Politics is the ongoing debate over who and what gets to thrive and survive, and it is always personal.
Abortion. Gun control. Immigration. Police violence. The MeToo movement.
A dozen political issues, a dozen debates that we seem trapped in, condemned to repeat. It's been four decades since Roe v. Wade, and women's access to abortion seems as fragile as ever. Since the Sandy Hook massacre, there have been 2,402 mass shootings in the United States, and yet we don't feel any closer to passing common sense gun legislation than we were eight years ago. The American federal government has come to a complete standstill, but the poison runs deeper than that; at every level of human existence—political, cultural, artistic—we have lost the ability to meaningfully alter the status quo. We have the same arguments that we did eight years ago, we listen to the same types of music, and all the movies are sequels or franchises or reboots. We are a stopped culture.
It's a concept cultural theorist Mark Fisher referred to as the "slow cancellation of the future," part of his broader theory of Capitalist Realism—the notion that, as neoliberal hegemony continues, the people living under it will increasingly lose the ability to imagine a future different from the present. A mood has settled over America, a sense that things simply are the way they are. Massacres are common, police brutality happens regularly, abortion is difficult and precarious, healthcare costs are insane, and the government has no power (or will) to stop any of it from happening. The whole world is telling us, consciously or not, that nothing can be done. So what does all this have to do with the modern phenomenon recognized as "grievance politics?"
Simple. When we feel our politics have lost the ability to affect our lives, the only issues that seem to matter are personal ones.
If society is stuck, if we lack the power to change it and make it the way we want it to be, the only thing we can do is own each other—on Twitter, on stage, or in the voting booth. No politician can actually pass any legislation, but if the right ones win then the people on the other side will get upset. In turn, you might feel good for a little while, and maybe even convince yourself that your interests are being represented even though they're not. In modern mainstream political discourse every issue is disguised by one question: Who is "triggering" who? The whole world is telling you that nothing will be done about mass shootings or police violence or rape culture, but you can own the "Bernie Bros," and feel like you're owning all of the people in your life that you don't like.
That's how we got Trump. Whether or not they'll admit it, very few people really believed, in the logical parts of their minds, that Trump was ever gonna build his stupid wall. How could he? That would involve something happening, and nothing ever happens. The MAGA crowd, in a real sense, have as little power to bring about their ideal world as we do (thank god), because they can't stop us from agitating about inequality or gun control or kneeling for the national anthem. But when Donald Trump wins, college kids cry. And triggering the libs is as close as they can get to a victory.
If there's one good thing about the COVID-19 pandemic that is gripping the nation, it's this: We can no longer deny that our politics have a very real, very material impact on our lives. However, and this is important to stress: Politics is the ongoing debate over who and what gets to thrive and survive, and it is always personal. The pandemic has brought it home to the most privileged and insulated among us, but if you are vulnerable, if you are poor, if you are a racial or sexual minority, if you are a victim of gun violence or assault or our rapacious healthcare system, you have felt the effect of our politics in your life every single day. It's more important than the feeling it gives you, and it's more important than who's triggering who, and that's going to become more and more clear as we continue to suffer the consequences of a civil infrastructure that has spent the past forty years being ransacked.
Mainstream politics has always operated under the delusion that nothing was ever going to really happen. It would threaten to happen, it would almost happen, but it never actually would. Well, something has happened. Maybe now something can be done about it.
Probably not, though.
Prisons and coronavirus is a particularly dangerous combination, one that could lead to disaster.
As the whole world slowly self-isolates and New York City shuts down completely, prison inmates remain in close quarters, making prisoners extremely vulnerable to exposure.
Prisons and coronavirus is a particularly dangerous combination, one that could lead to disaster. "Jails and prisons are often dirty and have really very little in the way of infection control," said Homer Venters, former chief medical officer at Rikers' Island. "There are lots of people using a small number of bathrooms. Many of the sinks are broken or not in use. You may have access to water, but nothing to wipe your hands off with, or no access to soap."
Inside prisons, it may be nearly impossible to successfully separate sick patients from well patients. Outbreaks are inevitable, and healthcare in prisons is often lacking to begin with.
Because of this, most public health officials are arguing that the best solution to the problem is mass release. According to the Marshall Project, Mark Stern, the former Assistant Secretary for the Washington State Department of Corrections, has suggested "downsizing" prison populations in order to ensure inmate and staff health and safety. Downsizing might involve releasing low-risk prisoners and proposing alternatives to arrest for certain crimes.
David Falthi, director of the ACLU's National Prison Project, puts it more succinctly. "The only effective response is to reduce the population density by releasing people," Fathi says, "starting with those who are most at risk of severe injury or death if they were to contract the virus." In particular, people who suffer from preexisting health conditions and other vulnerable populations like older people, ought to be sent back to their families where they can isolate and be taken care of.
"Across the U.S. we have built a system of punishment that is traumatic, and this is only increased with the coronavirus," said Becca Fealk, an organizer with the American Friends Service Committee of Arizona. "ADC must do more than just provide soap to reduce the chance of an outbreak. They need to release people, including older/aging adults who can be cared for by their loved ones."
Many prison administrations have insisted that they're complying with the CDC's guidelines with regards to their incarcerated populations, but if prisons aren't providing inmates with basic human rights and living supplies—and if even Tekashi 6ix9ine can't get to a doctor—how can we expect them to take care of people during an outbreak?
Prisons Begin Releasing Inmates—But Is It Enough?
