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World Press on Sexual Violence, Covid-19 and Father Stan Swamy: New Age Islam's Selection, 28 December 2020


By New Age Islam Edit Desk

28 December 2020

• Death Penalty For Sexual Violence Is Not The Answer

By Dr Madhumita Pandey

• Father Stan Swamy: How Does An 83-Year-Old Jesuit End Up In Prison?

By Nikhil Kumar

• How Did Scientists Tackle Covid So Quickly? Because They Pulled Together

By Charlotte Summers

• I'm A Consultant In Infectious Diseases. 'Long Covid' Is Anything But A Mild Illness

By Joanna Herman

• What Biden And Harris Owe The Poor

By William J. Barber II And Liz Theoharis

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Death Penalty For Sexual Violence Is Not The Answer

By Dr Madhumita Pandey

December 28, 2020

 

When we think about gender equality, we straightaway think about women’s empowerment but we often forget that in our fight for gender equality, men need to play a very important role.

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Sexual violence and the fear of sexual abuse can have a profound and devastating effect on not only individuals but entire communities. When approaching the subject of criminality, the easiest way to look at criminals is from the hero and villain duality, wherein criminals are simply the "bad guys". The idea of a criminal brings to mind someone who is essentially flawed with a deviant nature. It helps create the idea of "us"—the law-abiding do-gooders and "them"—the wicked lot, and through this division, individuals (in the "us" group) find an easy way to blame all that is wrong in society on "them" without having to ever look inwards. In an article for The Daily Star, Shuprova Tasneem argues: "And finally, once you figure out the laws of the land do not apply to you and you can abuse your power in the most monstrous of ways—by violating another human being's body without facing any consequences—then who will answer for creating monsters like you?"

The same sentiment was also seen during the nationwide protests following the 2012 Delhi gang-rape case, with politicians and authorities labelling the rapists as "monsters" who, according to them, did not represent the majority of the Indian populace. But is it really that straightforward? It is often difficult to "describe" who is a rapist, particularly outside of the legal definition. So, let's look at who is not. In some scriptures such as Deuteronomy, it is outlined that he's not a rapist if the woman didn't scream. Many judicial systems, including the one in Bangladesh, will say he's not a rapist if he's your husband (a national survey by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics in 2015 found that at least 27 percent of the 20,000 married women surveyed had experienced sexual violence by their husbands). While only a handful, many also say that he's not a rapist if he marries you soon after and protects your honour. Many people who are an integral part of the criminal justice system such as police officers and judges may also have a myriad of rape myths that assist them in deciding who is not a rapist: perhaps well-educated men, famous men, rich men, men who have never raped before, men who didn't commit any physical violence or had any weapons, men who claim they had had previous consensual sex with the victim… the list is never ending.

But here's the interesting thing: when Dr Samuel D Smithyman in 1976 sent a personal ad in the newspaper throughout Los Angeles that he wants to interview rapists anonymously over the phone, he was surprised to see how normal they sounded and how diverse their backgrounds were. This became the foundation of his thesis titled, "The Undetected Rapist". In my own research, for which I interviewed 100 convicted rapists in Delhi's Tihar Jail, it was found that traditional gender roles in India had led to the formation of negative and oppressive societal attitudes towards women, which continue to persist till today and their extreme manifestation can be witnessed in the form of sexual violence. Furthermore, there is a widespread perception that rapists as a group tend to hold more oppressive attitudes towards women. However, comparative findings from the interviews of convicted rapists and convicted murderers revealed no significant differences in the way gender was socialised.

In my sample of convicted offenders, home was the main gender socialisation site and the mother was central to this process. At the same time, both groups of offenders differed with respect to their self-perceptions of offending. Rapists referred to themselves as "inmates" and non-sex offenders referred to themselves as "offenders". Non-sex offenders accepted responsibility for their actions but attempted to justify their intent, whereas rapists denied responsibility and attributed blame to the victim. Rapists also used various identity-management mechanisms to reject the label of "rapist". The increased debates about sexual violence in South Asia, coupled with the lack of research on convicted sex offenders (particularly rapists), has demonised this group of offenders and accorded them a somewhat "extraordinary" status. These men are not special. They are not different. They are not sick or mad.

