As we cautiously climb out of the worldwide pandemic abyss, we examine a world in which inequality runs rampant. The last calendar year has illustrated the poor state in which many people find themselves. This is especially so for community members on the social and economic margins. Once-a-century events really have a way of exposing normalized systematic violence and negligence to the point that we see poverty, racism and poor health as natural conditions in our contemporary lived reality.
Over the last year, callous actions taken by people who had more interest in preserving their economic gains led to numerous casualties and left many workers who do not have the privilege of working remotely exposed to the ravages of COVID-19. Similarly, those not placed in harm’s way also had to contend with shorter hours and were often pushed further into economic malaise and housing uncertainty, while the end of moratoriums protecting many from eviction loomed overhead.
It is in this context that we see the present day. As May Day approaches, many questions remain unanswered as the push to reopen will inevitably impact people differently given social and economic privilege. What happens when your health falters from contracting COVID-19? Will rent debt continue to accrue, and how does this look for many who may not have the means to repay?
Aside from economic concerns, we also must be mindful of the fact that many cannot detach social conditions from this process either. Institutional violence has interweaved both economic and social characteristics to the point where they work in tandem. Police brutality emanates from the root of gendered and racist violence, namely, as a way of maintaining control of marginalized communities. Similarly, this bleeds over into the immigrant incarceration apparatus that reflects the same traits.
As time elapses, it becomes even more abundantly clear that people deemed “essential workers” are in fact often excluded from decision-making and made expendable as more fall to the pandemic. It is with this in mind that many have decided to take to the streets again this year for May Day. Community members do not have the luxury of existing in a world before the pandemic that denied workers economic security and refused safety for people vulnerable to institutional violence at the hands of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and police agencies at various levels.
Protecting the right to organize for better work conditions, holding police agencies accountable and resisting white supremacist violence are critical, as is access to health care and housing. We cannot move backward; our communities deserve better.
Oscar Rosales grew up in the Yakima Valley and currently works as an educator and social worker in Seattle.
Read more in the Apr. 28 - May 4, 2021 issue.