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KOMARAGIRI: Coronavirus can be combated with joint effort

Column: Bleeding Heart

Veenay Komaragiri is a Rutgers Business School and School of Arts  and Sciences senior majoring in business analytics and information  technology. His column, “Bleeding Heart,” runs on alternate Tuesdays.
Veenay Komaragiri is a Rutgers Business School and School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in business analytics and information technology. His column, “Bleeding Heart,” runs on alternate Tuesdays.

These are no doubt incredibly stressful times. 

Gov. Phil Murphy (D-N.J.) announced on Saturday that he would order a statewide shutdown of all “nonessential businesses” to stop the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19). This is following the transition of universities across the country, including Rutgers, to a rushed curriculum of online courses and mildly restructured grading options. 

As many in the United States settle into a routine of classes or work within the confines of this pandemic, the ill-preparedness of government response has exposed some longstanding inequities within our country. The definition of an essential worker in moments like this includes those in food service, transportation and sanitation, roles often occupied by the working class. 

While serious economic and societal pressure rest on the labor of these individuals, for so long they have been underpaid. This includes workers in hospitality, retail and the gig economy, Uber, Lyft, TaskRabbit, etc. A lack of paid sick leave, precarious financial situations and inadequate public health infrastructure leave the poor and the working class most susceptible to COVID-19 while least able to test and quarantine. 

Although many workplaces can allow individuals to work from home and students can use resources like Zoom or Blackboard to virtually continue their education, this crisis has amplified the urgency of rising homelessness and the digital divide. 

In response to a serious market downturn — 10,000 points in six weeks — Congress has been attempting to pass a nearly $1.8 trillion stimulus package. While this bill has been stalled in the Senate over contention regarding $500 billion appropriated for loans and loan guarantees under Treasury-Department oversight, funds are also being allotted for cash payments up to $1,200 per adult and $500 per child dependent on income level. 

Consensus has settled on the necessity for cash checks as part of any economic stimulus, but serious disagreements still exist on whether the program should be means-tested and what exactly the amounts should be. On top of this, advocates are still struggling to fight for rent freezes amid a national moratorium on evictions and foreclosures. 

At a time when political miscalculation can cost so much, the ability to coalesce around common issues and demand the best possible response from our government has never been so valuable. The necessary precautions we must take in response to COVID-19 make this difficult. Not being able to congregate with more than 10 people and the necessity to maintain social distancing make direct action impossible.

These constraints should not dishearten us. The statewide and national response, while disruptive, does not have to mean the end of organizing for change. 

The Poor People’s Campaign (PPC), a revival of Martin Luther King Jr.’s historic movement of the same name during the late 1960s, announced yesterday that their mass poor people’s assembly and march on Washington would now be a digital event. More details are to follow but for now, the PPC plans to hold “the largest digital and social media gathering of poor and low-wealth people and people of conscience in this nation’s history.”

I must disclaim that I have some bias as I am an organizing fellow for the PPC. I sincerely believe that the best hope for sustaining the radical potential of the COVID-19 crisis is through movements such as this one. The campaign’s petition echoes calls from similar activist groups for a far more expansive COVID-19 response than the one currently being discussed. 

This includes universal healthcare, paid sick leave and permanent protections for social security, Medicare and Medicaid. The full list of demands may seem idealistic or fanciful, but the reality is this is deserved. Working people in this country have a right to demand more for themselves and should not have to wait for a crisis to obtain it. 

Beyond using technology to contribute to organizing or movement building broadly, there are resources available now for Rutgers students seeking assistance during this trying time. The Rutgers One coalition has launched a mutual aid network for students in need of food, housing, storage, transportation, internet or personal-care items. 

There is currently a spreadsheet of available support along with google forms to either receive or donate resources. Many New Brunswick community-based organizations such as New Labor and Supporting Homeless Innovatively Loving Others (SHILO) are also providing valuable support and could use donations especially in the coming months. 

It is easy in the frenzy of panic to forget the ability of people to come together despite overwhelming challenges. The potential to offer support and continue organizing efforts have never been richer. I have unbounded faith in the compassion of people, and I know we can continue fighting for a better world together. 


Veenay Komaragiri is a Rutgers Business School and School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in business analytics and information technology. His column, “Bleeding Heart,” runs on alternate Tuesdays.


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