Faced with a public health crisis that could lead to mass deaths, prisons all around the nation and the world are taking note. Alameda County plans to release 250 inmates, per NPR, and Los Angeles jails have also begun releasing nonviolent inmates. In New Jersey, up to 1,000 inmates will be released this Thursday, including those serving for parole violations and those serving municipal court convictions. In some places, prisons and law enforcement are coming together to reduce their inmate population. France has delayed or suspended short-term sentences, reducing daily prison admissions from 200 to 30.
These actions garnered support from Senator Kamala Harris, who tweeted that the Bureau of Prisons should release "all low-risk inmates, including those who are in pretrial detention because they can't afford to make bail."
Some jails are also beginning to waive copays in an effort to make sure their incarcerated populations receive healthcare.
"The state's decision to temporarily suspend the $4 copay — the equivalent of a week's worth of work at the prisoner minimum wage of 10 cents an hour — for people reporting cold and flu-like symptoms is a step in the right direction," said Prison Law Office attorney Corene Kendrick, "but it exposes how counterproductive it is to have such a barrier to seeking care. Unfortunately, prior to the COVID-19 crisis," she added, "We regularly heard from incarcerated people that there were shortages of hygiene supplies such as toilet paper and menstrual products." Many incarcerated people's families wind up paying for their hygiene and healthcare.
The coronavirus crisis is exposing the flaws in many institutions, and mass incarceration is just one of them. All these revelations beg deeper questions about why inmates weren't given these supplies or opportunities in the first place. Activists have been asking these questions for years, and the tragedy of the American carceral system has come to the fore in the case of migrants enclosed on the U.S.-Mexico border and in ICE facilities across the nation.
In three ICE detention centers in New Jersey, prisoners are currently on hunger strike in protest of poor conditions and coronavirus risks. One detainee told Vice that his fellow inmates are being kept in a small room without access to soap or even cleaning supplies.
"They say they are locking us in so we can be protected," said a current hunger striker named Olisa Uzoegwu. "But they don't do anything different. The cells stink. The toilets don't flush. There's never enough soap. They give out soap once a week. One bar of soap a week. How does that make any sense?"
This week, hundreds of doctors and thousands of activist organizations expressed this concern about these issues, flooding ICE with letters demanding that they release their overcrowded detention centers. The only crime committed by inmates in these facilities is usually non-sanctioned entry to the United States. Despite all this, ICE is still making arrests. Agents were spotted tracking down undocumented immigrants in San Francisco the day of the state's lockdown.
A Global Issue and a Gathering Storm: Colombia, France, Iran, and the US Grapple with Prison Risks
But the coronavirus pandemic is a global issue, and prisons all around the world are facing questions about how to handle incarcerated populations and prison employees. In some cases, inmates are taking things into their own hands. In Colombia, a prison riot left 23 inmates dead. Prisoners were rioting in protest of overcrowding and poor health services that they felt left them at an extreme risk. Riots have also broken out in prisons in Brazil and Italy.
The largest prison coronavirus outbreak in the nation is in New York City, with 38 inmates at the Rikers' Island prison testing positive; 20 have been released, and 200 more will be tested today. In As Mayor Bill DeBlasio considers whether to release 200 more people, 551 people serving "city sentences" for minor offenses and another 666 serving for technical parole or probation violations (like missing a drug test or a parole check-in) are trapped in Rikers alone. These are nonviolent offenders who do not deserve to be exposed to a potentially deadly virus. Still, the New York Police Chief has said that his officers will not cease making arrests, even though 70 officers have tested positive for COVID-19.
All across the nation and the world, jails are releasing inmates. Why they—especially nonviolent offenders—were there in the first place begs a different question. For now, the most important thing is to open the jails and let the people go. Short of mass release, prisons should not be arresting new inmates outside of extreme circumstances; they need to take more precautionary measures, institute comprehensive testing and quarantine, and follow protocols like those called for by the Federal Defenders of New York.
"A storm is coming," wrote Ross MacDonald, the chief physician at Rikers. "We have told you who is at risk. Please let as many out as you possibly can."
How to Help
In the meantime, anyone concerned can make a call to their state representative and inquiring about their current efforts; calling airports and prisons using this script from the New Sanctuary Coalition; participating in actions and protests like those being hosted by the Never Again Action, donating to the ACLU, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and other similar organizations.
Here are the facts about #hantavirus.
One of the most searched terms on the Internet right now is "hantavirus." This comes in the wake of reports out of China that a man who died on a bus Monday tested positive for something called hantavirus. Global Times, an English-language Chinese news outlet, tweeted, "He was tested positive for #hantavirus. Other 32 people on bus were tested." The tweet has now been shared more than 15,000 times.
This immediately sparked rumors of a new pandemic poised to sweep the world before we even have a chance to get the coronavirus (COVID-19) under control, and #hantavirus soon began trending on Twitter. Luckily, there is accurate information out there about hantavirus. Here's what you need to know.
What is a Hantavirus?
By this time, everyone knows that the novel coronavirus that has caused international turmoil since originating in Wuhan, China, jumped from an animal host to humans. A coronavirus is any virus that originated in animals. Similarly, hantaviruses are a family of virus that spread through rodents. But there are key differences: According to the CDC, hantaviruses spread to humans as a result of close contact with rodent urine, droppings, or saliva, and scientists and doctors have been aware of them since the 1950s. According to the CDC, "Hantaviruses in the Americas are known as 'New World' hantaviruses and may cause hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS). Other hantaviruses, known as 'Old World' hantaviruses, are found mostly in Europe and Asia and may cause hemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome (HFRS)."
The CDC goes on to specify, "The hantaviruses that cause human illness in the United States cannot be transmitted from one person to another." Not only that, but hantavirus infections are exceedingly rare.
