In the Era of COVID-19, Collective Grief Is Rebellion

Kelly talks with author and organizer Cindy Milstein about reclaiming collective grief and resisting fascism.

Note: This is a rush transcript and has been lightly edited for clarity. Copy may not be in its final form.


Kelly Hayes: Welcome to “Movement Memos,” a Truthout podcast about things you should know if you want to change the world. I’m your host, Kelly Hayes. By the time this episode airs, on Wednesday, May 27, over a hundred thousand people in the United States will have been lost to COVID-19. Worldwide, more than 350,000 people have been lost. As the death toll continues to escalate, some of us have been deeply concerned about the lack of commemoration of these massive losses. Despite measuring the crisis in increments of 9/11, we have not seen anything like the wave of memorials and vigils that followed the collapse of the twin towers in 2001. Tonight, a collective memorial I co-organized will play out on social media. It is not the first online memorial and it will not be the last, but as we cross this terrible threshold of losing 100,000 people, a shared moment of empathy, love and grief feels necessary. Tonight, at 6 p.m. Central Time, people will flood social media with the names of people who have been lost to COVID-19. People will post and tweet out names, stories, art and performances in honor of those we’ve lost. Anyone can participate, by the way, and I will be including the social media kit for this event in the transcript of this episode for folks who want to join in. All offerings of names, artwork and performances are welcome. This will be an eclectic memorial and everyone will bring their own beauty and perspective to it. What matters most is that whatever people choose to extend will create points of connection. And in that connection, we can process loss together and dream of what comes next.

Some people might question whether collective commemoration is a worthwhile priority right now, with everything that people are up against. From unemployment to personal loss and the economic coercion of a reopening economy, our plates are full, and most of us are perfectly aware of the numbers. But what have we made of those numbers, and what have we allowed them to become in our own minds?

In April, I co-organized the Mutual Aid Mourning and Healing Project, to connect people who’ve lost loved ones with clergy and other assistance to put online memorial services together. That original vision quickly expanded to include volunteer assistance from therapists and death doulas. It was clear to me then that many people did not have the resources they needed to process the losses they were experiencing. Even in the best of times, some losses are so severe that they rip apart the emotional landscape of a person’s reality. To move on from such a loss, we more or less have to build a new world. The process of letting go of what was is often a process of uplift and recitation. To let go, we need to be assured that the person we lost, the reality we lost, does not simply exist in our own minds. The people we mourn out loud exist in our words and our stories, and in the minds of those who listen to us. When people are denied that grief process as individuals, despair is a likely outcome. When people are denied such moments en masse, our connectedness is imperiled, which, in turn, warps our relationship with death. Without a larger sense of connection, we are lost, wandering through the ruins of the reality we knew, unable to dream a new one into being.

And in the eyes of the fascists, we’re sitting ducks.

Over the weekend, I talked with writer and organizer Cindy Milstein about grief, commemoration, and why we’re working on the We Grieve Together Memorial. I hope you will find her words as thought-provoking and empowering as I did.


KH: Last week, activists, clergy, and volunteers with the #NamingTheLost project, read the names of people who had been lost to COVID-19 as part of a 24 hour online vigil. It was an important response to what the organizers referred to as a “gaping hole in how this country talks about this crisis and a narrative of death and sickness, mostly absent the sick and the dead.”

On May 27, which is the day this episode will be published, at 6:00 p.m., another memorial effort will be launched on social media. #WeGrieveTogether is an effort that some friends and I dreamed up to share the names of people who have been lost and to invite various forms of tribute, from artwork to performance and commentary. Today’s guest is a co-organizer of tonight’s online memorial and someone who I am so glad to have on the show for this discussion. Cindy Milstein is an author, organizer and death doula, whose work includes the anthology Rebellious Mourning: The Collective Work of Grief. Cindy is also a member of the Institute for Advanced Troublemaking, which holds an anarchist summer school. Cindy Milstein, welcome to the show.

Cindy Milstein: Thank you so much for having me. I feel really honored to be here with you today.

KH: How are you doing today?

CM: I think it’s a hard, it’s such a hard question these days. I think none of us are doing okay. And it’s okay, as the slogan goes, “it’s okay now to be okay.” I feel like the moment this happened, the first thought that popped up, the first word that popped into my head was grief and it has not left.

