This week the world saw a phenomenal rise in COVID19 infections and many countries are debating whether to end the lockdown or endure mass starvation/homeslessness. Couched within this dilemma, is really a variant of the age old question beloved by teachers of political science, “Reform or Revolution?”
We already have calls to sacrifice “the weak” and the elderly for the “sake of the economy” coming from the United States. In India, the lockdown policy has already starved hundreds of thousands, if not millions, with no plans, food, shelter, testing or treatment in place for millions of Indians who travel from one province to another, searching for work and food. This phenomena is witnessed in many large third world countries, and highlights regional disparities in capital investment, agriculture, employment, and centralization of state and government services, a management tactic inherited from previous colonial administrations.
Regardless, the seven weeks of lockdown in India and in the U.S. has engendered a schism in capitialist society’s stories about itself. It is impossible to look at COVID19 statistics and not see how racialization and caste-ization of poverty throughout the world accounts for communities who are suffering disproportionately under the brunt of this virus, though it was supposedly the rich, whose travels in the age of global neo-feudalism, that are responsible for outbreaks outside of China. In India, such politics are complicated by the rise of an Islamophobic government on the best of servile terms with the ruler of the United States.
Around the world, the cry of “Will we die by hunger or by COVID?” is matched by dairy farmers and egg famers throwing away production in an age of unaffordability, Nestle giant Coca Cola sucking water dry from the earth and poisoning the earth in other places.
And we all saw earlier this week how in India sixteen workers, travelling with no support, by foot back to their village walked dozens of miles to Aurangabad, Maharashtra station, where they hoped the Central Government would allow trains to run to transport people back to their villages. Assuming that the lockdown meant that no trains were running at the time, the men fell asleep at the tracks and were killed by a train.
For those of us with disabilities and compromised immunity, the coronavirus contagion is loaded with particular fear. Like the elderly, our bodies are already dealing with underlying issues, some of which are already being treated for, and some for which there is no reliable big pharma treatment but sometimes symptomatic help. Over the last six weeks, being a news junkie, I have read both fact and fiction, been inundated with both hope and fear.
But today, I realized again my place in the world. As the prime minister of the country I live in, pleaded for social distancing and self-isolation, he never mentioned people like us, with disabilities that already make accessing healthcare a massive issue. He spoke of grandparents and health care workers, but those of us who were not wanted before this pandemic must be careful, because we are not even on the social radar.
This is why so many people are blithely going about their day as usual, not realizing that being possibly asymptomatic, can affect those next to you, whose health histories and disabilities you know nothing about. Clearly the problems we face in places like Canada are quite different than in the former “3rd world”.
But not really. Consider that more than eighty First Nations Reservations are without running water and potable water, at a time when all public health experts agree we cannot wash our hands and bodies too much. Consider the price of fresh food— greens and fruits, eggs, meat, milk and water in our Northern Communities. Communities where money can always be found to exploit, but never to help.
Consider that in a country with land and wealth and climate extremes, we have thousands of homeless people. Just two blocks from where I am isolated, hundreds of women have come to use social services for poor and homeless women and trans-women. These women are already suffering poverty, inadequate housing, and nutrition, and are absolutely on their own when in comes to mental health, as poor people seem to be these days.
Consider that for 2 weeks I went to 14 inner city big box and other stores and was able to come home with a carton of eggs, 1 litre of milk and a box of tea. Friends have had to help me gather supplies for the lockdown, as the combination of illnesses i suffer from made it impossble for me to continue going on my Sisyphean quest for food and hygiene products for more than two weeks. Now more than ever we must echo Marx’s observation that “Man (sic) is a social animal”. Without the solidarity and kindness of other humans, I would not have coped alone.
Capitalism is coming apart at the seams. Rent, taxes, consumption, travel, transportation, medical systems, everything is in flux. We are held hostage by a few billionaires that would rather see us die, than provide basic medical equipment and supplies without profit. The buying and selling of stocks and commodities is still continuing apace, bailed out by those governments with the most to lose when it all comes crashing down.
Anxiety is a factor in this pandemic, precisely because everything is so nebulous and uncertain. Mental health workers who actually care for their patients are arranging for phone and Skype check-ins. This too is so important for many of us. I was advised to order some medications in a bigger supply, but already hypertension medications are experiencing supply chain issues as those with insurance have been able to get 6 month supplies.
Finally, friends have come through with phone calls, and FB chats, singalongs and virtual socializing. Love is also in the air.
But let us not lose sight of those of us, who have added susceptibility and dismiss them/ourselves as paranoics or hypochondriacs. The very absence of statements about our value to our country— to all countries , shows me that people should take this seriously, because we persons with disabilities too, would love to live and thrive in a post- COVID 19 world, rather than be victims of social ethos in which eugenicist culls by virus are going to be “the final solution”.
The United Nations has declared February 20th as World Social Justice day. In this era, social justice is like a carrot dangling before humanity while the vast majority of us are being beaten with sticks. So, social justice is an aspirational desire, a desire to remediate the wrongs of past times and current ways of ruling. I hope every single day, to see signs of positive and crucial social change.