Fast forward to the present and the same reality is reflected even today. Women have voiced their harrowing stories in light of the #MeToo movement and the profiles of the accused are so varied that it is difficult to generate a prototype. Therefore, we must first and foremost accept this existential truth that most rapists look and behave like everyone else. In a patriarchal society, men are learning to have false ideas about masculinity and sexual privilege, and women also learn to be submissive. It is easy to think that there's something inherently wrong with the rapists. However, it is important to note that these men are not aliens who've been brought in from another world. They are also a part of our society and have developed through the same gender and sexuality norms. Therefore, challenging concepts of patriarchy and traditional masculinity does not only benefit women but also men. When we think about gender equality, we straightaway think about women's empowerment but we often forget that in our fight for gender equality, men need to play a very important role.

Public outrage often leads to more punitive measures towards combatting sexual violence where keeping convicted sex offenders in prison for longer may seem appealing but in reality, this doesn't contribute towards reducing the risk of reoffending. There are many factors associated with reoffending such as social and emotional isolation, unemployment or not having something meaningful to do in life. While it is a bitter pill to swallow for the public when it comes to rehabilitating sex offenders, the hardest fact that we must face is that the vast majority of sex offenders will one day be released and we need to provide support for their reintegration in order to avoid reoffending and reduce future victimisation.

If you think about the recent public and policy responses to rape in Bangladesh, you will find that there is a strong call for stricter/harsher punishments and that's about it. This means that a strong response in the pre-conviction stage for harsher punishments will ultimately lead to more convicts in already overcrowded prisons which will make it harder to develop and implement rehabilitation programmes. And once released, men with previous sexual convictions would once again have no support or training to manage their misplaced sexual and gendered notions, making way for reoffending. Promoting prison reform remains challenging in Bangladesh as the function of imprisonment in the Bangladeshi justice system is exclusion from society, and prisoners are almost totally isolated from the outside world. However, the answer to combatting sexual violence—rape, in particular—is to develop programmes that can utilise an offender's conviction time effectively by challenging gender myths and stereotypes, addressing their misplaced notions of masculinity and providing them with a safe environment to not only speak about their crimes but also reflect on them.

Effective rehabilitation of offenders is also an important human rights issue and should be acknowledged and incorporated into treatments and programmes especially when we know that there is no empirical evidence to show that death penalty deters perpetration of sexual violence.

An excellent example of community reintegration and rehabilitation of sex offenders is The Corbett Centre based in Nottingham Trent University, UK along with their Sexual Offences, Crime and Misconduct Research Unit (SOCAMRU). In 2018, the main sex offender treatment programme for England and Wales was scrapped by the Ministry of Justice after a report revealed it led to more reoffending. Now, more than ever, there is a strong need for programmes like the Corbett Centre for Prisoner Reintegration, the world's first holistic approach to fully integrating sex offenders back into society, and universities can play a vital role in this approach. Over the past few years, my colleagues and I have been working with men with previous sexual convictions in order to develop community hubs. Below is a first-hand account from Bob (pseudonym) who is sharing his experience of having a sexual conviction and the importance of reintegration of men who commit sex offences back into society in order to combat future victimisation:

In everyday, normal, non-Covid, life, a person who commits a sexual offence against a child or young person or an adult (whether this is an internet or contact offence) rarely receives any support or awareness of deeper issues before conviction. Putting aside, for a moment, the many reasons why anyone commits any crime (even those more serious and socially taboo), this experience can destroy one's world in an instant; the loss of work, family, friends, identity, reputation, freedom (and much more) can lead to harrowing custodial ordeals or equally traumatic, ongoing, social judgement.

This, while at the same time as taking responsibility, understanding victimisation, psychological processing and rehabilitation to understand behaviours, coping strategies and the dangers of re-offending (in tandem with safeguarding the wider public) can also lead to isolation, less support, less confidence, huge challenges finding work or opportunity, a sense of self, community and re-designing one's place in society. This can lead to mental health issues, re-offending, self-harm and other self-destructive behaviours, as well as suicide—a further strain on services already struggling to deal with increases of this crime, an added trauma for family or friends struggling to support these offenders, as well as every single person left impacted by these events.

