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Voices ᐋ ᐄᔮᔨᐧᒫᓂᐧᐃᒡ

Rich people don’t care about us

BY Maïtée Labrecque-Saganash May 22, 2020

The self-isolation measures of the Covid-19 pandemic are forcing us to live in the present. Everything is canceled, we don’t really know when life is going to be normal again, or if there’s ever going to be a “normal” again. As one person wrote, “We live in an infinite present. No future plans, no anticipation of travel or shows or events or celebrations. It’s an endless today, never tomorrow.”

Many weeks into this pandemic, we know that Covid-19 is particularly dangerous for Elders and immunocompromised people. But we are also reminded that social determinants of health play a huge role in the spread of viruses. Low-income neighbourhoods, where houses are overcrowded, where most people don’t have decent working conditions, and where there are socioeconomic barriers to good health care, are disproportionally impacted by the virus. 

“It’s an endless today, never tomorrow.” The uncertainty we are facing is nowhere near the uncertainty the impoverished are facing. Being able to self-isolate safely at home is a privilege. That includes me. I’m grateful to have a stable income and a roof over my head in these trying times. Isolation is hard for everyone, we are social beings after all, but I acknowledge that many people have it worse than I do. 

Political and economic leaders in the Western world have been willing to protect the neoliberal edifice at the expense of the lives of the most vulnerable populations, which rely on community efforts to meet their basic needs. For them, keeping the economy going is more important than protecting the rest of us. 

Take Amazon owner Jeff Bezos for example. The mail-order tycoon’s fortune has grown by $24 billion since the pandemic began, even as he puts his warehouse workers at risk and refuses them adequate paid sick leave. It has gotten to the point where a group of state attorneys general in the US are demanding that Amazon disclose the number of workers who have been infected with or died from Covid-19. 

Meanwhile, Elon Musk, the co-founder and CEO of Tesla, has been tweeting nonsense and fake news about Covid-19 in order to justify reopening his Tesla factory in California. I hate that all we give those workers are cute Facebook posts about how they are heroes. 

They are not heroes; they are wage slaves and they are bound to their employers because they cannot afford to choose safety over income. They put their lives at risk working a minimum-wage job without pandemic bonuses to put food on the table and pay the rent. In times like these, it should be a choice and it’s going to take more than cute Facebook posts to give those workers some dignity. 

Covid-19 is not only a health crisis, it’s also a social crisis. The system hates the poor and as a society, we have been brainwashed into complaining about people on welfare. Yet everyone was happy when the federal government started sending out Canada Emergency Response Benefit cheques. Now, everyone realizes the importance of having a good social safety net. 

Pandemics are not new. Humanity has seen many before and will see others. “It’s an endless today, never tomorrow.” For now, but we should at least start asking ourselves what we should change so the same thing does not happen next time.

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Maïtée Labrecque-Saganash is Cree from Waswanipi, and is the Nation’s newest columnist. She is an activist and writer who also has a regular column in Montreal’s French Metro Newspaper.