Mickey Z. -- World News Trust
June 1, 2020
“To build community requires vigilant awareness of the work we must continually do to undermine all the socialization that leads us to behave in ways that perpetuate domination.” (bell hooks)
Every evening, at 7 p.m., widespread cheering for essential workers is still happening in many places across the globe. Here in hard-hit NYC, it’s become a healing, communal ritual.
As of now (I say oh-so-tentatively), mitigation tactics seem to have averted an all-out collapse of medical resources in my hometown. Health care workers -- with their unique skillsets -- have bravely and effectively done their part. Undoubtedly, they will be called upon again and again as we navigate Covid-19 peaks and valleys for the foreseeable future.
Perhaps, as you bore witness to the efforts of nurses, doctors, etc., you wished you could offer more than applause. Maybe you hoped for your chance to step up and pitch in.
Good news: We require an entirely new set of essential workers now and you won’t need a degree, specialty, or certification to join their ranks.
Social distancing tactics helped prevent the overwhelming of hospitals but not without some painful trade-offs. It may take decades to fully assess the holistic impact of the lockdown -- particularly as it pertains to issues like mental health, privacy, surveillance, and the overall social contract. We’re already paying a steep economic price.
Since there are too many moving parts to speak in specifics, I’ll paint with a broad brush:
To keep this article practical and realistic, I will focus solely on the third outcome.
As I write this, some geographical areas are experiencing a tentative reopening. Others are just now bracing for peak infection. Regardless of your location or timetable, there will be a profound amount of small-picture, direct relief work needing to be done. The only (imperfect) comparison I can make from my personal experience is “Occupy Sandy.”
Hurricane Sandy was the strongest, deadliest (at least 233 killed across the United States), and most destructive (nearly $70 billion in damage) of the 2012 season. It impacted New York City in a major way -- from Far Rockaway to Staten Island and beyond.
At the time of the superstorm, I was heavily involved with the many remaining offshoots of Occupy Wall Street (OWS). In a flash, “Occupy Sandy” was formed and sprung into action. The volunteer network covered a lot of ground -- literally and figuratively -- and our efforts would become some of the most meaningful and effective work I’d ever done. Unlike traditional “activism” (marching, chanting, holding signs, etc.), the focus was on tangible, short-term direct relief. Among other things, members of Occupy Sandy (OS)…
One of the most astonishing OS accomplishments was garnering some positive mainstream media coverage for OWS veterans!
At the top of that astonishment list, however, is a lesson that must resonate widely in any kind of “post”-pandemic world: Occupy Sandy worked side-by-side and hand-in-hand with religious groups of every denomination, FEMA, the Red Cross, countless local organizations, and companies like UPS (drivers would show up with their trucks at OS collections hubs -- ready to drive supplies, free of charge, all over the five boroughs).
The collective vibe got to the point where the NYPD even started directing groups and individuals to OS hubs.
The point being, we didn’t look down our noses at doing grunt work, we didn’t demand purity litmus tests when it came to collaborators, and we rejected the traditional “radical” trope of refusing to focus on “symptoms.” As a longtime observer of activism groupthink, I know how challenging it can be to drag the anarchy crowd away from their long-term theory and into the realm of short-term action. But it happened, for the collective good.
This is not an ideal comparison, however. There was a finish line for OS, a way of measuring recovery. For most New Yorkers, Hurricane Sandy is now just another story. Over time, most of the OS and OWS structures disbanded or crumbled but a few connections lingered and some volunteers remained committed to doing such work in other settings.
With Covid-19, there is no clear destination. It’s all about the journey and even then, the twists and turns never stop coming. The social distancing era is here to stay and we, as individuals, lack the influence to change that fact. To recognize this does not have to feel like surrender. It is simply an acceptance of reality and within such acceptance lies the roadmap.
Breaking news: We don’t have to know how this ends in order to make a difference now.
Regardless of who you voted for, which news network you prefer, or how you feel about the official pandemic responses, you can help those in need. In that process, you can line up beside people of different religions, backgrounds, ethnicities, classes, and beliefs. I’m not talking about some pollyanna mythology. I’m merely suggesting we try checking our individual biases and opinions at the door and try occupying a beginner’s mind. In such a state, we may rediscover the reality that community can transcend ideology.
What does this mean? What does it look like when community transcends ideology? I have a few ideas but since I’m mostly unsure, I’d love to hear your thoughts, ideas, and input.
P.S. As you do your best to avoid dying, please don’t forget to keep living, too.
Mickey Z. can be found on Instagram here. He is also the founder of Helping Homeless Women - NYC, offering direct relief to women on the streets of New York City. To help him grow this project, CLICK HERE and make a donation right now. And please spread the word!