Episode 105: Pandemic, Pelosi and the People We Consider Human

Citations Needed | March 18, 2020 | Transcript

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. (J. Scott Applewhite / AP Photo)


Intro: This is Citations Needed with Nima Shirazi and Adam Johnson.

Nima Shirazi: Welcome to Citations Needed, a podcast on the media, power, PR and the history of bullshit. I am Nima Shirazi.

Adam Johnson: I’m Adam Johnson.

Nima: You can follow the show on Twitter @CitationsPod, Facebook Citations Needed, become a supporter of our work through Patreon.com/CitationsNeededPodcast with Nima Shirazi and Adam Johnson, all your help through Patreon is so appreciated. We are this week talking about — what else? What is on everyone’s mind? — Coronavirus. COVID-19, the global pandemic that is affecting every single person on Earth pretty much except for those countries that have been lucky enough so far to avoid it and are now banning Europeans which is very smart and they should have done it about 400 years ago. But we are deciding to address what is happening right now and more specifically what we are seeing in the media around the government reactions to this and the back padding that we are seeing when it comes to the action taken by Congress this past week on paid sick leave.

Adam: Specifically, we want to focus on who we consider to be workers and who we don’t consider to be workers and which institutions and which corporations are prioritized over more vulnerable, unseen, typically gendered and racialized labor pool.

Nima: Later on the show, we’ll be joined by Fahd Ahmed, Executive Director of Desis Rising Up and Moving or DRUM, a New York-based organization of South Asian immigrant workers and youth.

[Begin Clip]

Fahd Ahmed: People that are living at these edges, at these margins, they have to decide if they’re feeling sick are they going to go to the hospital or are they just kind of pop some pills and like, just get through with it? And the reality is that obviously they bear the heaviest consequences of it but we as a society as a whole, bear the consequences of it in terms of health, in terms of education, in terms of social fabric. It’s completely illogical if we look at it from a human-based perspective and that’s what these moments of crisis indicate is that our systems are not designed to be based around human needs and human development they’re designed around corporate needs and the interests of other people.

[End Clip]

Adam: We promise this is not like that hacky 9/11 West Wing episode that they shoved in, because they felt like they had to, this is going to be quality, it’s going to be good. We’re going to get a lot of useful information from this. So I and my partner, Sarah Lazare, by the way, Sarah Lazare is my wife, if you’re wondering why we mention her all the time, and she helps write the show, her and I wrote an article for Jacobin called “The Workers Our Coronavirus Debate is Leaving Out” where we did a piece of media criticism and commentary on a 48-hour period from Friday, March 13 to Sunday, March 15. We did a 48-hour media analysis of what workers were being centered in the public debate. We used The New York Times and Washington Post, the kind of two official papers of the kind of liberal center establishment, and found out that The New York Times ran 12 articles in that 48-hour period and op-eds, talking about the economic paid sick leave proposal that Pelosi was trying to get through Congress and sort of vaguely did, by the time you’re hearing this, I think it will be. In all 12 of those, none of those mentioned the millions and millions of workers who comprise the informal and contract economy, this includes, of course, domestic laborers, a lot of maids, the seven, eight million undocumented workers, it includes sex workers, obviously. Depending how you calculate it, because these numbers are actually very difficult to find and a lot of people say the numbers are hard to come by because they’re lazy, but I actually looked very hard along with Sarah, we actually had a hard time coming across them. It could be as many as 60 or 70 million workers who are either temporary contract workers who are not covered by paid sick leave because they are artisans, street musicians, street performers, there are again domestic labor, sex work, et cetera, et cetera. These entire economies are completely devastated overnight, just the bottom has completely fallen out. There are some eviction moratoriums but again, it’s important to note that you still have to pay that. There’s a little bit of help here and there that people are working on in Washington, mostly a joke, thanks to Nancy Pelosi, which we’ll get into later but the way in which the conversation rapidly coalesced around this idea of paid sick leave, Sarah and I thought was very vulgar because it eliminated the most vulnerable workers there are, and obviously people who are wage workers at Chipotle aren’t living large, but there’s a huge part of the economy we weren’t talking about. There’s a great Huffington Post article which we’ll link in the show notes about how this is devastating sex workers for example that for obvious reasons, many of whom have will be driven to more edgy, more dangerous forms of sex work, they’ll be—oftentimes sex work is a way of getting out of abusive relationships, they’ll have to go back to those relationships, all sorts of devastating second- and third-order effects and all anyone was talking about was this specific, narrow thing about paid sick leave, which really shows the myopia of the Democratic Party. We also, by the way, analyzed the Washington Post and found that they had run 15 articles and op-eds in that same time period and didn’t mention anything other than paid sick leave with one exception, which was an opinion column by Adam Chandler that briefly discussed gig workers at Uber and Lyft. But other than that, except for that one token mention, this was the totality of the informal economy, domestic labor, undocumented labor, sexual workers just do not exist in Democratic Party and Democratic Party media conversations. And they are with some exceptions, by definition, the most vulnerable in times of massive economic free fall. And so we wanted to talk today about how the media erases those workers and how people on the Left or people in the left or liberal media can try to make an effort to not let the corporate wing of the Democratic Party as manifested by Nancy Pelosi steer the conversation into this completely myopic and totally underwhelming and ultimately, nickel-and-dime solution to what is a mass catastrophe unfolding before us, which I think that we have not reached the bottom.

