Covid Operations: I want to talk about compassion … and the compassionate state

i want to talk about gratitude.
i want to talk about compassion.
i want to talk about respect.
how even the desperate deserve it.
                                    Lenelle Moise

Haitian American poet Lenelle Moise begins her poem, “quaking conversation”, as follows:

“i want to talk about haiti.
how the earth had to break
the island’s spine to wake
the world up to her screaming.

how this post-earthquake crisis
is not natural
or supernatural.
i want to talk about disasters.

how men make them
with embargoes, exploitation,
stigma, sabotage, scalding
debt and cold shoulders.”

I want to talk about compassion. Like “kind”, “compassion” was once an active, transitive verb, meaning to have compassion on and with. You could compassion someone, we could compassion one another. Today, compassion is supposed to suggest that we suffer together, that seeing the suffering of another, one suffers if not identically equally. I want talk about compassion and ask, “Where is the State that is compassionate? That suffers with the suffering?”

Here’s some news from the past 24 hours. Law enforcers kill and brutalize during SA lockdown. Still in South Africa, municipalities defy Covid-19 eviction moratorium. Those evicted want to know how can children wash their hands if they’re homeless? National governments watch and do nothing concerning overcrowded, toxic conditions in refugee `camps’ in Greeceimmigrant detention centers, prisons, and jails across the United States and elsewhere. Corporations force workers to show up for work and then provide little to no protection and no consideration or benefits: AmazonTargetFedEx. Meanwhile gig workers, casual workers, `informal’ workers across the country experience erasureUndocumented workers become the new generation to live Silence = Death, which begins as Invisibility = Death. Exclusion is a death sentence. We continue to debate who is an essential worker, essential workers continue to die. Meanwhile, across the United States, Coronavirus is “ravaging Black communities”; African Americans are “dying at an alarming rate during the pandemic”. This is a partial list of less than 24 hours in the day in the life. Exclusion = death. It always has.

In the current state of exception, we must dream, demand, and create exceptional states, states that refuse the necropolitical, exclusionary diktat of acceptable collateral damage. At the end of March, as the death tolls rose and rose, Spain extended unemployment benefits to domestic workers. While it’s not perfect, it is an expansion of rights and recognition by the State. In South Korea, the city of Ansan decided to extend “livelihood security support benefits” to all residents, including foreign residents. Again, it’s not perfect, but, again, it is an expansion of rights and recognition by the State. Anything less is a death sentence. A status quo built on exclusion is a death sentence and always has been. We must talk about compassion and we must work to build a compassionate State. I want to talk about compassion. 

(Image by Mimi Zhu: National Museum of Women in the Arts)

There shall be

There shall be

There’s a Manifesto
There’s a Party Political
There’s a Charter and 
a Statement too 
of some intent

There shall be
the usual smoke
come election-time
(and no doubt after)

Plenty for all
All for plenty
in the many
Lands of Plenty

Plenty of material 
for PhDs and movies
cartoonists and satirists 
and even for comedians
to stand up

Plenty now dressed
in their appropriate
Aims and Objectives
(no red carpet here)

from this stage
to every other stageist
in this phase or that
in this queue or that

There shall be
no walking of dogs
says a talking hat
(face on straight)

But
There shall be
Post-COVID-19
Elections 
and the beyond

There shall be
Plenty for All
to remember 
here and beyond

Dogs walking or not

Lockdown Day 5 went by, with a weekend Zapiro cartoon (Daily Maverick 4 April).

(Photo Credit: The South African)

What can we learn from the recent win of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe?

There are various pandemics, some are viral, some are neoliberal, sometimes meeting with deadly results, and sometimes defeated by consistent grassroots efforts, and sometimes life prevails. Recently, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe won against the Dakota Access Pipeline, DAPL, in Federal Court. The court validated everything that the Tribe has argued against DAPL.

