International Solidarity in a Time of Crisis

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The spread of coronavirus should be a reminder that the most pressing crises of our times know no borders.

But while the death toll continues to climb in the United States, political leaders, including Donald Trump, are taking advantage of this moment of crisis to heighten xenophobia and racism. Meanwhile his administration helps funnel billions of dollars towards a corporate slush fund with the new stimulus package, all while frontline healthcare workers are left without necessary protective equipment.

Addressing all the various crises exposed by the coronavirus pandemic — from austerity-driven cuts to healthcare to ramped up racism and xenophobia to economic inequality — requires a holistic response dependent on international cooperation. Justice is Global, a project of the grassroots organizing network People’s Action, convened a digital gathering to plot out a progressive internationalist response to the global pandemic.

Andrea Chu, an organizer with Asian Americans Advancing Justice Chicago, pointed out how highly impacted the Asian American community has been by coronavirus, which includes many of the frontline workers hit hardest by public health concerns. “A lot of us are fighting COVID-19 along with the rampant hate that Trump has fueling with his anti-China rhetoric.”

Xenophobia has continued to rise as coronavirus spreads. Asian Americans reported more than 650 racist attacks over the course of a single week in mid-March. A House resolution sponsored by Rep. Grace Meng calls on all congressional representatives to condemn anti-Asian sentiment.

“We know anti-Asian racism doesn’t help us during this crisis,” Chu went on to say, “but global cooperation does.”

Deborah Burger of National Nurses United stressed the same.“This virus knows no borders, and it recognizes no nationality, no race, no ethnicity, and certainly no immigration status or economic status,” Burger said.

National Nurses United helped lead the formation of Global Nurses United seven years ago, bringing together global healthcare worker unions on all continents to talk about shared issues — attacks on public health, austerity, privatization, and the climate crisis. Now, COVID-19 has united them more than ever before. Through a webinar, nurses from around the world told stories from the frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic, shared advice from successful campaigns, and came together to demand higher standards for protective gear from the World Health Organization.

But despite advance warning, the United States was far from prepared to meet those standards. “The COVID-19 response team from the Trump administration and our corporate healthcare employers has been an utter disaster,” Burger announced, pointing out that the U.S. had three months to prepare for the pandemic.

“It is incredibly frustrating that we as a nation can make beanie babies, and we can make fidget toys, and we can make pet rocks overnight. Yet we can’t get masks that we need for our healthcare workers.” Burger said. “That is criminal and war profiteering.”

As OxFam’s Ana Avendano noted, a true internationalist response must also take into account the 11 million undocumented immigrants who live without any legal or practical protections during this crisis. The situation is especially concerning for those caged in detention centers under conditions that were horrifying long before the spread of the virus. Rather than being freed, the only morally acceptable response, people detained at centers run by private prison giant GEO Group have been pepper sprayed simply for asking questions and expressing their fears about the pandemic, Avendano added.

Private prison operators tear-gassing asylum seekers is only one example of continued aggressive U.S. militarism, even amidst crisis, as Khury Petersen-Smith of the Institute for Policy Studies shared. Many celebrated as the Navy sent a hospital ship to New York Just days before, the U.S. deployed two aircraft carriers in the Arabian Sea, ramping up hostilities with Iran as that country manages its own crushing coronavirus outbreak.

Right-wing figures are also using the virus to ramp up hostility towards China — a bipartisan maneuver, Petersen-Smith noted, with historic roots that include the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. “As Trump and the right wing, and some Democrats in power, pursue anti-Chinese hostility, they’re really drawing on a deep well of hostility and racism. And the results are disastrous.”

“If we’re going to survive this,” Petersen-Smith said, “we really are all in this together and we need international cooperation, rather than hostility and racism and competition.”

Justice is Global’s Tobita Chow echoed the call for cooperation. Some countries have stepped up to share masks, medical staff, and other resources across borders. Within the United States, Chinese-American associations collected supplies to send to China when the country was hardest hit by the crisis. That flow of resources has now reversed. International cooperation is built from the ground up, including through programs like sister city relationships as well as unions like National Nurses United, Chow noted.

“I think this moment of global pandemic is showing us very clearly that all human life is interrelated, which means that none of us is safe until all of us are safe.”

To get involved, check out the Justice is Global call to action.

Negin Owliaei is a researcher at the Institute for Policy Studies and co-editor of Inequality.org.