In the area of women’s rights, even as we expand our notions of “femininity” and “masculinity” to include non-biologically sexed people, there is so much to do. Women and trans-women who are the victims of violence all over the world, are really at the bottom of the barrel. Our lives are de facto worthless, if we are Indigenous, South Asian, of African descent, East Asian, even more so.
This is so evident when we examine murder statistics (flawed and manipulated, though statistical data may be) from Mexico ( 2,795 in 2017), India (between 8000-5000 dowry deaths per year), South Africa (2930 in 2017-18 ), Spain ( over one thousand women killed in 8 years), Australia ( approximately 52 women per year) and the United States (approximately 1600 in 2018 ) and Canada (118 in 11 months in 2018, or 1 murder every 2.5 days ). In Cuba, pressure from local women’s organizations and activists is pushing for statistics on violence against women and a new integrated law of gender violence that will allow the state and the social services sector to keep track of violence aginst women. 2016 saw about 50 women murdered by male partners and intimates.
Rape statistics and/ or lack of, are also horrifying. In India, over 300, 000 are reported to police, leaving another 3 million unreported annually, as experts have pointed out, due to social and familial stigma, rape and sexual assault are the most under-reported crimes. In Mexico, thousands of women are violated daily with a reported rape rate of 12.6 per 100, 000 and about 3 million reported rapes in the 2010-2015 period.
As we are well aware, rape and sexually motivated violence is the least reported, with official figures representing approximately 10% of actual cases globally. Biased and misogynist legal systems and law enforcement in every country in the world, makes sure that it will remain that way. In Canada, one in three women experiences some kind of partner assault in her lifetime. The violence against women of Indigenous descent has reached horrific proportions, a genocidal violence that is rooted in the making invisible of native cultures and nations.
Discussing women’s wages, social and economic opportunities and acquisitive power, we see that the gender gap prevails here as well throughout the world. I have seen how the gap in wages translates in housing vulnerability for women at even higher rates than for men, in one example. Disproportionately, women also shoulder child rearing and housing costs as well as actual child-care.
In terms of other social justice issues, and there are so many— racism and imperialism rank among the highest impactful issues on the planet. In North America and Europe, racism saves employers, corporations and states trillions of dollars in historical and current under/unemployment, substandard housing and education. Racism makes huge profits for war industries, law enforcement related industries and municipal developers, furnishing companies that supply concentration camps and public and private prisons, and has fostered generations of white supremacist involvement in armed foreces and armed law enforcement.
It is almost incomprehensible the ways in which “othering” and inferiorizing the lives of billions of people for the profit of a few white men and their families— global oligarchs— shapes our world view through the media and social networks. As many have argued the intersection of oppressions by race and gender as well as social class, account for the ways our very lives are shaped and the type of opportunities that may be afforded to us.
If we add disability to the mix, poverty is an almost constant factor in the lives of people with serious and or chronic health conditions, as employment seems the last place in our lives where we might expect accomodation, though we live in capitalist societies that measure all our worth in terms of what we “do” (read, earn) occupationally.
Even the left plays into this bourgeois meritocracy. That is why, we so rarely see images of disabled people speaking about the complexity of their lives or political belliefs. They ( by which I mean, we), are relegated to speaking only about “disability”. Having an affiliation to paid, and well-paid employment at that, certainly gives “privilege” to those who are able-bodied but within our own social class.
These horrific underlying social inequalities shape every aspect of our lives. Women, not safe in their homes, or on the streets, live in a state of permanent alert that starts when we are little children. People of colour, indigenous people, colonized communities and nations, are constantly prevented from lifting the yoke of subjugation that presses down on our human capacity and potential.
Social Justice Day is a day to take stock of all the work we have done in our countries and globally, while confronting the fact that we have barely begun to tackle the enormous overarching issues that literally, shape, and delimit our lives.
I’ll leave you with a poem from a writer whose words echoed in my head and got me through the cult-like environment of law school so many years ago. Chrystos is a Menominee lesbian poet whose work addresses our real lives. Instead of growing up on the reservation, she was reared in the city around Black, Latino, Asian, and White people, and identifies herself as an Urban Indian.
MAYBE WE SHOULDN’T MEET
IF THERE ARE NO THIRD WORLD WOMEN HERE
How can you miss our brown & golden
a thin red scream
in this sea of pink
But we’re here
meeting & didn’t contact the Black Lesbians or G.A.L.A. or Gay American Indians or the Disabled Women’s Coalition or Gay Asians or anyone I know
You’re the ones who don’t print your signs in Spanish or Chinese or any way but how you talk
You’re the ones standing three feet away from a Black woman saying
There are no Third World women here
Do you think we are Martians
All those workshops on racism won’t help you open your eyes & see how you don’t even see us
How can we come to your meetings ifwe are invisible
Don’t look at me with guilt Don’t apologize Don’t struggle with the problem of racism like algebra
Don’t write a paper on it for me to read or hold a meeting in
which you discuss what to do to get us to come to your
time & your place
We’re not your problems to understand & trivialize
We don’t line up in your filing cabinets under “R” for rights
Don t make the racist assumption that the issue of racism
Like many people with poorly understood disabilities and conditions, I have heard every possible advice that people’s grandmothers, parents, aunts, doctors, naturopaths, second cousins, and their neighbours might possibly have to offer.
