Resuscitating Normalcy Will Kill Us. What We Need Is a Just Recovery. 

Our pre-pandemic “normal” was a deathtrap. So what should we be building instead? And how should we talk about it? In this episode, Kelly talks with artist and organizer Jayeesha Dutta about letting normalcy die and creating something new.

TRANSCRIPT

Note: This 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. Today, we are talking about disasters and the lessons they bring. From COVID-19 to wildfires, earthquakes, hurricanes, and much more, we are living in an era of compounding catastrophes. The spread of variants like B.1.1.7 has outpaced a troubled vaccine rollout in the U.S. and experts have already predicted another highly energetic hurricane season. And yet refrains about “getting back to normal” abound. But as most of us know, the normal we knew was already a disaster for many. It was the disaster of capitalism, which atomized us into individual narratives on the same sinking ship. It was the disaster of neoliberalism, a capitalist project that has systematized the destruction of many of the gains we had won under this system and decimated an already unsound social safety net. It was a ubiquitous and yet divided tragedy that allowed many people to feel just secure enough that they weren’t willing to fight for anything better or for each other.

Now in fairness, when most people say they want to “get back to normal,” what they really mean is that they want to feel safer than they do right now, and to see their families again. And to enjoy some of the simple pleasures they’ve lost during the pandemic. But all of those things have a context and it does matter how we talk about and envision the things we want, because it matters what kind of world we’re trying to imagine into being.

If we aren’t intentional about crafting a different context for our lives and aspirations, then we really are left with visions of normalcy dancing in our heads, a normalcy that is toxic by default. So what new context should we be imagining? How should we name it and how should we build it? To help tackle those questions, I am excited to welcome my dear friend, Jayeesha Dutta to the show.

Jayeesha is a tri-coastal Bengali-American artist, cultural organizer, and pop-ed facilitator. She’s also a co-founding member of Another Gulf Is Possible collaborative and serves on the steering committee for the Climate Justice Alliance, galvanizing voices and experiences from across the Gulf South to the Global South, and working towards a just transition for both people and the planet. Jayeesha, welcome to the show.

Jayeesha Dutta: Thanks Kelly. It’s really good to be here with you.

KH: How are you doing today, friend?

JD: I am pretty well. I’m hanging in this weekend.

KH: Well, I am so grateful to have you on the show today, because you are a voice I trust absolutely on this subject. Every time there is a disaster in the Gulf, you are the person I turn to for advice about where people should donate, and how they should pitch in, because I know Another Gulf Is Possible is always engaged and on top of what needs to be happening. And right now, we are in a disaster that a lot of people don’t want to admit is still happening, while also staring down many more disasters in the immediate future, and all of this is happening amid a longing for a really toxic status quo. And as much as I don’t think we should get holier than thou and lecture people for saying they want to “get back to normal,” I do think we need to continue to trouble the idea of normalcy, especially under capitalism where normalcy is a death march. And I mean sure, after the last year, a somewhat more chill death march with a little more freedom of movement may sound appealing by comparison, but we were already living in a pretty devastating cycle of disaster and grotesque response. And that’s basically what got us here. So we really need to make this a moment of reclaiming what we need to reclaim, but also dreaming bigger and envisioning things differently.

So to that end, I just want to start with the concept of a “Just Recovery.” Which I know is an idea you and some other grassroots folks in the Gulf came up with when you were organizing relief around Hurricane Harvey. Could you tell our listeners a bit about that, and what we mean when we say we need a Just Recovery?

