Part of the Series
Despair and Disparity: The Uneven Burdens of COVID-19
How do you organize against a pandemic or a wildfire? Kelly Hayes talks with organizer Vanamali Hermans about mutual aid, catastrophe and how we survive.
Note: This a rush transcript and has been lightly edited for clarity. Copy may not be in its final form.
Kelly Hayes: Today, we are talking about catastrophe and how we survive it. Last week, amid the political frenzy of Super Tuesday, the coronavirus continued to spread in cities around the country. According to the World Health Organization, about 3.4 percent of reported COVID-19 cases have proven fatal. By comparison, seasonal flu has a death rate of about 0.1 percent. Believe it or not, when I was a kid, I wanted to be an infectious disease specialist. My dream job was being one of those people in space suits studying level for contagions at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). So I’ve read a little bit about pandemics, and at the beginning of last week, I was alarmed by what I was reading. and also felt incredibly helpless as an organizer who really tries to look out for my community. Over 3,000 people in China have died of COVID-19. China’s containment efforts gave the U.S. precious time to prepare for this crisis, but the Trump administration has completely botched its response to the illness. Rather than developing a nationwide testing system, Trump called the epidemic a hoax and suggested it was “fake news,” while simultaneously scapegoating Asian people, and later, migrants at the southern border.
I was immediately concerned about Trump’s racist, xenophobic fearmongering, because panic spreads faster than a disease, and is often accompanied by violence against marginalized people. By characterizing Asians and migrants as infectious, Trump is engaging in the kind of dehumanization that propels insidious violence. When people are treated as an infection that must be eradicated, terrible things happen. Meanwhile, the Trump administration muzzled doctors at the CDC, forbidding them to talk to the press without going through Mike Pence. Now, I’m not trying to be an alarmist, but historically, governments don’t muzzle doctors and scientists in order to suppress good news.
So, as an organizer, I really wasn’t sure what to do. The media narrative is a mess and the political rhetoric at work is dangerous. And while politicians forwarded various budgetary plans to address the virus, almost no one was talking about what everyday people should be doing to advocate for ourselves, or for imprisoned people or for people experiencing homelessness. I know to wash my hands, and to practice safe distancing, eat well, maintain a clean and healthy environment for myself — but not everyone has those options.
It’s in moments like these that I really wish we could trust authority, but we all know that’s not a thing, and we also know that Donald Trump lies with abandon. He has continuously made false statements about the coronavirus, the spread of the disease and its seriousness. Trump has bragged about how few cases of COVID-19 have been diagnosed in the U.S. But the U.S. infection rate, as reported by the CDC, has been kept artificially low by our government’s failure to provide physicians around the country with tests that can detect the disease. In a number of cases, doctors have been ordered not to use the tests they have on hand.
So again, what do we do? I’m an organizer. But how do you organize against a pandemic? So I summoned the lessons I’ve learned from activists who have managed to organize under extreme conditions, and I decided I needed to find an expert who would talk to me about it. I did and that conversation left me much more informed and also more freaked out. So I went on twitter and made an appeal for more input. What followed was a deluge of information, not just from doctors and scientists, nurses and other health care providers who told me about their fears and how alarmed they were at the lack of preparedness they were witnessing. As outbreaks in the U.S. escalate, we are faced with potential shortages of safety gear for health care workers, and worse, a potential shortage of ventilators for critical patients if the outbreak spreads nationwide. So, with the help of some of those care providers, and the specialist I originally spoke with, I began drafting a list of demands aimed at city officials, state officials and the federal government. The list was intended to serve as a tool for people and groups who are advocating for their rights, and for vulnerable people who are often left behind in moments of crisis, such as imprisoned people and people experiencing homeless. Once I had a draft, I invited other organizers from around the country to help me develop the document in a way that reflected our shared values. From housing emergencies, to medical care in prisons and supply shortages, we made a moral and pragmatic case for action, and we shared it as widely as we could. Due to the urgency of this situation, all of this work was completed in about 48 hours.
Well, the list went up on Tuesday, and since then, more states have reported outbreaks, and some previously affected cities have reported new cases — including mine. I’ve also heard from activists around the country who say they are using the list of demands we drafted to confront their representatives, local officials, their employers, and their schools about the crisis. The list is being used by members of the Chicago City Council to question public health officials. And in a major city in the South, that I’ve been asked not to name yet, the list is being used by City Council members who are drafting proposed legislation.
By the way, if you would like a look at that resource, you’ll find it linked in the transcript for this podcast at Truthout’s website. That’s truthout.org for those of you who are listening on another platform without ever stopping by to say hello. I definitely want you all to be able to make use of that, if you can.
As the list circulated and I talked with other organizers, I learned about other organizing initiatives aimed at addressing the crisis. In Washington State, where, as of this recording, 100 cases of COVID-19 have been diagnosed and 16 people have died, organizers are issuing demands of their own. The NWDC coalition is demanding that imprisoned people in the Northwest Detention Center be released. Iran has released tens of thousands of prisoners to prevent hotbeds of transmission that would create new geographic concentrations of the disease. Activists with the Chicago Community Bond fund are making similar demands in Illinois, demanding that imprisoned people be released from Cook County Jail.
In Seattle, activists are also demanding that Amazon, which is headquartered in Seattle, and other major companies pay for local residents to stay home. Amazon’s CEO and founder Jeff Bezos has a net worth of over $130 billion. Amazon has advised its Seattle employees to stay home from work. For information about those efforts, you can check out @covid19mutualaid on Instagram. Folks in various cities are gearing up to offer mutual aid.
