Weekend Picks: Labor Fights, Voting Wars, and Star Trek
We’ll begin with an essay from Walker and then get into OptOut participants’ work.
Another week in paradise. Or maybe not. Despite everyone’s seemingly optimistic posture about COVID-19 vaccines, there’s probably a whole lot of pandemic ahead of us.
Like the Trump administration before it, the Biden administration is pretty much betting the farm on vaccines. No lockdowns—even as cases tick up in places like Michigan.
It may end up that the strategy works, though lives will continue to be needlessly lost along the way. Around one in four Americans have received their first vaccine dose—two are required for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines—while 17 percent are fully vaccinated. But it is important to realize that betting on vaccines alone while keeping the country largely open is still a gamble.
A new paper by virologist John P. Moore, PhD, of the Weill Medical College at Cornell University, warns that insufficient antibody presence in the body, which exists after the first dose of a two-part vaccine, provides the virus opportunity to mutate resistance to those antibodies.
“The combination of a high virus replication rate within an individual (a high viral load) and a suboptimal level of neutralizing antibodies is the exact environment in which resistant viruses are considered likely to emerge and spread,” Moore writes.
This warning was echoed by epidemiologist Robert Morris, who has taught at Tufts University School of Medicine, Harvard University School of Public Health, and the Medical College of Wisconsin and has served as an advisor to the EPA, CDC, NIH, and the President’s Cancer Panel.
“Every time a person develops COVID-19, those virus strains most capable of replicating and transmitting infection to others will be selected,” Morris wrote in a blog post last month. “As time goes on, these new variants will look less and less like the virus used as the model for existing vaccines.”
In other words, by remaining open we are creating laboratory conditions for the virus to evoke around our vaccines. So far, the vaccines are effective against the new variants, but it may not always be the case.
“We are in a race with the virus,” Morris told me in a Twitter message last week.
So why not lock down until we vaccinate everyone? Well, by and large, our elected officials cannot conceive of government providing the kind of sustained assistance to working people required for such a feat. Decades of neoliberal programming have rendered such active solutions unthinkable, even to most Democrats. You can be sure some have made calculations of how many deaths the public might tolerate. The answer is sickeningly infinite so long as hospitals are not overwhelmed and people don’t revolt.
Another unfortunate reality, pointed out by social epidemiologist Justin Feldman of Harvard University’s FBX Center for Health and Human Rights on our forthcoming episode of Gilded Age, is that this virus is killing groups that have never ranked very high on our government’s priorities list—the poor, the working class, and in particular, Black, Latino, and Indigenous workers.
People should be outraged at the fact that a national lockdown has never seriously been on the table. As of this post, more than 548,000 Americans have died from COVID. That tragedy and the paltry preventative actions taken by Washington and the states justify mass action.
We have always deserved better.
Current Affairs: Universities Are Still Gambling With Students’ Lives
We’re thrilled to welcome Current Affairs to the OptOut network! To stay on the Covid topic, here’s an essay from Natalie Martinez-White.
It seems that colleges care more about their academic prestige and the profit gained from donors, investments, and the student body than anything else. That is why in the face of a pandemic, universities across the country decided to make their students return to campus.
Sh!tpost: The Amazon Union Fight feat. Kim Kelly
In Bessemer, Alabama, employees at an Amazon fulfilment center have been fighting to unionize their workplace, hoping to secure better working conditions and pay. If successful, the action will mark one of the largest labor victories of modern times and could inspire other of Amazon employees to take similar actions at their own workplaces. The fight is an existential one: labor versus a brutal, new tech-dominated economy.
Reporter Kim Kelly has been reporting from the ground in Alabama on the unionization effort and vote. She joins us during the show to contextualize and explain this historic event and its broader consequences.
Jacobin: Amazon’s PR Flacks Are Starting to Sweat
With Bernie Sanders on his way to Bessemer, Alabama to support warehouse workers voting on a union, and the company facing increasingly negative press over working conditions that include drivers being forced to urinate in bottles, Amazon’s PR operation is getting defensive.
The Real News: Workers in Bessemer are “gonna start a movement”
Vote counting will begin on March 29, and we will know soon after if 5,800 warehouse workers in Bessemer will become the first unionized Amazon workforce in the U.S. Longtime poultry plant worker and current lead organizer for the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union (RWDSU) Mid-South Council Michael “Big Mike” Foster has been fighting with and for Amazon workers throughout the union drive. In the latest installment of our special TRNN series “Battleground Bessemer,” Foster explains why the union struggle at Amazon is so significant for workers in Bessemer, for their communities, and for the labor movement writ large.