Nima: Oh, no, we’re still at the early stages of this in the United States and the idea that the media is framing, whatever political machinations there are as oftentimes a massive triumph for the American people, and certainly also for the Democratic leadership in the House of Representatives, it just misses so much. It just takes for granted that there are some segments of society that just are not worth caring about, that are never part of the conversation. Something that I think we both found really interesting and that Adam, you and Sarah mentioned in your article, is that The New York Times actually had a somewhat critical piece, the editorial board published something on March 14, this is Saturday, March 14, that was critical of the pending bill, the paid sick leave bill. And what it said was this, quote, “The House’s failure to require universal paid sick leave is an embarrassment that endangers the health of workers, consumers and the broader American public.” End quote. And they talk about how the paid sick leave bill that has been proposed that was because of — what else, Adam? — compromise, right? Compromise with the Mitch McConnell Republican Party that just waters down anything that would possibly actually help the most people possible, that because of this, the bill does not cover as many people as it should. But there is something critically missing even from The Times’ own critique of this.

Adam: Right. So this is a nesting doll or a sort of Venn diagram. Pelosi’s plan, because it only covers 20 percent of those covered by sick leave, is a closet inside of a room and that room is the formal economy, the kind of wage economy that The New York Times is talking about, and they’re both missing the huge mansion or a bigger house around them, which is that there is people who are not qualified for sick leave so why the fuck are we talking about sick leave? Why did we have in the three most important days of this crisis the entire conversation in the liberal Left coalesce around fucking sick leave? And the reason that was is because Pelosi does what she always does. Pelosi is the single most dangerous person in this country for poor people. She’s a systemic, consistent, decades-long threat to the wellbeing of the poor and the destitute in this country and has total contempt for them in a way that harms people. And so she does this thing she always does where she comes up with the most conservative plan possible and says, ‘Oh, we had to do this because the Republicans wouldn’t take anything bigger.’ Right? And this is kind of an unfalsifiable claim. You can’t really prove or disprove this. I have no way of knowing, I wasn’t behind closed doors.

Nima: Well, because we’ve never seen the original good plan. Right?

