As we try to care for ourselves, our loved ones, and our comrades, we are also struggling to find ways to engage in mutual aid that make sense under conditions of “invisible” contagion. We repost below two recent pieces that inspired us, and some links to resource pages.
The LeftEast collective has been discussing the pandemic that is tying us together around the world in ways that are more explicit to many than capitalism. The words of one of our editors speak for many of us: “I am shifting between apocalyptic catastrophising, a neutral feeling that in my online-mostly position things don’t quite change, and an almost optimism this thing can bring shock to the system and change politics in ways I thought only a war would do… but deeply worried about those in vulnerable positions (e.g. migrants crossing to Europe and European borders now), and wondering if and how one can volunteer in a meaningful way without being exposed to danger…”
We invite readers to send us information to post as updates and to contribute their experiences and analyses on the situation unfurling across the world, its local manifestations, and how we can stay strong and build our movement(s).
The LeftEast collective
To our friends all over the world from the eye of Covid-19 storm
14 March 2020
We are living in difficult times, but we are also organizing so as not to surrender and prepare our next attack. Reflections, scenarios and claims in the middle of the Coronavirus outbreak
Eleven days ago schools and universities were shut down. Eight days ago the region of Lombardia became one large red zone. Seven days ago 30 prisons were torched. Six days ago we called off the demonstrations that were supposed to take place on the occasion of the women’s strike. That night all of Italy was declared a red zone. Four days ago the majority of shops and economic activities were shut down.
We write from the eye of the storm. We are living in difficult times. But we are also organizing so as not to surrender and prepare our next attack.
Covid-19 and social consciousness
In a few days scheduled demonstrations and assemblies were suspended, meetings started to be held only online and currently we are confined to our houses. This virus has a specific trait compared to other risks that we consciously, individually or collectively, take in our political activity. This virus can turn everyone into a risk for others and for society at large. As many are saying during these days, the main risk of Covid-19 is that it can lead to the collapse of the national healthcare system.
This can happen mainly for two reasons: the virus spreads very fast and also asymptomatic sick people are contagious; a percentage of the cases needs to be treated in intensive care. Health systems are not the same all over the world, or in different countries of Europe. Nor is the relation between beds in intensive care and population the same. The most recent data we found says that France has 12 beds every 100 thousand inhabitants, Italy has 11 and the UK has 7. Only Germany is a partial exception with 30 beds. But Greece has 5.
Lombardia is among the richest regions in Europe and has one of the best healthcare systems. However, it was also the first site of the outbreak of the infection. Despite the increase in beds in intensive care, what doctors and nurses are forced to do these days is to apply the so called “medicine of disaster” criteria. This means that not everybody can be treated, and the choice has to be made considering criteria based on the chance of survival.
What might happen in countries without a public healthcare system? What might happen in Africa were colonial plundering has impoverished societies? And in South America? What might happen in the United States, were access to healthcare depends on the money you have in your pocket? Nobody knows, but we have asked ourselves all these questions during these last days. Up to now, the avoidance of normal individual and political behaviours seemed to us more of a matter of social consciousness, and less a matter of social control or a state of exception imposed from above.
The End of Politics?
Clearly we did not enter the reign of “Holy Science” in just a couple of days, where politics suddenly no longer matters. The epidemic is not the same for everybody. It is not the same for prisoners, who started a huge uprising – according to the numbers provided by the Minister of Justice it has involved around 6 thousand people (10% of them jailed) and 30 prisons in 3 days. Tens of police officers have been wounded, around 500 million worth of damage has been caused, tens of inmates have escaped (although only 6 are still free) and 13 of them (mostly Africans) have died. The authority says that all of them died because of drug overdose – the drugs were stolen from the infirmaries of the jails. We will see.
Prisons and detention centres for migrants are not a safe place to be, in particular during an epidemic. But neither are houses safe places for many women. The epidemic in China resulted in an increase in domestic violence and everywhere in the world houses and family relation are the main places where feminicides and abuses take place. For this reason, the feminist movement is discussing how to organize the self defence of women who during the quarantine are exposed to a much higher risk of domestic violence. Of course, another big problem is that of homeless people, who are around 40 or 50 thousands in Italy, and have no place to stay and cannot find shelter. They too are coping with huge problems due to the closing of many social and care services.
