Greetings in the Midst of Unprecedented Crisis and Fear

I am grateful for the opportunity to introduce what I intend as a weekly column about happenings, events, groups, and individuals in Greensboro, North Carolina – and beyond. My base is THE PROJECT, located on Grove Street in the Glenwood neighborhood of Greensboro, North Carolina. Glenwood is the last working-class community in the city, an anachronism of sorts, filled with small homes owned or rented by an appealing mix of people. I invite the reader to examine the website from which this column appears.

Greensboro, my home for the last 40 years, is a historic place in the struggle for racial equality and civil rights. But now this city of 287,000 citizens and residents must confront and survive an epidemiological nightmare that is driving the local economy toward a great cliff and the abyss below. No doubt, conditions here are no different in many ways from other cities of its size and composition across the South. Yet each has its particular, what I call defining, characteristics, and I hope to capture whatever dynamic that makes Greensboro distinctive and yet part of something greater than itself.

Greensboro and COVID-19

I will say this. Political leadership by most of our elected officials has never been weaker. I watched closely the City Council meeting Tuesday night (March 31) as it was broadcast live on public access TV and the internet. Naturally, the public could not be there. Two council members were absent because of their medical vulnerabilities. Both wisely stayed home and participated by phone. The meeting began with a moment of silence and the pledge of allegiance, then to the consent agenda. All matters requiring a public hearing or general business necessarily postponed until the meetings become public once again.

When it finally came to discussing the impact of the pandemic in the city, Councilwoman Michelle Kennedy asked her fellow members to consider a moratorium on the Greensboro Police Department’s routine policy of evicting the homeless from their encampments on privately owned land. Kennedy is director of the Interactive Resource Center, a day care center that provides crucial services to homeless people and those bordering on it. Citing the CDC and HUD as her sources, she informed council that the city’s homeless people are safer remaining in their encampments rather than going to shelters and using public transportation to get there, plausibly putting themselves and others at risk by spreading the virus in close quarters. Kennedy mentioned that one homeless person in an encampment was already at Cone Hospital being tested; the results will not be available for days, she said. Kennedy also cited the emergency shelter set up at the Sportsplex, where 100 or so people are now located, as a particularly fertile place for the virus to spread.

True to form, the council balked. Mayor Nancy Vaughan called on the city attorney, Chuck Watts, for his legal opinion. Watts said that a moratorium on evictions could be done “as a matter of law” but the bigger question in his opinion was a “question of policy.” “The challenge would be you’re telling people what to do with their private property,” Watts maintained. After taking council around the block a few times, he finally admitted that an emergency order to police to cease evictions could be created but that he could not come up with the wording on the spot. That was all Mayor Vaughan needed, quickly citing a seven-day standing order on evictions and thus deciding that “we can resolve this in the next few days.” After how many more homeless individuals become infected and possibly die?

So this is the caliber of leadership in the face of a crisis threatening the most vulnerable among us. At a time when moral reason should triumph over legality, the city attorney judiciously protects the interests of private property by allowing police to break up encampments to evict the poorest among us from the only place now offering greater security from COVID-19, if not comfort. What nerve! Human beings trying to keep warm, eat, and sleep in tents or makeshift shelters on someone else’s land. And now threatened by a killer virus to boot! Why not give the homeless access to city parks closest to their encampments and with logistical support ordered by City Council and implemented by the city manager and his staff? Isn’t this more humane than giving $60 million to two rich developers to build parking decks downtown for their own private gain? That’s what council did on December 19, 2017.

Tuesday night’s evening news served up more anxiety. I turned to WXII (the local NBC affiliate) to hear veteran reporter Bill O’Neil say the number of COVID-19 cases in the state had climbed to 1500 and that Guilford County, which includes Greensboro and High Point, had lost its first person to the virus. Equally troubling, O’Neil also reported that over 270, 000 people across the state had been laid off in the last two weeks. He interviewed two women who tried to file for unemployment online and were instructed to call a state hotline. One woman, Angela Lineberry, said she counted all her attempts the previous day to get beyond a recording that advised her to call back due to the heavy volume – all 327 of them. “Did you really call 327 times,” O’Neil asked? “Yes sir,” she said.

Trump & Co.