Adam: Yeah, there’s no space that she came in with any kind of populist maximalist message and so right it’s very frustrating for me and I’m really angered by this because people keep falling for it. They say, ‘Oh, that’s the best she can get,’ you know, even Bernie Sanders said, ‘I think Pelosi in good faith worked…’ which is bullshit. Of course she didn’t. I know he’s in the Senate, he’s got to say that, but it’s bullshit. And it’s important that we say it’s bullshit because the reason why she focused on paid sick leave and not direct cash payments to workers is because she’s a deficit hawk, because she’s a Pete Peterson ideological zealot, which we talked about in Episode 104. And what did we say at the beginning of the fucking episode, we said that Pete Peterson, other than maybe the Koch brothers, has more dead bodies on his hand. And here we have someone like Nancy Pelosi, again, who eulogized Pete Peterson on the floor of the House, called him a national hero, scolded an NYU student for saying “America’s capitalist,” goes to conference and seminar after seminar talking about the value of deficits. So of course, she’s not going to lead this conversation again when the economy is in freefall, the economy tanked on Monday was the biggest since 1987, the second biggest of all time, bigger than both days of Black Friday in the Great Depression 1929 by percentage, you have this huge, urgent moral moment and the most powerful Democrat in the country doesn’t come out and talk about a massive, multi-trillion dollar bailout of the poor and the worker, she talks about fucking paid sick leave, because she wants to offset the cost of helping to corporations. Now, should corporations pay their part? Yes, but they should pay in taxes and if they’re not going to pay their part, the idea that we shouldn’t go to massive deficit spending is going to get people killed. And if you think this is bad, and this is the thing, this is the kicker, all this is a light appetizer for the major course that is climate change and that when climate change hits us, and god forbid, Nancy Pelosi or one of her acolytes is in this position of power, and again, our current Democratic frontrunner Joe Biden, what did he say about Medicare for All? ‘Can’t afford it. How are you going to pay for it?’ These deficits scolds are going to get us all fucking killed. And this is an example where you had an opportunity to do a bold gesture to bail out workers and what did we get? We get more fucking weak sauce about how we can’t afford it because we can’t touch the deficit because the first thing Pelosi would say, and I guarantee you if any journalists went up to her and said, ‘Congresswoman Pelosi, Speaker Pelosi, would you support a cash bailout for workers?’ What’s the first thing she would say?

Nima: ‘I don’t know how we’re going to afford that.’

Adam: And that’s going to get us fucking killed. Their $1.5 trillion insta-loan to the bond market and the stock market, which they say we’re getting paid back, but not really and it’s still a cash giveaway if you know anything about how interest works, that we mysteriously came up with in five minutes. But again, all we get is this completely weak sauce, totally inadequate closet within the room of the house of really what needs to get done. And it’s infuriating, and it’s going to literally kill people.

Nima: Well, and so coronavirus is really just a horrifying global test case, but a test case nonetheless for, as you said, Adam, climate change and the crisis that will visit us however many fold and will affect all of us in a very, very real way. And again, who are those frontline communities, who is going to be hit hardest first, and who is looking out for those people and it is certainly not Nancy Pelosi, to say the least.

Adam: Yeah, and another major indicator that Pelosi had no interest in doing any kind of cash payout or universal basic income, monthly or otherwise, is that people in the meetings said that she was not interested in this at all. Heather Caygle, of Politico, tweeted out, quote, “…former Obama adviser Jason Furman actually proposed similar idea (on cutting checks) during a private House Dem Caucus meeting last week and Pelosi got up after and essentially shot the idea down.” So we know that her refusal to give cash out to people was not a Republican demand, it was her own demand preemptively before they even began negotiating with Republicans. So I don’t know how much clearer this can be that this narrow focus on sick leave is a product of someone who literally won’t even consider the idea of giving cash payouts. Tom Cotton and Mitt Romney on Monday came out supporting large cash bailouts to the average worker. She’s getting outflanked from the left by Tom fucking Cotton and Mitt Romney. I mean, and nobody wants to say anything because of this bullshit, this gimmick, this scam, this religion that ‘Oh, she seriously wanted something better but, aw shucks, the evil Republicans wouldn’t let it pass.’ But there’s no indication, there’s no demagoguing in corporations, why not say let Republicans in November run on you not supporting cash bailouts for people during the coronavirus?

Nima: Well, because she doesn’t care about that, she doesn’t believe in that.

Adam: And that this whole bullshit about how she has to compromise because the evil Republicans is a fucking scam. It is the biggest scam in politics and it gets people killed on a daily basis. Now people are getting killed on a mass scale because god forbid we ran deficit spending.

