the sunglasses that masked the true colors of our political economy. With all that we have lost in the past year in terms of lives and livelihoods, we must internalize this one lesson from the past year: We—all of us—must take ownership of our future and build a new system in which wealth resides in our communities and ownership is broadly shared.

One step you can take today, as we remember those affected by COVID-19, is to sign “The Manifesto for Human Life” issued today by Progressive International. Dana Brown, director of our Next System Project, has helped Progressive International put forward a bold plan for an end to vaccine apartheid and health imperialism and to shift overall from profit-centered health systems to those that are public, sovereign, and people-centered. (Be sure to read the article she co-wrote that counters the “myth” of private health by declaring, “All Health is Public Health,” and by all means take five minutes to watch the video on the petition page that tells the true story of how the pandemic exposed and magnified systems of extraction and how some countries showed us a better way forward.) 

Support with us this Manifesto for Human Life as one step toward the change we seek together.

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Illustration courtesy of United Nations

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