What are the Symptoms of Hantavirus?
Symptoms of HPS include,"Fatigue, fever and muscle aches, especially in the large muscle groups—thighs, hips, back, and sometimes shoulders. These symptoms are universal. There may also be headaches, dizziness, chills, and abdominal problems, such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. About half of all HPS patients experience these symptoms."
The CDC informational page on the virus goes on to say, "Four to 10 days after the initial phase of illness, the late symptoms of HPS appear. These include coughing and shortness of breath, with the sensation of, as one survivor put it, a '…tight band around my chest and a pillow over my face' as the lungs fill with fluid."
In contrast, HFRS is characterized by, "Symptoms [that] begin suddenly and include intense headaches, back and abdominal pain, fever, chills, nausea, and blurred vision. Individuals may have flushing of the face, inflammation or redness of the eyes, or a rash. Later symptoms can include low blood pressure, acute shock, vascular leakage, and acute kidney failure, which can cause severe fluid overload."
Is the Disease Fatal?
HFRS has a fatality rate of 5-15% while HPS has a fatality rate of 38%.
Could Hantavirus Turn Into a Pandemic Like Coronavirus?
The answer is, simply, almost definitely not. Human to human transmission of hantavirus is exceedingly rare, particularly in the United States where it is unheard of. In fact, the CDC specifies, "To date, no cases of HPS have been reported in the United States in which the virus was transmitted from one person to another." Meanwhile, it is possible for HFRS to be transmitted from person to person, but it is extremely rare and unlikely. So much so that it is essentially impossible for the virus to travel between people at such a rate as to cause a global pandemic.
How Can I Avoid Getting Hantavirus?
According to the CDC, to get infected with HFRS, one must be exposed to, "Aerosolized urine, droppings, or saliva of infected rodents or after exposure to dust from their nests. Transmission may also occur when infected urine or these other materials are directly introduced into broken skin or onto the mucous membranes of the eyes, nose, or mouth. In addition, individuals who work with live rodents can be exposed to hantaviruses through rodent bites from infected animals." Transmission of HFRS from one person to another is extremely rare.
Meanwhile, if you live in the United States, you have even less to worry about as HPS cannot be passed between humans. The majority of cases of HPS in the USA are caused by deer mice (with some cases caused by cotton rats, and rice rats in the southeastern states, and the white-footed mouse in the Northeast). The virus can be contracted through the air when fresh rodent urine, droppings, or nesting materials are disturbed or otherwise stirred up, which can cause tiny droplets containing the virus to become airborne. It can also, more rarely, be contracted through rodent bites, food contaminated by rodent waste or saliva, and possibly by touching something contaminated and then touching your face. But just because you may have come in contact with a rodent nest does not mean you will contract the virus, as HPS infections are still very rare and not all rodents carry the virus.
Should I Worry About Hantavirus?
No, unless you're someone who frequently consumes or comes in contact with the kinds of rodents who may carry the virus, you have nothing to worry about. Even if you think you may have come into contact with a rodent nest recently, it is unlikely that you have contracted this virus. Additionally, HFRS (the version of the virus the man who died in China Monday likely had) rarely jumps between people, and there is no evidence that the infected man transmitted the virus to anyone else. Of course, if you have been around an infected person or rodents and have fever, deep muscle aches, and severe shortness of breath, see your doctor as soon as possible.
Look on our works, ye mighty, and despair!
There is a saying that it is easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism.
Entrenched systems of power have established bulwarks against the kind of institutional reform that younger Americans have recently been pushing for. By controlling the political conversation through lobbying, control of mass media, regulatory capture, and authoring of legislation, the ultra-wealthy maintain the status quo in a way that makes changing it seem impossible. The problem is that change is desperately needed if we are going to maintain any semblance of civilization.
While political dynamics have become so rigid that the boundaries of what we can achieve begin to feel impenetrable, the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed that the vital structures of our society—a society that is superficially so robust—have been so weakened that a collapse in one form or another is inevitable. We are the world's superpower, yet faced with a slightly more contagious, slightly more lethal virus than the flu, we are powerless. How did it get to be this bad? How were we so blind to it?
To clarify, depending on the part of the country you live in, it could seem like I'm exaggerating. It may not seem "so bad," or like we're on the verge of collapse. Not long ago the president and many of his loyalists on Fox News and AM radio were still calling dire forecasts around the coronavirus a hoax. At the time it seemed reckless but not unhinged from current events—which were still largely unaffected. In much of the country there is little cause for alarm, so few people are doing much to change their behavior. That's about to change, and the areas hit worst will soon be making the dire choices that Italian hospitals were recently faced with—which patients are we going to hook up to ventilators, and which are we going to allow to die. We are already started on a path that leads to overflowing hospitals in every major city.
A makeshift testing facility in Seattle, Washington Getty Images
The problem is that our entire economy is set up around the same kind of short-term thinking that drive publicly traded corporations. The mentality that "government should be run like a business," leads to cost-cutting measures that only look to the current budget, with minimal consideration given to the kind of intermittent crises that we are bound to face—like a viral pandemic. If it's not particularly likely to happen before the next election cycle, it's better not to even worry about it. This is the kind of thinking that led Donald Trump's administration to push for cuts to the CDC and to disband their global health security team in 2018.
But the systemic issues go much deeper than that and started long before Trump took office. Trump and his ilk can't be blamed for the fact that the US has two hospital beds for every 1,000 citizens. Nor are they responsible for the fact that almost every aspect of America's critical infrastructure receives a near-failing grade from the American Society of Civil Engineers. This includes airport congestion—which has already become an issue with the current pandemic—and important shipping routes that we will rely on to maintain the movement of necessary goods as conditions around the country worsen.
