A statement from John Farrell and Stacy Mitchell, Co-Directors of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, on the COVID-19 pandemic:
“The Institute for Local Self Reliance focuses on empowering local communities to take charge of their own future, a mission with renewed relevance as people across the country grapple with the ongoing coronavirus crisis. We are, literally, all in this together. And, as many of us shelter in place and practice social distancing, it’s an important time to think about how the actions we take now will shape our country for years to come.
“Upheavals like the current crisis interrupt our day-to-day lives in the short term, but they also tend to profoundly reshape American policy and cultural norms in the long term. As the Great Depression led to the reforms of the New Deal, and 9/11 informed a complete makeover of America’s security and intelligence apparatus, the coronavirus crisis will undoubtedly impact our country far into the future. That’s why ILSR is focusing on some key policy areas at this pivotal moment in our nation’s history.
“First, we cannot allow corporate monopolies and big business to exploit this crisis as a pretext to extend market share and dominance. The initial response to the crisis has not been encouraging. The New York Times noted on March 29 that, “The federal government is open for coronavirus business, and the scramble to get some of it is on. . .[as] across the country, companies see a chance to cash in.” The federal stimulus package certainly reflected this state of affairs, producing massive giveaways for large corporations (on the order of $4 trillion) and allocating a tiny sliver of that in loans to small businesses.
“We must stand with the millions of small businesses who are, at this moment, experiencing the most profound economic crisis in American history. Independent small businesses are accustomed to normal fluctuations of the economy, but there has never been a time like this in which, for many small businesses, revenue is literally zero. While we’ve been inspired by the creative responses small business owners have come up with, ingenuity alone will not be enough to respond to the current crisis. We need bolder, more comprehensive policy responses to ensure that, when the COVID-19 threat finally passes, small businesses can continue to be the backbone of our economy and our communities.
“The coronavirus crisis has also recentered questions about our nation’s broadband networks, a longtime focus of ILSR. The shift to remote work and schooling has not only increased the demand for high-quality Internet access, it has also renewed the focus on chronic gaps in access for low-income families. As distance learning and remote work become the new normal for millions of American families, we need to ensure that access to high-quality broadband is affordable, equitable and widely available. Too often, the dominant providers offer high-quality broadband to more affluent customers while leaving many other communities — especially lower-income, rural, and people of color — reliant on DSL networks, a system that only exacerbates the wealth and achievement gaps.
“In Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, a character famously explained how he fell into bankruptcy. ‘“Two ways,’ Mike said. ‘Gradually and then suddenly.’” It’s an apt metaphor for the current historic moment and how societal change often occurs. Over the past few decades, there has been a gradual and inexorable increase in the market power, political influence, and economic dominance of a small group of very large, monopolistic companies. The increase in corporate control has come at the expense of many communities, but particularly rural residents and people of color. What we have seen over the past few weeks tells us that these companies are willing to use this moment to, suddenly, consolidate these gains and emerge from this crisis even more dominant. For millions of Americans, that will mean less political power, less control over their own lives, and less influence in shaping their communities.
“ILSR will continue to advocate for a future in which communities experience real democracy and control local wealth. Working with our networks of partners, activists and elected officials, we will continue to champion thriving, equitable communities where individuals are empowered to fight corporate control.”
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