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Photo of a car window with a white poster that reads: Need a home to stay home.

We are all fed up with this Coronavirus quarantine.

We’re fed up with the cabin fever, with the disappointing inadequacies of remote learning, and with the growing economic insecurity in our midst.

That’s what attracts people to the far right’s argument that we would be better off going back to work. Their rhetoric is seeded by billionaire think tanks like the Koch Brothers—alongside climate and science deniers, who falsely claim that COVID-19 is no deadlier than the flu (it’s 10 times deadlier).

Nevertheless, there is a twisted kind of logic in their arguments.

The government has not offered viable solutions. We need a people-centered solution of wealth redistribution and mutual aid. Without one, the dramatic economic impacts of the virus may seem worse than the devastating consequences of mass contamination. What a choice.

A people’s recovery

It doesn’t have to be that way. As part of the United Working Families, the CTU has joined a growing coalition known as the Right to Recovery, or R2R. Over 50 Chicago-based organizations have united to organize around shared political objectives in this precarious moment.

The coalition’s demands include the right to paid sick leave, affordable housing, healthcare, and rent and mortgage relief. These demands are critical to Chicago’s working class, Black and brown communities. Among these, undocumented families are especially vulnerable.

Ride to Recovery

On May 7, the R2R coalition organized a 500-person car and bicycle caravan. The action sought to pressure Governor J.B. Pritzker and Mayor Lori Lightfoot to stand for a program of real relief and recovery. In addition, it provided a counterpoint to the handful of right wing protests—bare-faced, unsocially distant, with Nazi propaganda in tow—that had popped up at the Illinois Capitol and in Chicago’s Loop.

Setting off from seven points across the city, this “Ride to Recovery” headed toward the Loop. CTU community allies and R2R coalition members anchored the feeder caravans at each location. For example, in Uptown, cars assembled at Truman College, highlighting the need for rent and mortgage relief and calling on lawmakers to lift the ban on rent control. A feeder caravan on the southwest side brought together groups fighting for environmental justice. Another drove by the Cook County Jail demanding decarceration from what has become the city’s worst COVID-19 hotspot.

The feeders all converged on the Thompson Center State of Illinois Building as the governor began his daily Coronavirus briefing. Once assembled at the Thompson Center, R2R leaders held a news conference outside the Thompson Center to amplify the caravan’s demands.

“Black and brown communities have been disinvested in for years in Chicago. This isn’t news to anyone, but these neighborhoods, during the pandemic, are the hardest hit. And going back to business as usual isn’t going to cut it,” said Candis Castillo, a United Working Families board member.

Government priorities must change

The R2R coalition rejects the way the government currently allocates relief. The wealthy and well connected have gotten more than their fair share. Meanwhile, politicians leave the poor and working class behind. For that reason, we have to keep sending the message that we won’t accept a weak government response to the pandemic.

The coalition’s first big push in Springfield was for HB 5534. Sponsored by Illinois Representative Delia Ramirez, this bill would have created a mortgage and rent cancellation program. The powerful and well-funded real estate lobby killed the bill during the four-day May legislative session. However, the coalition won a $400 million rent and mortgage relief funding package and Pritzker extended the statewide ban on evictions.

The fight must continue

The coalition will continue fighting to win mortgage and rent cancellation at the state and local levels. We’ll also continue to fight for cash assistance for undocumented families, for expanding medicare to anyone who currently needs healthcare, and for rent-control to address the affordable housing crisis in Chicago. Anything less will likely lead to evictions, fore­closures, hunger and unemployment rise to levels not seen since the Great Depression. A “recovery” like this from COVID-19 could be worse than the disease itself.

This fight won’t be easy. The battle over HB 5534 already showed this, as a powerful lobby—with hundreds of millions of dollars in profits at stake—advanced its cause in the General Assembly. They killed Rep. Ramirez’s bill despite an unprecedented show of force from our coalition and an obvious, immediate need for the relief. All members need to get involved and reach out to their elected officials. Email Jhoanna Maldonado to join the fight.

Jackson Potter is a social studies teacher at Back of the Yards High School.