Nima: So the paid sick leave bill purposefully does not cover people who work for companies or corporations that have more than 500 employees. And on the other side of this, it obviously does not take care of informal undocumented freelance workers. But on the larger scale of this when the limited scope of this bill was revealed in the press, Pelosi immediately started defending her position on this and defending the bill saying on Twitter this, quote, “I don’t support U.S. taxpayer money subsidizing corporations to provide benefits to workers that they should already be providing … Large employers and corporations must step up to the plate and offer paid sick leave and paid family & medical leave to their workers.” End quote.

Adam: What the fuck is that?

Chris J. Ratcliffe / AFP via Getty Images

Nima: So on its face you hear that and you’re, like, ‘Yeah, sure. Okay, cool. She really thinks corporations should take care of their own workers because they have all this money,’ but there is nothing in place — she is incredibly powerful — there is nothing in place, she is not building into legislation or regulation anything that holds these companies to account if they don’t do the thing that she’s just saying on Twitter, ‘Oh, they should just do’ and yet there is no recourse, there are no consequences set if these massive corporations from McDonald’s to Amazon to Apple to whomever and even far smaller, 500 employees, a lot of places have 500 employees, that there is nothing in place. She did not build that into the bill. There was not something where that was initially in the bill, and then Republicans scaled back, it was never there.

Adam: There’s this mysterious compromise blackbox. ‘Oh, we had no choice.’ And it’s, like, okay, never mind can’t criticize her and it’s like, no, again, if you’re an ideological deficit hawk, you’re by definition going to limit your options from A to C as opposed to A to Z. So by definition, what’s going to be vomited out of Congress is going to be fucking right-wing. I don’t know how people don’t see this. And so you have this situation where, and to be clear here, if you actually read The New York Times editorial and you listen to a lot of words from the Democratic and Republican leaders, it’s very clear they’re focused on paid sick leave also has to do with the fact that their primary concern is not spreading the virus. They want people not to come in if they’re sick, right? Which is perfectly fine from a public health standpoint, but let’s be clear, that’s totally separate from helping people with economic hardship, right? That’s a separate moral charge, that’s ‘I don’t want my waiter at Applebee’s to come into work and cough on my burger.’ That’s not ‘I want the waiter at Applebee’s to be healthy and safe and made whole again.’ Even the very narrow and myopic. And to be clear, there have been subsequent, since this article was written on Monday, there have been subsequent attempts to add, you know, things here and there maybe even potentially, some sort of cash payout although I don’t think that’s ever going to happen but Pelosi hasn’t formally supported it but there’s been other kinds of tweaks here and there, again, interest on student loans, some minor kind of debt forgiveness around the margins. But ultimately, what we’re getting is completely inadequate. The reason we’re getting an adequate is because and, again, I hate that we keep timing these episodes like this, this is exactly what we talked about on the Pete Peterson episode. It is an ideological dogma that in moments of even the most mass catastrophe, we can do massive deficit spending, but only for bank bailouts and large corporations and not for average people.

Nima: To talk about who is being completely left out of this conversation, who is completely unprotected, we were able to speak with Fahd Ahmed, Executive Director of Desis Rising Up and Moving or DRUM, a New York based organization of South Asian immigrant workers and youth. Fahd will join us in just a moment. Please stay with us.


Nima: We are joined now by Fahd Ahmed, Executive Director of Desis Rising Up and Moving or DRUM, a New York based organization of South Asian immigrant workers and youth. Fahd, thank you so much for joining us today on Citations Needed.

Fahd Ahmed: Thank you for having me on.

Adam: So before we get into the media analysis and political analysis, I want you to see if you can give me a sense of what exactly the mood is or the situation is on your end from an activist perspective, obviously, the bottom has fallen out of the economy, per usual, those who are the most vulnerable, and those who are the most exposed and exploited are the first to be screwed over and of course, the last to be helped. Obviously, the article we referenced earlier in the episode that we wrote, you talk about this, I want to sort of get into that. What is the situation? How dire is it? And what are you hearing from your constituency and the constituency of undocumented and informal economy workers in New York?

