"Hoping for a Hot Spring." Photo by Jason Pramas. Copyright 2022 Jason Pramas.
“Hoping for a Hot Spring.” Photo by Jason Pramas. Copyright 2022 Jason Pramas.

If we want to live in a democracy, we all have to take to the streets … and stay there

Over the 13 months since the Democrats (barely) took over the federal government I’ve joined everyone else in watching them fail to distinguish themselves in any meaningful way from the Republicans that they perennially jostle for power with. At least from the perspective of working Americans—which is, of course, the perspective of the vast majority of citizens and immigrants in this nation.

First, the pandemic continues to drag on. Even if government at all levels is joining COVID deniers in pretending it’s not, since that is seemingly the most convenient position with which to assuage the corporations that fill the Democrats’ campaign coffers—as well as the thinning ranks of conservative Democrats, who act more and more like Republicans as time goes on. And while it’s true that there is significant popular resistance to vaccination, that doesn’t explain the ongoing threat to public health by the SARS-CoV-2 virus and its variants. Which Americans were told would end once about 70% of us were “fully vaccinated” with the original Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson COVID vaccines.  A target we have almost achieved, yet experts now say we’re probably not out of the woods even if infection rates are going down at the moment. Unsurprising since only 28% of Americans, as of this writing, have received last fall’s COVID boosters—which don’t even cover the now-dominant Omicron variant.

What does go more of the way toward explaining the continuing pandemic is that the Biden administration didn’t use its broad executive powers, particularly the Defense Production Act, to force American corporations to produce the best available masks (N-95 and KN-95) and COVID tests and then use government funds to provide those masks and tests for free to everyone in the US on demand for the duration of the crisis (as opposed to the half-measures it has taken in that direction late in the game). Providing all the millions of front-line working Americans the best possible protection that they have been unable to afford on their own. Making their experience of the pandemic far worse for most of us than the experience of the wealthy elites for whom the whole affair has mainly been yet another opportunity to get even richer and more powerful than they were before it began. 

Nor did Biden et al use those same powers to seize the COVID vaccine patents from greedy pharmaceutical companies—that couldn’t have possibly have produced said vaccines without publicly-funded basic science research and massive infusions of public money under the Trump administration—and then manufacture and distribute all the doses necessary to vaccinate everyone on the planet willing to take them to well and truly eliminate the COVID threat. Instead of allowing entire nations like Haiti and continents like Africa to go without needed vaccines. Thus ensuring that new COVID variants continue to arise from the world’s largely unvaccinated regions.

Had such measures been taken, hamfisted and polarizing attempts at imposing vaccine mandates outside of the medical facilities where they are always going to be necessary would not have occurred. Depriving hard-right movements of exactly the type of red populist meat they need to grow. And likely making people more supportive of government in the public interest than they have been in two generations in the process.

Second, speaking of public health and the transfer of wealth from the people to the elites, the Democrats have reneged on their campaign promises to expand government health programs to cover more working people and allowed corporations to entrench their control of our disintegrating healthcare systems even further. In the interest of profit over human need, as ever. 

Third, Biden and the Democrats are threatening to get us into a shooting war with Russia over Ukraine—something most European nations (our “NATO allies”) and many Ukrainians are saying they don’t want—largely, again, in the service of corporate profits. Doubling down on the identical hawkish position that helped sink the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign with American voters in 2016. Leading at best to the pointless death of thousands of Ukrainian citizens and American soldiers in yet another failed imperial adventure like the one that recently ended so catastrophically in Afghanistan and at worst to the destruction of human civilization by triggering a global thermonuclear conflagration

Fourth, the Democrats are allowing racist voting restrictions to be enacted by Republicans in many states essentially unchallenged immediately after one of the largest anti-racist movements in American history did its level best to finally finish the Civil Rights Movement’s drive to end structural racism once and for all in the US.

Fifth, the Democrats are allowing women’s right to abortion to be cancelled by a triumphalist Evangelical movement in states like Texas. Setting that right up for imminent elimination by a  Supreme Court with a strong conservative majority. Which wouldn’t have been nearly as strong had Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg retired during the Obama administration—in time to be replaced by another left-leaning and feminist justice—rather than dying during the Trump administration and being replaced by the right-wing, anti-abortion Justice Amy Coney Barrett, I hasten to point out.