First, came the oil industry, then the pipelines, then the Dakota Access Pipeline, DAPL, was conceived to move fracked oil from North Dakota to Illinois, with a plan of 450 000 barrels (71 544 282,7 liters) flowing through every day. In 2016, the US Army Corps of Engineers (USAGE) approved the project using a Nationwide Permit 12 that allows examining such projects without a full evaluation and without a thorough environmental impact evaluation. The route of the pipeline crossed many sacred lands of Native American Sioux. It also crossed under the Missouri River, the main source of water for the local population. The oil companies have honed their skills at profit-making at all costs. They are also known for their disastrous safety record with millions of dollars spent on fines and reparation. For instance, DAPL’s leading company Sunoco Logistics, spent over $53 million for property damage between 2006 and 2016. Meanwhile, land and water has been polluted, sickening the local population. 

For the Sioux Nation situated in North Dakota, DAPL’s environmental damage and disregard for Native rights were unacceptable. They opposed the latest life-threatening actions of the oil industries and their financial investors, pointing to the imminent water pollution with its resulting impact on the land. 

Lakota women were fast to organize in the defense of life against the pipeline, the black snake as they called it. Several sites of resistance were established such as the Sacred Spirit and the Oceti Sakowin camps near Standing Rock reservation. These sites saw the largest gathering of the Sioux Nation since little Big Horn in 1876. Many non-native American supporters assembled with Native Americans in resisting the construction of the pipeline. This struggle attracted international attention, with indigenous peoples from other countries showing their solidarity. 

Lakota women, men and children and national and international protesters showed the world what an inspired coalition building meant. They opposed the oil industry and its financial supporters’ oafish strategies by articulating their veneration of their environment with the strength of their spiritual invocations and prayers in defense of “mother Earth.”  The words Mni Wiconi, water is life, roared from the camps, sacred words which transformed people into water protectors. The beat of their drums were in rhythm with the heartbeat of mother Earth. The water protectors stoically faced the uniformed seemingly unconcerned police and militias who were fully equipped with weapons to hurt the defenders of life. 

The Sioux Nation also fought USAGE’s decision in court, demanding the Nationwide Permit 12 be revoked. They wrote to President Obama who first abandoned another deadly project, the Keystone pipeline project, and then before leaving office, hastily, denied the permit for DAPL.   

After the inauguration, Donald Trump signed a memorandum to forcibly evacuate the camps to clear the way for the construction of the pipeline. The ultimatum said that total evacuation of the camps would have to be effective on February 22, 2017. The menace was dire. Donald Trump resembled more a predator than a president. 

Before leaving the sites, on February 18 to 19, the ceremony “Honoring our grandmothers” was organized. This ceremony was echoed in many indigenous sites around the Americas. 

The invitation to Honoring our Grandmothers was clear:

“As Women of Sovereign Nations, Lands, and Waters, we have been given the honor of caring for the earth, the water and all living beings on it.” “We welcome women of all Nations and ages to come together for this special time of prayer, teachings and unity here in Standing Rock, as a powerful movement to acknowledge the sacredness of Unci Maka, Mni Wiconi and the living grandmothers of the Oceti Sakowin.”

 “Location has nothing to do with how we pray, we are going to keep fighting these big oil companies even if we have to fight for the rest of our life,” declared one of the participants, a grandmother committed to defending life and children’s future.

And continue fighting they did. 

The victory of the Sioux in the Federal court should be an inspiration for many who are fighting for justice. No `pragmatic compromises’ were accepted. The native message is loud and clear: if life is sacred, then the sacred should prevail. A sense of solidarity expanding beyond tribes brought victory on many fronts. Before this decision, Native lawyers lobbied foreign banks that invested in the pipeline to withdraw their support. 

In this moment of a global viral crisis, born from the recklessness of neoliberal globalization, maybe it is time to learn some lessons from this fight for the preservation of water as water is life.

Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Chairman Mike Faith declared, “It’s humbling to see how actions we took four years ago to defend our ancestral homeland continue to inspire national conversations about how our choices ultimately affect this planet. Perhaps in the wake of this court ruling the federal government will begin to catch on, too, starting by actually listening to us when we voice our concerns.”

Contrast this hopeful message with other decisions taken by the heartless in power. In mid-March, the governors of Kentucky, South Dakota, and West Virginia signed laws to give more power to the states to protect the oil industry and repress protest against oil and gas pipelines and other infrastructures labeled “key” or “critical.”