This area of crime is a hidden public health crisis, one that the police admit they cannot arrest their way out of. Outlined above are just a few examples of the everyday barriers that sexual offenders face to basic sustainable necessities. Some will always argue this is fair, considering the severity and taboo of this crime. But, if we expect to limit recidivism, rebuilding and redesigning every offender's sense of self, sense of purpose and sense of identity, in more supportively navigating those barriers to sustainable work, genuine social rehabilitation and valuable re-contribution to society, we have to stop hiding away, stubbornly refusing to debate, while the crisis only deepens.

I do not share the same views in the matter of death penalty. I am a strong believer in reform and rehabilitation. Retribution is not a very helpful starting position, instead we should direct our attention towards structural societal change that addresses the asymmetric power relationship between men and women in Bangladesh.

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Dr Madhumita Pandey is Lecturer in Criminology, Sheffield Hallam University. Her doctoral research explored gender socialisation and perceptions of culpability in the narratives of convicted violent offenders from Delhi prison based on interviews with over 100 convicts.

https://www.thedailystar.net/opinion/news/death-penalty-not-the-answer-2018169

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Father Stan Swamy: How Does an 83-Year-Old Jesuit End Up in Prison?

By Nikhil Kumar

Dec. 24, 2020

 

Catholic priests and nuns in Secunderabad, India protest against the arrest of Father Stan Swamy in October.Credit...Noah Seelam/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

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What I remember most is the way my grandfather struggled with everyday things. Eating, drinking, even smiling in response to a joke or a favorite song. The disease froze his muscles, turning the majestically expressive face of an aging patriarch into a mask.

Several years after his Parkinson’s diagnosis, the illness had the opposite effect on his hands: It condemned them to an almost permanent frenzied motion. Watching him was like observing a drawn out earthquake. He couldn’t hold a glass of water without dropping it. His touch became a gentle tap … tap, tap … tap.

For Father Stan Swamy, an 83-year-old Jesuit priest jailed by Indian authorities in October, it was the other way around: first the tremors, then the diagnosis. His friends told me that for several years after his hands started shaking he could still have his tea in a regular cup — provided the cup was heavy enough to counteract the tremors.

When a heavy enough cup was not available, the priest would quietly forgo his tea. As his condition worsened, Father Swamy came to rely on a solution my grandfather knew well: a straw and a toddler’s sipper cup.

Placed carefully between his lips, and then instructed to suck on the straw or the sipper cup’s spout, my grandfather could, with some effort, have his dinner. His illness transformed that bendy plastic tube and the brightly colored cup into objects with almost magical power. How strange, then, to watch them transformed in recent months into Kafkaesque objects of state oppression, as the news in India turned to Father Swamy and to his straw and sipper.

Before he was arrested in October under India’s antiterrorism laws, Father Swamy spent decades championing the welfare of the Indigenous tribespeople who account for around a quarter of the population in Jharkhand, one the country’s most resource-rich yet impoverished states.

Often desperately poor, they live on land frequently scorched by recurring drought, but pregnant with valuable minerals. And this, Aloka Kujur, a local activist and longtime friend of Father Swamy explained, placed them in the way of big money mining projects.“ He told people about the rights they have over their land. People who had no idea what their rights were,” said Ms. Kujur.

He alerted them when they weren’t being compensated for land that had been taken without their consent to build mines. He also went to court on their behalf, seeking the release of hundreds of young people whom he argued had been unjustly labeled Maoist rebels and jailed without trial.

But back to the straw and sipper. On Oct. 8, as Covid-19 spread through the Indian countryside, federal agents arrived at Father Swamy’s home in Ranchi, the capital of Jharkhand. They instructed him to pack some belongings, and later escorted him on a flight to Mumbai, where he was imprisoned under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, a broadly worded antiterrorism law that gives Indian authorities wide powers of detention and investigation.

Somewhere along the way, he was separated from his straw and sipper cup.

Father Swamy’s lawyers argue that the case against their client is shakier than the octogenarian’s grip. His was the 16th arrest linked to violent clashes that broke out on Jan. 1, 2018 in the western Indian state of Maharashtra.

That day, thousands of Dalits — lower-caste Hindus formerly known as untouchables — had gathered to mark the victory of Dalit soldiers in the British Army over an upper-caste force. But the commemoration was interrupted by a mob brandishing saffron flags, the standard of the Hindu nationalists who, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, now dominate India’s politics.