Add to those issues the fact that we have a massive population of prisoners sharing tight quarters with poor sanitation, a substantial homeless population with no way to quarantine, a dearth of worker protections like paid sick leave, and it becomes hard to imagine how we'll get through this unscathed. And, of course, this is still ignoring the elephant in the room—a for-profit healthcare system that discourages millions of uninsured and underinsured Americans from seeking medical advice or treatment until it's too late.
Meanwhile, the economic hardships imposed by the necessity of social distancing are being exacerbated by an economy that is heavily reliant on the whims of financial speculators who create an echo chamber of divestment that heightens every crisis. The stock market, in other words, is going crazy in the worst possible way. It's too soon to say how thoroughly the weaknesses in our system will be tested by the developing pandemic, but even in the best case scenario they are going to be strained to a terrifying extent.
Fortunately, there are efforts underway to shore up some of the most obvious breaking points so we can avoid complete societal collapse. They may turn out to be too little too late, but even if they get us through this current disaster, how long will it be before the next one hits? The best models of climate change predict that we are nearing an era that will be ruled by powerful natural disasters and refugee crises that will threaten economic stability and critical infrastructure and may heighten the threat of infectious diseases. Temporary, reactive measures cannot save us if the next crisis hits a little harder or when multiple crises overlap.
A strong social safety net like the one the US tried to develop under FDR would serve to mitigate the damage from this kind of crisis. But modern American politics has worked for decades—in an effort that became an object of worship under Ronald Reagan—to whittle the welfare state of the New Deal and the Great Society down to a fragile bare minimum.
We need to take seriously the voices of politicians like Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who have called for the kind of broad, sweeping legislation that stands a chance of upending the rigid political dynamics that maintain the status quo. The Green New Deal would be a good start. The alternative, one way or another, is the end of our civilization and the world as we know it.
Don't listen to everything you read on the Internet.
There is a lot of misinformation about COVID-19 spreading across the Internet, and as the pandemic worsens, its more important than ever to keep yourself informed. Recently, France's Health Minister, Olivier Veran, tweeted that "taking anti-inflammatory drugs (ibuprofen, cortisone…) could be an aggravating factor of the infection".
While there is reportedly very little clinical evidence to support this, medical professionals said that ibuprofen is still not recommended for managing coronavirus symptoms. Of course, those already taking ibuprofen for other conditions should not stop without consulting a doctor.
The UK's National Health Service recently updated their website to say, "there is currently no strong evidence that ibuprofen can make coronavirus (Covid-19) worse... until we have more information, take paracetamol to treat the symptoms of coronavirus, unless your doctor has told you paracetamol is not suitable for you."
So, while we wait for more information, it is best to avoid Ibuprofen for the treatment of coronavirus symptoms and to instead opt for paracetamol (also called acetaminophen). So, stock up on Tylenol and keep washing your hands, but most of all, always consult with your doctor about what's best for you.
You must be very concerned about what your favorite companies are doing during this global crisis.
For most Americans, the COVID-19 pandemic has turned life as we know it upside down.
From school and restaurant closures to quarantines and social distancing, the American people are largely waking up to the fragility of our social systems. But for corporations, and especially marketing professionals, a new art form has emerged from amidst the chaos—the COVID-19 e-mail.
The COVID-19 e-mail, as an ideological concept, is quite simple. If major corporations are your friends, as American culture has attempted to establish time and time again, it follows that you must be very concerned about what they're doing during this global crisis. Sure, you might be a bit worried about how to feed your children when your paychecks aren't coming in and the schools are closed, but how could you sleep at night without knowing that Chipotle is safe? And yes, while it sucks that your grandpa might die without you even being able to enter his room for fear of spreading the virus to others, imagine how much more it would suck if GameStop didn't let you know what they were up to during these perilous times?
But fear not. All of your favorite corporations are right there in your e-mail inbox, detailing exactly what they're doing to prevent the coronavirus from spreading (short of shutting down while continuing to properly pay their employees).
While many Chipotle employees were upset that Chipotle was continuing to disregard sick leave laws even after the pandemic had already reached New York, Chipotle kindly assured us that their protocols were already "industry-leading." So even though it's scary that your significant other is coming down with an awful cough, hopefully knowing that Chipotle already supplied Purell sanitizer to their employees can take a hefty weight off your shoulders.
As an asthmatic, I think I can speak for all of us when I say that learning about GameStop's newly assembled "internal COVID-19 taskforce dedicated solely to this issue" is like aloe to the lingering burn of realizing that my compromised immune system makes dying a whole lot more likely. There's only so much that we can do to protect ourselves, so it's comforting to know that GameStop's "taskforce" is watching over everyone.
As Benjamin Franklin once said, "In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes." Indeed, this deadly pandemic has arrived in the middle of tax season, so it makes sense that many of us have been waiting on pins and needles to hear from our good pal TurboTax. Happily, they are continuing to "closely monitor, assess and respond to this situation" and, by all accounts, are planning to stay functional as a business with products that exist entirely online. I was upset enough about my brother being homeless after his out-of-state college dorm closed down, so it's great to know that at least TurboTax has their sh*t together.
Even while we're socially isolated, it's incredibly important for us to maintain our sense of community. After all, we're still a social species. Sadly, many of our human friends have been too ill or preoccupied with their lives falling apart to spend hours chatting online. There are few feelings quite as painful as wishing you could help the people you care about but knowing that doing so very well might make everything a whole lot worse. Free People understands this. "Whether you have questions about a pending order or shipment, where to find a coveted dress, or are simply looking for someone to talk to, we are always here for you," they promise. I hope that none of my loved ones die during all of this, but if they do, I'm genuinely grateful to know that Free People is there for me.
