My usual scroll through Instagram on a recent beautiful quarantined morning came with a chuckle as I paused on an unusual headline: “Britney Spears calls for a general strike, implores fans to ‘redistribute wealth.'” Come again? Yes, you read that correctly: pop superstar Britney Spears, the one who sang songs such as, “Oops! … I Did It Again” and “Baby One More Time” is now a comrade of the revolution for equitable responses to COVID-19, sort of! She shared an Instagram post that includes advice such as “Call your loved ones,” “Re-distribute wealth, strike” and “Communion moves beyond walls.”
Britney’s post came in the wake of alarming calls from U.S. President Donald Trump and other Republicans for Americans to return to work, going against recommendations from public health officials and putting the lives of millions at risk. Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick has suggested that grandparents are willing to die to save the U.S. economy, and Trump is frantically tweeting that solutions to deal with the repercussions of COVID-19 (such as wealth redistribution) should not be worse than the virus itself.
To be sure, forcing Americans to return to work will not actually save the U.S. economy; it will facilitate the spread of COVID-19, cause millions of deaths and thereby deprive the economy of its necessary workforce. But this argument is also precisely the problem with the capitalist economic model: life is not valued in itself; it is only valued to the extent that it supplies labour for the accumulation of profit by a small class of people.
With these underlying postulates laid so crudely bare, Americans are turning to Twitter to air their frustrations online. #GeneralStrike and #NotDying4WallStreet trended, and it appears that most Americans are not willing to condemn their grandparents to death, and may instead be ready for the types of solutions Trump most fears.
“Employers will let you work until you’re dead and then replace you. Take your safety into your own hands. #GeneralStrike $2000/month with rent freezes. That’s our offer, @realDonaldTrump” reads one tweet.
“I’d die for my family. I’d die for my friends. However, if these sons of bitches think that I’m gonna die to keep rich assholes rich, they’re dead wrong. #GeneralStrike #NotDyingForWallStreet” reads another. Through the digital commons of the Twitterverse, working-class Americans are tuning in to the evils of American capitalism.
In their 2011 book Commonwealth, Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri assert that to combat evil, one needs to understand its genesis. According to them, evil is the distortion of love and the common; a corruption of both creating an obstacle to their production. In other words, evil is secondary to love. To willfully condemn millions to death is, by such an account, an act of evil, but the primacy of love means that it can serve as a force to combat evil.
Evil is the economic system and political logic of neoliberal capitalism that places property over people and capital over the common good. Love is the courage to imagine something better. Love is the process of banding together to form a social body more powerful than any one of us alone. Love is the marking of a rupture with our existing way of being and the creation of new ways of being. Gleaning from Hardt and Negri, Britney and I choose love, where we support and encourage others to protect the life and dignity of everyone.
As the revolutionary author and physician Ernesto “Che” Guevara once said, “The life of a single human being is worth a million times more than all the property of the richest man on earth.” Americans are not willing to die to save the profits of the 1%, but they are eager to fight for those they love. If Trump does attempt to reopen the U.S. economy, working-class Americans should follow the lead of online calls to withhold their labour. To turn the famous Britney Spears single “Work Bitch” on its head, you better strike, bitch!
Amanda Harvey-Sánchez is a Toronto-based organizer, researcher and educator. She is an incoming PhD student in political anthropology at the University of Toronto. This article originally appeared on Medium.