JD: Yeah, happy to share the story. So the folks that I roll with in the Gulf South, my crew, so to speak, they’re folks who have been organizing since before Hurricane Katrina, during Hurricane Katrina, after Hurricane Katrina. So when we were preparing for Hurricane Harvey, which for those of us who have been facing this kind of climate catastrophe over and over again, when a hurricane is coming you don’t know where it’s going to go. There’s a cone of probability. So when it’s coming, we’re wanting to figure out, how can we support each other? As we know, the government and big NGOs are not necessarily going to come to the aid of the folks who I feel most accountable to in my work and the folks that we build with. So we were convening calls, these grassroots calls, rapid response calls in the days that were leading up to Hurricane Harvey. And at that point we didn’t know where it was going. It was somewhere between New Orleans and Houston. We were trying to identify who had capacity, who could take funds, where would the funds go — all of these kinds of questions in developing mutual aid. And at that time 2017, it was before it was really common parlance. Some of us were using that term, but we were just doing what we felt we had to do. And during one of those calls, we were trying to distinguish our work and our rapid response work in social media from the work of the mainstream, the Red Cross, FEMA, others. So we were spitballing hashtags just to make sure we could figure out a way to align and bring together our communications. And I don’t really remember. When you’re brainstorming something, lots of ideas are coming out. So I don’t actually remember if it was Bryan Parras, Ramsey Sprague or myself, but it was one of the three of us because I remember we were the three that were kind of hot and saying stuff. And someone said, “Just Harvey Recovery.” And all of those folks are now Another Gulf Is Possible collective members. So from that, we started using that hashtag, #JustHarveyRecovery, and it did go to Houston.

We now know that that was one of the most devastating natural disasters that Houston has faced. And then recently there was the polar vortex. Disaster after disaster keeps hitting the region. So we saw that that term get used, it was really kind of amazing to see how viral our page went at that time. That was my first experience in really seeing work go to every country in the world.

So that was really wonderful to see the support for Houston and for the grassroots at that moment. We then saw Hurricane Maria come to Puerto Rico, and the hashtag started to get used, dropping the Harvey part. So Just Recovery, and so in the work with the Climate Justice Alliance, that frame got taken up and then has kind of taken a life of its own, which in a way is really wonderful. As narrative strategists, narrative builders, we want to see our ideas kind of get out there and be used. But one of the issues with that is very similar to the term “resilience,” Just Recovery has now kind of been taken, and is at times being used by the very forces that we created the term to counter.

So we really want to reemphasize that the Just Recovery frame is about being grassroots-led and centered to make sure the needs and desires and what the most vulnerable, marginalized folks are really requesting in times of disaster is what is being met. The needs that are being met are not being determined by other people, and that we’re really centering folks talking and being with them, and the times — it’s us ourselves, right? So the whole idea of mutual aid is not that somebody is coming from the outside, that we figure out ways to help each other because the Red Cross, FEMA, all of these folks are not connected. They don’t know the groups that are really helping folks. They don’t know the grandma down the street that is going to need to make sure that a generator gets to her because she’s on oxygen.

Those kinds of things that you need to know to really support your community in these times of disaster. So, that’s kind of that immediate response moment. And so we really want to see the whole Just Recovery model as shifting from this aid, extract, displace, disaster capitalism model to a really radically new different way of thinking about how we approach disasters, which are going to continue to come, right? They’re not stopping. Grounded again in what people need, finding the resources, the tools, building support, creating brigades to get folks recovered to rebuild their homes, their workplaces, their places of worship, the places they play to get all of that rebuilt. So that at the end of the day, they’re not displaced. They’re not thrown out of their community, but they’re actually stronger, better than they were in the past. And I think sometimes there’s the stronger together, all these hashtags that happen after a disaster, but we see the same patterns over and over. So the intention of the Just Recovery framework is to break that pattern and for us to create a new vision that is really self-determined and that in this pandemic disaster, this chrysalis moment we’re collectively in as global whole society right now, we’re all hoping to emerge from cocoons.

I think that’s really resonant. We’re still in a response mode. We still haven’t exited the disaster itself, but we can start to think forward now about how that Just Recovery model can be used in this moment. It’s not exactly a climate disaster, but it’s a very similar recovery process that we’re going to be facing. So what does that rebuilding look like after we hopefully get out of this pandemic moment?

KH: Well, thank you for that history. And speaking of those brigades, I also know you were in Cuba during Hurricane Irma and you witnessed something very different than we see here in the U.S. when a hurricane hits. Can you say a bit about that?

JD: Yeah. I was in Cuba during… well, Hurricane Maria was approaching, but Hurricane Irma, I was there for the kind of approach, the impact, and the aftermath. And Hurricane Irma was right on the heels of Hurricane Harvey. So I really had the experience of seeing the difference between the response that folks have. I was there and it feels like every time there’s a hurricane in New Orleans, people just really have complete meltdowns. They freak out, they’re running around trying to get groceries, trying to get sandbags, trying to get all the things. And there’s this huge sense of panic.