Fahd Ahmed

Fahd Ahmed: So at DRUM we organize low-wage, mostly undocumented folks and so a lot of these folks are workers, do domestic work, are restaurant workers, small retail shop workers, cab drivers, street vendors, and a lot of them had already been expressing concern about dwindling numbers of customers and anticipating that they may be laid off temporarily as things slow down. And, you know, most of them make daily wages. So whatever they make in the day, that goes towards rent, that goes towards food, and whatever is left over, it gets sent back home to families or to support families. So I think people are anticipating that things were going to get bad and I think with the announcement that a lot of businesses will start closing, a lot of those workers got notified, ‘Okay, don’t come into work tomorrow.’ And of course, none of them are going to get paid. And, you know, many of them work for small businesses, also immigrant businesses where there’s like two employees, four employees, five employees and while for us the rights for workers are first and foremost, we do understand that a lot of these smaller businesses actually don’t have the capability to support the workers for an indefinite period of time. And so now we do have some of these workers who are trying to figure out ‘What hustles can I pick up in the next few days to make ends meet?’ Which essentially means that they’re putting themselves at risk, the people that live with, their families or friends and anybody that they encounter because they’re going to have to get out and try to hustle to figure out what they can do to make ends meet. And because none of the other really proposed solutions, like paid sick leave or unemployment insurance apply to them.

Nima: There’s this idea that the conversations that are being had at the federal level right now about paid sick leave, that this is, like, a wonderful, noble thing that has been mobilized quickly and yet, that’s like a very convenient framing for those who are doing this and obviously, there are measures that must be in place that will help, hopefully millions and millions of people. That is fantastic. But what is so often unspoken, is that those who are already living in the most almost precarious situations for employment, for survival even, that they are consistently left out of this conversation. Can you tell us Fahd how the federal conversation right now about paid sick leave, how that leaves so many people still uncovered, unprotected and what we’re seeing also maybe at the state and local levels, which just don’t have that same kind of coverage?

Fahd Ahmed: Yeah, you know, it’s a little bit hard to talk in depth about the federal proposals because they’re just so far removed and so far missing the mark that we just see like the basics of it or, like, yeah, this is not going to be helpful to our folks.

Adam: No.

Fahd Ahmed: And so we don’t even bother digging into the details, because just off the bat, it is so exclusionary. On the state and the local level, I think, you know, their attempts have been a little bit better to try to accommodate folks. But the biggest challenge ends up being for undocumented workers. So for example, unemployment insurance, we talked about it requires you to have a work authorization. If you’re completely undocumented, or you don’t have a work authorization, you’re unable to apply for it. In some cases, even if you may have documentation but you’re working for a pretty small business that doesn’t keep kind of a very formal payroll, they just work in cash, that makes it harder to apply for unemployment insurance because the ability to show records both on behalf of the business or on behalf of the workers becomes difficult, so neither the worker can pursue unemployment insurance and I think we’re trying to figure out how the businesses can access any of the small business support that’s been offered. But our guess is that they won’t be able to access it or won’t be able to access it to the extent that they need.

Adam: It seems like one of the mechanisms that people are trying to use is eviction moratoriums. I don’t know what you’re hearing about this, but it seems to me that from what I’ve read is that once the moratorium is lifted in two months or three months, people will owe the back rent.

Fahd Ahmed: Yeah.

Adam: So if you’re on the bottom rung of society, and I’m surprised more people aren’t actually talking about this because it seems like a huge poison pill, so if you’re on the margins of society, if I’m paying let’s say, I’m barely paying off a $700 a month rent to live in with a slumlord, you know, suddenly getting hit with a bill for $2,100 or $2,800 is a joke, you’re just never going to pay that. Or even these tools helpful and is it cash injections? In your sort of blue-sky world what would be the actual federal response?