The Daily Poster: Fast Food Giant Claims Credit For Killing $15 Minimum Wage
The parent company of some of America’s largest fast food chains is claiming credit for convincing Congress to exclude a $15 minimum wage from the recent COVID relief bill, according to internal company documents reviewed by The Daily Poster. The company, which is owned by a private equity firm named after an Ayn Rand character, also says it is now working to thwart new union rights legislation.
The company’s boasts come just a few months after a government report found that some of its chains had among the highest percentage of workers relying on food stamps.
The American Prospect: Islands in the Stream
“Musicians are in peril, at the mercy of giant monopolies that profit off their work.”
David Dayen has a long read from the Prospect’s latest magazine edition.
The War on Voting
Exposed by CMD: Right-Wing Groups Unite in Campaign Against Bill to Improve U.S. Democracy
This week I wrote about opposition to the groundbreaking For the People Act. After passing the House, the bill got its first hearing in the Senate this week.
Conservative groups are using ads, activist tool kits, social media posts, statements, and letters to Congress to attack the bill, sometimes with falsehoods about its contents.
The Nomiki Show: The GOP's cynical onslaught on voting rights
The Republican Party's survival is all about holding down voting by any means necessary.
The David Feldman Show: Georgia GOP Votes Against Voting
David Feldman’s always epically long show covers Republicans’ war on Democracy, Biden's first press conference, mass shootings, and Covid’s comeback.
In Other News
Injustice Watch: ‘Where did we agree to sign away our identities when we decided to fight for freedom?’
On May 30, thousands of people took to the streets to protest the unjust treatment of Black folks, galvanized by the recent killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, who both died after encounters with police. A lot of people went home after that. But some of us never really did — we stayed outside on our feet, sometimes for days without rest.
We threw block parties and organized food drives and grocery drop-offs. We gathered in healing circles, held silent sit-ins to honor the lives of slain Black women, and led training seminars about safety and abolition. We shouted down the heavens until our voices were gone, marching past people in Lincoln Park and Wicker Park eating at restaurants or jogging, still living their normal lives as if they didn’t hear our chanting.
FAIR: Atlanta Murders Reporting Relied on Law Enforcement Narratives
At local and national levels, the initial media response focused primarily on the gunman’s story and police statements. Reports linked the targeted businesses to sex work with insubstantial documentation, but struggled to identify if and how race and gender motivated the gunman.
The Majority Report: How GOP-Controlled State Legislatures are Enacting Anti-Transgender Legislation w/ Chase Strangio
Sam and Emma host ACLU Deputy Director for Transgender Justice Chase Strangio to discuss the increase in anti-trans legislation that has made its way across GOP-controlled statehouses. Chase explains how the current wave of anti-trans legislation in girls’ sports is the new manifestation of the same kind of GOP-generated transphobic panic that informed the restroom bills in 2016-17 and is used to drive up Republican voter turnout. And further, Chase discusses the current legal precedent set by Bostock v. Clayton County that protects trans rights, which GOP state legislatures actively disregard.
Ring of Fire: Fox News Hit With Massive $1.6 Billion Defamation Lawsuit
Dominion Voting Systems has filed a massive $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit against Fox News over comments made on the network following the 2020 election. This is the first media outlet that has officially been sued by the company, as the rest of the lawsuits that they have filed have been against individuals.
Africa Is a Country: Magufuli's Mixed Legacy
Former Tanzanian President John Magufuli died on March 17, 2021 from heart complications after a period of illness. His is a mixed legacy. Alongside large-scale infrastructure projects and his mantra of Hapa Kazi Tu (Work is My Only Focus) was an intolerance of critics and his COVID-19 denialism. One could argue that his presidency simply replayed a leadership script seemingly written into post-liberation Africa: appropriate anti-colonial rhetoric to indigenize capitalism, make modest redistribution to the masses, and weaponize this to consolidate the regime’s power.
Blood Knife: Socialism, Progress, and The Final Frontier
Start Trek’s imperialist contradictions highlight the role of “the frontier” in the American mythos.
Thanks as always for checking out content from the great media outlets in the OptOut network. Have a good week!