People doing the same things you kind of have to do, but there’s always this panicked feeling that resonates throughout wherever you’re going to get your stuff. You feel everybody else is really nervous, panicked. People are calling each other. And so I noticed when I was in Cuba, it’s hard to communicate. I started getting all these texts from my friends and people trying to be like, “Are you okay? Is everything okay?” Because it was a category five hurricane that was approaching. And so I’m kind of freaking out cause that’s my instinct as a U.S. person is to freak out when a hurricane is coming. But I noticed everybody around me is super chill. Like not really, it’s not… “Like y’all know a hurricane is coming?” Pointing to the TV, they keep talking about “el ciclón, el ciclón.” And so I asked my host who I’m staying at, and I was like, “Is everything… are folks going to get ready?” And they were like, “Don’t worry, don’t worry. People will do what they need to do.” And then sure enough, it was like people went through their whole workday. Five o’clock, hurricane’s coming, they just started to put the machine into place to get ready. And you saw all these folks helping each other, right? At that point I’d been there for about a week, so I’d gotten to know the folks around me. And saw this shopkeeper helping that shopkeeper to take their signs down. It was just the whole community came together to make sure that they were prepared for the hurricane to come.

And around midnight that night the hurricane came, it was a category five. It was extremely intense, really scary. Didn’t know what was going to happen. Obviously power went down, all that sort of thing. But the next morning it was just, everyone went out. There was flooding. People were cleaning up all the debris. It didn’t take the direct impact where I was. The direct impact was further North on the island. But I heard nobody… I think maybe one person might’ve been injured, but nobody died in that hurricane. They were able to evacuate everybody from the place of direct impact. And one of the reasons for that was Cuba has developed the infrastructure to support people, to make sure people are cared for after a hurricane happens. And so while it’s government coordinated and the government creates the infrastructure, the people themselves kind of implement that infrastructure.

And really the biggest part that struck me was this brigades concept. And that each place has brigades, people who are volunteering to come together, take care of each other, evacuate, cleanup, help people get their houses back together, whatever is needed. And that I was just reflecting how effective that kind of model is. Cuba is not a highly resource rich country, but the way they develop that community infrastructure, the mutual aid, it reduced that feeling of being isolated, that fear of not being taken care of, of losing everything that you have.

So people’s approach to the disaster was so different and it really stuck with me because we’re not in a place for that yet. I’m thinking we’re closer than we were before, but I continue to ask myself, how can we create those kinds of structures here in the United States? And it might not come from the government right now, but I think at this point we can do it ourselves. So how do we do that, create those kinds of support networks, those brigade models?

And I’m really, really inspired by Cuba, and that has continued to resonate.

KH: I am likewise inspired. It seems like so much of the suffering we experience in the wake of these disasters is rooted in the fact that we rely on authority — authority that doesn’t give a damn whether we live or die — to rescue people, as opposed to having that kind of organization that you describe. I know here in Chicago, it was my dream for 2020 — what I wanted to do last year was work on creating community response teams for climate catastrophes and kind of help create those spaces as planning spaces for how we can help each other in crisis, which I think would also, ultimately create space for discussion and for political organization among people who are activated on behalf of each other’s survival and wellbeing. And then of course, the pandemic hit and there was a bit of a scramble in all directions, including the formation of mutual aid pods, and I personally had a lot of varying demands placed on my time, as an organizer, and as a person whose health was sort of in collapse.

But last spring, once reality began to set in for folks, we saw waves of participation and generosity. We saw a lot of things, but we also saw a lot of projects nationally that didn’t sustain over time because we didn’t have the time put in to building the infrastructure that folks needed to sustain some of the work that was happening. I really hope more people will pick up Dean Spade’s book Mutual Aid: Building Solidarity During This Crisis (and the Next), which provides a lot of really great how-to and practical advice for people who want to build out sustainable work. Because our projects really need established protocols around things like how conflict gets resolved, and how money gets handled, and how we navigate difference and harm when they arise, because these things will always come up.

JD: Yeah, I think it’s a really good point on sustainability and mutual aid, because I think it’s really easy to burn out, to want to always be the shiny ball, and I think that’s a kind of syndrome the movement suffers from that we need to figure out how to not create conditions where we just elevate one person or one group, and then that group or that person has conflict with another group, that they don’t get funding, right?