To close out Tuesday’s revelations, I then switched to CNN just in time to catch the fascist occupant of the White House answer questions at a briefing of the coronavirus task force. What a task just to watch Trump and Co. every day and night. As always, the consummate dealmaker defiantly defended his eternal quest to reopen the American economy even if it means killing millions of us, blurting, “The country wants to get back to work!” No, Mr. Trump, people need to work because this is capitalism and without work in return for a wage you perish. But at the risk of losing one’s own life or killing someone close to them? For whom are we working, Mr. Trump? For whose ultimate gain must we be summoned back to work with this killer virus all around us?

A few minutes later, a young reporter bravely asked the president about Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ refusal to issue a stay at home order in his state, though the ever loyal Trumpster had indicated he would reverse his position if the president so desired – he did so the next day ordering Floridians to stay home for a month. As I recall, Vice President Mike Pence stepped in to assist Trump, astutely advising this brash young man of the national press corps in his calm Nazi manner that the administration regarded the Florida case as a matter of “state management” and affirmed its position “to defer to state and local authorities.” Hearing that from his number one underling, the closest thing to a bone fide Nazi, Trump then jumped back into the picture and said in his own demagogic tone, “Unless we see something obviously wrong, we will stop this.”

The Coming of the Great, Great Depression and Fascist Reordering

As I go to print – this column will appear every Friday at midnight – I offer a few significant updates and brief commentary. Today, we learned that 6.6 million Americans have filed for unemployment in the last two weeks. Over 350,000 have filed in North Carolina. A front page story in today’s New York Times tells us much about what lies ahead. Millions more will lose their jobs and life as we know it will change dramatically. Beyond the killer virus even greater dangers loom: intensified exploitation for the majority still working; increasing poverty across the board; growing dysfunction in our cities, towns and communities; more militarized police to maintain order; and the threat of war abroad when the cost of recovery under capitalism compels the ruling class to take from other peoples and their resources. Though the world is swimming in oil, Venezuela’s vast reserves are looking better and better, especially since its president, Nicolas Maduro, was recently indicted for drug trafficking in a U.S. court. A careful read of business pages in the mainstream press indicates that Wall Street and the oil companies are already looking to strengthen the regime of fossil fuels as central to any recovery they see ahead, an eco-fascist one for sure.

I think of all this as the work of Wall Street titans and their subordinates engaged in a now delicate dance with Trump & Co., a gang of vile and corrupt men and women who always seems to right themselves on the floor by lying, manipulating, distorting facts and, consequently, creating a deadly mythology that serves their interests alone. Many of us believe they are grand losers and scum who will not last. Yet we are watching them take us down state by state, city by city, one by one, by failing to deliver what we need from a responsible twenty-first century government in the midst of a pandemic. Let us be increasingly aware that gangsters control the executive branch of government, especially the military, which has now been summoned to meet the public health crisis but whose presence is also cause for alarm should it last indefinitely and for a variety of new reasons and justifications. More legalized illegalities are in the making.

Still, there is some clarity to this frightening mess if one considers and accepts our own historical record of the 1930s and the Great Depression. Trump is the fascist president that Huey Long, the virtual dictator of Louisiana and feared by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, might have become if not for his assassination in 1935. Roosevelt, however, completely ignored Long three years later when in a message to Congress requesting that it fund an inquiry into the growing political power of concentrated wealth – in a word, monopoly – he defined fascism as “ownership of Government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power.” We can learn much from studying these two salient points in contemporary U.S. history.

But here’s the thing. Long arrived on the national stage in a moment of deprivation and fear. Trump & Co. currently ride atop the tidal wave of an even greater structural crisis of American monopoly-finance capitalism and the “business system” it created in the 1920s – and which Roosevelt deemed fascist in 1938 because it “did not provide employment and produce and distribute goods in such a way as to sustain an acceptable standard of living.” COVID-19 is both catalyst and tipping point to an unprecedented crisis of American capitalism – the Great, Great Depression – that can drown us in sickness and consign many of us to hospital beds with no ventilators nearby – all this while Trump & Co. enable Wall Street and corporate America to gain even greater power and control over American society and its institutions.

American Behemoth, the monster devouring its people, has come to full strength. What we have is a supreme tragedy in the making if not countered by conscious resistance from the vast majority of Americans, the working class.

Posted in The Week in Black and White.