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Protect the vulnerable, advance the democratic economy: Our statement on the COVID-19 crisis

Fighting for a new systemic vision

We are in a bewildering and unstable time. Our collective response to COVID-19—even though it may prove inadequate to protect the millions that will die if our healthcare system is overwhelmed—has already brought the economy to the edge of standstill. One data point just from the US: layoffs are surging across the nation with an estimate of 3 million jobs lost by this summer alone.  We’ve known that millions and millions of Americans were one paycheck away from financial disaster, unable to muster $400 in the event of an emergency, but our economic policies continued to prioritize returns to concentrated capital instead of community wealth. Now, the emergency is here. Who suffers and who survives this crisis, absent bold and unprecedented action to reshape the foundations of our economy, will fall unevenly across race and class lines. 

The choice before us is clear: either this crisis is a chance to create a more democratic economy—broadening ownership and wealth of the economy, supporting enterprises grounded in worker, community, and public control, repairing the brutal inequities created by centuries of racialized dispossession, and investing in an ecologically sustainable future—or it is a chance for the extractive economy we have now to reinforce itself still further. During the 2007-2008 financial crisis, low-income Americans and people of color aspiring to homeownership were left to suffer the results of Wall Street’s predatory financialization—while it was the culpable financial players who were made whole by bailouts. In the intervening years, the “recovery” has been exceptionally and tragically one-sided, with a deepening crisis of inequality and racialized inequities that are being starkly clarified in this current moment.

The COVID-19 crisis and economic standstill threatens to make the “Great” Recession look like a warmup. If our governments extend a meager and partial lifeline to ordinary families and small businesses, while creating trillions of dollars to bail out the most financialized and most concentrated centers of wealth, the world we will emerge into after the COVID-19 crisis will be a brutal one.

The choice before us is clear: either this crisis is a chance to create a more democratic economy—or it is a chance for the extractive economy we have now to reinforce itself still further.

At The Democracy Collaborative, we are grateful to have the support of funders and donors who are making it possible for us to embrace the necessary precautions and continue to work. As our staff settle into the new rhythms of working remotely, we are setting before ourselves two tasks in the current period. 

The first is to support the movements on the ground, working through the unprecedented and difficult context of social distancing and epidemiological lockdowns, who are pushing for the immediate relief the families on the front lines of this crisis need. Food, shelter, power, healthcare, and water are human rights, and we stand with those fighting to make sure these rights are secured. We need to make certain there are no evictions, no shutoffs, no one fearing where their next meal for their children is going to come from—and that everyone has access to the healthcare they need during this crisis.

The second task is to elevate the vision of the democratic economy we want to see—to help us all understand, in the quickly moving conversation around us, that two starkly different paths are now opening ahead of us. As the nation moves through and eventually out of the crisis, steps taken now will support either an extractive economy, or a democratic one. We might see failing businesses bought up and consolidated by predatory finance, increasing wealth inequality, with most Americans becoming ever more desperate. Or we might see communities, city and state governments, and anchor institutions come together to protect and build locally, people bailed out rather than companies, failing oil companies brought into government receivership and wound down as part of a Green New Deal, investors becoming part of the solution rather than the problem.

A few weeks ago, our work on ambitious systemic policies like the democratic nationalization of key sectors of the economy or the decommodification of housing were attempts to put in place contingency plans for a future time of opportunity or crisis. That future is upon us. The crisis is now here. We must rise collectively to meet this challenge. We stand ready to offer our expertise to policymakers and advocates who are willing to step into this moment as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to build a new and better world. The uptick in mutual aid and self-help, the extraordinary responses around the nation and overseas in which everyday citizens are looking out for one another in dark and uncertain times, point the way forward to a new politics of hope. By standing together, in our work and our values and our communities, we are not alone.

From isolation but in solidarity,  

Ted Howard, President and Co-Founder
Marjorie Kelly, Executive Vice President
Ronnie Galvin, Vice President for Racial Equity and the Democratic Economy
Joe Guinan, Vice President, Theory, Research & Policy

for The Democracy Collaborative


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