Keep Fighting for a Better World Despite COVID

People materialize onto the screen for my 9:00 a.m. Greek History class. Connecting to audio, they turn on their cameras, heads bowed within seconds to stare at their phones. By 9:05, two people have turned their cameras off, and the black squares stare tantalizingly at me. I could turn my camera off right now and get my crumpling load of unfolded laundry out of the way. More faces transform into black squares, and by 9:30, half of the class is probably doing their laundry. In breakout rooms, my professor pops in and asks John, a silent black square, a question on the reading. I attempt to maintain a respectful facial expression but the situation is just absurd. “John? Can you hear us?” my professor asks. John never responds.

On Zoom, it is just too easy to check email, read the news, text… anything other than stare at grid view for an hour. Students everywhere are slipping into hibernation, waiting for the day the pandemic is over. But now more than ever we need to set aside our boredom and work on repairing our broken society through engaged activism.

The pandemic has sent a shock through the world, making crystal clear in the U.S. that our current system perpetuates wealth and power inequality at the expense of the American masses, not to mention the environment. From March to June 2020, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos saw profits of $48 billion, while 40 million Americans filed for unemployment. Corporate power often profits from disasters, a phenomenon that Naomi Klein, a Canadian author and activist known for her criticism of corporate capitalism, has dubbed the “shock doctrine.”

The “shock doctrine” describes the brutal tactic of using the public’s disorientation following a collective shock — wars, coups, terrorist attacks, market crashes, natural disasters — to push through radical pro-corporate measures, often called “shock therapy.”

If pro-corporate measures succeed after public disorientation following disasters, pro-democracy measures have the chance of succeeding too, so long as a significant number of citizens understand the opportunity that comes from crises. As Churchill famously said, “Never waste a good crisis.”

A number of young people are using this time productively. The Sunrise Movement, a youth-led climate advocacy group, has been active during the pandemic: phone-banking, protesting, and launching Sunrise School to teach anyone interested about the Green New Deal. And the group’s activism paid off because last Tuesday, for the first time in twelve years, a question about climate change was asked at the presidential debate. It is groups like Sunrise that draw mass attention to topics like climate change who bring these topics to the political stage. What enough of us care about, politicians are forced to care about too.

So perhaps college and high school students can put into effect their own progressive application of the Shock Doctrine, using it to fight for democracy instead of against it. But in order for a democracy to work, the people have to take an active role in it. If one is going to zone out during a zoom class, don’t fold just your laundry, write an article about an issue you care about, phonebank, and join Black Lives Matter or the Sunrise Movement. Our society is shattered, but when something breaks, we have the opportunity to put back the pieces in a different way.