The mob’s objection? That the Dalits, who see the battle as a milestone in their still ongoing struggle against an oppressive caste system, were commemorating a victory by British colonizers. At least one person died in the resulting violence. Several were injured. The elderly priest was not even there.

Apart from Father Swamy, among those arrested in connection with the violence are an eminent scholar of the caste system, a professor of linguistics and an 81-year-old poet. They have been accused of conspiring with banned Maoist militants to incite the unrest, charges they deny.

The other thing they have in common: They have spent their lives raising their voices for lower-caste Hindus, minority Muslims, poor tribespeople and other vulnerable Indians. It is work that has taken them down what on Mr. Modi’s watch has become an increasingly perilous road: challenging the Indian state.

“We are all aware how prominent intellectuals, lawyers, writers, poets, activists, student leaders — they are all put in jail just because they have expressed their dissent or raised questions about the ruling powers of India,” Father Swamy explained in a video statement recorded before his arrest, his voice soft and breathy, as if he has just run 10 miles.

India’s National Investigative Agency, whose agents arrested Father Swamy, insists otherwise, casting him and his fellow accused as members of a complex transnational conspiracy. In a recent statement about the case, it advertised the filing of a charge sheet that ran to more than 10,000 pages.

More striking — and more telling of the attitude of the authorities — was a much shorter document, running to about a page and half, released to the press on Nov. 29. It was issued weeks after Father Swamy’s lawyers went to court asking that he be provided with the inexpensive objects he needs at mealtimes. “When Stan was arrested, one of his associates handed over his clothes and the sipper to the N.I.A. officials,” said Mihir Desai, one of his lawyers.

But then, about a month after his arrest, the lawyers learnt that Father Swamy hadn’t been reunited with his straw and sipper. Reliant on his increasingly unstable hands, he was struggling.

The lawyers went to court on Nov. 6, asking that the priest be given what he needs.

The N.I.A. took 20 days to respond, a delay that the agency attributed to legal procedure. It also denied keeping Father Swamy’s straw and sipper. Agents had “conducted his personal search in presence of independent witnesses and no such straw and sipper were found.”

Yet in the intervening period, nobody thought to provide Father Swamy with any old straw and sipper. “He didn’t have any favorite sipper. He just needed to be given a sipper. It can’t take weeks,” Mr. Desai told me.

The N.I.A.’s explanation? In a nutshell: not our problem. After being arrested by its agents, Father Swamy had been handed over to prison authorities in Mumbai. The matter was thus “between him and the jail authorities,” the agency said.

Father Swamy, who remains in prison as the N.I.A. continues its investigation in the case, did eventually get a straw and a sipper at the end of November after a court directed the authorities.

Soon after, an Indian news agency quoted an unnamed jail official: “We know he is a patient, he suffers from Parkinson’s disease. Why would we not provide him things which he requires?” Yes, why?

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Nikhil Kumar, a former bureau chief in South Asia for Time and CNN, is a writer in New Delhi.

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/24/opinion/india-modi-jesuit-priest-prison.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage

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How Did Scientists Tackle Covid So Quickly? Because They Pulled Together

By Charlotte Summers

25 Dec 2020


The raw numbers around Covid-19 are simply incredible when you consider that this was a disease almost no one had heard of in December 2019. At the time of writing, this year about 240,000 people in the UK have been admitted to hospital with Covid-19, and more than 70,000 people have had Covid-19 listed as a cause of death on their death certificate.

I began 2020 anxious about the reports emerging from Wuhan: they seemed to imply an asymptomatic transmission of a respiratory pathogen that was serious enough to put sufferers into intensive care units. I am a clinical academic with specialist training in respiratory and intensive care medicine; I also lead a research programme that focusses on the lung inflammation caused respiratory infections – to me, and others, what was being reported looked like serious trouble.

In response to the emergence of Sars-CoV-2, a World Health Organization clinical characterisation study was activated on 17 January 2020, in time for the first wave of patients with Covid-19 being admitted to hospitals in England and Wales. This observational study of patients was first established in 2013 to ensure the necessary infrastructure would be available to learn about rapidly spreading novel respiratory infections when needed. The first confirmed patient with Covid-19 in the UK was reported on 31 January 2020.