We are at the crossroads of two visions of the same crisis. In one vision, the heartless system – with its destructive projects generated devastating impacts such as deforestation, extinction of 60% of species, climate change, elimination of public services for the common good, resurgence of authoritarian regimes serving vested interests – will finally come to a change of paradigm. The other vision keeps the delusional neoliberal short-term view in place. The latter may work until climate change and/or another virus or spill of crude oil challenges neoliberal non-sense. 

Maybe this is the time to learn from the unrelenting, uncompromising fight of the Standing Rock Sioux and their allies for the source of life. 

(Photo Credit: Taylor Ruecker, Janine Robinson

COVID-19 And the Death of Common Sense

Marc Chagall’s The Falling Angel

COVID-19 And the Death of Common Sense

Yes
Apparently part of the plan is
That I
A Black Man in America, am going to put a mask around my face
A bandana
Leave my house
And then go outside.

Where there are policemen with guns.

Who do so well with Black men without masks.

With the ascent of fear
Comes the death of common sense.

Why do we wait for liars to tell us the truth
And doubt our own insight and experience?

And then he started to scream.

It was a low guttural growl at first
Changing gradually to a sound one might expect to hear
If the doorway to Hell were left ajar
And like an idiotic lovecraftian eavesdroper
You to put your ear to the crack to hear sounds
That would leave scars.

And after hearing what could not be unheard
You will ask yourself for the rest of your troubled life
What was worse:
The screaming
Or what was being done to cause it?

I mean, you would ask this
If you could stop screaming!

Safety gear is just for your psychology
Just like headgear in full contact sparing
Or like football gear that DOESN’T prevent chronic traumatic encephalopathy
In lifelong players

Transmission of a virus occurs through contact
It doesn’t matter how much safety gear you have
If you are in constant contact with a virus

Said the doctors in Italy

Isn’t that written somewhere in children’s school books?

Presentes mis doctores que luchan en la vanguardia de esta batalla

The common cold is a virus
And there is no cure or vaccine against it
Because of how a virus changes vectors

How, then, will there be a vaccine for COVID-19?

People take flu shots every year
And every year people still get the flu
A flu that is always from somewhere else
And never from “here”.

I’m not a doctor
Or in medical school
And I don’t play one on T.V.
But I know that.

Tactically, they know people can’t deal with the truth
They are bringing the population along
Spoon feeding us lies incrementally
Inch by inchTo prevent a wide spread panic

And suddenly there are daily Presidential press conferences
But still no uniform national strategy

COVID-19, Kidney Stone, Chemo
The new rock, paper, scissors
And COVID-19 beats Chemo

As healthcare professionals
And Samuel L. Jackson urge us
To stay the fuck at home.

This is what I’m lookin’ at.

Good news takes care of itself
Don’t tell me about 5 minute tests
(Five minutes abs didn’t work either)

As bodies gather in hallways
And are loaded on to refrigerated trucks

Good news takes care of itself.
And there is no good news.

Today they are hoarding toilet paper
What will it be tomorrow?

Maybe I do need a mask.

May the angel of death pass over your home.
מי ייתן מלאך המוות פסח לביתך

(Image Credit: Marc Chagall)

State power in the time of Corona: To protect and serve … whom?

At the time of writing, nearly half the world has closed down or is waking up to an unfamiliar world of  encroachments on physical mobility in ways not seen since the War of  1914 to 1918. Covid-19 has exposed existing fault lines in public health care provision and in  public health crisis in both the global South and the global North. The realities of socioeconomic exclusion have exposed ongoing inertia in public service provision and the rescinding role of the State in those provisions. Race, gender and class have been foregrounded in this time of crisis.  Whilst the Corona virus offers a critical moment to rethink and reframe the social compact between state, citizens and residents, it is also a dangerous and alarming time of enforced mass  enclosure. This is not the first time that humanity has been here though the scale and reach are unprecedented

Following Hurricane Katrina, many people sought to answer the question of whether its social effects and the government response to the country’s biggest natural disaster had more to do with race or with class. Media images broadcast from Louisiana showed nearly all those left behind to suffer and die were Black Americans—it looked a race, gender and class issue because it was. A few years later during Hurricane Sandy, it was clear that the US had learnt nothing from the traumatic upheaval wrought by Katrina. In this instance, it appears that nearly all might be left behind, but that the social  binaries of race based poverty and gender would endure, starkly. 