We need to figure out a more mutual aid approach to our own organizational/movement infrastructure, where we can rotate in, we can rotate out. We can give people the time that they need to replenish after really hectic, hard times and not just expect the same people or the same organizations to be the ones who are constantly expected to do everything. And then if they get it wrong, we put them under fire and then throw them away, right? That way is not a mutual aid or regenerative way to approach the work. So I think this concept of mutual aid, to not just think about it in a individualistic way, but to start thinking about it even in terms of the infrastructure we’re building for the work itself.

KH: I want to take a moment to talk about the role of the prison industrial complex, and carcerality in these disasters. Prisons, jails and detention facilities are basically disaster zones of capitalism, even on their best days. For one thing, we have often seen prisons touted as vehicles for new economic growth in areas where coal mining, mountaintop removal and other highly toxic work has bottomed out, which leads to terrible health outcomes for imprisoned people, who are trapped in those toxic environments, and of course get next to no medical care. All of that is routine, but during climate catastrophes and during the pandemic, we have seen unthinkable levels of suffering and mass death play out. I’m thinking about the prisoners who were left behind in Orleans Parish Prison during Hurricane Katrina and how the city itself became a prison for people who were trying to escape after the storm, with Gretna police officers firing shots over the heads of refugees who were trying to leave the city on foot.

I’m also thinking about the people of the Little Village neighborhood here in Chicago and other highly policed neighborhoods, who faced much higher rates of infection during the pandemic due to the number of residents being cycled in and out of Cook County Jail, which was basically a COVID factory at the height of the pandemic.

In Little Village, of course, we also saw Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot greenlight a demolition project during shelter in place that basically engulfed the entire neighborhood in a toxic cloud of smoke while people were not only not being evacuated, but under orders to stay exactly where they were. Which to me is disturbingly reminiscent of the way imprisoned people find themselves trapped inside of toxicity and disaster, and the way the folks in New Orleans found themselves trapped after Hurricane Katrina. I think it’s crucial that we make these connections because in an era of constant crisis, we will see more of this kind of thing.

And right now, in Chicago, we are seeing The Final 5 Campaign, which is a campaign largely shaped by young people that’s dedicated to the closure of the final five youth prisons in Illinois, teaming up with the youth-led campaign to Stop General Iron from installing a metal shredder on Chicago’s South East Side. And there’s a real recognition there between the violence of incarceration and the violence of environmental racism.

My friend, Olivia Blocker, who’s the campaign manager with The Final 5 Campaign shared some thoughts with me recently about the show of solidarity between the two groups. And I just wanted to take a moment to share a few of her words if I could. She said, “I think about how spaces that lack life affirming resources due to generations of disinvestment are more easily exploitable by polluters and prisons. Even if the General Iron facility is being built in an urban setting and most Illinois youth prisons are built in rural settings, I think both in their own ways are spaces of isolation and resource deficiency. Lincoln, Illinois’ main economic resource is prisons. In both cases, these prisons and polluting industries move into desperate communities with the full political backing of alderman, legislators, and mayors to exploit a labor force with fewer options. I also think an undercurrent of all this is the fundamental idea of who was deemed disposable. Both stop General Iron and The Final 5 Campaign seek to protect Black and Brown youth and forefront those voices in our respective campaigns, because that is who is most impacted by pollution and prisons and that is who the state has deemed disposable.”

So Jayeesha, I know your connection to some of what I’m describing here runs deep and it’s very personal. So I wanted to get your take on this bond between carcerality and environmental racism and what it will take to stop these acts of devastation, and in some cases, annihilation.