There's no reason that being stuck alone in your apartment needs to mean that you can't go all out. That said, if you want to keep your make-up supply stocked through an indefinite period of isolation, you're going to need to hit up Sephora while you still can. Yes, logically a company whose store model revolves around sampling shared display make-up should probably stop that practice for the good of literally everybody at the first sign of a global pandemic. But that's why Sephora wants you to know that they are "cleaning all display testers with disinfectant multiple times per day and replacing as needed." Who would Sephora be if not your fun, trendy friend who lives life on the wild side. If looking good means spreading just a little bit of coronavirus, so be it.
Personal story: One time before human society started imploding, my girlfriend and I were walking around New York City and had a sudden craving for cookies. A quick Yelp search directed us to a nearby cookie shop called Schmackary's. While checking out, I entered my e-mail for their reward point system or something, thinking that if the cookies were good, I might come back at some point. I do live in New York, after all. In truth, I don't crave cookies often and, in time, I forgot about Schmackary's. But that's the thing about long lost friends; even after years, they were still a part of your life, and sometimes it's nice to have the peace of mind that, while the sky falls down around you, an old friend is doing okay. Even as I run out of food and worry about paying my rent, even as my loved ones fall ill around me, even as paranoia sets in, my heart is filled with joy thinking about how Schmackary's is going "above and beyond in order keep our bakery safe and clean."
You can turn your panic into action—from the comfort of your own home.
Coronavirus is everywhere, and it's almost impossible to avoid being affected in some way—just like it's almost impossible to avoid all the news coverage about it.
It's also easy to feel helpless as people around succumb to fear and panic. But what we really need right now is to come together—not in person, but from our computer screens, in our neighborhoods, and with whatever platforms we have.
Here are five ways to turn your fear into action and help out during the coronavirus pandemic.
1. Stay inside
There is nothing more important than self-isolation right now. Though it may feel counterintuitive, staying indoors is the absolute best way to prevent more people from acquiring the illness. If you are young and healthy, you still need to stay inside, because anyone can be a carrier of the virus without knowing it—and you could easily pass the virus along to more vulnerable populations, so going out right now is an incredibly privileged way to show that you don't care about other people.
"If you are healthy, but infected, and feeling fine, you not interacting with other people is going to slow this virus down," said Dr. Joshua White, a chief doctor at Gifford Medical Center.
Avoid bars, clubs, and even hangouts with your friends until things start to clear up. Simply having one person over could be enough to spread the virus. It's incredibly difficult, but now quarantining is the best way anyone can use their time. If you have to go out and work or if you have other responsibilities, just use every precaution you can.
It's also important to stay healthy yourself during this time. Don't overdo it with reading the news, don't spread misinformation, and take the steps you need to conserve your own mental and physical health.
2. Donate or support an organization providing emergency relief
The cancellation of school means many kids will be left without school lunches. Local food banks can really use your help right now. Meals on Wheels and the Center for Disaster Philanthropy are running major disaster response efforts. Use this website to find food banks in your area, and if you're seeking a charity to give to, check out this list of trustworthy organizations from Charity Navigator.
Support vulnerable communities like Navajo and Hopi families living in food deserts, incarcerated people, immunocompromised people, and migrant workers.
A few immediate actions you can take now that don't involve money: Text COVID19 to 747-464 or call 1-844-633-204 and ask your state senator to pass the State Coronavirus Bill, which includes the Families First Coronavirus Act. Or, per the NDWA, call 1-855-678-4150 and demand that domestic workers receive paid sick leave.
3. Support the arts, restaurants, and other affected industries
Many people have been left without a source of reliable income during this time. Restaurants are suggesting that you purchase gift cards to use in the future when they're open again, so support your local spot in this way.
You can also donate to freelance artists, either on an individual scale, by purchasing their products, or by supporting funds like the Immigrant Small Business/Freelancer Fund and the Performing Artist Emergency Micro-Lending Grants. If you're able, don't request refunds from venues or services that have been cancelled because of the virus.
There are many resources online for freelance artists. If you are an artist or know any and want to help, check out this comprehensive resource doc.
Sex workers will also be hit especially hard by this crisis. Consider supporting the Emergency COVID Relief For Sex Workers in New York or looking up ways to help in your own country or community.
4. Join a neighborhood movement organization
While isolation is important, if you're able, it's helpful to join a mutual aid fund or check in on your neighbors in whatever way you're able. Be conscious of the fact that, though the coronavirus can affect anyone, everyone has different levels of ability with which they can respond to the crisis. Some people can't afford two weeks of groceries or hand sanitizer, and some people will be left completely alone during this time. Other people already dealing with extreme effects of issues, like mass incarceration and environmental racism, will not have access to necessary precautions and safety.
You can use this flier to check in with your neighbors, check out this guide for help creating a neighborhood pod, or use this form to start your own neighborhood Slack. Check out this doc for more information about mutual aid in general. Or, just send a message to anyone you know who might need help and support to get the ball rolling. It's important to support each other now and deepen our connections, even as we become more divided from each other in terms of physical distance.
5. Stay informed
While it's important to limit your exposure to coronavirus news, it's also important to make sure you're sharing accurate information and helping others sift through the noise instead of adding to it. Understand how coronavirus discourse can play into ableist hypocrisy, racism, and xenophobia, and how other preexisting conditions created by economic inequality and systemic issues can determine who gets affected by the virus. Read perspectives from people who need help, set aside a specific time to do your own research, take action instead of constantly scrolling through panicked posts, make a donation plan or a list of five organizations to donate to, keep an open mind as circumstances change, and stay healthy, friends.
