After the coronavirus hit the USA in the spring of 2020, everybody was hoping (and many believed) that in the summer they could return to their normal lives. But this summer has been anything but normal with the further spread of COVID-19 being accompanied by economic collapse, uprisings against racism, and a shifting political landscape. The country is changing rapidly in the midst of countless crises that go far beyond the coronavirus.
The spread of a disease threatening the well-being of all people of a nation ought to be an issue that all people of a nation can come together to solve, no matter one’s political affiliations. In America, this unfortunately isn’t the case. The federal, state, and local governments of America have been often harshly criticized for their poor response to these crises, with much of it directed at Republican leadership. President Donald Trump has also been heavily criticized for his poor response to the pandemic and not taking it seriously. America has gained a reputation internationally for downplaying the severity of the pandemic. Many people and politicians have doubted science behind COVID-19 and have ignored health safety recommendations from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. America now has by far the most cases and deaths from COVID-19 in the world, with almost 6,500,000 cases and 200,000 deaths (2,000 cases and 58 deaths per 100,000 people, putting its death rate in the top 10 worldwide).
In addition, the spread of COVID-19 and the economic fallout from it has revealed deep systemic issues and inequality in America. COVID-19 and the economic fallout has hurt almost everyone, but it has had an extremely disproportionate impact on the working class and people of color. People of color have been infected and have died at higher rates than non-Hispanic white people, and are also being disproportionately hurt by the economic fallout from the pandemic. In fact, COVID-19 is now the third leading cause of death among Black Americans in 2020, only behind heart disease and cancer. Millions of working class people have lost their jobs, lost healthcare, are under threat of eviction or foreclosure, and have not gotten proper public assistance to protect them. At the same time, many top income earners have seen their wealth greatly increase due to their ownership in stock of businesses that are considered essential (e.g. Amazon and Walmart). Wealth inequality is growing in a time where the working class is struggling more than ever in recent history. The priorities of America seem to be severely out of order.
As if things weren’t bad enough, uprisings against police violence, racism, and inequality erupted after the murder of George Floyd in May. The image of a Black man having the knee of a white police officer suffocate him slowly for 8 minutes and 46 seconds fueled outrage towards racism and police brutality in America. The subsequent mass Black Lives Matter protests have been estimated to be the biggest series of American protests and activism ever, with the protests encompassing the entire country and even several foreign countries. An estimated 15-26 million people in America participated in the protests, over 40% of all counties in America have had protests, and 2 other continents have had protests in solidarity with Black Lives Matter. However, there has also been spontaneous rioting and looting in the midst of the protests, which has been denounced by both many Black Lives Matter supporters and those who don’t support the Black Lives Matter movement. A vast majority of organized protests were free of violence (93%), but property destruction and theft by certain people mixed up with protesters is of course a serious concern. Both presidential candidates, Joe Biden and Donald Trump, have called the rioting anarchy, lawlessness, and criminal behavior. However, the actions of a minority should not invalidate the movement against racial injustice and inequality as a whole.
If people want to see how all these issues have changed the political landscape of America, look no further than St. Louis. Black Lives Matter has a significant history in St. Louis. Inequality, discrimination, racism, and police misconduct has been rampant throughout St. Louis for a very long time. The Ferguson Police Department, with Ferguson being predominantly populated by Black people, has been surrounded by controversy for years because of its excessive and discriminatory ticketing policies, as well as issues with excessive force used by police. In 2015, the shooting and death of Michael Brown in Ferguson at the hands of a police officer caused protests to erupt in St. Louis and throughout the country. Protests have erupted in St. Louis again after the death of George Floyd this summer as well, with many taking place in North City with predominantly Black populations. Communities of color in St. Louis have been much more harmed by the pandemic as well. People of color have been getting infected and dying at far higher rates than others from COVID-19. St. Louis has also been a very economically unequal and racially segregated city for a long time due to the city’s history with Jim Crow laws and red-lining policies. With the lack of affordable housing projects and integration efforts as well as persisting discrimination in the modern day, St. Louis still struggles with significant racial inequality. The infamous “Delmar Divide” showcases this inequality.
Median Home Value
Neighborhood directly north of Delmar Blvd
Neighborhood directly south of Delmar Blvd
– (From US Census Bureau)
All of these issues (racial injustice, economic collapse, economic inequality, and the pandemic) have caused a shift in the political landscape which has culminated in a congressional Democratic primary election victory for Cori Bush in a predominantly Democratic district. Cori Bush, a progressive insurgent, ran against a moderate Democrat, Lacy Clay, who had represented Missouri’s 1st district for 20 years. His father, Bill Clay, represented the district for 32 years before Lacy Clay took over in 2000. Cori Bush has been a working class person in St. Louis her entire life. She has struggled with poverty, homelessness, police brutality, and racism in her own life. Her story as a working class Black woman is one that has been inspiring to many. She emerged as a figure in St. Louis because of her role as an organizer for the Black Lives Matter movement after the killing of Michael Brown. She has also been active in recent protests, even being maced in the face at a protest near the Florissant Police Department after she attempted to defend a woman being beaten on the ground by a police officer. She ran for Congress once before in 2018 and lost, but ran again this year and upset Lacy Clay in a stunning victory. The sudden defeat of a 20 year incumbent is just not supposed to happen in American politics, especially in a political party’s primary. In terms of her politics, she considers herself a Democratic Socialist and has very progressive policies. She advocates for universal healthcare, police reform, the Green New Deal, public housing, increasing taxes on the wealthy, and much more. Her policies seem more important than ever given America’s current situation. She wants significant change in the country, and voters in St. Louis showed that they feel the same way.
It seems to many that the status quo has failed them, and there is a desire for a new kind of politics that will bring real change. These are dark times in America, and it’s up to ordinary people to work for change. Young people are going to determine the future too. Generation Z is now the Coronavirus Generation as they grow up in a time of extreme political and social turmoil. People must ask themselves if they have faith in the current systems of America to lead us through these times, or if these times show a need for a bold new direction in politics. Only time will tell what decision America makes.
Sources: US Census Bureau, US Bureau of Labor Statistics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, The New York Times, Economic Policy Institute, US Crisis Monitor, Civis Analytics, CNN