Crisis makes clear who can afford to survive (and who cannot)
May we always remember that we continue to build worlds where our suffering is not the backdrop for a larger story.
“That’s all anybody can do right now. Live. Hold out. Survive. I don’t know whether good times are coming back again. But I know that won’t matter if we don’t survive these times.”
– Octavia E. Butler
While on a hike today, I spoke with two folks about how our bodies are shaped by the lands we come from. Our lungs don’t merely acclimate to navigating different elevations, environments and conditions. Some of us are born with those lung stories, and remembering this fact might save our lives.
There are elders on Mauna Kea, a sacred Hawaiian mountain of almost 4,000 meters, who continue to fight against government surveillance and corruption. In the midst of the heavy fight of protecting sacred sites, they also guide newcomers up the mountain, teaching them how to breathe, how to step through the elevation and remember the wisdom of their bodies.
The visitors often experience dizziness, nausea, paranoia, shallow breathing and an accelerated heart rate. The elders talk them through it, often supporting six or more people at a time on top of managing their own needs and safety.
Sherpas, a native ethnic group of Nepal and the Himalayas, also act as guardians and guides on Mount Everest. They are expert climbers who have saved the lives of visitors on their land. The Masai, Chagga, Hadzabe, Ik and Umbo hold centuries of generational knowledge around land, elevation, and climbing. They are only a portion of tribes all over the African continent that continue these traditions, monitoring the traffic and safety of foreigners coming into the lands they’ve been tasked to protect.
But more than that, these folks ensure their communities are safe and intact. They regularly challenge and adjust themselves towards the fight ahead without forgetting where they come from.
While I don’t live near any of the places I mention, I believe in these global love practices that exist beyond geolocation and time. I believe in the ways they hold and determine community. I believe with every part of me, that these knowledges are what have held us in the bleakest of times, when our histories are erased, attacked, re-packaged and/or re-imagined.
The systems, institutions and protocols of capitalism threaten our connections and memories by attempting to redistribute narratives that serve only the most privileged amongst us. We are shown time and time again, that with a flip of their wands, providing better and more sustainable conditions would be no sweat off their brow. And yet, here we are.
Though workplaces, institutions, and financial sectors have told us that halting and/or erasing debts would totally dismantle the market, yesterday the Italian government announced that they would suspend mortgage payments until the coronavirus crisis has been resolved. Non-profits have also historically discouraged employees’ working from home under the guise that it disrupts work culture, camaraderie, and productivity. This is especially true (and more prevalent) when students/ employees/ volunteers are disabled, Black, and/or poor.
What we know and have always known is the power to pause our debts, from student loans, to parking tickets, to foreclosures, to rent and health care has always been possible. And yet, the systemic barriers that ensure it doesn’t happen are intentional, relegated and static.
While videos of customers fighting for supplies are going viral, employers are rationing cleaning and sanitary supplies that would help protect their employees against contamination and ensure a level of safety for its customers. Capitalism isn’t smart or strategic in the ways that it should be. And it is especially harmful in ways it should not.
When I went to the grocery store today, the cashier told me that she’d been asking customers if she could use some of their hand sanitizer. Management at the store hadn’t distributed any cleaning products to them and she was both worried that she might catch something and concerned that she can’t afford time off. I gave her hand sanitizer that the company she worked for should’ve already distributed to its employees. We exchanged numbers so that I can reach out to folks to get more supplies to her and others.
Detroit and Flint are restoring water to households that cannot pay their bills in an attempt to combat the coronavirus. But why were the water crises not enough to begin with? Why were self quarantines discouraged until able bodied folks were diagnosed with COVID-19?
Yesterday, the Republican Senate blocked a GOP bill for Emergency Paid Sick Leave. I’m not surprised. There are always opportunities to profit from disaster.
I take comfort in knowing however, that Black, brown and indigenous communities have been most impacted by and most prepared for social, economic and material collapse. Though the government has been ignoring the conditions they’ve created that impact us on a daily basis, we know how to protect and stay connected to our folks.
We remind each other that we are not alone. We all know how to show up for each other in times of terror, even as capitalism does its best to ensure that we never have the time to do so and that we remain forgetful. We do not rest our survival and hopes on systems intent on our subjugation. We refuse those conditions and offer something more.
The training and knowledge of the fight ahead is already in our bones. They aren’t the only parts of us that deserve to survive. Today I’m holding the capacity for joy, splendor, play and pleasure that our folks have always had. And willing those to survive in our past, present and futures.
May we always bring food. May we always show up. May we always remember that we continue to build worlds where our suffering is not the backdrop for a larger story.