by Jesús Colón Club (FL)
Florida’s Handling of COVID-19
Over 50,000 people have died in Florida since the start of the pandemic. The management of the public health crisis has clearly demonstrated the inability of the capitalist state to care for the health of the people. Approximately 10,000 patients are treated in Florida, or about ¼ of COVID-19 patients in the country. The public health crisis has been utilized by DeSantis and the Republicans to pour gasoline on a fire with jingoism and xenophobia, pandering to the unverified “evidence” that the virus that caused COVID-19 pandemic has leaked from a Chinese research facility.
The blame for the decreased life expectancy of Floridians rests in the hands of the DeSantis government who have been incapable of placing the health of the people before profits. The initial vaccination plan of the state favored the wealthy over poor and working Floridians. While the state lagged in efforts to get average residents vaccinated, the wealthy enclaves in Key Largo with key ties to the Republican Governor, enjoyed early access to the vaccines. In his own words: “when experts said put the workers first, Florida put seniors first”. Of course, to bridge the gap in the inequities in vaccine distribution, the burden fell upon the people.
During the soaring number of cases in mid-August resulting from the Delta variant, DeSantis placed the priority of vaccinations in the backseat in favor of promoting the monoclonal antibody treatment by Regeneron. Regeneron’s stakeholders show a history of contribution to Republican candidates. Regeneron, like the vaccine monopolies, is among the many large monopolies in the field of biotechnology competing to increase their profits during the public health crisis.
The deficiencies of the public health system, to the benefit of the commercialization of health systems, has endangered the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. The very rottenness of the capitalist system is exposed, leaving Floridians exposed to the “jungle” of capitalist profitability.
From the start, the government of DeSantis was against the lockdown, a measure that health experts agreed was necessary in stopping the spread of COVID-19. They instead looked at the situation through the logic of “cost-benefit”. The state and big employers, particularly those in the tourist sectors of the state of Florida, have sought to place the burden of the crisis on the workers. With their hypocritical slogans: “it’s up to you”, “we can do this”, “we are all in this together” and the focus on individual “responsibility” the ruling class plays a game of smoke and mirrors. The state of Florida’s strategy of turning everything into “individual responsibility” attempts to hide the enormous shortcomings of state cuts to local health spending by 41% since 2010. All Florida leaders since the 1990s like Charlie Crist and Rick Scott have paved the way towards the privatization of Florida’s public health system under the devious myth of “making government more efficient”. What has been efficient about the tens of thousands of dead? Overrun and understaffed hospitals? The lack of affordable or free testing kits and sites? The countless on the verge of eviction, the loss of income, jobs, and food insecurity?
Another myth put forth by the state and its marionettists is that the public and private sector can coexist and work together to address the crisis. This myth is refuted by the massive profits raked in by private health centers conducting coronavirus testing and privately-owned diagnostic companies. With publicly funded services constantly shifting to the private sector some county health departments closed their testing centers. In Okaloosa county, the closing of health department testing sites during the height of the Delta outbreak resulted in working families being stuck in their homes, waiting days to get an appointment and needing to drive to other counties to receive tests. Many were forced to put their money in the coffers of diagnostics companies selling at-home testing kits. Ellume, with its shareholder and chairman, Paul Darrouzet, a name in big coal and a big-time donor to the Liberal National Party in Australia is among those who have profited from the commercialization of COVID-19 testing. The shifting of testing to the private sector has deprived state planning of valuable resources while at the same time increasing the risk of spreading the virus. The state has proven it depends on the world market “war” conducted by the big companies which have found the opportunity to run a lucrative business for the supply of basic materials. The necessity for an exclusively public and free health system with the abolition of any business activity has been dramatically demonstrated.
Our response to the hypocrisy of bourgeois ethics is that we cannot “all together” recruit healthcare professions, take preventative and protective measures providing all the necessary tools and mean to protect the workers, or implement measures to support the workers and the self-employed who have been hit by the restrictive measures. The public health system, gutted by the backwards logic of “cost-benefit”, as an arm of the state and the government that leads it, along with the class that has the real power and ownership, must be responsible for the health of the people. That is, until the working class assumes its historical role to sideline them permanently and begin the construction of a society that excludes capitalist profits which is responsible for the death of human beings.
The state not only refuses to act but has also actively stopped city and county governments from taking steps to curtail the spread of the virus. The state prevented the closing of businesses and schools all while allowing the flooding of tourists into Florida for spring break. The re-opening of schools brought tremendous pressure on teachers and education workers for the safe return to face-to-face classes. The result: a surge in the number of cases in young people and the number of kids requiring hospitalization for COVD-19. The surge in school-aged cases in Okaloosa were followed by the speaking out of local teachers. Teachers expressed concern over the lack of adequate practices to ensure protection of students and staff. Teachers have described unsanitary conditions, students with symptoms remaining in class, and a lack of testing. The president of the teacher’s union in Okaloosa county, Florida Education Association (FEA), has expressed concern over the inaccurate reporting by the health department of student cases within the county. Meanwhile, DeSantis, in his ongoing battle against the FEA which is Florida’s largest union, threatened school officials with wage cuts and defunding of school districts if schools implemented mandatory precautionary measures.
