Economic Justice and COVID-19

“We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.”

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

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This map illustrates the consequences of economic injustice in a pandemic. Our appreciation to The Boston Public Health Commission for disaggregating COVID-19 case numbers and reporting by race. We will not change what we will not count. Economic stimulus dollars invested in a system built by decades of inequitable federal and state policies and budgets will not change this map. As difficult as these numbers are for us in Boston, it will be worse in many states like Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and Wisconsin. Economic injustice is not simply a Massachusetts problem or a Boston problem. It is a systemic cancer in our United States.
52 years ago, this month Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered. At the end of his life he was preaching against the evils of poverty and economic injustice in America. In his final speech, April 3, 1968 before a group of sanitation workers in Memphis Dr. King said “You are demanding that this city will respect the dignity of labor. So often we overlook the work and the significance of those who are not in professional jobs, of those who are not in the so-called big jobs. But let me say to you tonight that whenever you are engaged in work that serves humanity and is for the building of humanity, it has dignity and it has worth.”
Today we lift up the invisible “essential” workers who are taking care of us at great personal risk. Our farmworkers picking fruits and vegetables keeping strong our food supply. All who collect our garbage, pack our groceries at supermarkets, Amazon and other retail establishments across our United States. We see you, our orderly’s/healthcare assistants, feeding our infirmed, elderly and disabled, removing and laundering dirty linen, moping floors in our hospitals, senior centers, laboratories, and so much more – many without the benefit of PPE’S. Thank you. You are critical to the smooth operation of our states and cities everyday not just during the pandemic.
This map from the Boston Public Health Commission tracks COVID-19 reporting its concentration in communities where people of color and low-income families live. Reports from organizations like Brookings Institution to the Federal Reserve have documented environmental, economic and political inequities in similar communities across our country. Leaving many residents with compromised immune systems suffering from asthma, heart disease, hypertension and diabetes.
This pandemic should be a wake up call to all. Poor wages result in poor access to adequate healthcare, housing, nourishment and so much more. Like our heroic medical personnel these essential workers must care for the public often serving the infected without the benefit of PPE’s. Further, available living quarters may not support social distancing from family. Dr. King’s words of encouragement to the sanitation workers at Bishop Charles Mason Temple in Memphis on March 18, 1968 speaks to our “essential” workers today. “You are reminding, not only Memphis, but you are reminding the nation that it is a crime for people to live in this rich nation and receive starvation wages,” … You are here tonight to demand that Memphis do something about the conditions that our brothers face, as they work, day in and day out for the well-being of the total community. You are here to demand that Memphis will see the poor.”

The impact of COVID-19 across all communities is tragic. Unfortunately, this pandemic may demonstrate that COVID-19 fortified by poverty is devastating. We must see all our communities. All our people must have a fighting chance to save their own lives. COVID-19 virus does not discriminate. It was not contained abroad; it cannot be redlined at home. We must insist that our government use a different investment framework to meet the basic needs of all its people. We the people consent to the actions of our elected government. It’s been fifty-two years, since Dr. King told us that “we may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.” This fall let’s direct our pain and frustration at the ballot box and establish a clear mandate for economic justice.

Marie St. Fleur, JD
St. Fleur Communications
April 4, 2020

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