The 2020s is the beginning of an era in which the roots of the crises we face are coming into clear focus. The Trump administration openly exposed these crises through its candid disdain for the wellbeing of people and the planet. But the systems that are bringing our demise – capitalism, white supremacy, racism, colonialism, patriarchy and imperialism – have been in place for a long time, since the founding of the United States on stolen land using forced labor.
I interviewed Miko Peled, an author and activist for Palestinian rights, on Clearing the FOG this week about current affairs in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and he described how the institutions within the Israeli state are falling apart.
It was ten years ago last week that the Arab Spring began. I recall it well as the day before Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in Tunisia and ignited a revolutionary movement, I stood in the snow for hours protesting outside the White House with hundreds of veterans against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Inside the White House, President Obama was telling the press how well the wars were going. Outside, soldiers who fought in those wars told a different story.
Tired of symbolic actions, many involved in that protest held a series of meetings afterwards that resulted in organizing the occupy encampment on Freedom Plaza in October 2011.
The United States has reached a severe crisis point and the next few months will determine how we address it. The COVID-19 pandemic is raging across the country and some areas are struggling to provide enough hospital beds and staff to care for people. The recession is deepening as unemployment benefits and the moratorium on evictions run out. Yet, members of Congress cannot even agree to pass a weak version of the CARES Act they passed last March when the situation was less serious.
This is our moment. This is the time to make demands that the government take action to address the people’s needs. Even the most ‘progressive’ members in Congress have shown they are unwilling to do more than talk about the crisis.
On December 2, the Embassy Protection Collective (EPC) members, who were arrested in May 2019 when the United States illegally invaded the Venezuelan embassy in Washington, DC, completed their probation, ending the risk of the 30 days in prison that was being held over their heads. The three who remain marked their freedom this week by traveling on December 3 to Venezuela to serve as official international election observers invited by the National Electoral Council. Travel to Venezuela is challenging at the moment due to the United States’ illegal economic blockade.
This week, as some people in the United States celebrated the mythical ‘Thanksgiving’ dinner, Indigenous Peoples held a National Day of Mourning and continued their resistance to defend the land and water. As Native American, Matt Remle, writes:
“Despite colonial efforts to exterminate, terminate, relocate, and assimilate Indigenous populations, Native communities continue to resist efforts to both desecrate Unci Maka and strip Native peoples of their languages, spirituality and communities.”
Settler colonialism continues to this day in the United States…
This weekend, ten thousand people took to the streets in Guatemala to protest the President and Congress over a proposed budget, the largest in its history, that cuts funds for health care and education as poverty rises, and provides slush funds to politicians and governments. In Colombia, the people held a national strike to protest their violent, right-wing government. In Peru, protests against a right-wing power grab have ousted one appointed president and people are demanding a new government and constitution.
Biden’s healthcare plan looks like a replay of the health reform process of 2009-10 when the Democrats effectively divided the movement in support of national improved Medicare for all and pushed through the so-called Affordable Care Act (ACA), which passed without Republican support. Health insurance and pharmaceutical corporate profits have soared since then while people struggle to afford healthcare.
In a time of the COVID-19 pandemic when over 250,000 people have already died and the University of Washington predicts over 500,000 deaths by the end of February, we cannot allow a repeat of the failed ACA.
Change doesn’t come from the top, especially within a manipulated ‘democracy’ as exists in the United States. When social transformation occurs, it follows years of educating, organizing and mobilizing at the grassroots. Elected leaders who represent that transformation ride on a wave created by social movements, not the other way around.
As many people around the country and the world celebrate the media’s announcement of the defeat of President Trump, those who advocate for transformational changes in the political, economic, legal and social systems are talking and writing about the challenges…
This week, people are planning protests across the nation beginning the day after the election. Some, like Democratic Party-aligned groups and unions, will only demonstrate if President Trump loses and refuses to leave office. Trump will fail if he tries because the ruling class has clearly shifted its support to Biden. Professor Adrienne Pine explains this in her analysis of the opposition to Trump. Others such as issues-based groups, coalitions and community groups are planning to take the streets no matter what the outcome of the election is.
Last week, I wrote about what is needed in this moment and urged people to look more deeply, beyond the Biden-Trump spectacle, to understand where we are as a country and what we must do to change course. I cited the work of Gabriel Rockhill. Read his three recent articles in Counterpunch and the fourth in the series here at Black Agenda Report for an enhanced understanding of how we got here and what we are up against.
This week, I delve more deeply into the question of where we are and what Rockhill means when he writes that “…liberalism and fascism…
The United States’ elections will occur in a few weeks and many people are concerned about what will happen. Will they be able to vote? Will their votes be counted? Will the process be prolonged? Will President Trump refuse to leave the White House if he loses? Groups are beginning to organize to protest if President Trump stays in office, whether he is re-elected or not.
What is happening now is really not very different from what happens every four years, although perhaps it’s more exaggerated.
This weekend, celebration of Indigenous People’s Day will replace the federal holiday, Columbus Day, in at least eight states and over 130 cities in 34 states. Along with the toppling of Columbus statues and the removal of a racial slur as a name for a major football team, this signals a shifting awareness in the United States of our colonial roots and ongoing Indigenous genocide and a desire for change.
If, like me, you are not indigenous, there are ways each of us can educate ourselves and those around us about the land we live on, to whom it belonged and how it was taken away from them.
The testimony portion of the extradition hearing of Julian Assange, taking place in the United Kingdom, concluded after four weeks. Judge Vanessa Baraitser, who presided over the hearing, will not announce her decision until January. Until then, Assange will remain in detention in Belmarsh Prison.
