Enduring Connections Sustain Us Through Crisis
by Megan Douglass
There is an old Swahili proverb that has stuck with me ever since I first read it years ago, “Undugu wa nazi hukutani chunguni: The brotherhood of coconuts comes about in the pot.” This old adage conveys the notion that, those who may be difficult to convince of the shared nature of our existence, or who refuse to work together under ordinary circumstances, are opened up (softened) enough to unite with those around them during challenging (boiling) times.
This wisdom comes to me once again as, around the globe, human beings face their fears of catching an incurable and deadly virus, practice social distancing, are placed under stay-at-home orders, are being quarantined, and are in self-isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic. As government agencies struggle to mitigate the crisis, we are reminded that the answers we seek to the suffering witnessed during this crisis have been long within us. The networks that mutual aid groups have set up so quickly and so thoroughly is a form of struggle against the unjust social and economic systems that have infected our communities.
COVID-19 has laid bare the failings of our current economic and political system to foster a healthy society. Indeed, if a worker who is sick can’t take time off to heal or care for a family member who needs to heal, we all suffer. If a family doesn’t have access to freshwater in order to wash their hands or bodies, in order to be able to cook nutritious foods, in order to heal, either because it’s been shut off or poisoned, we all suffer. If people are afraid to go to a doctor or a hospital when they feel sick because it could literally bankrupt them, we all suffer. When children aren’t able to have access to proper meals, educational resources, and teachers and schools don’t have the financial resources needed to support them, we all suffer. When our communities are attacked and targeted through unchecked policing and legal practices, and our friends and families who are incarcerated are left uncared for and vulnerable to disease and poverty, we all suffer. And, when we allow corporations to decimate our environment in the name of profit, we all suffer. This is what the coronavirus is showing us. These fights that everyone has been waging against these injustices aren’t just about one group of people over there— they are about ALL of us, EVERYWHERE.
Thankfully, because of the hard work that so many people have been doing for so long, when this crisis hit, these connections weren’t hard to make, and calls to action went up immediately. Around Michigan, this work has been invigorating and inspiring. Detroit Disability Power is working to ensure that the disabled community is receiving timely and accessible information as the crisis unfolds; at ROC United, they are working hard to help service industry workers who have been laid off to find resources and get access to unemployment benefits; Frontline Detroit, We the People of Detroit, Black Lives Matters, LGBT Detroit, Engage Michigan, Oakland Forward, The Pontiac Policy Council, We the People MI, Detroit Action, and the Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition, are all working to ensure that members of their community have access to clean water, accurate information, food and supplies. 482Forward and SE Michigan Jobs with Justice are fighting to bring equitable funding for our schools, infrastructure, and water needs; Michigan Liberation and The Detroit Justice Center are circulating petitions and a list of demands to ensure the safety of those who are currently incarcerated; Mothering Justice is engaging elected officials to host town halls, and offer resources to mothers and parents who are adjusting to a new social landscape; Clean Water Action, NextGen, and the Michigan League of Conservation Voters are all working hard to engage voters, young and old, around issues of climate justice and its connection to our rights as citizens; and organizations like Doing Development Differently Detroit and Michigan Voice are thinking hard about how everyone is included in city and organizing discussions now that much of our world has gone virtual, as it’s still not a given that everyone in our society has access to technology. At For Our Future MI, we are working hard to amplify the voices of workers currently on the front lines around Michigan in order to let our leadership know, it’s time to do the right thing.
And, because the Earth is who she is, she’s been helping as well. As human activity has ground to a halt; as we try to protect ourselves and our loved ones from harm, images from satellites and data from scientific monitors are showing the lowest carbon and nitrogen dioxide levels in the atmosphere in decades. Rivers that were once murky from human use are running clear.
These organizations and our earth are showing us that other futures are possible and that much of the work to get there has already been done. People across the state, country, and globe, who just weeks ago may not have seen the connections, are calling for the kinds of policies and changes that are long overdue, and our political leaders are being forced to take these calls seriously and finally interact with them in a real way. Healthcare for all, living wages and paid sick time for workers, just and equitable treatment for those who may be on the brink of poverty over one utility bill, a recognition of why it is so important for us to be good environmental stewards— many are seeing, as a lack of these kinds of protections now threaten their own lives, that, far from “radical”, these policies are just common sense. As we mourn for those who are being lost to Covid-19, we must also remember all of those around the globe who have been in crisis for years, and never turn our backs again on those who are most vulnerable.
As we think then about what it means for us to move past our tough exteriors, and come about together, right now in this boiling pot, one thing is clear— it’s time to pay attention and take control of our collective voice. In the pamphlet, “Change Yourself to Change the World,” put out in 1979 by the National Organization for An American Revolution, of which Jimmy and Grace Boggs were founding members, we are challenged to do just this, “because we dare to believe that people can and want to live differently, we also believe that we can change ourselves and the society we live in. We believe that new people can create a new society in which we relate to one another and to our environment in ways that encourage our collective and creative potential or our human character. This we believe because we understand that the real determinant to how we are going to live is us.”
Megan Douglass is the Deputy Communications Director at For Our Future Michigan, a cultural anthropologist pursuing her PhD with a focus on decolonized methodologies and sustainable movement building, a mother, and lifelong advocate for the human rights of anyone deemed “the underdog.” Her favorite saying is “if you aren’t angry, you aren’t paying attention.”