As NYC-DSA delegates voted to not consider a proposal for our 2022 convention that would implement COVID-19 protections like mandatory masking for our indoor meetings, the U.S. officially surpasses over 1,000,000 total COVID-19 deaths. As socialists, we understand these deaths are a direct result of minimal and inconsistent public health interventions, all triangulated to maintain capitalist economic status quo at every worker’s expense. The realities of the pandemic are deeply inconvenient to the interests of capital, which prioritizes short-term interests rather than long-term consequences, and demands workers’ productivity while disregarding their health. We’ve experienced the impacts at the local level as NY’s Hochul administration removes mask mandates from the MTA, rescinds hazard pay, ends the eviction moratorium, and makes testing, treatment and sick leave available only to those who can pay. We need to call this what it is—organized abandonment.
DSA’s political platform ratified at our 2021 National Convention clearly highlights this health injustice at the core of racial capitalism’s pandemic response:
“The COVID-19 pandemic has killed hundreds of thousands of people, exposed America’s massive racial and economic health disparities, and made clear the necessity of free healthcare for all. State-sanctioned police violence and socio-economic and environmental factors, along with co-morbidities rooted in the for-proﬁt healthcare system, account for the disproportionate deaths from illness and disease including COVID-19 among Black and Indigenous people in the United States. Meanwhile, national oppression, racism, and colonialism exacerbate the consequences of the pandemic for the Global South.”
While we are a long way from the universal healthcare needed to respond effectively on a large scale to the pandemic, we cannot mimic organized abandonment from above within our own organization by downplaying our responsibility. We cannot treat accessible and proven public health measures like masking as an inconvenient deterrent to our organizing. So far the chapter has mostly reacted to the pandemic in an ad hoc way without being deliberate about implementing necessary health guidelines to fully protect each other. Making masking optional makes our democratic processes and meeting spaces broadly inaccessible for those unable or unwilling to risk exposure to a debilitating and deadly virus, and further legitimizes the state-abdicated response to an ongoing public health crisis.
We have a responsibility to fight for our right to public health through collective struggle and collective care. During the early days of the pandemic, the chapter organized to provide mutual aid to countless people across the city at risk or unable to acquire food, medicine, and basic necessities. We can also recall unionizing Starbucks workers in Buffalo walking out citing COVID safety concerns in the workplace, or remember that Chris Smalls, Amazon Labor Union leader, was fired for speaking out about a lack of pandemic protections, or look to students and teachers in NYC who organized to demand remote learning during the Omicron wave. Our internal COVID response should be one that is in lockstep and solidarity with our labor movements’ demands, rather than similar to the apathetic responses of our bosses.
We are dismayed that as organizers participating in working-class struggle even a basic measure of protection was voted against being considered at convention, even with an amendment that significantly weakened it. The chapter has implemented COVID-19 protections for the convention itself that are thorough and should be the standard for all in-person DSA events, including a mask mandate and the provision of masks for attendees if needed. We urge chapter leadership in the Steering Committee and the Citywide Leadership Committee to make similar COVID-19 protections the norm for all events moving forward. To have a strong and healthy organization fit to organize for the long term we must consider the health of ourselves and our comrades to be of the utmost importance.