Under conditions that violated Assange’s rights and his ability to defend himself, his legal team made a clear case that for multiple reasons why the only just solution is to free Assange. However, Judge Baraitser has not ruled favorably for him in her past decisions or even in this hearing.
The current uprising across the nation is a take-off moment for systemic racism in the United States. A take-off moment occurs when awareness about a crisis reaches a level of public consciousness where an event (in this case, the recent high-profile police murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd) sparks protests across the country.
Racist police violence has now become part of the national dialog, as has systemic racism, which is a much bigger topic than policing. A national movement to change these systems is growing. It will succeed if we continue to build on this momentum and demand change.
Racism and Health
One aspect of systemic racism that merits greater attention is the inherent racism in our healthcare system. Cities across the country are beginning to recognize that racism is a public health issue. On top of that, social determinants such as wealth inequality, access to housing and education and discrimination in the workplace, as well as other factors, also impact health resulting in worse health outcomes and higher death rates for black people.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed this disparity in a stark way – black people are being infected at higher rates, are experiencing more severe disease and are more likely to die of COVID-19 than white people. This is a systemic problem, not a biological one. The Human Genome Project determined definitively in 1999 that there is no genetic basis for race.
To understand why our healthcare system is racist, we have to go back to its roots. The United States was built on a foundation of chattel slavery where black bodies were property, a commodity. European doctors were employed to make sure slaves were healthy enough to be sold and to work, as if they were objects and not human beings.
In the late eighteenth century, being black was viewed as a disease that required a cure. In the nineteenth century, medicine viewed people of different races as different species. This was used to justify differential treatment. Black women were believed to be capable of returning to work immediately after giving birth and black people were believed to be more capable of working long hours in the hot sun than white people.
Black people were also used for medical experimentation. The ‘father of gynecological surgery,’ James Marion Sims, developed his techniques by operating on black women, often without using anesthesia and surely without their consent. In the mid-twentieth century, the Tuskeegee experiment was conducted in which black men were not informed they had syphilis and were not offered treatment, even though it was available, because researchers wanted to study the natural progression of the disease. This went on until 1972. It was only stopped because it was discovered and leaked to the media, generating attention and public outrage.
Racist stereotypes exist in how physicians view their patients today. One study found that when physicians were given the same description of patients that only varied by race, they made different diagnoses. Doctors were more likely to view black patients as ‘violent, suspicious or dangerous.’ Another study documented that racial bias leads to less treatment of pain for black versus white patients.
Systemic racism is embedded in medical treatment protocols. Algorithms that give weight to different factors are often used to make treatment decisions. When race is a factor in these algorithms, it results in less aggressive or lower quality care for black people.
White people dominate our healthcare system. For a long time, black people were excluded from medical education and from participating in the medical system. Medical schools were created for black students, but many of these schools closed. Even today, black people are underrepresented in the physician workforce. Black doctors are less likely than white doctors to be in medical and surgical specialties and are underpaid even within the same professions. This makes a critical difference in the lives of patients. A recent study found that when black infants are treated by black doctors, they have a significantly higher survival rate.
Changing Our Healthcare System
One small step that can be taken to reduce racial health disparities and begin to address racism in the healthcare system is to implement national improved Medicare for all (NIMA), a type of single payer system. This would change healthcare to a public good, not a commodity, and would create a national healthcare system that has the ability to determine where resources need to be added to improve health.
NIMA is a system in which every person in the United States would have a healthcare card that covers all medically necessary care, including care that is frequently excluded such as mental, vision, hearing, dental, substance abuse treatment and long term care. People can choose where to go for care and are covered no matter where they are in the country, at home or while traveling. Coverage is life long. And, there are no medical bills – everyone contributes into the system through taxes based on ability. The government pays the health professionals and covers the costs of hospitals and other healthcare facilities.
There is evidence that single payer healthcare systems improve health outcomes for black people. One study of over three million veterans in the veteran healthcare system (VA) found that while black people have higher rates of heart disease and death in the general population than white people, black veterans have lower rates of heart disease and death in the VA system than white people.
NIMA is a first step. Beyond that, there is much to do to eliminate systemic racism in the healthcare system, such as building up the black physician workforce, opening more clinics and other health facilities in black communities and openly addressing the sources of racial bias. Another step is giving communities greater control over their health facilities in determining priorities and how budgets are spent.
How Do We Get There?
Popular support for national improved Medicare for all has been growing. The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated this by exposing so blatantly all of the flaws in our healthcare non-system from the failure to start testing and containing the virus early on, not providing appropriate equipment where it is needed, and price gouging to people not receiving care because they can’t afford it or suffering a double trauma of illness and financial ruin.
Neither of the presidential candidates in the major corporate parties support NIMA. We will win when we build enough popular power to make our demand impossible to ignore. That comes from creating a movement of movements working toward this common goal.
At a time when there is a lot of conversation about systemic racism, it is important to include how racism impacts health. To assist with that, we created a new toolkit, “Racism and Health.” It includes a power point presentation, a sample script and a guidebook. We are also conducting two online trainings to answer your questions about it on Tuesday September 29 and Saturday October 3. Register here.
This is free because the purpose of this toolkit is to raise awareness so we are ready to fight for the human right to health and to bring equity to our healthcare system. We also appreciate your feedback. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
As I wrote last week, Kevin Zeese died unexpectedly in his sleep, likely from a heart attack, early in the morning on September 6. He had not shown signs of illness and was working until the end.
Many of you know Kevin from Popular Resistance, from his writing and podcast Clearing the FOG. He had a deep knowledge of history and the issues. He often spoke of his time working for Ralph Nader in 2004 when he wrote policy briefs as a “PhD in public policy.” Kevin understood how political power works.
Kevin’s work in activism spanned more than 40 years.