Though often hampered by  resource constraints, most African countries have a better track record of deploying state support and resources to deal with the upheavals of disease and the aftermath of war. The Ebola virus, the ongoing HIV/AIDs pandemic and malaria have provided lessons in the folly of denial, the importance of protecting health workers, of accessible and low-cost medication, robust public education, and open and consistent communication. So much of what seems like basic sense has been found wanting in the handling of Covid -19.  The news that British Prime Minister   Boris Johnson has tested positive after robust handshaking  whilst we have been advised to keep a distance and wash our hands shows a reckless leadership deficit during a defining moment.

The last forty years of globalisation as market orthodoxy has commodified health care. The globalisation of trade is  central  to  health services that have become a tradeable commodity  in an era in which many States have disinvested from health services altogether. Like education, access to water and electricity,  health provision  has been a casualty of structurally  adjusted States and the curve between the global South and the North has been exposed during this crisis as the UK and the US, often considered to be ‘developed’, have again been found weak and unprepared for a health trauma of this scale. The prescripts and onerous impacts of conditional aid and state disinvestment in social provision  have long been felt by African and Latin American countries. 

Globally, states are all experiencing the impacts and limits to free market logic. Though  characterised by many as the great equaliser, a time when States are equally fragile across the global north and global south, the true genesis of this global devastation is northern capitalism and demobilised  States. Structural adjustment as a project has evolved and is a continuing mantra of the  International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Both  recently unveiled their market driven response of emergency loans targeting developing countries  primarily in the Global South. The depleted  health and sanitation systems in many  countries  is testimony to the devastating success of neoliberal globalisation in immobilising national  state capacities.  

Following structural adjustment programmes, most health care and essential services – including water, energy, education – may be removed from state purview for cost recovery  arrangements. In this scenario private companies invest their funds in return for state guaranteed monopolies and price control, further dispossessing and excluding vulnerable communities. Public Private Partnerships – which are essentially polite privatisation – have existed for centuries,  thriving even more when States are weakened. These have also  become the easy allies of disaster capitalism as seen in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy where education and energy supplies were privatised, monetised and removed from the domain of public good.  

Despite decades of state neglect, social apartheid and various global traumas, consensu has formed on closing down public movement and curbing personal freedoms to address the War called Corona. The introduction of “lockdowns” with no tangible provision for social safety nets has posed significant risks to workers in the parallel economy, internally displaced persons, the working poor, fragile urban communities and other marginalised sectors. 

Notwithstanding  outsourcing their most fundamental functions to the private sector and ignoring their duty to distribute social and economic benefits to the most vulnerable in society, States are now  calling on us to trust them as they invoke martial law. This has  resulted in the largest shutdown of the last century. Unlike the two European wars (1914-1918 and 1939-1945) the impact of this situation is not localised to a few European nations, the Soviet Union, Australia,  Japan and the United States. Globalisation has transmitted both the disease and uniform approaches to problem solving. 

Students of civil liberties, human rights and social cohesion have opined on the politics of enclosure in times of war and peace.  Even during enclosed times, States exhibit inherent biases and weaknesses that maintain privilege for corporate and masculinised interests.  South Africa has lived through public control  in living memory, and distrust of the State and state security is still embedded in social discourses. Like many other  countries, the spectre of securitisation of human mobility sits badly, particularly as we still recall the dehumanising policing of colonial Apartheid exemplified by the Sharpeville Massacre, Soweto Uprising and Uitenhage massacres among many.  Troublingly, the Marikana Massacre  and the violence against the #FeesMustFall activists illustrates that the State can be a brutal  personality regardless of the supposedly progressive underpinnings of the Government in power.

At the time of writing, South Africans are required to carry Identity Books in case we are stopped by the police or army when going to buy  groceries or medical supplies. Once more, personhood is linked to a form of the much reviled Apartheid Passbook.  It is deeply unsettling, albeit necessary, that states are containing us to  control a warlike virus that might have been prevented had the same States not neglected  and commodified health care  so shamelessly. The same could be said of nearly every country battling the Corona pandemic.  

