Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Corporate gatekeepers and big tech monopolists are making it more difficult than ever for independent media to survive. Please chip in today.

People wait in line as SF-Marin Food Bank hands out 1,600 food bags at a pop-up pantry at Bayview Opera House in San Francisco, California on Monday, April 20, 2020. Work furloughs and layoffs created by coronavirus shelter-in-place orders are driving thousands to seek food assistance.

People wait in line as SF-Marin Food Bank hands out 1,600 food bags at a pop-up pantry at Bayview Opera House in San Francisco, California on Monday, April 20, 2020. Work furloughs and layoffs created by coronavirus shelter-in-place orders are driving thousands to seek food assistance. (Photo: Scott Strazzante/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images)

Americans Have United Before to Defeat an External Enemy and We Can Again

This is a time when leaders must emerge, move beyond their comfort zone, and offer bold responses to a stark crisis. This is not a moment for posturing.

Jesse Jackson

 by Chicago Sun-Times

We live in a time of bitter divisions. Today, even the wearing of masks has become a partisan question.

Yet, as this Memorial Day weekend reminds us, this country has united before to meet external threats. The calamity that has been wrought by the coronavirus is the result of an external attack—this time by a virus rather than an armed enemy. It too should be a time of national unity, of rallying together to share the sacrifices, to help one another through the crisis, and to rebuild the country afterwards.

More than 90,000 people now have died from the virus itself, with tens of thousands more weakened or crippled from its ravages. But the casualties are far greater.

Today, however, it is too easy to slip into small-minded partisanship, or to hold onto ideological blinders, even when it has never been more important to revive the better angels of our spirit.

Consider that about 35 million people have filed for unemployment benefits, with millions more unemployed but not counted. Hundreds of thousands of small businesses have closed, never to open again.

Major retailers like JC Penny and J. Crew are declaring bankruptcy. Manufacturing plants like Ford that reopened have had to close again as workers got struck by the virus. Major industries like the airlines are alive primarily because of assistance from the government and the Federal Reserve.

This stunning reality—beyond anything suffered since the Great Depression itself—takes massive human causalities. More than 90,000 people now have died from the virus itself, with tens of thousands more weakened or crippled from its ravages. But the casualties are far greater.

Homeowners and renters can't pay their mortgages or rent. Graduates can't stay up with their student loans. Small businesses exhaust their reserves and are forced to lay off the team of workers they have assembled. Front-line workers deal with staggering stress, while at constant risk of infection. States and localities faced with plummeting revenues and rising costs have started to lay off vital workers and cut vital services.

People are sensibly scared, worried, and angry because of plans and hopes that were suddenly dashed through no fault of their own.

At this time, as in wartime, the government must act. It must act to organize our collective response to the attack, to organize needed medical and protective gear, to figure out testing and tracing strategies, to distribute health resources, to galvanize an all-out press for a remedy.

It must also act to limit the damage—to keep families in their homes, small businesses in their offices or stores, workers in their jobs. This cannot descend into partisan posturing.

In recent days, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has stated that he feels no "urgency" to aid states and localities, suggesting that states could go bankrupt, and that the crisis was largely one of "blue-state" mismanagement. Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham has stated that any extension of supplemental unemployment benefits would occur only over "our dead bodies." McConnell dismissed the rescue package passed through the House as simply "aspirational" and adjourned the Senate until June.

Most Americans would agree that aiding those who are unemployed through no fault of their own is not controversial... Similarly, most Americans would agree that we have to ensure that everyone can get treatment and testing without worrying about how to pay for it.

The casualties are not partisan. They are Republican and Democrat, liberal and conservative, small business owners and small farmers, meat packers and more. They are disproportionately the most vulnerable: middle- and low-income families, the poor, the old, the sick. They are in red states and blue states.

McConnell knows this. Just as the causalities are not partisan, the response cannot be. Let us hope he is using this holiday break to think through a response that is of the scale necessary to meet the crisis. Let us hope that he can move from obstruction to negotiation, figuring out the compromises needed to move legislation through the Senate.

Most Americans would agree that aiding those who are unemployed through no fault of their own is not controversial. Some conservative Senate Republicans have joined with the most progressive House Democrats to champion a paycheck guarantee program that would support small business owners to pay their employees even when their businesses are locked down. That would enable workers to keep their benefits, get their pay, and owners to sustain their teams.

That is neither a blue nor a red program, it is common sense.

Similarly, most Americans would agree that we have to ensure that everyone can get treatment and testing without worrying about how to pay for it. Most would agree that we shouldn't bankrupt the post office. Most would agree that we have to make voting safe in the fall. Voting by mail is not a partisan agenda; it is a safety agenda.

This is a time when leaders must emerge, move beyond their comfort zone, and offer bold responses to a stark crisis. This is not a moment for posturing. It is a time for patriotism, for solidarity, for action. Let us hope that Memorial Day celebrations may help our leaders remember that challenge.


© 2021 Chicago Sun-Times
Jesse Jackson

Jesse Jackson

Jesse Jackson is an African-American civil rights activist and Baptist minister. He was a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1984 and 1988 and served as shadow senator for the District of Columbia from 1991 to 1997. He was the founder of both entities that merged to form the Rainbow PUSH Coalition.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

'She Can Win If We Stand With Her': Sanders to Rally for Cisneros in Texas

"Her opponent, one of the very few anti-choice Democrats in Congress, is funded by over a million dollars in corporate contributions from Big Oil companies," said Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Jake Johnson ·


Peace Advocates Sound Warnings as Progressive Lawmakers Go All-In for $40 Billion Ukraine War Package

"Russia's invasion of Ukraine must be condemned," says one activist. "But the administration has been telegraphing for weeks that its war aims now go well beyond defending Ukraine."

Brett Wilkins ·


Oklahoma Lawmakers Pass Strictest US Abortion Ban While Roe Still Stands

Reproductive rights supporters vowed to fight against the ban that begins at fertilization and, like legislation in Texas, "creates a bounty-hunting scheme" for enforcement.

Jessica Corbett ·


Judy Blume, Mo Willems Among 1,300 Children's Authors to Condemn 'Wave of Book Suppression'

"Reading stories that reflect the diversity of our world builds empathy and respect for everyone's humanity."

Kenny Stancil ·


Now Do Windfall Tax, Say Climate Groups After Passage of Big Oil Price Gouging Bill

"Voters will reward politicians who stand up for people, not polluters," said one campaigner, "and taxing windfall profits is wildly popular in every part of the country."

Brett Wilkins ·

Common Dreams Logo