By Masego Mokgoko
This article is exclusive to the Online Edition 5 of VARSITY News.
Access to safety is a function of privilege. The individuals whose health has been deemed worthy of protection amid the global pandemic is indicative of how, as a society, we assign value to certain human lives. Poor and marginalised communities suffer because they don’t have the economic privilege to self-isolate or quarantine effectively.
Extreme lockdown measures across the globe like the ones in India and South Africa leave many impoverished people without food because of the lack of income because there is no “work from home” option for people who rely on the informal economy for their livelihoods. Conversely, the lackadaisical measures in the United States (US) leave many black and brown communities to shoulder a disproportionate amount of Covid-19 related unemployment and deaths. The pandemic has put a magnifying glass on existing societal inequities of the capitalist economic system. Although economic disenfranchisement manifests differently around the globe, the result is the same: people die.
In an aggressively capitalist nation, the US, it’s abundantly clear during this pandemic that human lives, especially those that aren’t deemed worthy of protection, are less important than the economic well-being of the ruling classes. As long as companies can generate a profit, our lives don’t matter.
The current economic systems and political power structures don’t function for the benefit of the many but the few. However, reforming or even dismantling the current capitalist system is going to be a challenge. Over the past few decades, the growth of the surveillance state has increased the capacity of governments to repress major social movements not only via physical violence but thwarting efforts to organise social and political movements.
Furthermore, like any significant social and political change, it cannot occur without struggle. Fighting to change the status quo will have to involve collaboration and allyship across economic strata. One of the ways the current system can thrive is the lack of class solidarity. The real threat to the ability to debase the exploitative capitalist system is the willingness of those with economic comfort to sacrifice their privileges for the collective good.
However, just because something is improbable or difficult to achieve doesn’t mean it’s not achievable. History shows that repressive systems aren’t infallible; people have been able to end feudalism, chattel slavery, and colonialism – so changing or dismantling the current economic structure isn’t impossible.
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