Whilst allowing already problematic Father States to lead us through very complex terrain, we recall that States are often inclined towards repression. Public order policing and martial law have often been the retreat of authoritarian regimes, evoking public safety, order and emergencies real or created to control citizens and residents . Late last year the Chilean government clamped down on high school protestors who demanded that the State provide  cost effective public transport. The escalating rage resulted in something resembling a nationwide, cross-issue movement against price increases, poor social services, and unemployment. It remains to be seen whether  the promise of a constitutional reform will quell public dissent. France has faced similar protests on public pension funds  and the retreat of the State in maternity clinics and postal services . Macron  effectively  ‘closed down’ France nearly two weeks ago. In the midst of their lockdown, thousands marched against him the day before local government elections. While States might have found the opportunity to indulge their regressive impulses during the time of Corona, not all of us are amnesiac about how we got here.  

(Photo Credit: Daily Maverick / EPA – EFE / Kim Ludbrook)

The women held hostage in Yarl’s Wood demand freedom now! #ShutYarlsWood

England built a special hell for women: Yarl’s Wood. This week, women held in Yarl’s Wood, where last week a “resident” tested positive for Covid-19, sent a petition to Movement for Justice By Any Means Necessary, demanding their release immediately: “Free us all now!!! Shut Down the Detention Centre!”.

The petition reads:

“1. COVID-19 IS IN YARL’S WOOD, OUR VISITS HAVE BEEN CANCELLED, WE ARE ISOLATED AND OUR MENTAL HEALTH IS SUFFERING.

2.  SOME OF US HAVE ASTHMA, HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE & OTHER CONDITIONS THAT MAKE US MORE VULNERABLE TO COVID-19, AS WELL AS BEING SCARED FOR OUR OWN HEALTH, SCARED FOR OUR FAMILIES ON THE OUTSIDE AND WE WANTED TO BE WITH THEM.

3. WE CANNOT GET THE HEALTHCARE WE NEED IN DETENTION, THEY JUST GIVE US PARACETAMOL. SERCO CANNOT KEEP US SAFE. PEOPLE WILL DIE.

4. IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO DO SOCIAL DISTANCING IN OUR WINGS, WE HAVE NOT HAD ANY TRAINING ON HOW TO USE THE MASK AND GLOVES THEY GAVE US.

5. OUR SOLICITORS CANNOT VISIT US AND OUR BAIL HEARINGS ARE BEING CANCELLED AND MOVE TO PAPER DECISIONS. WE ARE DENIED JUSTICE. 

6. WE CANNOT BE PUT ON FLIGHTS ANY TIME SOON BECAUSE OF THE TRAVEL RESTRICTIONS.

7. IT IS INHUMAN AND UNJUST THAT WE ARE HELD IN DETENTION DURING THIS PUBLIC HEALTH CRISIS. SOME OF US HAVE COMMITTED NO CRIMES, ALL OF US WITH CONVICTIONS HAVE SERVED OUR TIME AND EVEN LONGER BECAUSE OF DETENTION.

8. HUNDRED HAVE BEEN RELEASED IN THE PAST TWO WEEKS, BUT IT IS TAKING TOO LONG.

FREE US ALL NOW!!! SHUT DOWN THE DETENTION CENTRE! ”

Twenty-seven of approximately thirty women in one wing at Yarl’s Wood signed the petition. 

In 2015, the Chief Inspectorate of Prisons for the United Kingdom found that Yarl’s Wood failed to meet the needs of vulnerable women. Yarl’s Wood didn’t fail, it refused to meet the needs of vulnerable women, because it refuses to recognize the humanity of any women. Every year since 2015, the situation has worsened and intensified, and then came Covid-19. Every day, more women are sent to Yarl’s Wood, during the pandemic. How impoverished must the United Kingdom be in every way conceivable that it cannot absorb some 300 or so women with a few children? How poor a nation. Release the women from Yarl’s Wood immediately. Shut it down, once and for all. Refugees and asylum seekers are not, and never have been, the crisis. The crisis is our inhumanity, racism, xenophobia, misogyny, nationalism. The time for concern and for discussion is over. The time for justice, and for reparations, is upon us and long overdue. Shut Yarl’s Wood down; do it now … in the name of health! FREE THEM ALL NOW!!! SHUT DOWN ALL DETENTION CENTRES!

