A compelling case for why we are headed into “The Corporatist States of America,” but paired with a little hope about how we keep going.
• 5 min read
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I’m not going to sugarcoat where I’m at after the last few weeks since we saw the leaked Supreme Court draft opinion. It’s not a surprise to me that we are here, and i’ve been thinking about this moment for a while: (Recommended listening: Pro-Mother, Pro-Abortion, from The Double Shift in 2021.) So come along with me on some Dark Thoughts, but with a chaser of redemption at the end.
What is America and American family life is going to look like as we sink further into being a failed state that declines to provide the barest of rights and safety nets?
Because we're living through so much federal government failure, many have started to notice (especially during the first 2 years of COVID) that it feels our daily lives are mostly determined by loose confederations of states and towns, local police forces, public school districts, and not the federal government.
Unfortunately I don’t think this is a short term thing. I have a pretty unappealing dystopian vision of where things are going that keeps me up at night. In the US, the corporations we work for, not the country we live in, are going to be our most powerful influence on our experience of the world. A 21st century “company town” for our basic rights, and if you don’t work for a corporation at all or one that declines to ensure your humanity, you are out of luck.
In the “Corporatist States of America,” we’ll need to rely on our companies for everything. We’ve already normalized the basic human right of access to healthcare to be mostly determined by our jobs, and due to longstanding federal inaction and the recent failure to get Build Back Better passed, we are fully normalizing our employers being able to choose whether they give us family leave to recover from childbirth and guarantee our human right to bond and care for our babies after birth. We’ve already accepted living in a world where a company gets to decide if you can be with a dying parent or spouse without having to worry about your paycheck. Corporations are now discussing if they will fund our travel and procedure costs to guarantee our reproductive autonomy, since our country or state may not protect it. (BTW: There are many, many deeply problematic privacy issues to this “benefit,” EVEN if well-intentioned on the part of the company. Do you want to tell your nosy HR person who goes to church with your parents you need an abortion? What about if your teenager needs it? What about if you get your health insurance through your abusive husband’s job and you don’t want to tell his company or him you are having an abortion? UGH.)
If we don’t see federal action on fixing the childcare crisis, I predict we’ll see a lot more companies adding childcare loans, subsidies and credits to their benefits package for “high value workers.” This will be a wonderful benefit for some, but will further enshrine unequal access to the right to affordable, high quality childcare. It will do little to bolster care infrastructure, or ensure care workers are paid a fair wage for the services. It will also likely come with lots of strings and clawbacks if you leave the company, tethering us to workplaces for the long haul.
If the Supreme Court overturns the right to same-sex marriage, as foreshadowed in Alito’s leaked opinion, will some employers continue to recognize same sex marriages for benefits purposes if the State won’t? Are we really that far away from company-provided campuses located and designed to insulate us from climate change or the next pandemic when federal infrastructure doesn’t? Fully equipped with private police forces because of the failures of local ones?
This will make us further dependent on our employers to determine if we can support a family at all. These “perks” will mollify us from fighting back when these same companies lobby against universal safety net benefits for everyone because they don’t want to pay their fair share of taxes.
So can we take a step back a talk about how twisted is it that our inalienable human rights to healthcare, reproductive freedom, access to childcare and paid family leave should be bestowed by at-will employers, without robust union protections, that completely ignores the rights of 40% of the gig economy workforce plus many non-employed people? I mean, FUCK.
Maybe this is dystopian. But I think we are basically already here, and many haven’t realized it yet.
Thanks for sticking with me through that deeply depressing 600 word argument. Stay with me for a little redemption.
None of this is easily fixable. Or maybe it’s not fixable at all. I recently readMountains Beyond Mountains, a biography of Paul Farmer, the brilliant founder of Partners in Health, who challenged conventional wisdom and changed how the medical establishment addressed health issues like TB and HIV in desperately poor countries like Haiti. I was inspired to read it by Courtney Martin, who hosted a virtual book club about it. During the conversation, Courtney brought up how Farmer famously used the phrase, “the long defeat.” It’s the idea that we work on things, hard things, that we may never change, especially in our lifetimes. Farmer says, “ I have fought the long defeat and have brought other people on to fight the long defeat, and I'm not going to stop because we keep losing. Now I actually think that sometimes we may win.”
We don’t stop even if we keep losing. We keep on the long defeat because it is right. One of Farmer’s colleagues joined the Zoom call and shared how he thought about it. To paraphrase, he said, part of the reason we keep on with the long defeat are the people we meet along the way – that connection and those shared values are what fuel us. The side effect of purpose is joy.
Everything about improving the world for mothers is a long defeat for me. And in some ways it feels good to admit that. But I want to keep at it because of the people, like you who are reading this, that I meet along the way. The world is incredibly bleak but my Facebook feed is flooded with moms offering to donate breastmilk and give each other formula in the face of government and corporate failures because we can only help each other and we are capable of vast empathy and human kindness to friends and strangers. No one is coming to save us, and that’s why we do what we do in small ways. And we keep moving forward because we aren’t alone, even if our defeat is long and inevitable.
OBSESSED: Season 2 of Under The Influence with Jo Piazza on women influencers on Instagram. You’ll be seeing the influence of HER reporting on me as I roll out different community benefits for Double Shift Members.