It was a stifling “dog day afternoon” when the first rank-and-file labor protest against Covid medical mandates hit NYC on August 25th. Thousands of city workers were out of town vacationing; Many had emailed our lead organizer Michael Kane apologizing for being away. Judging by the medical freedom demonstrations of previous weeks, I figured we’d be lucky if a few hundred showed up for our rally of “New York Unions for Choice.”
I was very wrong. I watched a trickle of protesters gradually become a stream that filled up the east side of City Hall Park. Black, white, young, old, immigrant, native, LGBT, conservative, progressive—this couldn’t be dismissed as the “anti-vax” fringe that the media tells you about. This was a mass movement for choice in the heart of urban America.
As beautiful as it was, this shouldn’t have been necessary one year after the first wave. It’s agreed that nearly one-third of the country has faced the virus and recovered and, (as the National Institute of Health itself admits) acquired long-lasting natural immunity. Another two-thirds of the country have taken a “safe and effective vaccine”—“95% effective” in the case of Pfizer and Moderna.
Yet this claim has turned out to be more marketing than science.
Although dissident researchers had warned from the beginning that the pharmaceutical companies were exaggerating their efficacy, it was only on the eve of the protest that the CDC quietly admitted that breakthrough infections weren’t “rare,” and that the vaccinated were frequently spreading the virus.
So here we were, facing disinformation about a “pandemic of the unvaccinated,” generated by our own government in a desperate scramble to distract from the lies of the manufacturers. Our skepticism was vindicated, and many of us (myself included) possessed lasting acquired immunity, yet we were to be the scapegoats.
Millions of workers have had enough. Public school teachers like Michael Kane and Rachel Maniscalco have had enough, so both of them withdrew their union dues from the United Federation of Teachers that day, denouncing UFT for endorsing state disinformation and mandates.
Both these veteran educators have families; Maniscalco announced her exit from the union with her baby girl on her arm. “I can’t afford to let my daughter grow up in a world where the government can force an experimental injection into her body,” said Maniscalco.
Make no mistake, “experimental” is exactly the word for a treatment whose clinical trials don’t end until 2023. If Israel’s policy is any guide, we will soon be forced to take an ultra-experimental booster shot. The process is so corrupt that two FDA advisors resigned this month after the Biden administration overrode their objection that the booster is unfit for approval.
Trammel Thompson, who leads the opposition caucus in Transit Workers Union 100, followed the teachers and reminded the crowd about FDA and Big Pharma malfeasance towards the Black community. The FDA-approved drug Cylert led to a rise in liver disease among Blacks until it was finally withdrawn after 30 years. But Thompson also emphasized that the whole working-class, across all backgrounds, would have to unite and exercise their labor power to stop the new medical exploitation we’re facing today.
Thompson is a progressive, and I’m a socialist. We recognize that right-wing New Yorkers were in the forefront of this medical freedom movement though, and their leftist neighbors in New York have been sleeping on the power-grab that the One-Percent are perpetrating on the masses. Worse than that, many have actively pushed for the attack on civil rights that these mandates represent. Once proud of their radicalism, much of the left now mindlessly rubber stamps the lies of corporate criminals like Pfizer, bourgeois careerists at the American Medical Association, and schemers of the “War on Drugs” like Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.
I suppose it was belief in capitalism that first led conservatives to their skepticism of the New Normal, but that can’t be what sustains it. Capitalism as embodied in the Dow Jones is doing better than ever. Far more important is the simple inclination to not discount self-evident wisdom like “the cure can be worse than the disease,” (first said about physical distancing by Yale Medical School veteran David L. Katz) simply because Donald Trump later popularized such observations. Republicans are the best organized against the mandates, but Kaiser Family Foundation polling shows the majority of Covid vaccine skeptics are independents with no ideological leanings.
Whatever the philosophies that brought us here, I’m convinced the common value is this: We all believe in the necessity of defending the weak against the strong, and this compels us to defend the individual. In relation to the state and the corporation—and in relation to billionaire-funded institutions like the World Health Organization which mislabel themselves “civil society”—the average individual is weaker than ever, and must be protected.
The breadth of this movement makes it unstoppable. Numerous police unions oppose the forced injections, and so does one of the largest Black Lives Matter chapters. “Any COVID-19-related testing or future vaccinations must be voluntary,” BLM-Los Angeles has written, “not mandatory or conditional for employment, education, access to public resources, or any other economic, political, or social functioning.” Polls show that the majority of African-Americans agree with them, and healthcare workers of color like those in SEIU 1199 are pushing their leaders to take stronger and stronger stands.
This silent majority of the working-class will not buy into the false opposition between individual and social rights. With its September 13th walkout, we will see another quantum leap, moving from protest to resistance, and a further expansion of our rainbow coalition.
As Trammel Thompson declared at the rally, “The people united will never be defeated.”