(Photo Credit: Politics.co.uk) (Image Credit: Detained Voices)

Covid Operations: Be a force of kindness, not of might. Close the detention centers!

“For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.”  Matthew 7

South Africa is in the second day of a 21-day lockdown, monitored and enforced by the police and armed forces, as well as neighbors, family and other less threatening people. Before sending the armed forces to wander the streets where people live and, for the rare few, work, President Cyril Ramaphosa urged the army to “be a force of kindness and not of might. Deliver your duties in a way that does not violate our people’s rights either intentionally or unintentionally.” Be a force of kindness, and not of might. On the same day that invocation of kindness was reported, it was also reported that the city of Swakopmund, in Namibia, would provide free water to those living in its informal settlements. The day before it was reported that Namibia’s capital city, Windhoek, would reconnect “defaulters’ water”. We are awash in stories of kindness and unkindness, and we will be judged by the deeds we do and the words we say and write. At the same time, so many of the reports of “acts of kindness” are individual acts, acts within and of civil society writ large, and not acts of the state. While individual acts matter terrifically, as we have learned to our detriment in the United States, the nation-State must be the State as well as the nation. 

Be a force of kindness, not of might. Tell that to ICE and its supporters. On March 21, ALDEA-The People’s Justice Center in Reading, the Rapid Defense Network in New York, and the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, or RAICES, in San Antonio, Texas, representing scores of children, sued the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Attorney General. Their suit opens: “This case presents the question of whether the government can recklessly expose Petitioners … to conscious shocking risk of exposure to contracting the deadly Covid-19 virus in the midst of a global pandemic by failing to take the most minimal precautions to prepare for the all too foreseeable catastrophe in crowded family detention. The answer is no.” Berks. Dilley. Karnes. The answer is no.

In the three so-called family detention centers, people are living in close quarters with little to no attention to sanitation or hygiene, “a tinderbox that, once sparked, will create a crisis that threatens the lives of women, men and children”. In Dilley, a pregnant Honduran woman, identified as O.M.G., stays with her 4-year-old daughter, who has started coughing, “I must be close to others all the time. I fear for my life, and the life of my daughter and unborn child.” In Berks, a 5-year-old was taken to the hospital after weeks of coughing. According to Bridget Cambria, Executive Director of Aldea, that girl won’t be the last child whose health is endangered at Berks, “Children can’t social distance on their own. They’re going to put things in their mouth. They’re going to touch other children. It’s not like people can go to a different room to be by themselves.

Across the country, the stories of immigrant detention come to the same conclusion, “It’s basically torture.” And it’s not only women and children being tortured. This week, the ACLU of Pennsylvania sued to release elderly and infirm `detainees’, more like hostages, from immigrant detention centers. In San Diego, people seeking asylum end up in “the Icebox”, “La Hielera”, where the temperature is kept intentionally extremely low, and of course it’s overcrowded. From sea to shining sea … 

There is a saying in Zulu, “Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu”. A person is a person through other people. Ubuntu. I am because you are. I am because, together, we are, mutually, reciprocally. Once upon a time, a long long time ago, the word “kind” was an active, transitive verb, meaning to treat kindly or with good will. You could kind someone, we could kind one another. Once upon a time, a long long time ago … 

(Image Credit: Velaphi Mzimba / Everard Read – Cape Town) (Video: YouTube)

Nicoletta Dosio: “I will carry to the end with joy”

Nicoletta Dosio

Nicoletta Dosio is a 74-year-old Italian activist, feminist, Communist who, in 2012, protested against the Turin – Lyon high speed rail project, TAV. At the end of last year, Nicoletta Dosio was arrested, tried, and convicted to a year in prison, in Turin. From her prison cell, Nicoletta Dosio has written, “I’m fine, I’m happy with the choice I made because it is the result of a just and beautiful cause, the NoTav struggle which is also the struggle for a different model of society and stems from the awareness that the present world is not the only possible world. I feel collective solidarity and personally experience what a fighting family is. The support and affection you showed me when I was arrested, and the demonstrations whose echos reach me from afar, confirm that I made the right choice, which I will carry to the end with joy. I tell the other inmates about you, I tell them that the solidarity given to me is for all the women and men locked behind these brutish walls.”