JD: Yeah, I think it’s a really important connection to make. Living in Louisiana where we are the highest incarcerated state in the highest incarcerated country on the planet, and where plantations once were, prisons now sit in Louisiana. So yeah, I think that this fundamental model of extraction that our society is based on, that capitalism is based on, really resonates in terms of how in Louisiana there’s this reflexive instinct to extract. And that extraction, one of the ways that that extraction happens is taking people out of their communities, incarcerating them, and then basically forcing labor. And the prisons, as you know, in Louisiana are really horrible. But then we look at the situation of the oil and gas industry, and it’s a consistent form of extraction that we also demand from the Earth. So I think these reflexes and the muscles that we have built are one and the same in extracting from human beings and extracting from the planet. And seeing those precious resources as expendable, as extractable, as not things to show value, to cherish, to honor. And instead, I really feel like if we took the time to think about these harms, we would be really considering a transformative justice approach. And we would really think about a different way when there are harms in our community because we wouldn’t want to extract them. We wouldn’t want to take them out to their community and put them somewhere else where they’re isolated and abused. So in this fundamental shift, this whole idea of just transition and seeing Just Recovery as a bridge to just transition, we have to reconsider that instinct and that reflex and that urge that folks have to just take an extract. And just thinking about what it would mean to be regenerative, how to be more considerate of the value and inherent worth of every being and every precious resource that we have. And I’m really thinking and valuing every living being, and that in that we would be finding a more balanced and symbiotic way to live with the planet and with each other. And so right now where we’re at the carceral system is a really clear example to me of the horrible extraction. And we think about the hurricanes, when these forces come together, like the hurricanes that came to Houston, there wasn’t even a plan for how to evacuate the prisoners. It was just like, “Well, those people are expendable. They’re extractable [people], we don’t even need to have a plan for them.”

And that’s just really destructive. It’s unconscionably horrible, I think, to not be considering the needs of every human in these times of disaster. And I think it’s a very clear way that we can connect the way we treat people to the way we treat the planet. The fundamental premise of behind both, behind the fossil fuel industry and the prison industrial complex to me is one and the same. And I think once you start to put those dots together, you can’t stop that kind of intersectional thinking and you can’t stop understanding how much we need to change. And realizing that every thread in the fabric of our existence is currently really toxic and that we need to figure out a way to remediate that. And we need to remediate the whole fabric, the whole way of being. Once the veil is lifted, you can’t put it back.

KH: Absolutely, and there’s just so much to reckon with, and so many losses and harms to grieve. I think grief work is deeply important in this moment. And as you know, I have spent a lot of time organizing during the last year around collective grief as one of those necessary reckonings. In the last couple of months, my collective has been working on a mass distribution of KN95 masks in Chicago to help people combat the new strains.

And we’ve seen those distributed by mutual aid groups to students and to their families, to folks being released from jail, to essential workers and many others. But it’s very significant to me that they’re also being distributed by the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization at a memorial event this weekend, on the one-year anniversary of the Hilco smokestack implosion that covered the community in toxic smoke last year. The event is a memorial for people who’ve been lost to environmental racism in Little Village. But as people from that neighborhood tell me all the time, there’s really no separating COVID losses from people lost to environmental racism in a place like Little Village because pre-existing respiratory illnesses caused by pollution left so many people vulnerable to COVID-19.

The masks that are being shared at that event will actually be some reusable N95 masks we acquired to give people some ongoing protection. And I think tying our survival of environmental violence, COVID-19, and state violence together with our grief over those things, in an act of mutual aid is really powerful and it makes me wonder how else we might bind together those ideas and intentions in our work.

JD: Yeah, I think the grief holding space along with, or combined with the healing work that needs to happen are really present for me personally. I know that’s the direction my work has taken. I am currently working with the Windcall Institute, which is an organization that’s been providing residencies for movement organizers for over 30 years. And I’m an alumni of the program. And after experiencing kind of three weeks of rest, the gift of rest that that program gave me in 2019 really changed me forever, pre-pandemic, in realizing how much I needed to shift my approach to the work and how much the scale up of kind of healing justice approach was necessary. And so this need is just so great for organizers, at this moment I think for everybody, but I think the organizing community in particular is super burned out and —

KH: Yes, so burned out.

JD: Yes, we really need to think about how to hold the space for folks who are taking care of our communities, who are doing what has been needed for the last four years, for last generations, but particularly in the last year that we need to recognize how much people have been holding, how much they’ve been holding for their families, for their communities. And in this moment, we need to really, I think, put down some of the campaign work through the election to really take the time for the healing, for the holding of the grief, for the reckoning, for the deep understanding of the, I think, really personal changes we need to make to really think through what that’s going to mean for us in our individual lives, in our family lives, in our community lives. And I’m an optimist. I think you can’t be an organizer without being some kind of an optimist, dreamer, visionary. You have to have something you’re moving towards because this world we’re living in is so messed up. If you don’t have a North Star you’re moving towards, it’s not going to be worth it. So if we’re trying to build a just sustainable, equitable, healthy, vibrant world, we are going to need to do some real healing, some real grief holding for what this last year, but also what these last 500 years have meant in terms of the colonialism and extraction that we hold in our bones, right? That we hold all of that in our bodies. And so how do we take this time to really build this world we want to see?

