Now is the time

From Bernie Sanders, 6/5/20

People, across the country, marching in the streets against police brutality and murder.

Over 100,000 Americans dead from the coronavirus, and millions infected.

Tens of millions of workers losing their jobs, struggling to put food on the table, pay their rent, keep their homes or afford a visit to the doctor.

We are in the midst of an unprecedented moment in American history and our people are hurting in a way we have never experienced in our lifetimes. That is the simple truth. And, in the midst of all this suffering, it would be unforgivable if we did not learn some profound lessons from the failures of policies and institutions which have made this difficult situation much worse than it had to be. If all the death, pain and struggle are to mean anything, it must be that we develop a new vision for America and a government based on the principles of justice, not greed.

Tragically, racism and police brutality in America are not new. They have been an integral part of American history. But now, we are seeing people of all races and backgrounds stand up and fearlessly say: “Enough is enough. No more.” We will not accept the torture and murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers. We will not forget the police killings that, in recent years, took the lives of so many African-Americans including Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, Laquan McDonald, Tamir Rice, Alton Sterling, Breonna Taylor, Freddie Gray, Rekia Boyd and Walter Scott.

Now is the time for real police department reform. Every death of a person held in police custody must be investigated by the U.S. Department of Justice. Every police officer involved in a killing must be held accountable, and those found guilty must be punished with the full force of the law.

Now is the time for real criminal justice reform. We must invest in our young people in jobs and education. Not more jails and incarceration. We must end the disgrace of the United States having more people in jail than any other country on earth — disproportionately Black, Latino and Native American.

Now is the time for real health care reform. It is a tragedy that, in the last several months, 40 million Americans have lost their jobs. It is totally absurd that many of them are also losing their health insurance. We are the only major country on earth that ties health care to employment. That irrational and dangerous policy has got to end. The time is long overdue for us to understand that health care is a human right, not an employee benefit. Are the unemployed less in need of visiting a doctor or a hospital than those who have jobs? Are they less likely to come down with the coronavirus, cancer, heart disease or mental illness? Whether the insurance companies like it or not, the absurdity of tying health care to employment must end. We need Medicare for All.

Further, as Americans are painfully aware we pay, by far, the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs. While the pharmaceutical industry makes tens of billions a year in profit and gives their CEOs exorbitant compensation packages, one out of five Americans are unable to afford the medicine their doctors prescribe.

That situation is likely to become even more grotesque. Right now, the federal government is providing billions to major drug companies as they search for a COVID-19 vaccine. Fine. But, as of now, there is no assurance from the government that the new vaccine will be delivered free to the American people, the people who are paying for the research. Unbelievably, we may well end up paying for the vaccine twice. First, through research funded by our tax dollars. Second, when we purchase the product. And that means that if you have the money for the vaccine, you can stay well and stay alive. If not, well, good luck. That is not an acceptable approach. The vaccine, when it is developed, must be free to all.

Now is the time for real economic reform, and an economy that works for all and not just the few. The current crisis has not only revealed the cruelty and the dysfunctionality of our health care system, it has also shown us the extraordinary inequities in our economy. In America today half of our workers live paycheck to paycheck. Not surprisingly, it turns out that when you have nothing in the bank and your existence is dependent upon your last paycheck, and that paycheck ceases to come, you go from poverty into desperation. Hunger, because there’s no money for food. Homelessness, because there’s no money for rent. Sickness, because there’s no money for the doctor.

What the pandemic has taught us is that a relatively low unemployment rate, which is what we had before the current crisis, does not constitute a “great” economy, and does not adequately guarantee for the security and well-being of working families. When tens of millions of workers earn starvation wages, that is not a “great” economy. When 40% of the people in our country do not have the savings to pay for a $400 emergency, that is not a “great” economy. When over 500,000 Americans are homeless and 18 million families spend at least half their incomes on housing, that is not a “great” economy. When 87 million are uninsured or underinsured, that is not a “great” economy.

At a time of massive unemployment, starvation wages and enormous unmet needs, we need a federal jobs program that guarantees employment for all who are able to work. We can create millions of good-paying jobs by rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure, transforming our energy system away from fossil fuel into energy efficiency and sustainable energy, building the 10 million units of affordable housing we need, educating our kids and expanding access to health care.