Amidst the fear and pain of the Coronavirus pandemic, the one thing that has given me hope is how people have come together in response – meeting the needs of the moment with togetherness instead of panic. There are countless mutual aid efforts happening around the world and incredibly bravery from frontline medical staff. People sing out their windows together in Italy to give each other hope. People bang pots and pans together out their windows in Brazil to protest the inadequacy of the government’s response.
In the US, all signs point to the Trump calling people back to work next week in the face of all medical advice. Conservatives are lining up with takes that suggest the death of a few percent of the population – hundreds of thousands to millions of people here in America – are less bad than the collapse of the whole economy. Trump thinks a crashing economy is worse for his political future than mass graves. (Let’s leave aside the absurdity that an attempt to restart the economy would survive a million dead Americans, or that Trump even himself stopped the economy to begin with). Carl Beijer has called this Trump’s austerity death trap and I think that captures it well.
Already online there is talk that workers should go out on general strike if Trump tries to force people back to work. My fear is that while the labor movement may not be strong enough to support this, many people will make the hard individual choice that indeed their lives and their families lives are more important than their jobs. They will put some degree of faith in the government to provide direct aid and some faith that they can get by on charity, on credit, and on personal austerity. They will bravely do the thing that is obviously right, but their President (and surely soon, the conservative media and their bosses) is telling them is wrong.
It is critical that people who say no to Trump’s prioritization of the economy over human life feel supported. It is critical that people do not feel alone in this decision, that they not feel shame in their abstention from work. It is critical that space is created for not only people to refuse this demand to keep the gears of the US economy going with the lives of working people.
There is a critical opportunity to both support people and encourage them to make the right decision and create the tools to help spread this reaction – whether we call it a general strike, an abstention, a non-cooperation movement against Trump’s deadly self-interest. What we need is visual and cultural signifiers to share. Not just badges and memes on social networks, but something local and offline.
I’m not a visually creative person. My first thought of a white bedsheet out a window probably has the wrong connotations but is the sort of thing that could be done by almost anyone in the world. A white bedsheet with a painted green slash could provide a solution. The green ribbon is being used in southeast Asia alongside the hashtag #WeWillOvercome. And the color does tell the story of the sort of recovery we want (be it a green stimulus or a green new deal or both)!
I don’t know if Trump will press Americans back to work. I do know that if he does, it will likely result in the rapid spread of the coronavirus and a massive increase in human suffering here in the US, at minimum. This is a terrifying moment, the worst imaginable outcome of putting a selfish, stupid, incapable man in the White House. But in the face of this stupidity, we are not alone. We have each other and we have common sense.
There never really was mass resistance to Trump’s presidency. If there ever will be, this feels like the moment where it will emerge – beyond twitter and across our communities. The irony is now it cannot be in the streets, but must be online and in socially distant ways offline, too. That’s why I see value in a finding a unifying visual meme to connect those who will together reject Trump’s attempt at mass murder at the alter of the economy.