KH: I feel that. One of the reasons I was eager to have this talk with you is that I know we both believe that fascism is being bolstered by the suppression of collective grief during this pandemic. This administration has been in need of scapegoats since the moment Trump acknowledged this crisis, and Trump’s followers have pivoted dutifully from attacking Asian folks to blaming Black folks and Native people for their underlying health conditions. We’ve also seen the administration wielding conspiracy theories, giving people explanations, no matter how fantastic, to ground their intransigence in. Could you say a bit about where we’re at right now and how fascistic governments like ours are leveraging this pandemic?

CM: I guess I want to start out the way I guess I would understand this pandemic on a global level, not just sort of on the national border level, is that it is part of state and militaristic and capitalist violence, part of the degradation of the natural world, the ecosystem of which we are apart. It isn’t some natural occurrence. It is itself structured by the violence of colonialism, capitalism, patriarchy. So for me, all of our mourning of COVID-19 and the deaths and the other losses, as there’s many losses associated with it, I think we’re all mourning, so I really want to expand grief to be whatever the losses people are facing now, you know, loss of certainty, loss of homes, loss of loved ones in prisons, just the uncertainty of whether they’ll come out or not, or being able to see people, all these things are already structured by state violence. And unfortunately there’s also a simultaneous way, which has been in the works at the same time of a rise of fascism globally and forms of authoritarian social control. And when you merge this devastating global moment of pandemic with a global moment of a rise of fascism, to my mind, we’re at a crossroads of facing a choice between do we want sort of to go the direction of ecocide and fascism, or open our hearts up to imagining another world built on what I understand we see when we grieve together, which is life. We make life and we’re here for each other. We can be reciprocally, with unity and empathy and love and care, and ways between us to self determine and self-organize, not just our grief, but how we, we face all the sort of losses in life and the joys in life too.

So part of the devastation of this, to my mind is when we’re not able to access grief and all the, all the myriad emotions that go with it. Rage, which I understand is part of grieving, complete almost denial and not understanding what’s happening, which is also part of what’s happening for a lot of us when we’re not able to access that, it not only doesn’t let us grieve, but at this moment when, I would say almost all the losses that we’re facing right now are already structured, underlying them, by state colonial fascist violence. So the act of grieving to me is both an act of deep, personal and social bonds of love with each other, but it’s also an anti-fascist, anti-colonial and anti-capitalist anti-statist, and not in an instrumental way, you know, in a way like this should not be happening. Right? Which is, there’s an author named Peter Linebaugh, and he was, I was listening to a conversation he was on recently, and he was talking about the history of pandemics and the way people thought about grieving their dead and honoring their dead. And he said this beautiful phrase, which has really stuck with me: “What we need right now is a direct action of the grieving.” And by direct action, he doesn’t just mean protest. From my mind, what direct action is, is shutting down the things we don’t like that are killing us. The structures of death. But we’re also [taking] direct action to take back our lives and to produce and create forms of life between us and social connection between us. So I think almost more than anything right now, our grief has the power to make us feel more connected and make us feel more loved to make us feel more held. All the things that we feel we’re losing by this profound physical distancing that most of us are being compelled to do right now.

KH: I want to talk about your book Rebellious Mourning, but first, to give our listeners who haven’t read it yet a snapshot of why this book is so special, I want to share a passage. In the book’s introduction, you wrote: “I come to this anthology through my own pain. Yet it is inseparable from the pain of this world. I have traversed ‘the worst,’ sometimes deftly, oftentimes not; sometimes with others, too frequently alone. This pain laid bare much cruelty, some of it systematic, some of it due to socialization. One of the cruelest affronts though, was the expectation that pain should be hidden away, buried, privatized — a lie manufactured, so as to mask and uphold the social order that produces so many of our unnecessary losses. When we instead open ourselves to the bonds of loss and pain, we lessen what debilitates us; we reassert life and its beauty.” Those words resonated with me more than I can say, and I hope more folks will do themselves the kindness of getting a copy of this book. Can you tell our listeners a bit about the book and how this anthology came into being?