Fahd Ahmed: So the issue of rent obviously in the short term the moratorium is helpful but whenever that is lifted and back rent is owed, all these workers that have not been able to work are going to be in a very difficult situation. Again, as I mentioned, to make it a bit more concrete, a lot of our members make $5 to $6 an hour in New York City. So you can imagine sort of what their savings are like if they’re making $5 to $6 an hour, and these aren’t tipped workers, like that’s their actual wages. They don’t have savings. Once a moratorium is lifted and back rent is owed, they wouldn’t even, even have to have several months, they wouldn’t be able to make it up because they just make enough to be able to survive and be able to spend a little bit of money. I think in terms of solutions, I think we’re trying to figure that out. A lot of the proposals like sort of cash injections, would be exclusive of people that are undocumented. In terms of something more systematic, I think, you know, that would really mean and you know, I think this crisis is making this very clear, a very drastic restructuring of society to where people’s basic needs of health, of housing, of education are taken care of, that they’re not subject to the market, to crises, those are basic needs that people can easily get taken care of, regardless of what’s going on and, you know, like that conversation is starting to be hard in American society, but clearly, it’s not reached a tipping point where it’s becoming the dominant conversation. And that is really, I think, the work that we need to be doing in these moments, is to push the conversation in that direction.

Nima: You know, something that I keep being struck by is the references to the Spanish flu pandemic back in 1918 and how a lot of kind of correlations are being drawn, a lot of comparisons being made, but sometimes I’m struck by is that part of what at least I have heard about that pandemic in 1918 is not that it resulted in mass homelessness, in addition to, you know, obviously the terrifying death toll and the effect on society during World War I, but the idea that our society is structured currently right now, that the cost of living is so high for everyone, that there are even fewer things in place, right? Like, science has advanced in the past century and yet our society seems to have backtracked in a certain way because the most basic needs as you just mentioned, the most basic needs are at such risk whenever anything happens, let alone something of this global catastrophic level. What have you been hearing about how people are trying to deal with this, trying to cope with this, people who are already, you know, really suffering and really trying to organize and have community solidarity but what are you hearing that maybe does not make it into the mainstream media reports in The New York Times editorials, in Nancy Pelosi’s press conferences? What are we not hearing?

Patients at an emergency hospital in Kansas during the 1918 influenza epidemic. (National Museum of Health and Medicine)

Fahd Ahmed: So even before, you know, this pandemic came up, a common occurrence with our members would be, you know, we see them or we talk to them on the phone, ‘Hey, I’m going into work, and I have the flu,’ he has a flu, why are you going to work? ‘Because if I don’t go into work, I get fired.’ And a lot of times, these are restaurant workers or domestic workers. Both of those are industries where the likelihood of them spreading that to customers or to the families that they’re working for is going to be very, very high. But they frankly don’t have an option because they make a daily wage. It’s just based on whatever they’re making in a day like it’s essentially kind of being spent within a day or so. Another example, is when the 2016 election happened, the results came in, there was a lot of fear and panic amongst our community around what will be coming and when fear grows, it takes over. And so we had lots of members who are construction workers, day laborers, who didn’t go out to work sites, because they thought that okay, the elections just happened, like, is ICE going to start doing raids immediately? So for about four or five days, they just sat at home. And then even though we were talking to them, like, no, no, no, that’s a risk yet. They were really afraid. And then after four days when it was like, ‘Okay, we don’t have anything to eat, we have to go back to work.’ When they go to the pickup locations, when people come up, they would ask, ‘What’s the highest paying job you can give me?’ Which always for day laborers means ‘What’s the most dangerous job you can give me so I can make a little bit more money, so I can make up the money that I lost the last four days? The last example I’ll share is there’s been a pretty heated conversation in New York City about when to close schools up until this past weekend, and we reached out to a lot of our members, how are you feeling? Are you sending your kids to school or you’re not sending them to school? And about 50 percent were saying, ‘Yeah, I’m not going to send my kids to school, I’m going to start keeping them home from Friday or from Monday.’ And the other half were like, ‘I hope the schools don’t close, because I don’t have anywhere if these kids are sent to home, like I don’t have an option, because I can’t take off of work because I also know what’s coming, work is going to shut down so I have to make as much money as possible.’ And so these are the choices that people that are living at these edges, at these margins, those are the daily life decisions that they have to make. They have to decide if they’re feeling sick, are they going to go to the hospital or are they just kind of pop some pills and like just get through with it? And the reality is that obviously they bear the heaviest consequences of it but we as a society as a whole bear the consequences of it in terms of health, in terms of education, in terms of social fabric and it’s completely illogical if we look at it from a human based perspective. And that’s what these moments of crisis indicate is that our systems are not designed to be based around human needs and human development, they’re designed around corporate needs and the interests of other people.