Italian novelist, poet and translator, Erri De Luca, has written an open letter to Nicoletta Dosio:

Rome, March 23, 2020

Dear Nicoletta,

In these days, I reread. Once again, I have Rosa Luxemburg’s letters on my lap, the letters she wrote from Berlin prison. In one, addressed to Mathilde Jacob on February 7, 1917, Rosa recounts the cry of the chickadee, tss-vi, tss-vi. She knows how to imitate it so perfectly that the chickadee approaches her bars.

Rosa writes, `Despite the snow, the cold and the loneliness, we believe, the chickadee and I, that spring is on the way.’

And so here we are, in the days that announce that winter has ended. You were secluded in prison, and by some mysterious solidarity, an entire people locked themselves in their homes. The streets are empty, the North of Italy is emigrating to the South, and families fill the balconies. The economists have vanished, and the medical doctors are in charge.

Standing in my field, I watch the trees in bud. In Italian, the word for “bud” and “gem” is the same, “gemma”. For us, the buds are precious stones, and Spring is a necklace of jewels open to all who know how to appreciate them.

Here, now, in the name of politeness, people are staying away and avoiding one another.

But for you, in your prison cells, there is not enough room to turn in. People with pneumonia lack air, you are all forced to breathe and gasp together. The overcrowded, criminally overstuffed prisons have become laboratories of suffocation.

But the valley for which you fought and for which you are in prison continues to produce and breathe its own political oxygen, which rises from within the community, which strengthens its fibers, and thus gives the right of citizen to those whom the authorities have treated as feudal subjects. Treated as a rebellious province, your valley continues to refuse the rape of its territory.

Your inflexible and indomitable calm is that of your community. It emerges manifest when a people awaken.

I am proud to be able to address you, dear Nicoletta, as a close friend, proud to be one with you.

I wait for you here, and I promise you that, when you leave that prison, you will find the same union and the same spring.

Fervently yours,
Erri De Luca

(Translated by Dan Moshenberg)

(Photo Credit: Nicoletta Dosio)

Who are essential workers in the pandemic? Grocery store clerks, teachers, nurses, women.

While the President lies, downplays, and now considers easing up on the social distancing rule despite public health officials’ warnings, we are in the midst of a pandemic. 

People who are non-essential workers are being told to stay home, to telecommute and teleconference. To work from their personal laptops and flatten the curve.  

We’re hearing this everywhere. Non-essential, non-essential. But who are the essential? Who are the critical workers that are leaving their homes and risking infection, whether they want to or not, because they provide a public good? 

They’re teachers, nurses, EMTs, grocery store clerks. In short, they’re women.

Over the past two weeks, I’ve learned several valuable lessons (well, not really. I knew them already, but I really hope this experience radicalizes those who did not). And that is who should be considered valuable and essential workers in times of crisis. What I mean is this:

Grocery store workers/truck drivers/warehouse workers deserve a Congressperson’s salary, with health insurance and benefits and a pension plan that rivals how much Paul Ryan makes after he retired from the House. Those workers have spent two to three weeks stocking shelves, taking care of people despite the risk of infection, and have been donating to food banks so that local people can have food. We’ve been doing more than any person in Congress is doing right now.

Teachers need a Presidential Salary. I don’t know, is it $275,000? or over $400,000? Either way, teachers and schools provide more services than the government does for the impoverished in their area! Children are fed, given emotional care, taught and, in the case of NYC, provide literally a place for homeless children to stay!

And hospital workers? Nurses? EMTs? Forget about it. CEO salary. And I’m not talking small to mid-size business here. I’m talking about Bob Iger’s compensation before he ducked out of the Walt Disney Company. You are keeping people alive, despite the fact there might not be enough beds, or ventilators, or even face masks! While other jobs are able to work from home, to stop the spread of the disease, you are working under extreme conditions to make sure people get to go home, alive and healthy, to their families.

Those are the people who are essential. When this is over, when this crisis is averted (and even now), maybe it’s time to start demanding we be treated as essential workers.