By early February, it was clear there was a serious problem, and the ICU where I work began preparing for what might come our way. We held our first multidisciplinary meeting to discuss how we would manage the emerging threat, with colleagues from public health, virology, microbiology and others all joining us on 12 February. At this point there had been 10 reported cases of Sars-CoV-2 in the UK.

Things progressed rapidly, and March was a frantic month for the UK response to the emerging pandemic. There was concern that the situation may become so bad the UK would run out of vital equipment such as mechanical ventilators, resulting in the government launching the Ventilator Challenge, to seek out, approve and manufacture the apparatus from a wide variety of sources. Much has been written about this process, but I am certain it was needed – I wouldn’t have agreed to help the endeavour were I not.

March also saw the launch of the Recovery trial. It is testament to the responsiveness of the UK research system in the face of the pandemic that by 17 March, the trial had been devised, received ethical and regulatory approval, and was ready to start recruiting patients. Since then, more than 20,000 people have participated to help us understand which therapies work for hospitalised patients with Covid-19 – a phenomenal achievement.

By April we were at the peak of wave one of the pandemic, and ICUs in many areas were under significant strain. On 12 April, there were 3,301 people with Covid-19 requiring mechanical ventilation in the UK. Thankfully, by August this number had reduced to fewer than 70. However, by the end of October, it had once again climbed above 1,000, where it has remained, and currently shows little sign of abating. It is clear that Covid-19 is far from done with us yet.

In the autumn, data emerged suggesting that what many thought would be near-impossible had actually been achieved – multiple effective vaccines against Sars-CoV-2 had been developed in under 12 months. December 2020 has seen the beginning of what will be a massive UK vaccination programme starting with 50 NHS hospitals.

Such a tumultuous and difficult period prompts you to reconsider the events and your role in them. Something in particular I have learned this year: prior to 2020, I had never written a newspaper article, appeared on TV, or even spoken to a journalist about my work. I am embarrassed to admit, I had failed to appreciate the importance of communicating science to a wider audience. The torrent of noise and misinformation during the pandemic changed my view, and persuaded me to begin trying to these explain issues more clearly. It is not always easy to grasp, but we need to plainly state why specialist healthcare staff (and not bed) availability matters, and why we need both therapies and vaccines for Covid-19 to be available to everyone, among many other issues.

This year has also reinforced my view that to build global, national and local healthcare resilience requires long-term commitment and planning. For the NHS, this means we need to ensure we have the appropriate specialist staff, equipment and other infrastructure to cope with the storms that we may face – with the coronavirus and beyond. No one can honestly say the UK has sailed through 2020 without having to make hard choices and compromises we would rather not have faced – the impact of the pandemic on the provision of healthcare for people with non-Covid conditions has been, and continues to be, significant. On many occasions this year, clinicians, patients, families, policymakers and politicians have all faced having to choose the least bad option under difficult circumstances. No one has been immune to the strain of this.

Most of the “wins” this year have come from preparedness and collaboration. One example of this is the amazing contribution of the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) to the UK’s pandemic response. It has allowed us to rapidly learn about Covid-19 by supporting recruitment to observational studies such as Isaric-4C (the WHO Covid-19 study described above), React (a Covid-19 home-testing study), and GenoMICC (a global initiative to understand critical ilness), and has offered many thousands of people the opportunity to participate in clinical trials of therapies and vaccines. This work has helped to change clinical practice across the world by delivering important research.

As we head towards 2021, I once again find myself anxious about what the new year might hold. However, I am convinced that preparedness, flexibility and a commitment to collaboration are what is needed to weather the storms that we may face in the coming months and years.

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Dr Charlotte Summers is a lecturer in intensive care medicine at the University of Cambridge

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/dec/25/scientists-covid-studies-vaccine-2020

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I'm A Consultant in Infectious Diseases. 'Long Covid' Is Anything But A Mild Illness

By Joanna Herman

27 Dec 2020

With the excitement of the Covid vaccine’s arrival, it may be easy to forget and ignore those of us with “long Covid”, who are struggling to reclaim our previous, pre-viral lives and continue to live with debilitating symptoms. Even when the NHS has managed the herculean task of vaccinating the nation, Covid-19 and the new mutant variants of the virus will continue to circulate, leaving more people at risk of long Covid. Data from a King’s College London study in September suggested as many as 60,000 people in the UK could be affected, but the latest statistics from the Office for National Statistics suggest it could be much higher.