CM: I was experiencing multiple losses at the same time. And most of the deaths that I was grieving, most of the losses would not have had to happen in the wholly different world that we dream of. And so I struggled before the book was written to help a few people that I love be able to die well, and they would not have died well in the medical industrial pharmaceutical model. And all sorts of other structures that would have made them die really badly. And through that, through that experience, I wanted to write something myself but wasn’t able to. And I am really profoundly glad that it became an anthology. There’s about 36 voices and I asked people who are profoundly beautiful writers and able to write very poetically and vulnerably and honestly, and I wanted them all to write pieces that had an arc and a narrative, but didn’t have a happy ending or a neat little closure to show that, you know, this is a process that we’ve become more bonded to each other through the whole of our lives, through all the, again, the joys and the sorrows and everything that happens in her life. And all the pieces just are by people who are in frontline situations where they’re talking about forms of grief from climate, catastrophe from borders, murder by police, prison, humans dying, but also spaces dying, big cities dying because of eviction and gentrification, losses from loss of bodily autonomy when your body is violated. So it was looking at the whole range of losses that occur from all sorts of structural forces that we don’t choose, that we want to make profoundly different. What I meant by a rebellious mourning was the very genuine acts of gathering together to grieve in a very human way, that at the same time is saying, this should not have happened. There’s a couple of pieces in Rebellious Mourning about the AIDS epidemic, which is still going on, where people’s just very human grief among a group of people, who as gays and queers were already seen as disposable or not grievable, who were by and large rejected in a lot of ways by society. Suddenly we’re facing another sort of epidemic like we are now, and we’re seeing a lot of the same ways you introduced earlier. We’re seeing as people that somehow were at fault or we’re not worthy of being taken care of. So they couldn’t access hospitals and how they were evicted. They couldn’t access being buried. They couldn’t access all sorts of things. And the queer community created profound forms of caretaking, including underground hospices and underground burials and all sorts of ways of actually not just grieving, but caring for the dying and the dead during sickness, during death, and after, and through that were like, “this shouldn’t be happening.” So they took their grief to the street. But again, I really want to emphasize, not in an instrumental way where like, “Oh, we’re going to have a political campaign.” It was more just like, “Stop this, stop this.” Our heart’s broken. And the slogan from that time period was a “silence = death.” And part of Rebellious Mourning was at a time period when I was trying to live in the Bay area and was being evicted along with everybody else in an eviction epidemic. Because there were a lot of people that were being evicted for the second time that had been evicted during the AIDS crisis, some of whom had lost almost their entire communities. And sometimes after they would be evicted that second time, they would just die of heartbreak. And we made this gigantic banner that said, “eviction = death.” As a reverberation and homage to the AIDS moment, but also because our hearts were breaking. This was about six or seven years ago. Our hearts were breaking because the whole social fabric was being murdered off in the Bay area at that time, and to some degree still now. What that book was trying to underscore is one of the hugest losses is that we’ve lost our own ability and our own rituals and our own traditions and our own common sense to know how to grieve in ways that make sense for us. And somehow to my mind, people just literally sharing their stories together, it seems okay simple or not enough, but the power of that book is just these stories and there’s something about reading people’s stories and all their, the beauty, the bravery of them telling their stories and sharing it in a way that isn’t just me, me, me, but it’s a larger collective sense of humanity and life that is deeply … deeply part of a grief process. I don’t know. It’s transformative. It is the collective work of grief. So that book, the process of putting that together, almost everybody experienced grief while they were doing it. We grieved more while we were trying to write our pieces when it came out, there were 120 or 150 different grief circles as part of that. And almost all of them were in spaces where people were experiencing profound forms of loss in their communities from fentanyl crisis or death at borders. And those were remarkable, almost every single one of them. And so it isn’t a book. It’s, to my mind, it’s like us telling each other, there’s our stories with empathy that’s about listening with active curiosity and really holding and not trying to negate each other’s stories.

KH: In the minds of most Americans, extraordinary acts of violence have become profoundly ordinary. Now we are seeing the worst elements of what this country is capable of magnified and ramped up to the hilt. You’ve talked about how the losses we are enduring right now were already structured by the inequities that have informed the outcomes we’re seeing. Anti-Blackness, ableism, our obliviousness to the horrors of the prison system… we were already conditioned, on so many levels, to see these things as normal. So the normalization we’re witnessing right now is more of an expansion than an invention, but that expansion is significant and it is fascism. It has transformed prisons into death camps.