We want to hear your voice. Want to add your organization or resource doc to this article, know someone who's doing amazing work, or want to guest post on the Liberty Project? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
A personal essay.
I've lived in New York City for the past year. About a week ago I moved to London to be with my long term partner. You may be thinking that international travel was a bold decision given the rapid global spread of COVID-19. Truthfully, it barely crossed my mind.
I bought my plane ticket to London about a month ago, when the novel coronavirus was still just a headline, not a reality in my life. I'm 23-years-old, don't have any health problems besides a history of Lyme's disease, and I have access to healthcare. I'm not in the demographic that needs to worry over every flu and cold for fear that it could be fatal; and besides, I've been nowhere near the places where the disease is most rampant.
So I set off from Dulles International Airport in Washington D.C. to Heathrow Airport in London on March 3rd with only the vaguest fears about COVID-19. If anything, I was admittedly pleased to find my flight unexpectedly empty thanks to people's fear of the virus keeping them from traveling. As always, I wiped down my seat with antibacterial wipes as soon as I boarded, used hand sanitizer throughout the uneventful journey, and made sure to wash my hands frequently.
Upon landing at Heathrow, I was met with a bizarrely sparse customs line, something I was also exceedingly grateful for. There were no temperature checks or other indications that the virus had reached London. I got my luggage from the carousel and stacked my bags on a luggage trolley, waiting for my partner to arrive at the airport.
Flash forward a couple of days, and I find myself repeating for the second time that day that I might be coming down with a cold.
I take my temperature to find that it's about 100.5 Fahrenheit. I take nighttime cold medicine and go to bed. The next morning I find the fever has persisted, and with it has come a hacking, wet cough. Assuming it's the flu, my partner calls a doctor and lists my symptoms. They ask about international travel, and upon learning that I passed through Heathrow, they inform us that two baggage handlers at that airport have just been confirmed to have COVID-19. This means that, technically, I've been exposed to the virus. We're told to remain in the house for two weeks at the very least but certainly as long as symptoms persist, and if my illness progresses such that I need medical attention we are to call an ambulance and inform them about my exposure status, so I can be transported safely. Both my partner and I immediately start taking my symptoms a lot more seriously.
For the first several days, I had a fever on-and-off (pretty effectively suppressed with day time cold medicine and ibuprofen), a sore throat, plugged ears, nasal congestion, and a hacking cough that caused me to feel breathless if stood upright too long. From Friday, March 6th to today, March 9th, I slept essentially 24-hours-a-day, only waking up to eat (my appetite was not as impacted as I would have thought). Today, I woke up without a fever and feeling stronger than I have since arriving in London. My cough persists, but now I just feel like I have a bad cold or a mild case of bronchitis.
Whether or not I have COVID-19 is still unclear, as I have not been definitively tested, but my symptoms fit perfectly with those described on the NHS website, and I know I've been in an infected airport. For the most part, my illness has felt like the flu with a particularly bad cough. Most of all, my illness has caused me to wonder how many people have mild cases like mine and were told, when they contacted a doctor, to recover at home.
How many cases are governments across the world keeping under wraps because they're discouraging people from seeking medical help? How many people across the world are staying home from work but still going to the grocery store, waiting out what they think is a bad cough? If I am infected with COVID-19, I'm lucky that I seem to be on the path to a relatively swift recovery. I'm also lucky in that I was economically able to take the time to rest and recover. But how many people will feel the relatively common and mild symptoms I felt and still go into work out of economic necessity? How many immunocompromised people will be infected because a doctor wouldn't test some other person because their symptoms were comparatively mild? How many elderly people will die because Trump's strategy to keep American COVID-19 case numbers low is to simply not test?
If I am infected, then I can tell you that COVID-19, for me, felt very similar to the flu or any other run-of-the-mill upper respiratory infection. I can also tell you it absolutely flattened me for several days, and I'm a healthy young adult. I can't imagine how badly I would have felt if I were elderly and immunocompromised. Our governments have to come up with a better strategy for testing, even mild cases, and they have to do it soon. Because, if my experience is any indicator, it's already far more widespread than we think.
Lies and cover-ups resulted in failed containment.
As the number of coronavirus cases worldwide rises to nearly 80,000, experts say the renamed COVID-19 is "almost certainly going to be a pandemic," with some saying it already is "in all but name."
But public information about the latest coronavirus, which describes a group of viruses that have crown-like spikes on the surface of the virus, has disseminated slowly considering the novelty of COVID-19. While coronaviruses are common and include SARS and MERS, they commonly cause mild to moderate respiratory infections similar to the common cold. However, COVID-19 is a new form that has caused serious respiratory illness in individuals with compromised immune systems, killing over 2,100 individuals worldwide. That's more than twice the number of deaths caused by SARS and MERS combined.
In China, where the virus originated and the vast majority of cases and nearly all of the casualties have taken place, the government has gone from being commended by the World Health Organization for their swift response to the disease to vilified by the international health community. Despite the government enforcing strict quarantines, the virus has continued to spread. What mistakes were made?
First, the Chinese government's strict media censorship resulted in Chinese citizens remaining unaware of the virus weeks after the government shared the information with the international community. Government officials not only limited the spread of information but downplayed the severity of the virus and its ability to spread from person to person. Writer Youyou Zhou of Quartz details how the doctor who first tried to warn the global community about the dangers of the virus, the late Dr. Li Wenliang, received a warning letter from the Wuhan police. Dr. Wenliang was one of eight doctors who were "reprimanded for [their] illegal activity of publishing false information online." He was forced to sign a statement that admitted he had violated the law and "seriously disrupted social order."
