November 11, 2020

The politics of care in US

The Politics of Care. From COVID-19 to Black Lives Matter. Edited by Boston Review

After the US elections, now it's time to rebuild. A new book provides some insights.

WHERE DO WE GO from here? Our answer must connect to a broader politics that addresses the deep structural roots of the problems we face in the United States. We must build for a better future, not just climb out of the rubble of this pandemic, brush ourselves off, and return to business as usual. We need a new politics of care, one organized around a commitment to universal provision for human needs; countervailing power for workers, people of color, and the vulnerable; and a rejection of carceral approaches to social problems. The question now is how to connect that vision to programmatic responses that address the needs of the moment and beyond. We need to aim at “non-reformist reforms”—reforms that embody a vision of the different world we want, and that work from a theory of power-building that recognizes that real change requires changing who has a say in our political process.

The proposals from the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, and even those from democratic socialists, are missing what we might call a New Deal for Public Health. Here, social movements are indispensable. In particular, the AIDS movement of the past forty years offers a template for the kinds of mobilization we’ll need to achieve our goals: not only bringing the virus under control, but also building a future where something like this never happens again.

What might that include? The Medicare for All component has been mapped out, but less obvious and just as crucial is a new, robust, long-lasting infrastructure of care. For example, people need to be able to stay home when they are sick. Yet employment in this country systematically undermines our ability to care for ourselves and others. Women have it the worst, especially immigrant women and women of color, for they are the ones with the highest burdens of paid and unpaid care. The truth is stark: more than 32 million workers lack access to paid sick days. While 93 percent of the highest-wage workers have access to paid sick days, only 30 percent of the lowest-wage workers do. The risk of job loss and precarious scheduling all add to employees’ difficulties. Without anything like universal sick pay or income insurance, self-employed and gig economy workers are cast adrift at a time like this.