CM: I’ve been walking a lot every day, in my shelter in place or stay at home context, and I’ve been really struck by the profound lack in this entire time I’ve been walking every single day, I think I’ve only seen one, maybe two this entire time, any evidence of people expressing their grief in public or collectively, or any way, in a way that’s talking about the reality of what’s going on in the community and the spaces they live. And there has been, some of the white supremacists, I would call them fascists, who have been coming to state capitals and commingling very closely without masks and causing traffic jams and spreading virulent forms of nationalism, anti-BIPOC, and anti-Semitism and anti-female and queer, if you look at their signs, it’s pretty disturbing. But I wasn’t one of those places. So I drove, you know, the 15 minutes to see it from a distance in a car. And what struck me, what I tried so hard before, I’m in a place, I’m having to shelter in a place where, a community I don’t live in, so I tried really hard before to get other people to understand that this isn’t just a one off demonstration, that these people are, in a sense, part of the foot soldiers for experimenting on how to make sure elections don’t happen, as you said, or I feel like there’s going to be a coup or a civil war, which is going to look horrific, and it’s gonna, there’s gonna be a lot of mass death that is going to look really ugly at that point. And so I tried really hard to get people to take it seriously, and not to do a counter protest, not to go out there, but we could have done something in a different part of the community with cars or by hanging banners or talk about how it feels right now and what people need right now. So to me, all the work we’re doing right now is sort of antifascist work in the broadest sense. But we have to be saying that when we’re doing, you know, mutual aid and collective care and social solidarity and our own self-determined, rebellious grief care, that we’re doing it because we’re antifascist, we’re doing it because we want a world in which, to quote the Zapatistas, “Everybody fits.” We have to keep emphasizing that. A small percentage on the radical are doing that. But I think not nearly enough. And that’s not meant as a criticism so much as this is a remarkable moment in human history. It’s only been about two and a half months. And for us to begin to comprehend our own emotions and what we’ve all been going through, and how this is impacting our hearts and our minds and our bodies, is pretty difficult. So I guess if we want to do good anti-fascist work, which we need to, we need to be doing explicitly, we’re grieving the rise of fascism because it’s going to kill people. One of my closest friends worked at the tree of life building and the synagogue in Pittsburgh when that white supremacist murdered people there, which has happened also when people of white supremacists and murder people, Black churches and mosques is people use their own grieving rituals and know how to stand up with the grieving rituals both to care for each other, but to be antifascist. And there’s remarkable stories if you look to Pittsburgh of how people used their grief rituals both for themselves and each other in a community to get through a remarkably horrific moment. And also, we’re clearly saying, we’re doing this because we’re antifascists. And because we’re in solidarity with anyone who was being murdered by white supremacists and all were being said at the same time. And I think it’s possible to do all that at the same time again, to find that to be beautiful direct action of the grieving is like we need to provide grieving spaces for ourselves. And those grieving spaces have to resist, and the resistance right now includes fascism, that includes the deaths ahead by opening capitalism, opening up our spaces, includes a host of other losses in the ahead, and to my mind, our role as radicals right now is to lessen the losses and accentuate quality of life. And we’re all needing to think of reciprocal forms of care. And that includes taking care of our emotions too with each other right now and our, our losses and our grief.

KH: Can you say a bit more about what it means to resist fascism from a place of grief?

CM: Fascism is a genocidal logic. We can envision who those people are and they’re a very small portion of the world. The vast majority of us, we are so many more than they are. And so for one, I find strength in that. We are the power in this world, the power inside ourselves, so I hope to my mind what grief does when we start grieving, collective grief to me isn’t about everybody. It isn’t that we’re all in this together because we’re not, you know, certain people that believe in the fascistic ideal right now are not in this together with us, right?