I was acutely ill in March, though – like many people with long Covid – mine was defined as a “mild” case not requiring admission to hospital. Nine months on, I am seriously debilitated, with crashing post-exertional fatigue, often associated with chest pains. On bad days, my brain feels like it doesn’t want to function, even a conversation can be too much. I have no risk factors, I’m in my 50s, and have always been fit, but remain too unwell to work – ironically as a consultant in infectious diseases. Watching the pandemic unfold from the sidelines when I should have been working in the thick of it has only added to the frustration of my protracted illness.

My acute symptoms were over within 12 days, and I presumed I’d be back at work the following week. How wrong I was. In the following weeks I developed dramatic hair loss (similar to that post pregnancy) and continued to feel fatigued, usually falling asleep in the afternoon. I tried to steadily increase the amount I was exercising – but suddenly in mid-June I started to experience severe post-exertional fatigue. It could happen on a short walk or it could be while cooking dinner. It was completely unpredictable. When I felt really terrible, I would get chest pains, which I’d not had during my initial illness, and my body seems to need intense rest – and a lot of it. Graded exercise, an approach that has been used to manage patients with other post-viral fatigue, wasn’t working; in fact it seemed to be detrimental and could leave me floored for days. The one thing I realised early on was that pacing was vital.

For months it seemed there was no recognition of what was happening to so many of us, with numerous anecdotal reports of people being dismissed as anxious, depressed or histrionic. It felt as if we had been left in limbo, not followed up because we weren’t ill enough initially to be treated in hospital, but most without appropriate medical care and support for the duration of their illness. I am fortunate to have an excellent GP who has been extremely supportive throughout, but I could hear her frustration at the lack of anything concrete to offer or refer me to.

In May, with no resource to turn to, I set up a long Covid yoga group (I am also a yoga teacher) for others I knew who were similarly affected. I focused on particular exercises to help them relearn how to access their lungs and breathe again.

Much about this novel virus remains unknown, and we are all learning as the pandemic continues to unfold. With its myriad symptoms and presentations, Covid represents a major challenge to the compartmentalised specialist services that hospitals have become. But one thing has been evident for some time: this is not a straightforward post-viral syndrome, and requires a different approach.

The announcement in October of £10m funding for clinics offering help for long Covid couldn’t have come soon enough. And then the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) updated guidance on “post-Covid syndrome” (as long Covid will now be known), including a definition, as well as plans for the 40 clinics across England.

These clinics will bring physicians and therapists together to “provide joined-up care for physical and mental health”, and will include physical, cognitive and psychological assessment.

I am yet to be seen by a physiotherapist, but who’d have thought the perching stool sourced by an occupational therapist for my elderly mother would become a necessity for me to cook dinner and brush my teeth?

There will also be allocated funding from the National Institute for Health Research for much-needed investigations into the mechanisms behind the long Covid symptoms. It is vital that long Covid is quantified and monitored in the same way we have been doing for hospital admissions and deaths. Additionally, there must be easy access to social services for people who need a care package because they can’t feed or wash themselves, as well as financial support and employment advice.

Crucially, like many multi-disciplinary teams for chronic conditions, there should be a single point of contact with a nurse specialist who coordinates different team members, and helps direct access to other services. A comprehensive one-stop shop is vital for people who can’t manage multiple visits to different specialists.

It may be enough for some that they are simply listened to, and it is understood that they are not fabricating their symptoms. We also need to cease classifying all cases that were not admitted to hospital as “mild”. Those experiencing long Covid have anything but a mild disease.

At last it seems that those of us with this debilitating condition are gaining the recognition and support we have been crying out for. We are only just acknowledging the potential of this virus to have devastating and life-changing consequences months after the acute symptoms. That at least is a good start.

When fit to work, Joanna Herman is a consultant in infectious diseases in London, and teaches at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/dec/27/consultant-infectious-diseases-long-covid-not-mild-illness-seriously-debilitated-new-clinics

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What Biden and Harris Owe the Poor

By William J. Barber II and Liz Theoharis

Dec. 25, 2020

Before he was elected in November, Joe Biden promised that his “theory of change” for reforming the economy would be “ending poverty.” He pledged to champion a $15 minimum wage, affordable health care for all and federal action to address systemic racism. In the midst of an economic crisis, a pandemic and an uprising for racial justice, low-income Americans — Black, white, brown, Asian and Native — voted to overwhelm a reactionary base that President Trump had stoked with lies and fear.

