Robert Azzi: America: Demand the right to dignity and decent life

For the Monitor
Published: 12/16/2020 6:30:21 AM

Not long ago a Seacoast resident, dismissing the plight of the poor and vulnerable, wrote: “There will always be rich and poor in our society. … We were not born equally wealthy and we will not die equally.”

Three hundred thousand Americans have died, 16,000,000 infected, from a novel coronavirus – none equally.

As a tsunami of COVID-19 infections crashes over us, particularly over our most vulnerable – over nurses, doctors, teachers, those who clean lavatories, stock shelves, package pork chops, pack Prime shipments – 650 Americans have increased their combined wealth by a trillion dollars.

Six hundred and fifty people – for whom anonymous laborers toil without respite – today control more wealth than 165 million Americans.

Today, the most vulnerable among us are dying on America’s sordid killing fields; fields where privilege inflates the net worth of profiteers and exploiters even as it insulates them – on islands, in gated communities, in penthouses – from the ravages of an unprecedented pandemic where millions have lost hope, health, livelihoods, lovers, and lives.

Consider that John Tyson, of Tyson Foods, whose wealth increased by over $600 million this year while thousands of his workers – mostly people of color and immigrants – were infected with COVID-19.

Tyson was forced to shutter one of his largest processing plants after more than 180 infections were identified, in another 40% of its workers tested positive. In another 1,000 were infected, five died.

“My work with the poor and the incarcerated has persuaded me that the opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice,” writes social justice activist Bryan Stevenson.

Witness that Amazon’s Jeff Bezos’s net worth has increased by over $70 billion since March, even as perhaps 20,000 of his employees have been infected.

Witness that Alice, Jim, and Rob Walton – heirs to the Walmart fortune – increased their net worth by over $48 billion this year even as Walmart denies hazard pay to its employees, many of whom are struggling with housing and food insecurity.

“Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity,” Nelson Mandela said. “It is the protection of a fundamental human right, the right to dignity and a decent life.”

Witness that Rudy Giuliani, recently discharged from the hospital, boasted that he, like President Trump, Ben Carson, Chris Christie and other White House sycophants before him – had special access to scarce drugs unavailable or denied to thousands of infected and now-dead Americans.

“Sometimes when you’re a celebrity,” Giuliani told WABC radio, “they’re worried if something happens to you they’re going to examine it more carefully, and do everything right.”

Giuliani’s right: He got “exactly the same” cocktail of drugs that Trump received, while over 90 million Americas lack health insurance.

Giuliani, a celebrity mainly due these days to his efforts to subvert American democracy, has been gifted his life for his loyalty to Donald Trump’s treasonous and seditious attempt to destroy our constitutional republic as the pandemic ravages our homeland.

Nobel Prize winning economist Friedrich Hayek, in The Road to Serfdom, believed that government should offer social insurance – including health care – and should protect citizens against poverty and ensure “the certainty of a given minimum of sustenance for all.”

Those dying today on America’s killing fields aren’t anonymous; we have known them for millennia – from Asia to the Americas, from Africa to Appalachia – they’re the children of the Beloved Community: “. . . for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me … I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me …

“Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food … And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?

“Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” Matthew 25:35-45 (NRSV)

What, as obscene wealth accumulates for a few as thousands die daily, is being done for the least of us?

As Hanukkah embraces our Jewish Brothers and Sisters; as the Winter Solstice, Christmas, Kwanzaa, the New Year approach, what is being done to honor our neighbors who’ve been sacrificed to the false gods of privilege and greed.

Neighbors who today confront debt, eviction, and hunger – none equally – confront despair and addiction – none equally.

“O you who have attained to faith! Spend on others out of the good things which you may have acquired, and out of that which We bring forth for you from the earth; and choose not for your spending the bad things which you yourselves would not accept without averting your eyes in disdain.” Quran 2:267 (Asad)

In 2020 the net worth of just 650 Americans grew by an amount greater than that currently being negotiated – without progress – in Congress as a relief package for millions of needy Americans.

Meanwhile – as Mitch McConnell continues to oppose relief for besieged Americans – Tom Brady and Gisele Bündchen bought a $17 million mansion – which they intend to tear down and build anew – on Florida’s Indian Creek Island, described as “one of the most exclusive and private neighborhoods in the world with its private country club and golf course, police force, and 24/7 armed boat patrol.”

Meanwhile, as Mitch McConnell continues to oppose relief for besieged Americans, Dolly Parton donated $1 million to help fund Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine research. “Praise the lord!” she said, “I’m just very grateful that this is happening.”

That’s what Americans do – equally.

“There is no reason why in a society which has reached the general level of wealth which ours has attained,” Hayek wrote, “. . . there can be no doubt that some minimum of food, shelter, and clothing, sufficient to preserve health and the capacity to work, can be assured to everybody. . . . Nor is there any reason why the state should not assist the individuals in providing for those common hazards of life against which, because of their uncertainty, few individuals can make adequate provision.”

That’s what Americans do – equally.

(Robert Azzi, a photographer and writer who lives in Exeter, can be reached at His columns are archived at

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