A Manifesto of Sorts for COVID-19

—Zillah Eisenstein

We can rise together against COVID19 and make a better world”

A few thoughts to share:

COVID19 like most disease is democratic—it can affect anyone, although with differing options to respond to it. The world, including the US is not democratic.  This does not bode well. But we can move forward because simple individualism contradicts the interdependency of this COVID crisis. “We” all suffer when one person circulates with symptoms—and we will flourish if we accept responsibility to isolate/distance and protect one another.

But more is needed as well—a damping down of greed in all its forms.  Nationalize and globalize the market/s. Produce and supply what is needed to treat COVID patients while controlling costs. Profits from COVID19 are forbidden.

This virus is as political as it is medical. It is terrorizing us all with the despotism of Trump, Bolsonaro, Modi and their likes. But, I keep trying to calm myself because there is another way.

I am trying to breathe and think radically and imaginatively in COVID19 times.  My beloved doctor daughter and her medical friends—nurses, aides, and janitors—that she works alongside are fighting for everyone’s life and their own without the systems they and we need.

In the last many decades while the planet’s environment has been assaulted by neo-liberal capitalist policies, we have seen our pharmaceuticals sky-rocket in price, hospitals close, access to mental health care disappear, nurses down-sized, and, while the perfect storm was brewing for COVID19.

There is more violence of every sort, more exploitation, more oppression, more suffering and more pain that has accompanied the rule by the 1percent.  Everything has changed, and not for the better, for the 99.

Nothing works as well as it did before this moment. I refuse to open one more phone call with: how are you? Do you mean how are you in the age of Covid19? So I now ask instead: what are you feeling? what are you thinking? This seems more honest. And it is time for honesty and truth.

It is shocking how COVID19 has exposed every type of oppressive/exploitative condition/relation. The view is unbelievable. Domestic violence is embedded in economic/sexual racism.  Every inequity explodes and festers in the virus. Nothing remains contained as this catastrophe blasts forward. My hope is those of us who survive can rebuild the planet with a fabulous liberatory justice carved from this new reckoning.

These truths, as they are exposed become the scaffolding out of which we must build what comes next.  Let us hire everyone who has lost a job to fulfill the needs in a nationalized framework: to feed, and clothe, and care for each other—re-purpose existing vacant housing or build shelters that allow distancing; food centers; medical facilities, etc.  Use these needs that must be met to define the new COVID economy. Instead of a carceral mentality of punishment let us carve new social relations of trust and reparation.

Public health must become the top priority because it is an inclusionary/inclusive commitment in this time.  There must be economic relief to people, rather than the corporations. Workers and their communities and families must be the priority. Care-work, mainly done by women, especially women of color, must be reorganized and prioritized for the health of the planet.

Sexual and racial and gender violence must be eliminated. An anti-racist feminist socialist democracy must be reinvented.  This is crucial to the public health.

Covid19 is about living and dying, and challenging moments in-between.  It is not helpful to say 80 percent of people will be fine.  Nor enabling to say it effects old people the most, or people with pre-existing factors, or young people are at risk the least. 

Care about yourself and everyone similarly, but also make a triage ordering given the paucity of readiness we are at.  Again, honesty and truth will get us through this.  Did I say I will follow the guidelines and if I develop symptoms I will take care to protect the person I live with as well as I can, and try to make it through, but will not go to a hospital for crisis care and/or a ventilator.

We need to be careful to focus on the group, the community, the planet and not just ourselves because in doing so everyone will be in a better position to make it through this plague.  In the US we are already over-determined by individualism and self-care so make sure when you are protecting yourself do  not overdue the “self” part. It won’t help, because we truly are in this together, even if the poorest suffer the most unforgivingly.

Our planet and its entire people—no exceptions—are sick and crying. Bodies are our truth tellers; especially the most at risk ones.

Always trust when your or another’s “body” knows and speak pain. Bodies do not lie. (People can…)

COVID19 is a moment of singularity—nothing before it remains as it was, and what comes next must recognize this. Old ways must be changed. And we must immerse ourselves in this liberatory process immediately.

The old western/liberal/bourgeois dilemma of individual rights vs. the community (collective) is eviscerated. Socialism wins: the community must “trump” the individual or millions will die, and maybe you, me, us. Taking care of the community–social distancing–is the same as taking care of you.

We are told to shelter in place, to stay away from others, to be in our homes. But, the truth is: many people do not have houses or homes; it is hard to distance if you are houseless/homeless; it is hard to shelter in place if you are abused within those 4 walls; it is hard to stay home if you are expected at work, and need your wages to survive and there is no sick pay.

The sites and people that too many were allowed to ignore before cannot be ignored now.  Prisons, shelters, homeless/houseless encampments, detention centers are breeding grounds for the disease without “distancing” and protections.  Even our hospitals and ER rooms that have been “dumping grounds” for the uninsured and un-doctored are in full crisis view now.

Almost half-a-century of down-sizing access to the poorest and most vulnerable through a racist/misogynist neo-liberalism has left the racist, sexist, class system of inequality fully exposed.  And, because COVID19 exposes that the vulnerability of one, is a vulnerability for all—maybe we can reconstruct ourselves making sure that the poorest and the most in need are always in view.

Neo-liberalism is often misunderstood as fundamentally an economic redress for too much/many regulations.  But it was as much an attack on the civil-rights and women’s movements gains toward equality. Neo-liberals argued that the US suffered from “too much equality”.  We can see what the redress has created: a more unrelenting and unequal racial and gender and economic system, one that cannot manage a health crisis. It is time that we get this right: a new socialism of caring that is intimately anti-racist and feminist.

Meanwhile, I helped organize an action in Ithaca, New York, where I live, to open windows and bang our pots in CAMARADERIE with ourselves and Italy and Spain and India and Nigeria and the rest of the planet on Thursday evenings at 6.  We will bang pots and make noise with others to say: we are distanced but not alone; distanced but together.   

And I wrote last night to my daughter Sarah: “Life most of the time just happens. How we make it matter is how we confront it and mold it into something better. I love you and expect you to make it better.”



A noted feminist writer, Zillah Eisenstein is Professor Emerita at Ithaca College. She is the author of The Female Body and the Law, which won the Victoria Schuck Book Prize for the best book on women and politics, and, more recently, The Color of Gender: Reimaging Democracy and Hatreds: Racialized and Sexualized Conflicts in the 21st Century. Her book Abolitionist Socialist Feminism: Radicalizing the Next Revolution is available from Monthly Review Press. 


Feature image: New York Army National Guard members are briefed by a New York State Department of Health, health program administrator in New Rochelle, New York, March 14, 2020. (Photo by Senior Airman Sean Madden)

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