We’re called Another Gulf Is Possible Collaborative, I believe another world is possible. I want to see us hold the space that we need for the grief, for the healing to be able to achieve this audacious vision for justice. And I think there’ll be some sacrifices that we’ll all have to make, and I think there is, and I think you alluded to this at the beginning… some of the changes folks need to make are unclear. And so I think we need to hold space for the vision and also hold space for ourselves. And if we want to get to this dreamy future, we need to hold all of that [during the] pandemic. Can’t be always working for the cause and not taking care of ourselves. It can’t be only taking care of ourselves, not caring about the other. There needs to be this balance. And there needs to be a consideration of sometimes the thing you’re working for may not be something you actually get to experience, but you’re working towards that vision. You’re getting closer to the horizon. I’ve been working with Norma Wong and she often speaks of the horizon that we’re moving towards. And so to keep that horizon in your mind’s eye as you’re going through rough times.

And so there’s a quote by Rabindranath Tagore that I might not be saying exactly correct, but it’s something to the effect of, the person who plants the seed for the tree he’ll never know the shade of, is beginning to understand the meaning of life.

And so I think that’s where we’re at at this moment. We’re kind of holding the seed in our hands. We could just throw them away or we could plant them and know that we might not see that beautiful vision, but we can seed it, we can start to help nurture it and grow it and see some of the changes in the attitudes and behaviors, actions, and systems that need to happen so the future generations can feel that shade, experience the warmth of the sun, and be in that vision that we hold.

KH: Absolutely, and I know that healing piece looks different for different people. One thing I’ve discovered is important for me right now is to be taking in more than I’m trying to sort of put out or produce, if that makes sense. I need to be reading a lot and not just reading news stories, kind of keeping pace with the sort of violent barrage of everything that’s happening to the world and to us, but stepping outside of all of that, and reading real books, whether that means audio books or scrolling through e-books on my phone. And really reading intentionally, making space for that, and taking in good energy from other people. Cultivating within myself. Not just being sort of extracted from all the time. And I’ve had no real choice myself this last year but to really start building a practice around what healing and care look like in my own life due to the illness that I’ve experienced and the burnout that you referred to that many of us organizers have found ourselves experiencing during the pandemic.

Because I used to be a person who would just kind of laugh off the idea of reducing my stress level or workload. I just thought that wasn’t realistic. But it’s my friends who do deep healing justice work who have helped me see how harmful that outlook is because it doesn’t just hurt me to live like some kind of workhorse who’s not allowed to get sick, or go on a creative retreat, or step outside of urgency. Me living in that mode all the time, doesn’t make us stronger in collectivity. Me making space for healing and modeling that, and modeling the sustainability and collaboration that that kind of pause and rest and healing requires in our work, that makes us stronger. We’re making ourselves stronger and our communities stronger when we make space for healing and acknowledge that it’s a necessary component of everything we do.

So thank you so much for naming that. Because for me, that’s definitely one way I won’t be going back to normal on the other side of all this, because my normal was fucked up and I don’t want it back. I want something better and I want something better for all of us.

So if we’re not going to talk about “getting back to normal,” how should we talk about the future we want to build and what we want to restore? What should dreaming out loud with people about that sound like?

JD: Yeah, you know, I am an artist and someone who by nature also likes to bring people together to make art. And I think that’s actually how we first got to know each other was when I was doing art for that wild action camp, which we could do a whole episode on that action camp and the dynamics there, right? We could break that down.

KH: Yes, we could.

JD: But I think the invitation to folks to share their visions with each other and also consider how deep our need is to be around other humans and this dreaming space, this chrysalis moment we’re emerging from, we are right now poised in coming out of our homes to be able to be with each other again. And how do we want to be with each other again?

