We are in the midst of an unfolding public health crisis due to the coronavirus. And we, at the Kairos Center, know that it results from a deeper, much longer-term crisis — that of poverty and inequality and of a society that despises the poor and ignores the needs of 140 million poor and low-income people. We are also aware that in times such as these it is all the more important to enact the demands of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival if we want to fully address this crisis.
This is what we know: the virus will hurt the poor disproportionately, and then, because of poverty, it will hurt everyone more. People are told to stock up on food and prescription drugs but many cannot afford to. People without access to clean, safe water risk this virus compounding the other public health impacts of poisoned water, the lack of sanitation, and water shut-offs. People without stable housing have nowhere to self-quarantine and stay exposed to increased health risks. People without health insurance can’t go for treatment. People who are sick without access to paid sick time may have to still go to work. So many people are being forced to choose between the risk of getting and spreading the virus and losing their job, being unable to pay rent, and struggling to feed themselves and their kids. And why must they choose between these options?
People must choose because we don’t have the right to paid sick time; we don’t have the right to housing, the right to water, the right to living wage jobs so that a family might have a small savings to weather this storm. Our country doesn’t guarantee health care. It seems our government doesn’t actually care about the 140 million poor and low-income Americans that make up nearly half this country. While the Trump Administration has already committed to bailing out airlines and the oil and gas industry that might lose profit because of the coronavirus, there is no such commitment to provide free vaccines or treatment for sick people; there are no proposals for debt jubilee or to pass universal health care.
Yesterday I was talking with a friend in the suburbs whose son’s school closed for the week. When she asked about my kids, I explained that NYC public schools remain open and that the Mayor announced that they will close only as a last resort because 114,000 children are currently homeless and need school as a safe place. Over 750,000 of the million kids who attend NYC public schools are poor or low-income and rely on school for free breakfast and lunch. Again, these are unacceptable choices.
The question forever posed to us when we talk about the demands of the Poor People’s Campaign is, “How can we afford to enact universal health care or living wages and free education?” But as we are seeing in this moment, the cost of not providing for people’s basic needs far out-weighs the cost of providing them. We are connected in a global community and we can no longer pretend otherwise. We have the abundance and the technology to solve many of society’s problems — but it will take a focus on people over profits and a political will to end poverty, racism, militarism, ecological devastation and the distorted moral narrative that ties all of these systems together.
We at Kairos and the Poor People’s Campaign are full steam ahead mobilizing for a Mass Poor People’s Assembly and Moral March on Washington on June 20, 2020. The increasing urgency of this campaign is more apparent every day. Please, do whatever you can to support this work. Talk and share about these issues and help people shift their focus from just the virus to the systems underneath it. Please read the Kairos blog (and make a donation if you can). Please RSVP and volunteer to help with June 20, 2020. And please pray for all those impacted in every way by this crisis and the poverty and disdain for life that underlies it.
Stay as safe and healthy as you can,
Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis
P.S. – Here’s an op-ed about the coronavirus that Rev. Barber and I wrote together. Please share it.