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Tomgram: Liz Theoharis, Time to Stop Bankrolling War and the Wealthy

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This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

Think about this: in the wake of the president's bungled response to Covid-19 -- even Oklahoma's governor came down with it after attending the president's Tulsa rally -- a record-breaking 5.4 million jobless American workers have lost their healthcare coverage. That's more workers uninsured in a few months than in any year on record. If you include family members, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the estimate rises to 27 million. So any of them who now get the coronavirus and end up in a hospital are in deep, deep trouble. Given the obvious nightmarishness of the situation, you might assume that Congress would instantly put time, consideration, and money into the problem. (I won't even bother to mention the president and his administration that only recently went to the Supreme Court to nullify Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act and so potentially leave up to 23 million more Americans without such coverage at the height of the pandemic.) Honestly, you couldn't make this stuff up, could you?

How, then, has Congress been spending its time? Here's a simple answer: the Republican-controlled Senate Armed Services Committee only recently passed a $740.5 billion "defense" budget for 2021. Hey, what do Americans need right now more than new Virginia class submarines and spending "$175 million to support stability in the submarine industrial base"? If that isn't real national health care, what is? What makes more sense right now than another rise in the already staggering national (in)security budget? And if we're lucky, as with the police, perhaps the Pentagon will rechannel some of that money to the U.S. healthcare system by, say, arming doctors and nurses and equipping them with night-vision goggles or giving them armored Humvees in which to travel their hospital corridors.

In the context of the present disaster, thinking big should obviously be on the American agenda, as it's on the agenda of TomDispatch regular Liz Theoharis, co-chair of the Poor People's Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival. Personally, I find it hard to imagine a more devastating moment than this one, or one where thinking big couldn't, in fact, be more appropriate. After all, remember how, as May began, a shocking study forecast that 134,000 Americans might die of Covid-19 by August 2020. Well, it's not even the end of July and those deaths have already crested 140,000 and are still rising fast along with cases of Covid-19. Tom

A Jubilee Moment in Pandemic America?
The Poetry of a Movement to Change This Country
By Liz Theoharis

The word jubilee comes from the Hebrew "yovel," meaning a "trumpet blast of liberty." It was said that, on the day of liberation, the sound of a ram's horn would ring through the land. These days, I hear the sound of that horn while walking with my kids through the streets of New York City, while protests continue here, even amid a pandemic, as they have since soon after May 25th when a police officer put his knee to George Floyd's neck and robbed him of his life. I hear it when I speak with homeless leaders defending their encampments amid the nightmare of Covid-19. I hear it when I meet people who are tired, angry, and yet, miraculously enough, finding their political voices for the first time. I hear it when I read escaped slave and abolitionist leader Frederick Douglass's speech on the eve of the Emancipation Proclamation.

I also feel Frederick Douglass's sharp reminder, from that same speech, of the need for eternal vigilance when I learn of the death of leaders in the movement to transform this world of ours -- like Pamela Rush, who lived in the Mississippi Delta with raw sewage in her yard and died from Covid-19 complications, the closest hospital being nearly an hour from her home. (She leaves behind a daughter who needs a continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP, machine to breathe and a son.) These are, after all, times of staggering danger, but also enormous possibility, moments that should be met with unbridled imagination, absolute seriousness, and the music of those jubilee horns. Above all, in a world distinctly stacked against us, we must believe that we can succeed.

¡Sí, se puede! Yes, we can!

How to Heal America

On June 20th, I distinctly heard that sound of the jubilee horn, when nearly three million people tuned in for the Mass Poor People's Assembly and Moral March on Washington to express the untold stories, demands, and potential solutions of a growing social movement to a host of injustices. Alongside social media, radio, and TV (in English, Spanish, and American Sign Language), toll-free numbers broadcast the program to homeless encampments and other places abandoned by much of this society long before Covid-19 hit, and 300,000 listeners sent the agenda of the Poor People's Campaign to their governors and Congress.

Meanwhile, that very day in Tulsa, Oklahoma, President Trump was speaking at a rally in which he trafficked, as he always does, in explicit racism and hate even as he denied the ravages of the coronavirus pandemic and the economic crisis it has induced. Only about 6,000 people sat largely maskless and shoulder to shoulder in that auditorium, which could have held 19,000. They nonetheless seem to have helped spark a surge in coronavirus cases in that city about two weeks later.

Also on June 20th, the Poor People's Campaign (of which I am a co-chair) launched a "Moral Policy Agenda to Heal America: The Poor People's Jubilee Platform." It detailed not just a list of demands, but a blueprint for the moral reconstruction of a society that now looks to be failing fast. It's meant to remind us all that ending poverty and systemic racism, working to mitigate climate change, and halting this country's ever-growing militarism, at home and abroad, is not only possible, but that we essentially know what it will take to get us there. Among the policies needed are universal single payer healthcare, quality and free education through college, debt relief, a guaranteed income, the right to a living-wage job, true environmental protections, indigenous and immigrant rights, and an adequate standard of living for all, including the poor, in a country with a Congress and president focused mainly on the rich and on funding the Pentagon at ever more staggering levels.

This Jubilee Platform, as we call it, affirms many of the truths discovered by freedom-fighters across the ages -- including the well-kept secret in America that there is actually enough for everyone and that all of us are deserving of our nation's abundance; that when we lift from the bottom up, everyone rises; that our society desperately needs a moral revolution of values for which we'll have to depend on the leadership of those most impacted by injustice; and that, as Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., once suggested, we truly "can force the power structure to say yes when they may be desirous of saying no."

There Need Be No Poor Among Us

Many people have said that this platform is far too ambitious, that such demands are both politically inconceivable and ridiculously too expensive. Don't believe them. Instead, believe me that the benefits of investing in life, not death, far outweigh the costs, whatever they may be.

After all, child poverty already costs our country, at a minimum, an estimated $700 million annually; voter suppression in just one state, Florida, added up to at least $385 million annually in administrative and court costs; failing to adequately address climate change and create a genuine green economy could, in the end, cost an estimated 15.7% of our gross domestic product a year, wiping out the equivalent of $3.3 trillion from our economy -- and, if the effects of climate change arrive more quickly than expected, it could be worse. Meanwhile, endless wars, not to speak of the 800 U.S. military bases scattered across the planet, cost hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars a year without making our country or the world any safer.

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)
 

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