Sixth, the Biden administration has refused to use the executive power that left-wing advocates insist it has to basically end student loan debt for millions of people currently crushed by that debt (like me) with a stroke of the president’s pen … or at least provide each debtor the $50,000 that Sens. Chuck Schumer and Elizabeth Warren have been demanding or even the $10,000 that Biden himself promised during the memory hole of his campaign.

And seventh, the Democrats continue to refuse to take the boot of corporations off the neck of working Americans by doing any of the several things they could do to shore up people’s rights in the workplace. Especially when it comes to passing regulations and legislation that stop corporations from misclassifying workers as temps, part-timers, contractors, independent contractors, day laborers, or any of the dozens of other rent-seeking arrangements broadly known as contingent work. Denying them the better pay, benefits, and working conditions enjoyed by workers in more “permanent” employment arrangements, whether unionized or ununionized.

Here in Massachusetts, other than Attorney General and (more germane to this discussion) gubernatorial candidate Maura Healey’s lawsuit aimed at getting a court ruling that Uber and Lyft workers are employees, our Democratic legislature is failing to pass laws doing the same thing while so-called “gig economy companies” like Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, and Instacart prepare to repeat the passage of the very anti-worker referendum question (Proposition 22) they pushed through in California a couple of years ago—bankrolled, as before, with millions of dollars of profit stolen from the workers they falsely claim are not their employees thanks to their thus far unchallenged legal ability to misclassify them as “independent contractors” to begin with.

There are many other problems (notably the “mother of all crises,” global warming, looming with ever-increasing urgency over human affairs) with the rule of Pres. Joe Biden and his Democratic Party, but the examples above suffice to make my point.

Which is: Where is the protest on these and related crises from working Americans and immigrants? I mean, sure, there are the usual smattering of small, scattered, and mostly single-issue protests led by nonprofit advocacy groups and the like here in Boston and around the country. But that’s taken as mere background noise by the elites running the corporate-dominated oligarchy now standing in for the representative democracy people once aspired to have in the US. A polity now well on its way to becoming a billionaire-ruled techno-feudalist state, as a growing number of political scientists from across the political spectrum are warning.

Where’s the mass sustained uprising we need to move this oligarchy back toward democracy? Nonviolent to be sure. But militant. With clear and simple demands for improving the lives of millions of ordinary Americans. A growing number of whom are now responding positively to the nostrums of the hard right in the vacuum created by the absence of an actual left pole–a popular political movement demanding basic human rights, environmental justice, equality, peace, and the rule of law.

I’ve seen this act twice before in my 55 years. When the Democrats won both the presidency and the Congress under Clinton in 1992 and Obama in 2008. The grassroots movements for democracy stood down, as they are doing now, on critical fights like establishing Medicare for All. Leaving the all-important streets to the right wing. Making it appear as if the country is moving rightward when every indicator is showing that the right is very much a minority in American politics—outside of its traditional and lately fragmenting power bases. Allowing right demagogues to operate unchallenged from coast to coast. And Democratic leadership to more easily push their party to the right in the service of their corporate masters. Rather than left in the service of their increasingly alienated working and middle class base … plus the larger number of working and middle class independents like me that will happily allow the Democrats to collapse instead of helping a failed and failing political formation to continue to screw us as much as the Republicans do on an array of bread-and-butter and social issues.

So my admonition is that regular working people need to get out in the streets this spring and demand redress on all the issues that matter to us: jobs, education, healthcare, public health, housing, food, environment, equality, and peace, for starters. And we need to stay in the streets—from what I sincerely hope will be a “hot spring” of protest through to the midterm elections in November and beyond—pushing the politicians to reject control by the rich and powerful and remember who they really serve, the people. Such a popular movement would be capable of sweeping the hard right before us and putting both major parties on notice, particularly the hapless Democrats of February 2022: Remember who you serve or we will replace you with politicians that do. While we still have something resembling a democracy and haven’t yet fallen victim to the dictatorship that may well take power if we all fail to act decisively. 

Apparent Horizon—an award-winning political column—is syndicated by the MassWire news service of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. Jason Pramas is BINJ’s executive director and executive editor and associate publisher of DigBoston.