So what we need to do is say, who is collectively grieving, or all the people that are grieving, our losses through colonialism our losses, patriarchy or losses through capitalism, like we could go through the horrific list of structures that have destroyed many of us. But also could unite us in a way, because I really feel like, and not a false unity. I’m talking about a really profoundly deep form of social solidarity. So to avoid mass genocide, which is what we’re heading toward by this fascistic logic and ecocide, because, the planet is not in a good trajectory because of the same forces, we really, really do have to turn to forms of really intricate, deep forms of mutual aid. So how would we think of mutual aid, not as some charity, not as something that we’re doing in hopes that we’ll do it until the state starts doing it. Not as some stop gap measure, but to me, the heart of mutual aid, it isn’t about handing someone an object. It’s about what kinds of social relationships we’re cultivating. And some of the most intimate, profound, beautiful social relations you can cultivate are when you look at someone and they look at you and you’re realizing that profoundness of how hard this moment is, and you just look at each other and go, “it’s really hard right now.” And the other person is able to say, yes, and you can just look and there’s something about, it’s like letting off steam and our body’s holding that grief inside us, and we need to be releasing with each other. And so I think the ways we’re going to come at that is really emphasizing social relationships. So I think that’s why I’m really emphasizing we can’t wait for some call to grieve from above and tell us how to grieve. We can’t wait till the funeral homes tell us we can have funerals in person anymore. We can’t wait for all the structures that have taught us how to grieve in bad ways, either by charging us money to do it. People throughout most of history knew how to bury or burn or, or honor and all sorts of ways, wash their dead to all sorts of things when they’re dead. It’s very recent, very recent that people have had a commodified death industry … or wait for a president to declare a national day of mourning or all these other things, and I really want to come back to, I really, before this call, I thought, you know, it’s not happening anymore and I’ve been grieving that it’s not happening, but I’ll use a couple of examples. What I used here where I went to a state house where the white supremacists had gathered around the night before, I couldn’t get anyone to do anything that day, hard as I tried, everyone kept saying to me, “Ignore fascists. They go away.” And I was like, “No, they don’t. If you read the history of fascism, they get stronger when they’re able to take over an entire downtown and do whatever they want and overthrow a law. No, they don’t go away.” But a whole bunch of nurses went out the night before on that capital and they put lit candles. I think a thousand, actually, I can’t remember the number, but I think it was one for each of the people that had died so far in the state. And you know, it was beautiful and powerful and moving to me. And what would remade it, even maybe more moving, is to think about making that an act of an explicit answer, fascism, but it wasn’t my action. But I imagine those nurses came to that by having conversations with each other and through their grief and telling each other their stories and sharing the pain, that grieving place that they created the night before, white supremacists were going to desecrate a piece of land in a community that’s already been stolen many times over, was beautiful. When you look at the national media, you look at what we’re being sort of told from above, I think we think grieving isn’t happening and it isn’t happening enough. I think it should be happening every day, everywhere. We should have altars in our homes, if that moves us. We should have window signs in our houses. When someone dies in our home or when we’re feeling feelings, we should be able to put signs up. Like I said, I walk around all the time and I see nothing but signs saying, “Be happy. It’ll be okay. Peace, joy, love.” You know what? Of course, it’s nice to see signs that say “love,” but I want signs that say, “It’s really hard right now,” or “I have lost something. What have you lost?” Or I’m thinking of you and your loss or whatever, “my heart is with you as you walk by.” I just feel like there’s so many ways in our communities we could be doing this.

KH: It never ceases to amaze me that people think that if you ignore fascism, it will go away. If only we had piles and piles of books that could contradict this notion. But what you’re saying about a mutual acknowledgment and the psychological release that can bring, I feel like this describes so much of my work in direct action. Because a large part of the work I have done in the streets has been creating imagery that makes isolated grief felt more broadly. Direct action in general seeks to make the invisible visible, or to make people feel what they’ve avoided feeling because life was easier when they didn’t. So to make this a little more concrete for our listeners, what are some examples of what rebellious mourning looks like?

