by Reuben Clamzo
About those social-distancing protesters we saw recently… Yes, their behavior was ridiculous. Yes, the imagery they presented was drenched in racist symbols and social privilege. Yes, a lot of their demands (“I need a haircut!”) are absurd. And yes, they are totally astroturf the way the Tea Party was a decade ago, and remains today. But…
These people have a lot of legitimate concerns that we all share, including our financial security. Very few of us are more than a couple missed paychecks from ruin. Nearly all of us who are lucky enough to remain at work are dependent on very expensive medical insurance coverage we buy through our employers. While workplaces are shut down, the algorithms of debt; mortgages, revolving credit, and the rest of the rentier economy; continue their relentless churn.
What they are protesting, though they would be the last to admit it, is the lack of a social safety net. Millions are suddenly out of work. The response so far has been to pour billions into huge corporations who, rather than using that money to maintain their employees salaries and benefits, have placed their people into employment limbo. Corporations are scheduling workers to zero hours, so they don’t make an hourly wage; but not actually laying them off so the corporations aren’t on the hook for unemployment. The protesters are so close to realizing the truth, but just can’t see it. The truth is they are arguing for a fair shake, just what many workers are beginning to see in socialism.
Similarly, small businesses that generally operate on a shoestring budget are losing out on stimulus grants and loans to medium and large businesses like Shake Shack. Fortunately, Shake Shack was eventually shamed into returning the millions they were awarded over more needy mom and pop retailers, restaurants, and service providers. There are lots of other less visible corporations absorbing the rest of that money. For example, Florida’s wealthiest community qualified for millions in stimulus assistance. None of this should surprise anyone familiar with the old saying, “Them who have, get.”
So why the guns? Why the thinly veiled threats? Why the confederate flags and other white-power paraphernalia? Because when you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression. They have been taught that they have more in common with billionaires, who own their jobs, than with fellow workers struggling to climb up to where they themselves started. These folks are shocked to be suddenly in the same boat as other struggling workers and people of color who they had been raised to hold in contempt. It is really hard to hold yourself above others by saying they should have worked harder, or they should have just followed the rules, when you are standing next to them in the dole line. It is at these moments when workers realize the truth that class and privilege are matters of life and death.
They are desperately holding on to their model of the world as they understand it. Since they’re not as economically superior as they once thought, they’re compensating by posturing as if they’re still more powerful than they know themselves to be. Are they overtly threatening people of color? I don’t think so, at least not consciously. Those symbols are for themselves to puff themselves up because they’ve been shown they are in fact very insignificant and weak.
I’m not saying what they’re doing is right. I’m just saying that they’re responding in a very human way. I feel sorry for them, but like I would feel sorry for a wounded animal. I’m scared of what they may do out of fear and pain, if I were to approach them alone to offer help.
It’s clear to me that they would benefit from socialism, as would we all. They may have some twisted ideas due to the scapegoating and brainwashing in our society, but I think underneath all the bluster they want the same things we all do. Watching these protests made me realize that we should be fighting for the fundamental changes that would help us all. It challenges me to join with others to help create a new kind of protest that can help all workers unite together and get our needs met. Together, we can end fear and isolation and replace them with the hope of a compassionate and truly humane socialist future. One where all of us can thrive.