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)

December 6 should be the International Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women


In Canada, December 6, is the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women. In 1991, the Canadian government made December 6 the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women to commemorate the December 6, 1989, Montreal Massacre, also known as the École Polytechnique Massacre. On December 6, 1989, a man entered campus, sought and found a Women’s Studies class, separated the men and women, and killed 14 women, whom he identified as “feminists”. Those women were Geneviève Bergeron, Hélène Colgan, Nathalie Croteau, Barbara Daigneault, Anne-Marie Edward, Maud Haviernick, Maryse Laganière, Maryse Leclair, Anne-Marie Lemay, Sonia Pelletier, Michèle Richard, Annie St-Arneault, Annie Turcotte, Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz. Across Canada, people hold memorial services. Everyone in Canada knows of the Montreal Massacre, the worse mass shooting in the country’s history. But what about elsewhere? Where are the memorials for the 14 women, and for the horror of the event, in other countries? What is the geography of our compassion?

After the assault on the women of the École Polytechnique, rape laws were strengthened. Men formed the White Ribbon Campaign, which, according to the organization, is the world’s largest movement of men and boys working to end violence against women. The École Polytechnique established the Order of the White Rose, which created the White Rose Scholarship, a $30,000 prize given to a Canadian woman studying in an engineering Master’s or PhD program.

For days after the massacre, people brought white roses to lay at the site of bloodshed. It was a sea of white roses.

Michele Thibodeau-Deguire was the École Polytechnique’s first woman civil engineering graduate. She graduated in 1963. In 2013, when she was appointed Chair of the Board of Directors of the École Polytechnique, Michele Thibodeau-Deguire became the first woman to chair the Board. On Wednesday, she reflected on Canada’s National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women: “It was something that came out; people just wanted to show how they felt. And every year, white roses were brought here at the door of Polytechnique.” Along with the White Rose Scholarship, the Polytechnique sells white roses to contribute to a science camp for girls from marginalized communities. “From something horrible, something beautiful came out,” said Michele Thibodeau-Deguire.

Valerie Provost, a survivor of the Montreal Massacre, reflected, “In 1989, for me, for my classmates, everything was possible. We didn’t imagine that these doors could be shut, but that’s what Marc Lépine did. He slammed the door in front of us. My classmates will never enter the country of their dreams. No diplomas; no career; no professional achievements; no great love story; no children; no flourishing talents.”

Canadian feminist activist journalist Judy Rebick noted, “Today, rape is the only violent crime that has not declined to the degree that most other violent crimes have. In Canada, women reported 553,000 sexual assaults in 2014 according to Stats Canada. Fifty-three per cent of all women and 82 per cent of young women told pollsters that they experience sexual harassment in a 2017 Abacus poll. Levels of violence and harassment against Indigenous women, women of colour and women with disabilities are even higher. There has been a decline in domestic violence, but 32 women were killed by intimate partners so far this year in Ontario.” The Abacus report opens with numbers, “There are almost 15 million adult women in Canada and according to our latest survey, almost 8 million of them (53%) have experienced unwanted sexual pressure. The prevalence of this experience is highest among women under 45.”

For one day a year, across Canada, people discuss sexual violence, remember the names of the 14 women, remember the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, remember that the struggle continues. Why only Canadians? A review of major news outlets this past week has none in English, French or Spanish even mentioning the day. Canada remembers, the world ignores. What exactly is the geography of our compassion? Why must each nation, and each national community, be left to its own devices and ways of remembering? I live in the United States. Montreal is close; Canada is close, and yet, in the United States, there was no mention of the day. Commodities and capital flow across the border, in ever faster and increasing numbers. People move back and forth across the border as well. Why not memory? Why not the honoring of the martyrs of the war against women? It’s not only Canada’s war. December 6 should be the International Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women.

 

(Photo Credit 1: Feminist Current) (Photo Credit 2: Paul Chiasson / Canadian Press / CBC)