CM: People are, when people’s grief, when they’re able to see the losses in their own spaces and their own communities, they’re pretty creative about figuring out how to do that. So, I will use a few examples. Some friends right now, some folks I know have been doing [prison] abolitionists vigils, because they’ve been raising money for a bail fund to get people out of prison right now and not just a fund, but after people get out of prison, they spend time trying to get them a place to stay, and trying to get them able to find a place they can shelter in place, in healthy ways, after they get out, not just get out. And someone died in a prison in the county while they were doing this, and they decided to do an abolitionist vigil, which was an outdoor event with people with protective equipment and at a distance and, trying to mourn together. And it involved poems and prayers and readings and songs, and connecting it to the fact that this was about totally fascistic, avoidable deaths in prisons. And it was bound up in the grief that came out of them trying to raise money to get people out of prison, and their own grief compelled them to do a vigil. When they can’t do it outside, they can also do it online because they have created a packet of materials, but they’re not asking people to read the same packet of materials. They’re like, if you have a community where you’ve lost people in prisons, think about how you want to have your own sort of abolitionist vigil. And in that way, it’s such a beautiful linkage of terms. It’s clear that it’s about grief, but it’s also clear that it’s about the abolition of prisons and other structures that are, I would call prisons fascist right now in the United States because they’re basically death camps at this point. Everyone has a death sentence, so they’ve transformed them into concentration camps for all intents and purposes. Another beautiful example, which was prior to COVID, but it’s still ongoing, the folks that do No More Deaths at the border. In the Southwest where for 10 or 15 years, they’ve been putting out water jugs and on the jugs they write notes to people. And there’s been so many deaths since No More Deaths started. Increasingly, because the federal government, which has been increasingly fascistic, has been making people have to walk further and making it more difficult and making, they know people will die in that desert. You’ll die very quickly. So that all they need to do is make people have to walk further. So it’s again, a form of fascism. It’s not like we’re just going to grab people and put them into a detention center. We’re going to actually let them go on a death march until they die in the desert. So No More Deaths. I happened to be really honored to get to go there, to do some grief work before, right before this happened and some folks took me out on one of these, to put out jugs and they were showing me these crosses that they put out. And when they rescue a body, when they try to identify it, they can usually never find the families, but they try to, they try to reach them because otherwise people never know that that person died. But wherever they find remains, even if they can’t identify them, they put up a cross and they leave a jug of water and you write notes on the jug. It’s really powerful, right? So we could be doing these things in the places we live in, that would look really different in different communities. In the desert it might look like a jug of water because water is absolutely life there at that fascistic border. In other communities it might look like creating a mural so people can come up and paint the names and add them. It might look like, I keep wishing there were little grief, little sort of like little libraries and neighborhoods or things or little food pantries that, why aren’t there a little grief spaces where people can go and add objects when they’ve lost something or a little things that mean something or put flowers on the ground? I just feel there’s so many ways that we could be doing this, that I feel I really want people to give themselves permission to like figure out what works for them, where they live. And, one other example I wanted to get from this moment was some people that also are doing healthcare work and are also doing tending to deaths and paramedic work and other things, did a beautiful action the other day in Washington, D.C., where they took body bags, created body bags, and they did basically a grief ritual outside the White House with a bunch of body bags, but they were all of people that are grappling again with, intimately with death right now and with the losses. And they know the pain of that. We do that in ways that contest the rise of fascism explicitly, but are also about our own hearts. Cause we need those spaces of our own hearts right now. I feel like people, you know, people think, “Oh, well, I don’t want to every day be thinking about grief and loss. It would be too depressing.” At this moment, it’s hard for me to imagine that most people, at least at one point in the day, are not struck by some feeling, or thought about something that’s missing in their life. I would be hard pressed to imagine that anyone doesn’t feel that during the day. So you’re not reminding someone of that by saying it. You’re acknowledging it. You’re making it real. You’re telling them, you believe them. We’re telling ourselves, do we believe this? We also, I often think about this, we have houses, many of us, some of us don’t. But when we think of what house, we think about, we need a place that’s a kitchen to eat, to have meals with each other, to, you know, break bread, whatever, hang out in the bathrooms to do what we do in bathrooms. We need bedrooms to do a variety of things in bedrooms, right? We think about all these rooms for what you need in a home. And it’s so striking that one of the most fundamental things to humanity is that we’re born and we die. We don’t have, humans used to have rooms where people were born and died, rooms where they would keep memories of those people, where they would have grief alters or grief spaces, you know? And we’ve left it to very harmful religious institutions. You walk in and you can pay to light a candle, or you can do this, but I really want everyone to take back their grief and hold it and throw it and share that empathy. Gift, your empathy, gift, your empathy to someone else, gift your grief to someone else. And through that we’ll actually go find so much more love and so much more connection. And I think that’s what the government, I really think that’s what they’re trying to do is like, well, not by trying, you know, I would even be skeptical if they tried to do sort of national days of mourning right now, I would find that really disturbing because it would be in the service of some political end. We have to say we are going to grieve precisely as a way to reject what you’re trying to do to us, and precisely as way to lessen those losses, and to figure out ways that we can materially do that while we’re grieving. So the last sort of example of grief I wanted to end on was when those white supremacists came to, I think it was in a town in Colorado. Some nurses came out and they stood with their bodies in protective gear and blocked some of those white supremacists from trying to come into that downtown. To converge because they’re like, we’re the ones that are going to have to take care of you. What an act of both grief and rage and direct action of the grieving. Right? So, I feel like grieving together is us saying where we’re remembering that we deserve healthcare and deserve housing and deserve for people not to be in prisons. We deserve to not have this suffering going on. We deserve to not have all these structures that are killing us. We deserve social relationships of love and dignity, and do it ourselves, and outside of hierarchy, and reciprocal, and all of those things that make up a world outside all the things that are killing us. And I think grieving together will actually show us partially the way, but as all these stories in the book point out, and I’ll wrap up on this, and it’s, it’s, it is a hard, is sometimes you can’t, you can’t bring those losses back. And I think that makes all the more reason why I mourn rebelliously because I want there to be less people that have to mourn the future. I know there are going to be a lot more ahead, but I want there and that’s what the AIDS. Epidemic. If you look back to act up in that time period, one of the lessons you get from that is by they were able to lessen the number of people who died, but people still died. But if they hadn’t done that, more people would have died. Each person is a horrible loss. But at this moment, we can’t just pretend that there’s going to be no loss, right? So how do we kind of understand ourselves all in in a way in hospice right now, we’re all sort of facing this moment of what feels like a terminal moment for humanity, and we have to create spaces of as much reciprocal, egalitarian, loving, dignified care as we can. We have to look out for each other as much as we can in every single moment we have left. We have to breathe life into every single moment we have left. We never as humans, no one that last moment is, and now more than ever, we’re feeling like that last moment is so palpable. So we have to more than ever, make it count, every moment, every moment.

