The Power of 2020 and America’s Promise 

by Maniza Naqvi

Have a look at the New York City Budget for the fiscal year 2020 and you will very quickly note the priorities (policing) for public expenditures and for cuts (social services of health, education and youth services). A quick back of the envelope public expenditure review reveals and illustrates the fiscal story for the fault-lines nourishing and giving free rein to the virility of both viruses of anti blackness and of the pandemic. And this is the story of masked interventions for maintaining inequity and cruelty in one of the great cities of the world, one of the so called most ‘progressive’ cities of the world.

About six years ago a colleague of mine and I visited the Human Services of New York City to learn about its Social Safety Net. As the presentation was made to us at City Hall, we found ourselves marveling at and impressed by the size of the City budget of nearly US$ 100 billion. As Development specialists, we were used to working in countries whose entire budgets were dwarfed compared to the New York City budget. However, we found ourselves exchanging glances of how the entire budget including the Human Services and benefits in the city seemed to be of a mindset that the resident beneficiaries have an existing or an expected record of criminality. Therefore a review and reallocation of funding must de-criminalize the orientation of the budget from policing both in percentage and absolute amounts. And every single line item of the budget should be expunged of its relationship to policing.

I had also had the opportunity to visit inner city schools including after school programs which were dependent on philanthropic funding rather than on public financing. I found many programs that were interesting and inspiring but overall I came away with the uneasy feeling that a country spending trillions on war in foreign countries could not pay for schools and children’s programs in its inner cities and that children in its cities were treated worse than the war zones I had worked in. Children in schools were treated like potential criminals with the kind of security and policing presence in schools. It seemed that the police had a presence everywhere in the education and youth services provided by the city. The city budget supported the policing and teachers salaries while philanthropies were relied on for the actual educational programs. The very same billionaires that benefited from the outcomes of this uneven, inequitable budget were the philanthropists and benefactors of human services in the city.

Across America, this is the story of public goods and public bads. America’s promise to those who come here is that they will be unchained from misery, that they will prosper that they will realize the ideal of liberty, of breathing free, living safely and flourishing.

This  promise however, was not for those who came here in chains or for their descendants. America’s so called goodness has been wrought at the cost of those who were brought here centuries ago in chains as slaves and whose bodies, blood, labor, toil, sweat, heartbreak and tears made this country what it is. Their progeny is still in chains. They can’t breath.

What is considered America’s good and its economic power have been built on its evil and bad: the subjugation and exploitation of black bodies. And this truth has never really been examined by the majority of people living in America. Now this truth has been made self evident by the brutality of the police and the pandemic, the twin viruses. And now finally America, has woken up and in every color it is rising to protest and demand justice and change.

The size of the Federal budgets devoted to what I term as the “public bads” is disproportionally huge compared to that spent on public goods. Pubic bads include the military industrial complex. The Federal budget devoted to military dwarfs any other sector spending by the Government. Similarly state and city budgets allocated to police as compared to what is made available for the public goods: in funding for all social sectors, health, education and social services and for infrastructure maintenance, housing and so on—makes clear the nature of the prevailing system. Plenty of guns, tanks, armored personnel carriers, drones, helicopters, bullets, bombs, teargas, tasers, prison cells and batons, pepper spray, bullet proof vests, shields and helmets available for wars and quelling protests but a shameful dearth of personal protective equipment for nurses and doctors during the pandemic.

The events unfolding in America are the clash of the old brutal order with the nationwide multi-community demand for justice.This clash in America is not new—it is the promise of America but the vast scale and diversity of the protesters is new. People have woken up to the facts of a structural and systemic violence.

In these first six months of 2020 the masks have gone on to protect against the novel new virus and the masks have been taken off and torn off to unmask the persistent old one of a mindset of viewing people as property as slaves to be policed and controlled. The systemic hating the color of their skin, black. This specific racism is the foundation of the American economic and social system.

The disproportionally larger death rate due to the virus in the African American community has created the outrage across the country in all communities to finally react in unison to the persistent and traditional systemic brutality of this social and economic system who’s frontline is police brutality against African Americans.

The police constantly and consistently demonstrate and act on instincts based on its foundational muscle memory. It was created as a militia force to keep the plantations’ property of slaves on the plantations and brutally in check. To this day the police system protects property and holds up an unjust, cruel and brutal economic system.

It is an economic system built on the bad. It is an economic system in which there are but a few public goods all of which are at the service of public bads. The public bads are the military industrial complex of war, prisons, police, private militias, corporatized industrial food production, big Pharma, privatized health and the electoral college.

The planet can’t take this economic and political system anymore. This economic system that is predicated on violence and war and of endless growth predicated on wasteful consumerism.

Looting is the foundation of our current ecosystem of hyper capitalism and unchecked capital accumulation. It stands embedded firmly through its enabling narratives of looters, police, profit and real estate developers which must be dismantled. In its place must grow an economic, economic system—not motivated by the profit motive—but rather by a just and fair income motive. Our people need it. Our planet demands it.

The solutions for eradicating or at least containing both the pandemic and the hate towards blacks are heartbreakingly similar and same. The root causes are structural and require not just therapy and vaccine but also surgery to root out the malignancy. Structural change of the system.