Zhou concludes, "The delayed information disclosure by the government combined with the population migration during the lunar new year caused the virus to spread quickly all over China. By Feb. 13, 1,383 have died from the virus around the world, and all except three took place within mainland China. On the same day, Beijing replaced the top officials of Wuhan and Hubei province with new party officials to contain the outbreak."
Second, when Dr. Wenliang himself was tested to have contracted the virus on January 11, officials should have publicly confirmed that the virus could be transferred from person to person. Instead, they issued straightforward denials that there was "no proof" that human transmission was possible. The Wuhan Health Commission only admitted how quickly the disease was spreading and its severity when confronted with irrefutable proof, with inconsistent numbers given in multiple reprots.
Third, when Dr. Wenliang, age 34, died on February 7 in Wuhan, the Chinese government took steps to suppress news of his death. Once word spread, the Chinese public grieved and expressed widespread frustration and anger at the government's censorship, which had proven to cost people's lives. On China's social media app Weibo, "We want free speech" trended with almost 2 million views before being censored.
Ultimately, the Chinese government's authoritarian censorship, cover-ups, and direct lies to the public resulted in failed containment of the coronavirus at the very outset. Global concerns about the virus have intensified due to doubts about the accuracy of the data released by the Chinese government.
But other global agencies are also being placed under intense scrutiny in regards to their response to the coronavirus. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has been criticized for waiting to declare the outbreak a global health emergency.
Now, with a global pandemic "almost certain," government lies and cover ups have irrefutably resulted in an international health risk that may have been preventable if the Chinese government had practiced transparency and put human lives above party lines.
And what can be done about it?
A recent document leaked by the Chinese government has proven something that many of China's detained Uighur population and the global human rights community have known for a long time: China's central government is detaining groups of people on the basis of their religion and culture.
The new data leak contains comprehensive information on over 2,000 detainees being kept in China's detention camps, which have locked away almost a million members of ethnic minority groups, mostly Muslims, since 2014. Once again, the database proves that China's authoritarian government has been locking away people not only for religious extremism, but for activities as simple as going to a mosque.
The Chinese Communist Party has vehemently denied accusations that it's imprisoning people as a method of religious persecution, but by now it's clear that's what they're doing. What's less clear is what might be done about it—and what will happen to the nation's prisoners now that the coronavirus poses a serious threat.
Who Are the Uighurs?
The term "Uighur" has a complex history, and its definition is largely contingent on who is defining it. In general, the term refers to a group of Muslims who are indigenous to Central and East Asian nations, according to BBC. They are usually thought of as having descended from the 8th and 9th century Turkish Khaganate empire, but many migrated from present-day Mongolia to present-day Xinjiang, where they joined with an ancient indigenous population and eventually converted to Islam en masse.
According to loose consensus, the term resurfaced in the 20th century when the group—with help from the Soviet Union—declared independence from colonial China in the first half of the 20th century. They were brought under Chinese control in 1949, when the Communist party took hold and ended the Uighur's experiments with independence. Today, like Tibet, Xinjiang is considered an autonomous nation but remains under China's authoritarian control.
According to many activists and spokespeople, Beijing authorities have persecuted the Uighur population for decades, restricting their cultural and religious activities. On the other hand, according to China's central government and its diplomats, the Uighurs are waging a violent campaign for an independent state, and by detaining them, China is acting out of necessity.
What's Happening to the Uighurs?
Today, the worldwide consensus is that the Uighurs are the subject of tremendous persecution in China, a persecution that was fastidiously hidden by the Chinese government for decades.
In November of 2019, The New York Times leaked 400 pages of documents that exposed China's efforts to detain Muslims en masse in the Xinjiang region. "Even as the government presented its efforts in Xinjiang to the public as benevolent and unexceptional, it discussed and organized a ruthless and extraordinary campaign in these internal communications," wrote Austin Ramsey and Chris Buckley for The Times. "Senior party leaders are recorded ordering drastic and urgent action against extremist violence, including the mass detentions, and discussing the consequences with cool detachment. Children saw their parents taken away, students wondered who would pay their tuition and crops could not be planted or harvested for lack of manpower, the reports noted. Yet officials were directed to tell people who complained to be grateful."
In essence, Uighur peoples were taken in massive numbers from their homes and detained in concentration camps, and the story was kept out of the global press for years. Rumors of the existence of China's Uighur prisons began to emerge in global media when Google Earth satellite software captured pictures of massive prisons in the deserts of Xinjiang in 2018. Interviewers and investigators who pressed the matter were told by Chinese diplomats that the camps were "re-education centers," and as news of the camps grew, the Chinese government began to release propaganda about its education initiatives.
Eventually, it became clear that Uighur detainees are subject to highly illegal abuses. They are forced to praise China's ruling party, to learn Mandarin, and to renounce their sins—which might include going to a mosque. People living in the camps have said they were forced to exercise and beaten when they could not follow the proper laws and regulations set by authority officials. "There was a special room to punish those who didn't run fast enough," said 29-year-old Ablet Turson Toti, who was detained in a camp in Hotan, in the south of Xinjiang. "There were two men there, one to beat with a belt, the other just to kick."
Uighur communities have been destroyed by Beijing's imprisonment and conversion initiative. "Every household, every family had three or four people taken away," said Omer Kanat, executive committee chairman of the World Uyghur Congress. "In some villages, you can't see men on the streets anymore—only women and children—all the men have been sent to the camps."