KH: Well as much as it feels strange to say that I am looking forward to mourning, I am really looking forward to #WeGrieveTogether and I’m so grateful that you’re going to be a part of it. Because I really think it’s going to be heartening to connect with so many people who have been enduring these events from a place of isolation, some of whom have been mourning in isolation, and to disrupt that separateness with caring energy. Whether someone wants to tweet out some names, link a playlist, or share a drawing from one of their children, to me, this feels like a good moment to invite people to extend themselves to others, in whatever way feels right or real to them because this isn’t about making gestures. It’s about collective care and who we are as people, and who we want to be as a society. As you said, we are pushing back against a fascist unreality. And while we know that the truth and facts definitely pose a threat to fascism, we also know that fascism cannot be undone by facts alone. The fascists know that their greatest weakness is people of conscience giving a damn about each other, which is also the greatest weakness of neoliberalism, as it happens. When everyday people, and that includes workers, impoverished people, disabled people, Black and Brown people, when we become more invested in each other’s humanity and survival than we are in the system, we will be in a position to set terms. And that is how I want to honor those we’ve lost before, after and during this pandemic. By building the world that they were denied. A world where our sense of self preservation is tied to our sense of community and collective care and cooperation. A world where failing to care for the sick and GoFundme’s for funerals and medical expenses are unthinkable. It’s a world that I hope all of our listeners want to build as well. I believe that they do, and I believe that it’s possible, regardless of anything that this system would have us believe.

Well, this has been a great conversation, and I want to thank you so much for joining us today, Cindy.

CM: Thank you. I’m honored.

KH: And if you want to learn more from Cindy Milstein, please check out the anthology Rebellious Mourning: The Collective Work of Grief. You can also find her on Twitter at @CindyMilstein, and I will be linking both the book and Cindy social media in the transcript. I also want to thank our listeners for joining us today and remember, our best defense against cynicism is to do good and to remember that the good we do matters. Until next time, I’ll see you in the streets.