While social networks, the media and politicians were inviting the population to stay home with hashtags, statements and decrees, the union of entrepreneurs and owners of industries and companies has been pushing for workers to continue to work. This is what Confidustria (General Confederation of Italian Industry) called for until the day before the last decree of the Prime Minister came into force and it is what is still happening in many workplaces. Here the traditional working class of factories and the new working class employed in the logistics immediately revolted with spontaneous strikes stopping production and distribution of goods. «Why must everybody stay at home while we have to work?», «What guarantees against contagion do we have?», «Which means to avoid infection and respect medical orders will you provide us?», these are among the main questions workers are asking owners and government in these hours .
Until now, it seems that the epidemic and the exception we are living in is far from removing politics from social life. It is not the reign of science or cops. It is, in fact, also the space in which very radical proposition can become part of common sense. It is not possible to know what the next step will be and how the emergency will transform the standards of the social and political order. But we are sure this change will take place and that there is a large space for politics, also in conditions in which is not still possible to take to the streets, gather and protest.
What we are doing
As precarious, autonomous and freelance workers, students, unemployed, migrants and all the social composition who cannot benefit from traditional social safety nets, we have an only clear claim: quarantine basic income for everybody. We are organizing a campaign to strength this claim at a national level. While we are not working or we are not been paid, we still have to pay for rents, bills, loans and goods. We think that this claim should unite the different figures in the fragmented labour market and class composition and should be the first step to set up a universal social measure that must be kept also after the end of the epidemic.
We think that this should be claimed at a European level, that the 1% must pay for it and in general pay the cost of the epidemic. Let’s tax web giants, the super rich, the owners, and make them pay. We need taxes on financial transactions and on big incomes. We are also claiming: immediate requisition of all private clinics and hospitals; free distribution of basic commodities; halt to the payments of bills, rent and loans. Poor and weak people should not pay for the epidemic.
We have to use the emergency situation to remember who brought our healthcare system to this point with cuts and privations. We must struggle for a better future by laying the foundations for newer and stronger forms and nets of political organization even during this present of quarantine. At least at a European level and against European financial institutions that during these years have impoverished our societies with neoliberalism and austerity.
Social Justice in a Time of Social Distancing
The advised precautions for dealing with the coronavirus ask us to focus on ourselves. Wash your hands. Cover your mouth. Don’t host or attend large gatherings. The precautions make us turn inward to focus on the virus’s impact on our individual health and the interruption of our daily lives. As much as we have to take these precautions, we must also understand that they are doing something to us. They are arranging us in ways that produce effects.
At DS4SI, we believe that ideas are embedded in social arrangements, which in turn produce effects. Some of the effects we’re worried about here will locate themselves in what we call affective remainder: residual intensities that linger on past an event or episode in life. In this case, we imagine these will exacerbate fear and aversion of the other, those who are always already-blamed. (Think of the racist targeting of black “looters” after Hurricane Katrina, the xenophobic blaming of Asian and African nations for viruses, and the homophobic blaming of queer communities when HIV/AIDS emerged.)
At another scale, we worry that the affective remainder will congeal into a fear of coming together, limiting our desire to gather in celebration, mourning, anger or prayer. This weaken our collective ability to take on the larger arrangements (and ideas) that the coronavirus is thriving on.
We assert that now is a critical time to focus our collective attention on the global and local arrangements implicated in the management of the coronavirus. We want folks who care about social justice—from immigrant rights, to climate justice, voter registration, etc.—to seize this opportunity to explore and challenge what COVID19 shows us about the hidden (and not-so- hidden) arrangements of our lives.
The current arrangements of individuality
Our lives are individually wrapped these days. Like “fun size” candy bars or lunch-size yogurts, we are each a tidy container. We are individuals! When we’re going out somewhere we don’t want a bus—we want our own car or ride. When a young person is killed by gun violence, we want to hold up their individuality—look at his grades! Her athletics! His dreams!—to protest the loss. When a candidate runs for office we are told to decide if we find them personally effect of self-contained lives will certainly exacerbate our current levels of loneliness, lack of touch, and social anxiety, but it will also likeable, not to assess their policies on Syria, Israel or fracking. The American Dream is an individuality project, and it is killing us collectively.