Adam: You know, a few activists I’ve spoken to, there’s this thing where you only have so much energy and political capital and time to sort of lobby and I know a lot of people have understandably given up on the federal government, to some extent, even state government, they’re turning to mutual aid. I know that there are ideological reasons for that to some extent, I always have, I have a sort of conflicted relationship with mutual aid, personally, I always promote it, I think it’s good, but in some ways, I’m always worried sometimes it will replace the political side because I do think that there’s no way mutual aid can really cover one percent of a lot of this. I did want to ask what kind of things you’re seeing in that regard? Because I do think it’s better than nothing and I do think that in the absence of a meaningful state intervention, people have to in these communities and I assume other communities turn to each other. Is there anything you want to promote our listeners can hear about? Where can they turn in their communities or anything, anything to that effect?

Fahd Ahmed: So for our own work, we’re a mass-based organization. Our work exists off of people, off people coming together, off of meeting together, mobilizing together, debating together. And in this period, when most of that is not doable, we’re trying to figure out kind of what makes sense and what’s needed. One con that’s emerging out of that is around mutual aid, it is understanding that we as an organization would never be able to meet the needs of our members. We have 700 active members in a given year. If even half of those folks can’t pay rent, there’s no way we can raise that amount of money. And so I think we’re trying to figure out in what ways can mutual aid be used to support each other. We are still kind of in the research phase but thinking around sort of food, some people taking on cooking larger amounts of food and like distributing amongst folks, getting groceries for people, checking in on their neighbors, elderly folks, really thinking about using the moment to develop our people, develop their thinking, and their understanding around what the shortcomings of our existing systems are, and what we as human beings can step up to do. Understand the limitations of it. And then the second half of what we’re focusing on is, I think, as you rightly mentioned, that mutual aid, if we are not careful, ends up relieving the state and the systems of their responsibilities. So how do we continue to fight around policies that are important, policies around housing, policies around employment, around small businesses, around food security, around child care and elder care? And right now we’re focusing on that two pronged approach with the understanding that it’s going to be limited through online, phones and bearing pressure through those feeds. And I think through our conversations with comrades across the country, we’re seeing the same sort of conversations in a lot of organizations. There is a particularity to this moment, which is a little bit different than other disaster opportunities that we actually, because of the pandemic, we actually can’t come together physically. And so that creates some very particular limitations in what it is that we can do and how we can do it. There are workarounds but it still presents some serious limitations. And this will not be the only moment that this will happen. We are going to see ongoing pandemics, we are going to see ongoing crises coming as a result of climate change, we are going to see an increasing rise of right-wing movements and attacks from them in the lead up to and very likely after this election. We’re very much concerned this is an opportunity for us to train up ourselves to evolve our capacities to be able to be nimble and to be able to fund in a range of conditions, because that’s what’s going to be needed in the coming time. And I think rather than promotion, I think our call would be that that’s really how other people should also be orienting themselves, that we are going to be facing similar moments and opportunities in the short term and in the medium term we really have to develop our capacities to be able to respond to those, and now is the time to develop those capacities.

Nima: Well, I think that is a perfect place to leave it. We have been speaking with Fahd Ahmed, Executive Director of Desis Rising Up and Moving or DRUM, a New York based organization of South Asian immigrant workers and youth. You can check them out at drumnyc.org. Fahd, thank you so much for joining us today on Citations Needed.

Fahd Ahmed: Thank you.