Headache. Oh, just do this, and it will go away. My aunt/doctor/grandmother used to have them. but after they did this one thing, they went away forever!
Endometriosis/Adenomyosis. Oh poor you, your period’s hurting you, huh? I never had that problem, but my best friend in high school had wicked cramps. She used to get to stay off school! She loved it!
Yes, I did my naturopathic training in a clearing in the forest. All the fairies and elves sang and danced in a circle after i was intiated. That’s why I don’t have a certificate, see, fairies don’t give them.
Anyway. Basically, you take off your underpants and then we’ll have you squat over an aromatic fire heaped with herbs that will cleanse your yoni, and enter into your womb, purifying it and getting rid of the growths very gently (read over numerous sessions at $150/session).
Yes, I’m aware this is unusual, but it’s often when we’re excruciating pain-either mental or physical- that we’re willing to take risks! That’s why I’ve been trained as well by a Mayan shaman!
You’re in severe chronic pain? Try to verbalize what that might sound like! (Sobbing and groaning). Good, good. Now direct that healing sound to the spot that hurts most. You know, you might be paralysed facially because you need to learn how to express yourself differently. This is a teaching!
Arthritis. Why dont you try drinking a shot of rum every morning on an empty stomach that had garlic steeping in it for a month? My mother/gardener/veterinarian does that and she swears by it!
Why don’t you try doing weights and conditioning the joints that hurt? Because they hurt too much to hold the weights, obviously! Have you tried skating? It really strengthens the ankles!
Have you tried drinking green tea at 4 hour intervals? It will burn fat and decrease inflammation! While turning me into more of a raving insomniac than I already am?
If you wear shoes with lumpy gel points, it’s like a constant massage on your feet as you walk. Totally cleared up my grandmother’s foot pain, you must try it!
Having fatigue and inflammation? My guru and I drink our own pee and we’ve found it worked wonders for our wellness and skin issues. Have you considered it? You must start low and slow, you know!
Then there are the doctors
These are the people we generally trust to be able to help, guide and minister to us in some of the most terrible and bewildering times of our lives. If you are a person who doesn’t go to the doctor much, perhaps you have a friendly and benign relationshp with them. But, if you have complex and unclear multi-systemic issues, going to the doctor can provide you with the same laundry list of offerings as those above—except these ones come with warnings and side effects as long as your arm.
Got a headache? Try every kind of migraine abortificient whether the side effects are well-known or not. Take Gravol for the nausea. If you have chronic nausea, you can take Ginger Gravol!
Swollen arthritic joints ? Try Lyrica and gabapentin which will help with the nerve pain caused by discs compressing onto your nerve and pinching it.
Chronic pain? Have you tried trazadone, tramadol, fentenyl patches, hydro-morphone? And then they bemoan the opiod crisis.
Feeling depressed? Try paxil, effexor, celexa, amitriptyline, etc, etc, and if you feel even more anxious than you can have Xanax. If the rebound anxiety from the Xanax unexpectedly kicks you in the butt then you can pop an Ativan. If the Ativan doesn’t do the trick than you can have a long acting clonazepam or klonopin as it’s sometimes known!
Have you been offered medicines/ treatments, where the prescribing doctor reassures you, oh we don’t really know how it works yet, but I’m sure you’ll be fine?
All of these interventions and remedies purport to bring some relief and ease to me and people like me. I have been offered every one and many others, and have even tried some, which benefited me for short periods. But I have come to realize through the experience of being ill and my frequent interaction with the medical system, that all these enigmas of blood, flesh, nerves, bone which are me— are always complicated by that MEness, because my brown skin, non-Anglo name, and gender and sexuality are as much factors in my health care— along with class and percieved class status— as in everyone else’s. How could it not be otherwise?
We are ourselves engaged in multiple and sometimes overlapping constellations of social relations wherever and who ever we are.
They are bound to be the foundation through which other relationships are built, in particular the reciept of goods and services, of which health care unfortunately is one.
Health care ought to be a basic human right administered by and carried out by those who fully understand the human in human rights.
But until that day comes, we are doomed to vie for human status in front of the masters (whether they be male or female or non-binary or trans) of our health care— encased in our bodies with their telling tales of burning hands and feet, flu-like symptom, chronic and sudden fatigue, disabling insomnia, erupting skin, sudden weight loss or gain. Encased in our bodies with their headaches and paralysis, their swollen knees and aching hips, stiff necks, and even stiffer upper lips!
If you are interested in this topic, I’ll be following up in future posts from time to time!
I’ll leave you with some good and much needed discussions about the multiple evils plaguing our health care systems in both the U.S. and Canada.