The non-detained also face persecution, forced to surrender passports to CCP government officials and prohibited from practicing Islam and wearing headscarves and subjected to "anti-extremism laws." Subsequently, many Uighurs have fled the country, living as refugees in Turkey and other nations, forced to lose contact with family members.
Why Is This Happening?
Ostensibly, the ethnic cleansing of the Uighurs is an effort on China's part to unify China, and to transform and deradicalize Muslims.
"Penetration of everyday life is almost really total now...You have ethnic identity, Uighur identity in particular, being singled out as this kind of pathology," said Michael Clarke, an Australian National University professor and expert on Xinjiang.
On another level, it's all about political power. In part, a rise in Islam may have led to the CCP's fears that the Xinjiang peoples could unify and rebel against the Communist government, as they had done in the first half of the 20th century."Why are Uyghur persecuted?" writes Massimo Introvigne for the World Uyghur Congress. "Although fears of 'separatism' may play a role, basically the answer is that they are persecuted because the strong revival of Islam among them scared the regime. The CCP was, and is, afraid that the Muslim revival may expand to other non-Uyghur Muslim groups in China, and join forces with a revival of religion in general that may one day overcome the CCP's rule. The logical conclusion is that, although no persecution is ever purely religious, the Uyghurs are indeed victims of a religious persecution."
On an even deeper and more complex level, what's happened to the Uighur peoples is inextricably connected to capital and lines of profit, which cross oceans and connect major powers like the United States and China—and leave indigenous populations like the Uighurs in the dust. "The mineral wealth—in particular oil and gas—of a region almost five times the size of Germany has brought huge levels of Chinese investment, rapid economic growth and large waves of Han Chinese settlers," writes John Sudworth for BBC.
Despite the U.S.'s recent determination to denounce the Uighur government, no major power is inculpable. "In today's world, authoritarian politics and predatory commerce cooperate to exploit 'cultural differences.' Nowhere is this point clearer than in the symbiosis in recent decades between Western corporations and the Communist elite in China," argues Ai Weiwei in an op-ed for the Times.
That symbiosis reached a head during the post-9/11 era. In recent years, the United States has joined with the United Nations to denounce abuses of the Uighurs, but actually, the United States was instrumental in revving up early anti-Uighur and anti-Muslim sentiments. After 9/11, many members of the Uighur population were painted as potential allies of Al Qaeda, though little corroborative evidence has surfaced regarding these claims. Some 20 members were detained without charge and possibly tortured in Guantanamo Bay. "For years, the United States has been at the forefront of promoting an abusive counterterrorism architecture at the United Nations and has been allied with China on many of these efforts," says Letta Tayler, a Human Rights Watch expert on counterterrorism.
For their part, Muslim nations have also failed to protect the Uighurs. "Many risk looking like hypocrites over their own records of human rights abuses if they confront China—or risk imperiling lucrative partnerships," writes Joseph Zeballos-Roig for The New Republic. He identifies "deepening economic relationships, coziness with authoritarianism and the allure of a "Confucian-Islamic" alliance against the West" as "[outweighing] the political willingness of Muslim governments to act."
What Can Be Done About All This?
What can people around the world do about the ethnic cleansing occurring in China? While it's tempting to fall back on an argument that the United States and major global powers should embroil themselves in China's affairs, this impulse has been a historically unproductive and dangerous habit rooted in a white savior mentality which usually leads to further turmoil. Instead, the United States should use its economic power to pressure China and Middle Eastern allies into changing their ways on the basis of human rights violations.
Already, lawmakers in Washington are pushing the Trump Administration to place sanctions on China, many of which enjoy bipartisan support. This is on the right track, for "the most effective resistance to the treatment of Uighurs is increasing the public-relations costs for Beijing," write Daniel Bessner and Isaac Stone Fish for The Nation. "The State Department should publicize this issue in other Muslim countries, particularly influential American allies like Saudi Arabia, and among China's neighbors, especially Pakistan and Kazakhstan, with the hopes of increasing international pressure to end the ethnic cleansing."
Activist groups, they continue, should "pressure groups like the ABA to publicly criticize China while simultaneously compelling universities to embrace their commitment to free inquiry," and specifically, "the left should encourage civil-society groups to use their connections to politicians to push for programs to resettle Uighurs—and dissent-minded Chinese—who desire to move to the United States. And," they conclude, "it goes without saying that this must be done with the active participation—and indeed, leadership—of Uighurs themselves, who understand the needs and interests of their community better than any outsider."
In 2020, due to the onset of the coronavirus, presses around the world are calling for the Beijing authorities to release prisoners. "These camps, where as many as 3 million people are detained, are at risk of becoming death chambers," writes Abdul Majakbid for USA Today. "The World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a public health emergency this month, yet China's government, the WHO and the United Nations are apparently so far silent about the potential danger to the detained Uighurs." In fact, there are rumors that China is sending Uighur citizens to Wuhan, the epicenter of the virus. In light of the Uighur population's vulnerability to the virus, there are calls for the United States to levy sanctions against Chinese authorities unless they comply with global calls to inspect Uighur prisons and protect the detained from the virus.
It's important to remember that in spite of China's undeniable human rights violations, the United States is embroiled in its own human rights abuses, specifically on the U.S. border—so it may be hypocritical to fixate on China without first healing some of the crisis in this nation. Plus, much of the critiques that exist about China and coronavirus have xenophobic aspects of their own.
Still, all of these abuses are interconnected, rooted in xenophobia and racism that stems from neoliberal capitalism and a global reliance on oil.