Adam: So one thing we didn’t really talk about is like there’s so many different subsets of people we left out. We didn’t talk about this episode how this is affecting the homeless, which is huge, prisoners, which, you know, in the debate Sunday night, Bernie Sanders did name check both prisoners and homeless, so at least someone acknowledges they exist. Obviously, this can be devastating for prisoners. We didn’t talk about people who are disabled, who of course are always negatively affected by this, especially when you talk about restricting movement, et cetera, precarious employment. You know, if you talk about “a worker,” well, how do you define a worker? All economic downturns and scarcity studies show that it increases domestic abuse, it increases dependency on toxic relationships. It’s a nightmare. And again, people are scrambling to fix this. As we mentioned in our interview, there are limits to mutual aid, but I do think it can be useful and the extent to which we can promote that I think we should, I think we ought to. So a writer by the name of Paul Blest advice used to work for Splinter, good dude, created a spreadsheet with various cities and states which is dynamic, he’s updating it on a daily basis where people can go to find volunteering, mutual aid and donor opportunities. And so we made it a tinyurl just to make it easier to say because I can’t sit and read off 87 characters, that would be weird, that’s tinyurl.com/V3JE7SO. That’s Victor, 3, Juliette, Echo, 7, Sierra, October and that’s all lower case. Are you impressed that I knew that? I watch too much 24.

Nima: [Laughs.] Yeah, for real, I watch Zero Dark Thirty and now I talk in fuckin’ Tango shit.

Adam: [Laughs.] Clearly I did not learn that in the military, which I was never was a part of, ever. That’s tinyurl.com/V3JE7SO, it’s a Dynamic Document. I assume if you want something to add to it, you can find Paul at Twitter @pblest and obviously you can message us on Facebook, we can try to add it or talk to him about adding it.

Nima: We also wanted to let you know that the National Domestic Workers Alliance has recently launched a Coronavirus Care Fund and Emergency Relief Fund for domestic workers facing hardship as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Care Fund would provide assistance for domestic workers allowing them to stay home and healthy and also would result in slowing the spread of the virus and keeping as many people safe as possible. To find out more about the Coronavirus Care Fund and to give to it please do go to the National Domestic Workers Alliance website that is domesticworkers.org. It’s right there on the homepage, you can find out about the Coronavirus Care Fund that NDWA is running now and we urge you to do so.

Adam: Yeah. And as always, ideologically, mutual aid is great. It’s important, do it. I want to be clear though it cannot be a substitute for political involvement, because we don’t endorse politicians on the show.

Nima: But there might be only one person who can change things right now.

Adam: As long as this ideology of austerity is captured by the elite democratic leadership, we will continue to do absolutely nothing.

Nima: His name does not rhyme with ‘Schmoe Schmiden.’

Adam: We are and again, this will be nothing compared to the main course, which is climate change, and I think that’s really what we need to take away from this. We cannot keep on with this austerity dogma, it is killing people. It’s killing people right now today. It is hurting and harming people today. So that’s all I got. That’s my soapbox. I’m done now.

Nima: Well, that will do it for this very special, and as always uplifting, episode of Citations Needed. We thank you all for joining us this week. We hope to continue doing this show. We are going to do as much as we can during this time in the form of News Briefs and other content to make sure that the time spent during quarantine is as pleasant as possible. And so the way that we do that is through the amazing support of our listeners. You can follow the show on Twitter @CitationsPod, Facebook Citations Needed, if you can at this point in your lives become a Patreon supporter through Patreon.com/CitationsNeededPodcast with Nima Shirazi and Adam Johnson, that would be amazing, but obviously take care of yourself first. An extra special shout-out goes to our critic level supporters through Patreon. I am Nima Shirazi.

Adam: I’m Adam Johnson.

Nima: Citations Needed is produced by Florence Barrau-Adams. Associate producer is Julianne Tveten. Production assistant is Trendel Lightburn. Newsletter by Marco Cartolano. Transcriptions are by Morgan McAslan. The music is by Grandaddy. Thank you so much, everyone, for listening. Wash your hands, take care of yourselves, stay home. We’ll catch you next time.


This episode of Citations Needed was released on Wednesday, March 18, 2020.

Transcription by Morgan McAslan.