As long as we function as individuals, our ability to solve complex social problems will fail us. With the coronavirus spreading across the globe, we literally have a social emergency that makes us want to wrap ourselves safely away from others. These so-called solutions—wearing masks, working from home, canceling travel—make sense to us at one level, because our lives and daily habits are already arranged this way. The habits of individual and personal solutions precede us. However, at a deeper level we feel the distance between the growing and more intense social emergency and the organizations of our daily lives. Individual solutions feel incommensurate and isolating.
Local and global social arrangements as cloaked actors
If the current story of the coronavirus would have us think that our attention should be on the sneezers, the mask-hoarders, and the cruise-takers, we are making the case to look at what the coronavirus is telling us about the larger arrangements that shape our lives. As Ed Yong wrote in The Atlantic, “We see a time when scientific research and the demand for news, the spread of misinformation and the spread of a virus, all happen at a relentless, blistering pace. The new crisis is very much the kind of epidemic we should expect, given the state of the world in 2020.”
How can we use this moment to question our lack of universal health care, or how the Trump administration’s xenophobic “public charge rule” (which enables federal officials to deny green cards to immigrants who use social safety net programs) might make all of us less safe? What might COVID19 be telling us about the colluding arrangements that have perpetuated globalization, fake news, next-day delivery and mass incarceration? To find out, we suggest folks turn outwards—instead of inwards—to come up with new arrangements that are not just healthier, but also more just and more social.
What can we do?
1) Make the arrangements public.
COVID19 becoming a pandemic is an effect of numerous overlapping social arrangements including global logistics, nation states and their image management, different national health care systems, etc. How do we bring these arrangements into focus?
With a call to surface the arrangements at play, we could benefit from the knowledge and experiences of activists in other parts of the world and across multiple issue-areas, as well as from other types of problem-solvers, ranging from artists to healers, athletes, architects, cultural workers and more.
Truly turning outward and finding ways to move these conversations into the broader public would mean we could also learn from those who have insights gained from their own experiences with the larger social emergency. We could hear from immigrants and refugees who understand the cross-national movement of humans and goods, from queer youth who can teach us about powerful social networks that have kept them safe, and from the neighborhoods and towns who have faced school and factory closings that were much more permanent than what we are currently facing.
2) Deepen and prolong this time shift.
One opportunity we have with COVID19 is to build our capacity to jump out of our everyday routines when faced with crisis. Although this temporal shift is happening to us vertically (being imposed on us by our government, jobs, schools, or larger logistical operations like airlines, trains and the like), it is shifting us out of our daily routines. Now we have the opportunity to horizontally—collectively—decide to stop living as if everything is okay, when it isn’t. We have been advocating for this stepping out of ordinary time since Ferguson, when we came out with a short piece called A Case for Social Emergency Procedures.
Beyond the coronavirus, there are so many reasons we need to horizontally stop and address the arrangements of our current social order. What if instead of going back to our lives when COVID19 wanes, we decide to sit out our daily lives until we get serious traction on climate, state sanctioned violence, stealing indigenous lands, immigrant detention centers and the like? What if we acted like we are actually in the global crisis we find ourselves within? Maybe this pause caused by COVID19 can be continued in ways that force society to look at the entirety of the social emergency.
3) Imagine ways to rebuild publics when the time is right.
When the spread of the coronavirus finally wanes, we anticipate that we will be left as a population that is even more individually wrapped and isolated than before. Some of us will be yearning to get back into contact with others, while many will be suspicious of others or anxious about public spaces. How do we rebuild a vibrant public? What is at stake if we don’t?
Instead of letting the coronavirus amplify and solidify our impulses to individuate, isolate and hunker down into our daily lives, we are making a call for the opposite. We are making the case that as soon as possible, activists turn our attention to rebuilding the public, along with our partners who create collective spaces in schools, mosques, libraries, museums, etc.
Activating public spaces to bring people together will break our habits of isolation and individuation and help us lean into collective healing, sense-making and problem-solving. It will give us chances to see each other, to acknowledge our humanity but also to say, “How do we take on these arrangements?” Can we step far enough out of our individually wrapped solutions to create new, more effective, just and collective ones?