As Democrats have argued about losses in congressional districts that saw a surge of Mr. Trump’s base, some have suggested the Biden administration’s mandate is to compromise with Republican demands. But Mr. Biden and Ms. Harris’s victory depended on the turnout of a diverse coalition that wants economic and racial justice, and deserves bold policy solutions.

At least six million more low-income people voted in this election than in 2016. According to early polls, those with household incomes of less than $50,000 voted for Mr. Biden by an 11.5-point margin — a more than 30 percent increase. This surge of poor and low-income voters of all races joined Black, brown and Native voters as well as white anti-Trump voters in the suburbs to meet and surpass the turnout of Mr. Trump’s base.

Voters also supported at least 14 ballot initiatives across the country that increase taxes on the wealthy, protect workers, address housing issues and homelessness, bridge the digital divide, fund transportation, confront the criminalization of poverty and limit campaign contributions. Voters across the country demanded health care, living wages, the decriminalization of their communities and a system that taxes those who can afford it most. Sixty-three percent of Americans now say that the government has a responsibility to provide health care for all. Around two-thirds of Biden voters in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Nevada say that systemic racism is a significant problem, and the same proportion of Americans surveyed last year favored a $15 minimum wage.

Part of the support for Mr. Biden and Ms. Harris is explained by the deep suffering and desperate need that exist in a nation with 140 million poor and low-wealth citizens. Since May, at least eight million people have fallen below the poverty line, tens of millions of Americans may face eviction in the coming months, and families with the lowest incomes have disproportionately lost jobs. It’s no wonder so many used their votes to challenge decades of neoliberal trickle-down policies that have not worked for so many.

To fulfill the mandate that the 2020 electorate has given them, Mr. Biden and Ms. Harris must reject the politics of austerity and fulfill their commitment to policies that address human needs and cultivate human capacities. While the Georgian runoffs will determine whether Democrats have a Senate majority, the new administration can take a bold stand now and commit to policies that would lift Americans regardless of their party affiliation. We must have immediate relief targeted to the Black, Native, poor and low-income communities that have suffered most from Covid-19, alongside universal action to address the root causes of inequality by guaranteeing every American access to quality health care, a $15 minimum wage, the right to form and join a union, and access to affordable housing.

To address the political obstruction that has made so many other policy changes impossible, the Biden administration must push to expand voting rights to include universal early voting, online and same-day registration, re-enfranchisement of citizens affected by mass incarceration, statehood for Washington, D.C., and full restoration of the protections of the Voting Rights Act. Real change can be sustained only if the level of voter participation we witnessed this year is sustained.

This administration must modernize the way the government measures poverty so that it accounts for increases in costs of education, housing and transportation. It should begin a federal jobs program, forgive student loans, honor the sovereignty claims of Indigenous tribes, secure quality public education for all and pass meaningful immigration reform.

The economy Mr. Biden and Ms. Harris inherit will have been weakened by the coronavirus pandemic, which will lead many on both the right and the left to caution that we cannot afford to be too ambitious. But the truth is we cannot afford not to. From the Trump administration’s tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans to the government’s relief spending to shore up American corporations this year, we have seen what huge federal investment can do to lift the stock market. It’s past time to see what the same level of investment can do to lift the American people.

We are both preachers, and our faith tells us the well-being of any nation’s soul is tied to the welfare of its most vulnerable people. “If you are generous with the hungry and start giving yourselves to the down-and-out,” the prophet Isaiah says, “you’ll be known as those who can fix anything, restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate, make the community livable again.” That is the nation millions of poor and low-income people voted for this year. It is the America we pray Mr. Biden and Ms. Harris will have the courage to lead toward.

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William Barber II (@RevDrBarber) is the president of Repairers of the Breach, a co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign and the author of “We Are Called to Be a Movement.” Liz Theoharis is a co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign.

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/25/opinion/biden-harris-agenda-poverty.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage

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URL:   https://newageislam.com/world-press/world-press-sexual-violence,-covid/d/123895

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