Detroit dispatch #4: The rush to reopen

May 7, 2020

May 6, 2020

Detroit—Many here are concerned about the rush to reopen, because it feels like rapidly growing numbers of people all over the state and in Detroit too are buying the rhetoric from the white militia protesters: that their rights are infringed, the governor wants to become a dictator, that it’s a scam-demic and the Chinese need to be punished for it.

The rally in Lansing (see “Detroiters Dis Rally,” May-June 2020 N&L) went global: video of a couple of hundred men carrying assault weapons, Confederate flags and swastikas and screaming inches from the face of a masked police officer. An older Black friend expressed a sentiment widely held in Detroit’s Black Community: “If those protesters had been Black, it would have been a violent incident. Some police officer would have said, ‘Oh, I thought he was going to shoot me’ and it would have been 1967 all over again.”

It’s a false dichotomy between “the economy” and health. The inescapable contradiction in capitalist society is that business must function if there are to be jobs. But if people are sick and dying, as in meatpacking, the economy can’t be healthy. Jackie Victor, a founder of Avalon International Breads, describes the flaws in the Paycheck Protection Loan that highlight the impossible situation small businesses face: “Even if we do manage to hire 135 employees and pay them for 60 days, we will not be able to retain them while revenue is down 50 to 80 percent…with [over] 26 million unemployed, consumer demand will be sharply reduced.”

We are just beginning to feel the economic damage. The overwhelmed Michigan unemployment system logjam continues. One woman laid off in mid-March is just now receiving payment, seven weeks later.

Even though the death rate is leveling off, it is still high. A neighbor and good friend who is 83 just lost her younger sister, after her elder sister passed two weeks ago. We can’t go sit with her, bring dinner or help her make arrangements. We know all world leaders in wartime calculate acceptable numbers of dead and wounded, but they don’t admit to that in public. But I just heard our “leader” double his acceptable death rate from opening the economy, to 100,000 or more. Since the virus is hitting Black, Latino and the elderly hardest, he is willing to sacrifice us. Under capitalism, there are no good choices.

Another friend with all the health conditions that put her at risk of a serious case of COVID-19 has been unable to get tested or get proper medical treatment for her other illnesses. She registered for a testing site, got a confirmation number, but was turned away. She finally demanded and got a test prescription from her primary doctor, because without the test her other doctors refuse to see her.

—Susan Van Gelder


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