The appointment of Dr. Joseph Lapado in September as Florida’s surgeon general is further proof that the DeSantis administration continues to operate on arbitrary policies and promote “alternate” COVID-19 theories placing the health of the people at risk. Lapado will be key in advancing the Florida’s adamant stance against mandatory mask and vaccine measures implemented by Biden and the Democrats. This conflict over public healthy policy between the Democrats and Republicans continues to expose the internal clash of the ruling classes. The parties of the bosses, the Democrats and Republicans, quarrel with each other, contending for the consensus of both the ruling classes and of the oppressed classes. The COVID-19 crisis has exacerbated this clash between the ruling classes and has been an issue of division that they deem central to their survival. Even before the pandemic, the situation in the U.S. was already in crisis. However, the failure of the public health system during the pandemic has made more clear and more intense this crisis.
It is clear as day whose interest the actions serve — the capitalist class. DeSantis allowed thousands of Floridians to die to protect the profits of big business.
A slew of anti-popular bills
The world witnessed the uprisings of 2020 shake the ruling class to its core. However, when a movement is born and develops outside the organized worker’s movement, with no political vanguard it presents the conditions for which it can be absorbed by bourgeois political forces. Steps have been taken in many states, Florida included, to absorb or stamp down on these movements. Some states have gone the route of reforms and absorbing the movements, placing in their fists a ballot. Florida, however, has taken a more dangerous and reactionary route. The DeSantis administration put forth three laws, HB 1, HB 5, and HB 233, which are clear cut attempts to repress political opponents.
Florida House Bill 1
The administration described HB 1 as an “anti-riot” bill when it was actually an anti-protest bill. The bill defines a felony in this case as any public disturbance of three or more people that results in injury to another person, damage to property or an imminent danger of both. So if a group of people are engaging in a peaceful demonstration, and a single person damages property, then everyone is in danger of being arrested and possibly charged with a felony.
The bill also makes it a third-degree felony to obstruct any street, highway, or road. It also defends any motorist who injures or kills protesters if the demonstration is declared a riot. The ACLU and many other legal rights advocacy groups have voiced a strong opposition to HB 1, arguing that existing laws are sufficient to punish bad actors, and that this accomplishes nothing other than making it more dangerous for those who exercise their right to protest.
Florida House Bill 5
The communist movement is seeing a resurgence in America, and HB 5 shows that the ruling class knows this. HB 5 seeks to intensify the anti-communist rhetoric in public schools by creating a new curriculum that requires discussion of the so-called “evils” of communism. This would be required for a student to graduate high school. This bill also tries to paint communism as anti-American, which is ironic because communism has been a part of American history for over a century, and worker struggles being even longer than that.
It was the communists who rallied workers to struggle for better conditions all throughout the 20th century. From unionization efforts of the 30s, to the civil rights movement of the 60s, and even to today, communists have always been there on the front lines struggling with the working class for a better world. DeSantis sheds crocodile tears for the “victims” of communism but cares nothing for all the Floridians victimized by both his actions and inaction. There can’t be anything more two-faced and pathetic than allowing tens of thousands to die to protect the monetary interest of a few companies, and then turn around to pretend to care about the so-called “victims” of communism.
Florida House Bill 233
HB 233 continues this attack on the left wing, but this time in universities and colleges. This law orders that state universities and the State Board of Education create a “bipartisan” survey that requests the political beliefs of students, faculty, and staff. DeSantis claims that the political ideologies within universities are not diverse enough, and that they are becoming mere tools of indoctrination for the left. And HB 233 is meant to “fix” this.
This is being touted as a bid to promote a diversity of opinion, but is an obvious attempt by the state to stamp down on left-wing political beliefs. Make no mistake, they will use the data gathered, along with the pretense of freedom of viewpoints, to shift the political landscape to the far right. They will hypocritically create the very environment they claim to be eliminating.
We have learned that the task of the Communists is to continue to prepare for the possibility of the explosion of movements of struggle and protest. Though they occur outside organized class forces, we run the risk of missing the train of history. Our biggest mistake in the development of the struggles of the masses would be to stay in the window, providing anathemas, blaming them for being backward, and blaming the movement for its own limits which ultimately derive from the unpreparedness of the forces who are responsible for guiding the masses. Such activity facilitates the absorption of a movement. The experience of members of the Party of Communists and League of Young Communists in Florida is that the movement teaches us that we must move like fish in water. We carry great hope of change for a generation that does not want to bow its head at the reaction of capitalist barbarity.
The government of Florida, led by DeSantis, a reactionary of the worst kind and its anti-popular bills lay the groundwork for fascism. The forces of reaction are gearing up to stop any workers’ movement from gaining power in the context of the growing crisis of capitalism in its most rotten stage. It is up to us, the communists, to fight back against this by basing itself within the motor forces of the socialist revolution, the working class at its lead. We must aim to draw social forces to the side of the working class and orient them on the basis of anti-capitalism, in the direction of confrontation against capital.
We must reject individualist, opportunistic and adventurist lines that would have us act irrationally and stochastically. We are stronger together, and only a clear goal with concrete plans can succeed. A quick study of history shows us that when capitalism is in decay, and the ruling class sees its power slipping, the veil of liberal democracy falls, and fascism rears its ugly face. It will take a united and organized effort by communists, leftists, and workers to oppose the forces of reaction and fascism. We must be the hammer that beats it back!