(Photo Credit: John Autey / Pioneer Press) (Image Credit: Bored Teachers)

Covid Operations: How is this (not) unprecedented? Let us count the ways …

“They knew that their country’s devastation—before the earthquake as now—was not inevitable. They knew that traditional “recovery” would fail to recover much of anything except the previous inequities. They knew that reconstruction could be, had to be, grounded in democracy, where all had a say. And they were organizing.”
                                             Beverly Bell. Fault Lines: Views Across Haiti’s Divide

The emergence and efflorescence of Covid-19 has produced its own distinct discourse: social distancing, flatten the curve, social isolation, care mongering, and the list goes on. Words matter, rhetoric matters. One term that has been recirculated through the interpretive landscape of dismay, disorder and governmental dithering is to claim that everything is unprecedented … and so how could we have known? This claim of unprecedence has resulted in some curious contortions. For example, the stock market collapse is both unprecedented and the worst since 1987. The pandemic itself is unprecedented and the worst since the 1918 pandemic, the so-called Spanish flu. Well, which is it, unprecedented or the worst since? It doesn’t matter, because the claim of everything being unprecedented, rather than seriously and existentially dire, is always already an alibi. What is the alibi, and were we all really completely unaware?

For decades, political economist after political economist has warned that neoliberal models of development, and in particular austerity, would leave the world with severely diminished health care systems and seriously stretched economies. Four decades of slow to no growth and just in time production chains have produced “lean economies” which [a] only work for the very rich, [b] widen inequality rapidly and increasingly, and [c] increase risk. How did `we’ emerge from the infamous 1987 crash? The infamous Greenspan Put, in which the Fed “injected liquidity” into the market. What that means is that speculators are protected from risk and so are encouraged to take even riskier investments. The very opposite of no pain, no gain, this solution is All gain for a few, all and intense pain for everyone else. That was how `we’ emerged from 1987 … 1997 … 2000 … 2008. Unprecedented? Hardly.

Four years ago, Rob Wallace’s Big Farms Make Big Flu was published. Recently, Wallace noted, “The real danger of each new outbreak is the failure –or better put—the expedient refusal to grasp that each new Covid-19 is no isolated incident. The increased occurrence of viruses is closely linked to food production and the profitability of multinational corporations. Anyone who aims to understand why viruses are becoming more dangerous must investigate the industrial model of agriculture and, more specifically, livestock production. At present, few governments, and few scientists, are prepared to do so. Quite the contrary. When the new outbreaks spring up, governments, the media, and even most of the medical establishment are so focused on each separate emergency that they dismiss the structural causes that are driving multiple marginalized pathogens into sudden global celebrity, one after the other … There are no capital-free pathogens at this point … The capital-led agriculture that replaces more natural ecologies offers the exact means by which pathogens can evolve the most virulent and infectious phenotypes. You couldn’t design a better system to breed deadly diseases … These companies can just externalize the costs of their epidemiologically dangerous operations on everyone else.” The other term for the Greenspan Put is moral hazard, “any situation in which one person makes the decision about how much risk to take, while someone else bears the cost if things go badly.” That’s Paul Krugman writing, in 2009, about the crash of 2008. Unprecedented? No.

Despite the experience, and warning signs, of both SARS and Ebola, the lessons for health care were ignored in favor of profit. Cut workers’ access to health benefits, both by directly slicing health care benefits and transferring large sectors of the labor force to precarious `self contractors’. Defund public health and privatize health care as extensively and deeply as possible. Invest in pharmaceutical research that generates maximum profits and whatever you do, stay away from research in preventive medicine. Big Pharma “loves to design cures. The sicker we are the more they earn.” Keep the system `lean’ and `efficient’, meaning no extra beds, no extra anything. This is the legacy of austerity, and it has been widely criticized, certainly 40 years ago at the beginning of the period of neoliberal development, but with greater insistence, research and documentation over the past ten years. Unprecedented? Nope.

The claim of “unprecedented” is an alibi to the same extent that it provides ideological cover for the same old same old. This is not about gotcha; this is about how we understand “reconstruction”. Many are, rightly, concerned that nation-State governments will declare a State of Emergency or a State of Disaster and thereby erode civil and human rights. Even if that does not happen, we must pay critical attention to those who call for a “return to normalcy”, which would mean a `return’ to growing inequality, decreasing access to decent health care, mounting evictions, increased incarceration, increasing hunger, and more and more unprecedented pandemics.

(Image credit: NPR)