Slavery was a necessary input for the Uber capitalism that built America. Slavery is necessary now to keep it in place. Maintaining the current Uber capitalist system and achieving just equitable outcomes for all citizens is simply not possible. Uber capitalism and this level of capital concentration and accumulation in the hands of the view requires people be slaves to wasteful consumerism and indebtedness.

Why can’t we have an economic, economic system? An economy that economizes? I look out of the window as the lockdown eases—the big huge corporate stores up and down the avenues and streets are shut—while the sidewalks are coming back to life with street vendors some old and some new. The new ones are selling mostly masks. The fruit and vegetable vendors are there too. They are out in the open air and people can easily practice social distancing. The daily livelihood earners are beginning to function while those with bricks and mortar type of shops are still closed.

People under the ongoing pandemic condition are purchasing only what they need—frivolous mindless consumption has come to a pause. Is that a bad thing? We are crushing the curve of mindless economic growth based on increased wasteful consumption. Who benefits? The people do. The planet does. Who doesn’t benefit? The large corporations.

The shops will come back. New York City and its culture was mom and pop shops of all kinds and small restaurants will come back. They will all come back. And if the large corporate mega stores don’t come back—we can all sigh with relief and so can the planet. Small businesses and individual families will benefit.

The earth and all its species can only survive if we make and take only what we need—We need to make and take only what we need to eat, take care of each other, shelter, keep warm, keep cool, educate, keep healthy, and create food for our minds.

Here in America, we must subject all our social and economic institutions to a public expenditure review and reform based on a racial, social climate justice analysis: Each of the following areas must be reformed and changed on the basis of a racial, social, climate justice analysis, where racial specifically means anti-black. The objective should be to create a social and economic framework which puts people first and not profit and which is based on the goals of caring and sharing. Here below are a few elements that could be first on the list of to dos:

  • A social and economic justice analysis of all institutions and their budgets based on expunging anti blackness across building social, economic and climate justice.
  • Reparations akin to the GI bill should be enacted for the descendants of slaves.
  • Jobs and Income opportunities: support and growth of local small community businesses including street vendors: Government should provide grants to small business for overheads, equipment and for payrolls to encourage job creation and on the job training and apprenticeships.
  • Gun Control: Abolish and criminalize private gun sales and gun ownership.
  • Health: Universal National Health Care and public health system.  In addition support daycare and elderly care in-situ and consider those family members employed in these positions as being employed in the care economy and as being the essential workers and essential social services providers which they are. Provide training and necessary care equipment.
  • Education: schools should teach and not be day care centers or juvenile prisons. Treat primary schools and secondary schools as schools.Teach students and education that is competitive and at par with the rest of the world.
  • Universal College Education: This should be the right of every American. All college loans for State Universities should be dissolved immediately.
  • Abolish private prisons.
  • Police:  The American police system is a throwback to colonial times as is the police system everywhere in the world that was colonized. It is there mainly to destroy dissent and subjugate the people. Demilitarize the police.  Reduce and revise priorities for police budgets.Focus on community policing. Abolish: private policing. Abolish private military security businesses. If an examination of who joins the police were to be made, would they find that there are generations of the same families who join the police forces? That this is a generationally occupation (pun intended) passed down from father to son as a profession with all its attendant prejudice and points of false pride? Are those who rise in these ranks and those who are rank and file functioning like clans and tribes and police unions? If in fact this is so, then this to must be dismantled with community based policing.
  • Agriculture: Organic farming—de-industrialize and de-corporatize agriculture production and food production. Encourage and support small rural family owned agri-businesses and urban farming.
  • Infrastructure: Invest in railways. Urban planning for mass transit and removal or reduction of fossil fuel consuming vehicles.
  • Social Protection: Provide a Universal Basic Income to all US citizens for five years and then after that base it on assets and income in year 5 forward.
  • Abolish the Electoral College. One vote for each citizen—each citizen’s vote must count.
  • Abolish lobbies and campaign financing.
  • Delink criminalizing and policing as the first response to vulnerabilities in health, education, and housing. 
  • Reform the mandate of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank from being the first responder financiers and enforcers of failed prescriptions of privatization and for paying the wage bills for propping up of corrupt systems of government and militarized states.  Instead, focus on assisting governments to build public goods.
  • Cease all financial and in kind support to militarized states.
  • Withdraw and return home American troops from foreign lands.

The pandemic might just have been the revolution across this great land of America which saves us. Perhaps, just perhaps a new age of a new economic economy based on racial, species and climate justice might be rising.

Americans all over this great land have been actively practicing and working for change and have been doing so for two decades—with climate friendly initiative and social and economic justice based on innovations. The waves of change have been rising first slowly and then with urgency. Even during this pandemic, it is the people, ordinary citizens who have crushed the curve by staying indoors and wearing masks far before the governments said so. It is the people who will crush this unjust racist system which has been so clearly unmasked in these last 6 months.

What we are witness to with the election of Trump and his current state of self imprisonment in the White House behind fortified chain fences protected openly by the military police and the Texas Prison Riot Police last week and what appeared to be private militias, is the last violent gasp of a dying order.

It is a time of great hope. America’s promise is about to be realized.