Arundhati Ray, novelist-activist, excelled in the early days of the pandemic. laid out the stakes of one of the coronavirus’s reverberating impacts. According to Roy, COVID-19 profoundly disrupted everyone’s modes of living under global capitalism. “It has mocked immigration controls, biometrics, digital surveillance and every other kind of data analytics, and struck hardest — thus far — in the richest, most powerful nations of the world, bringing the engine of capitalism to a halt,” she wrote. Roy then powerfully asserted that the pandemic was — among other things — “a portal,” or a moment for us to “temporarily, perhaps … make an assessment and decide whether we want to help fix it [capitalism] or look for a better engine.”
The rebellion against state violence that erupted the following summer, triggered by the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, among others, contributed to the feeling of being on the brink of a reckoning. Millions of people around the world took to the streets to protest against structural racism in a multitude of ways — marching, direct action, property destruction, and the tearing down of monuments to racism and colonialism.
However, scholars such Kathleen BelewVictor Ray, Hakeem Jeff and Hakeem Jefferson have notedMany white Americans used the moment to resist any movement toward social justice and racial equality through both white power organizations and ad-hoc counterrevolutionary tactics. This massive backlash culminated in the attack on the Capitol on January 6th and the passage of what Timothy Snyder, a historian, called new “memory laws”Interdiction of teaching histories of race and racism as well as sexuality or gender. COVID-19 has only exacerbated economic inequalities. the 400 richest Americans increased their wealth by $4.5 trillion even as inflation cuts into working Americans’ incomes. The U.S. is still committed to militarism. Nicolas J.S. and Medea Benjamin, antiwar activists. Davies found that the U.S. has dropped an average 46 bombs per day over the past two decades. Our obsession with bombing led to a very cynical attitude towards the end the disastrous pullout from Afghanistan. military lied about killing 10 civilians in a drone strike.
Like today’s racial justice organizers, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. also wrestled with a national and international reckoning in the last years of his life by questioning the “giant triplets” of racism, materialism and militarism at the base of U.S. society. In his “Beyond Vietnam” sermon delivered in April 1967, King issued a damning condemnation of the war in Vietnam and U.S. militarism. “They ask if our own nation wasn’t using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home,” King said, “and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today — my own government.” In an interview 10 days before his assassination, King told Rabbi Everett Gendler, “[W]e’ve got to face the fact that America is a racist country. We have got to face the fact that racism still occupies the throne of our nation.” He continued, “I don’t think we will ultimately solve the problem of racial injustice until this is recognized, and until this is worked on.”
In his last Sunday sermon, King articulated an analysis of the reckoning in what might serve as the closest equivalent to Roy’s analysis of the pandemic as a portal. In “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution,” King told the audience that they were living through a revolutionary moment, in fact, a “triple revolution” — a revolution in computer technology, “a revolution in weaponry” and “a human rights revolution.” After laying out the stakes, King implored Americans to respond to the moment by developing a global perspective when dealing with poverty, racism, colonialism and war. Americans needed to shift their priorities. Americans must undergo a restructuring of their priorities, as King said a year ago. “a radical revolution of values”If it wanted to defeat the giant triplets.
How can Americans capitalize on this potentially transformative moment? King believed that the answer was in building a coalition from workers and poor people, and engaging in civil disobedience. He told the crowd who watched his last Sunday sermon that, “We are coming to Washington in a poor people’s campaign.” And King planned for this coalition to disrupt the normal operations of government until Congress took proper action to eradicate poverty. In his last book, King speculated. What do we do from here? Chaos or Community?, “If 100,000 Negroes march in a major city to a strategic location, they will make municipal operations difficult to conduct; they will exceed the capacity of even the most reckless local government to use force against them; and they will repeat this action daily if necessary.” If the triple revolution was a portal for King, the poor people’s campaign would burst through it.
In today’s world, as in King’s, it’s clear that the Democratic Party is not the vehicle for our pursuit “for a better engine.” Right now, under a Biden presidency, we have broken records in the number of coronavirus infections. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) recent confusing guidelinesWork and school seem to be more concerned about preventing economic disruptions. The federal government has stopped providing economic benefits that keep people out of poverty such as rent relief and expanded unemployment benefits. the monthly enhanced child tax credit payments. Many countries are at risk from emerging variants due to inequal vaccine distribution by the U.S., global corporations, and the rest of West. We live in a time when the U.S. Congress is able to pass huge defense budgets. in an overwhelmingly bipartisan fashion.
King continued his crusade against military dictatorship in the weeks leading up to his assassination in 1968. He advocated for redistributing resources away militarism to end poverty and promote jobs, education, and housing. King also warned about the direction of U.S., which aptly described our existential crises of deep economic inequality, climate change and a deadly pandemic. He spoke to members of Local 1199 National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees on March 10, 1968, “Something is wrong with the ship of state. It is not moving toward new and more secure shores, but toward old destructive rocks.”
However, the work of grassroots movements continues in our time, as it did in King’s: Since the beginning of the pandemic, hundreds of activists in cities like Portland, OregonUniversities such as the University of Southern California have rallied around the demand “Care Not Cops” in an effort to reorient priorities away from criminalization, policing and incarceration, and toward an ethic of care. This ethic is applicable not only to combating racist state violence but also for developing countries. COVID-19 mutual aid efforts. Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), continued the trend of workers exercising. leverage to secure better COVID-19 protectionsto improve working conditions and learning opportunities for students and educators. Despite protests and antiwar organizing not receiving as much attention, organizations such as Act Now to Stop War and End Racism Coalition (ANSWER Coalition) continue to be active. leading antiwar protestsU.S. bombardment of the Middle East. When they defeated U.S. military aggression in Hawaii, indigenous people and antiwar activists won. successfully forcedNavy to drain Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility in Pearl Harbor. There is a jet fuel leakage in the water supply. sickened thousands. O’ahu-based Water Protectors led protests and engaged in community organizing, while established groups like the Sierra Club amplified activists’ calls to shut down the facility.
King knew that the U.S. could be forced to move from its revolutionary position into a more difficult moment, but he insisted that Americans had a choice. Despite white resistance to civil rights, the Vietnam War and the federal government’s unwillingness to escalate the war against poverty, King told striking Black sanitation workers the night before his assassination, “[W]e, as a people will get to the promised land.”
King found the way to the promised land by meeting the revolutionary moment and undergoing a revolution in values and a reevaluation. King didn’t minimize voting rights but he didn’t see the ballot box being the only way to restructure a society. He tried to convince Americans, including his civil rights supporters, about the importance and necessity of building a multiracial coalition consisting of working and poor people and engaging civil disobedience.
We are at a similar time. Only mass action — combined with the slow work of grassroots power-building — can break through the crisis. To paraphrase Roy and King, we must constantly put our “bodies and souls in motion” in our search for a “better engine,” or a sustainable, and good, life. We cannot face the portal quietly; we must scream through it.