URBAN AGENDA: Re-Affirming Human Rights as President Flaunts Public Health

10/15/2020, midnight
The President of the United States recently called his contracting COVID-19 a “Blessing from God” – an appalling statement from ...
David R. Jones Contributed

The President of the United States recently called his contracting COVID-19 a “Blessing from God” – an appalling statement from a president who, in the last eight months since publicly acknowledging COVID-19 on our shores, saw over 7.6 million cases and more than 215,000 Americans dead – more American casualties than from five major conflicts: World War I (53,402), The Korean War (33,739) Vietnam (47,434), Iraq (3,528) and Afghanistan (1,833).

And the casualties continue in the undeclared war at home: the police violence directed at Black and Brown community members like Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and countless others, and now, hate groups activated by the President’s unveiled message, “Stand back and stand by” during the first presidential debate, have led to a swastika drawn on Columbia University’s Low Library and the threat by armed white supremacist terror groups to kidnap and murder Michigan’s governor.

Throughout this increasingly grim period, large numbers of persons continue to become unhoused, displaced, lose jobs and their job-related health coverage – all during a pandemic. Some 30-40 million people are at risk of eviction in the U.S.– in New York that number is almost 1.5 million. The economy has recovered only approximately 50 percent of the 22 million jobs lost from February to April 2020, with the longer term outlook looking less than robust. Even before the pandemic, the level of hunger had tripled since 2019 – food insecurity in Black and Latino households is significantly higher, at 19 percent and 17 percent respectively, compared to seven percent in white households. Yet the resources pass like water through the fingers of the communities that most need them straight into the hands of the wealthy.

Despite all the talk about mortality and housing rates, there has yet to be a metric that fully captures the vulnerability and pain of the individuals, families and communities displaced and damaged by these cataclysmic events. And while the President of the United States can flaunt public health guidance, contract COVID-19, receive top-notch healthcare, consume a cocktail of experimental drugs and continue his PR tour by FBI escort, this is cold comfort to the thousands of people who continue to die from this scourge at unprecedented levels.

Those controlling the federal government have officially abandoned the American people. In his recent debate with Vice Presidential nominee Kamala Harris, Vice President Pence talked about how the Trump Administration “trusts” the American people to make decisions about their own health. The working translation: without an expansive health care plan -- the details of which Republicans have refused to disclose for almost four years -- the American people are on their own.

Urgent conditions breaking out across the country are neglected -- in California and along the Pacific Northwest -- where climate change has caused wildfires to rage for months, poisoning the air as the world becomes uninhabitable.

As the head of an organization dedicated to addressing poverty, suffering and their outgrowths, now, more than ever, the present conditions underscore why we must re-commit to valuing human rights. It has never been clearer that we rise and fall together and that our forward progression as a society will fail if each of us is not given the inter-connected resources needed to live with dignity.

Third Annual Full Participation is a Human Right Conference

We can no longer ignore the matrix formed in the 400-year aftermath of colonization and enslavement, which built the structure of laws, policies, and cultural norms that have enabled a pathological level of racialized indifference and brutality to flourish. When government fails to protect and act in the best interests of its citizens, siphons away public resources that would otherwise go to supporting the well-being of the people – not the stock market – and deploys police officers to violently disperse peaceful protesters and incite chaos, we must reorganize to invest in ourselves to support a livable society.

Deep conversations are needed about what it takes to guarantee the affirmative resources of housing, employment, healthcare, collective support for a meaningful wage, and to restrict unbridled police violence. Dialogue goes hand in glove with action. In service of this, CSS is hosting our third annual virtual conference and arts festival, Full Participation is a Human Right, taking place October 21-24, featuring Amy Goodman, host of Democracy Now! in dialogue with scholar and activist Professor Rose Brewer, who has dedicated her life to intersectional movement building.

This year’s conference focuses on “Invest in Us: The Movement for a Livable Society” with panel discussions and breakouts among activists and advocates fighting for housing, decarceation, and health care as human rights, and for self-determined Black, Brown and low-income communities in a sustainable New York City. The Full Participation is a Human Right arts festival features a day of music, spoken word poetry, dance, and theater. Join us to build a Full Participation Movement grounded in human rights and respect for all.

David R. Jones, Esq., is President and CEO of the Community Service Society of New York (CSS), the leading voice on behalf of low-income New Yorkers for more than 170 years.  The views expressed in this column are solely those of the writer.  The Urban Agenda is available on CSS’s website: www.cssny.org.