How do we want to create social spaces, create creative spaces, recreational spaces? I think about where I live and we’re a very bar-centric city. It’s this extremely bar-centric city, but a lot of bars have been closed in New Orleans. A lot of bars have not made it through the pandemic and our music venues have even been shut down. So as things start to reopen, we want to think about where those spaces are, which communities are we rebuilding intentionally, those spaces to be together, to dream together, to build together.

I actually have a dream to create an art tea house, a space that will bring people together for healing, for art-making, art expression, plant medicine, providing access to different kinds of plant medicine that folks might not have experienced before. And just thinking about those kinds of multi-modality spaces that people can not just dream, but actually manifest this future.

KH: So there are so many lessons that we will be taking away for years from everything we’ve been experiencing during the pandemic. Can you name one lesson that you hope we’ll all hold close as we move through what is hopefully the home stretch of this current disaster and into the many struggles to come?

JD: Yeah, one lesson, and I think I might give a different answer next week because I think there are so many lessons we’ve learned. I know I’ve learned so, so much about myself and just everything in the last year. But when I think right now as I’m a week out from going back home to New Orleans, where I will be living by myself, I’ve been with my family for over a year now attending to my elders and being with them 24/7. And it has really made me realize how important the people who are closest to you are. Who is your pod? For me, it was very obvious because I was with my family. But I think a lot of folks who were not with their families had to figure out who are the folks that will hold it down with them, who will be there for them. And I think that’s a lesson we need to keep considering in our hearts and minds as we go back to, again, not “normal,” but go out to whatever is next, to really value and care for those folks who are closest to us. And I think that will have a ripple out effect in how we treat others. If we are always feeling cared for, if we’re always feeling valued by those who love us, and those who are closest to us, that will, I think, impact how we treat others in the world.

And I’m really hoping, even though I will be physically not as close to my parents for a little, and honestly we’re all reconsidering our whole family structure, we all might move to so we can be together again. And I think we’ll also see a lot of those kinds of moves happening. I think people will be shifting their lives to make sure that they can be closer to the people they care the most about. Because at the end of the day, that’s what really matters. Not to be super cheesy, but love, I believe deeply in love. And I think this last year has given us a real opportunity to think through what that love looks like in action.

KH: I couldn’t agree more. And if folks want to learn more from Jayeesha and follow her work, and the work of Another Gulf is Possible, which I highly recommend y’all do, you can check out the show notes on our website at truthout.org.

Well, this has been an amazing conversation and I want to thank you so much for joining me today, Jayeesha. I deeply appreciate you.

JD: Yeah Kelly, it’s been really good to talk. Love you much.

KH: I love you too.

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.

Show Notes:

To learn more from Jayeesha and follow her work, you can check out these groups and projects:

Another Gulf Is Possible Collaborative is a women-of-color led, grassroots collaborative of ten members from Brownsville, Texas to Pensacola, Florida. The collaborative is built upon decades of organizing resulting in a strong and rooted ecosystem of relationships between individuals tied to a multitude of organizations, networks, communities, and alliances from the U.S. Gulf South to the Global South.

Mar Bari is a bath|art|tea house that will provide elemental healing, hydro-therapy, creative space, and plant medicine to cultivate community well being.

The Windcall Institute supports and sustains labor and community organizers, particularly people of color and women, through the Windcall Residency Program and Staying Power. Windcall offers organizers time and space for new ideas and ways of being to arise.

Alternate ROOTS supports the creation and presentation of original art that is rooted in community, place, tradition or spirit. We are a group of artists and cultural organizers based in the South creating a better world together.

Further reading:

Illinois Must End Youth Incarceration, Not “Transform” It by Bobby Vanecko (article)

America’s Toxic Prisons: The Environmental Injustices of Mass Incarceration (6/1/2017) by Candice Bernd, Maureen Nandini Mitra & Zoe Loftus-Farren (article)

Community Care in the Age of Corona: Dispatches from New Orleans (4/16/2020) by Jayeesha Dutta (article)

Mutual Aid: Building Solidarity During This Crisis (and the Next) by Dean Spade (book)

More resources:

To learn more about the campaign to halt construction of a metal shredder on Chicago’s South East Side, you can check out the Stop General Iron website.

To learn more about the campaign to close Illinois’ remaining five youth prisons, and prevent the opening of a new facility, you can check out the Final Five Campaign’s website.