In fact, I will actually be at a meeting tomorrow to figure out what that might look like here in Chicago.
This has been a learning experience for people like me, who have never imagined our organizing with the context of a pandemic. But we live in a time that compels us to imagine all manner of catastrophe — and we cannot divorce ourselves from those realities. Most people refuse to acknowledge the unthinkable until it becomes utterly undeniable, and that refusal always comes at a cost. And now we’re on the cusp of another disaster and perhaps beginning to understand ourselves as people whose existence has become a navigation chaos.
Living on the edge of oblivion isn’t nearly as new as it feels, but it’s jarring nonetheless.
In January, I had the chance to speak with Vanamali (Mali) Hermans, a disabled Indigenous organizer who lives and works in Canberra, Australia. As brush fires consumed 72,000 square miles of the Australian landscape, killing over a billion animals and at least 34 people, Mali stumbled upon a way to do some good, and what could have been a mere gesture became a sprawling community effort to protect people from the toxic smoke that had left their city gasping for air. As the air quality worsened, child care centers and workplaces began to close and residents were advised to stay in their homes. The federal government department responsible for managing emergencies closed its Canberra office as the city’s air quality spiraled. During the darkest days of the crisis, Canberra had the worst air quality of any city in the world.
The fires that ravaged Australia are now under control or extinguished, and Mali is now looking ahead to mutual aid efforts around COVID-19, just as my friends and I are in Chicago. So, as we brace and prepare for yet another catastrophe, I thought it would be a good idea to revisit the insights of a woman who organized while her world was burning, and who also took the time to tell us about it. I hope you all learn as much from Mali as I have.
Kelly Hayes: I just want to say that I am so moved by the mutual aid work that you have been involved with during these fires and it gives me a lot of hope to see people fighting for each other amid disasters of this scale, and I am really eager to hear your insights about on-the-ground mutual aid and the political situation in Australia. But first I want to ask, how are y’all doing?
Vanamali Hermans: I’m doing okay actually. So for the first time in a very long time, we have what’s rated as good air quality in Canberra today, so that means because the PM 2.5 particles are only at two and they’ve been in the hundreds and thousands before, so I can have my window open. It’s great. But overall, my body is quite sore. I have asthma, so the smoke here has been pretty triggering and pretty hard to live with. I’ve had emergency department visits, I have had to change my whole puffer regime. So I’m now on a preventer and two different kinds of relievers. I’ve been having to wear a mask most of the time I go outside, having to stay inside with an air purifier of my room, which I’m very lucky to have access to. It’s very like, I don’t want to say just dystopic cause that, you know, a lot of people are comparing to dystopia, and like, this is the reality now and it’s really scary. It’s really scary. It’s changing everything about our lives. Like every little thing that you want to do, like I want to hang my washing up on the line. I can’t do that because then I’ll expose myself to smoke and I’ll also have smokey clothes. Just little things. It’s really intense.
KH: Well, I am so grateful that you’re taking the time to talk with me about this with everything you’re up against right now. To get into what you all have been seeing on the ground, can you talk a bit about the mutual aid you and others have engaged in? What does that look like?
VH: Yeah, for sure. So it’s been very haphazard. So I have not been organizing with any official network or any official group of people. So I was very lucky and I got to go to Brisbane, which is a city on the East coast of Australia, but like, well up North in a state called Queensland. And the air quality has been great there. I went there for the New Year’s break and when I was coming back to Canberra, I was like, I’m going to buy myself and my friends a few more P2 masks, the masks that have been filtering out a lot of the particulates that we’ve been seeing in Canberra.
Lots of stores ran out of stock of masks and it got to the point where the air is so toxic and poisonous that our mail delivery system, the Australia post actually shut down in my city so people couldn’t get access to these masks. So, at first I was like, I’m going to buy some for my friends and family. And then I was like, actually, I should probably post in one of the big community Facebook groups our city has and just ask, “Hey, are there any families with children who are asthmatic, or any disabled people who are vulnerable to this, that need masks, I could potentially bring you back?”
And I was thinking, you know, probably 10 or 20 people would comment. Then a couple of hours later, there were thousands of comments and there were thousands of people who need masks. And that was when we were like, “Holy fuck, we’re in the middle of a public health crisis” and all these people are suffering and they have no access to what’s going to protect them. So that was when, like the actual gravity of the situation hit, I think. So, myself and my friend Ava, who I stayed with in Brisbane, we kind of got together and rallied around a few different left-wing networks. And we asked people, please donate masks, donate suitcases, I will take them back to Canberra. I’ll take as many as I can get. So I got I think around 600 masks that I brought back to Canberra. And the afternoon when I arrived back, I posted to get on my Facebook. I posted my address publicly, and I probably should not have done that, cause I did have people coming to my door days after being like, do you have any masks left? But I posted on my Facebook and I was like, “Meet up at my house at 2:00 p.m. and we will, as a group, just to go through how we’re going to distribute these masks.” We’re just going to do this. Okay. Like, we need to do this. We’re going to do it. Yeah. So when I get home, I have 600 masks in my lounge room and all of a sudden I have 40 people, probably half of these people I don’t know, I’ve never seen before in my life, and we’re all standing there and they kind of like, “Whoa. This is, this is a task, this is a thing we’re doing now. Like this is huge.” And so that’s when we actually started like implementing spreadsheets, and organizing like a delivery system to have people delivering all over Canberra, driving up to the North side, South side, delivering the masks to different people.
And also how we kind of started to implement a system when we distributed masks to community organizations we thought would definitely need them as well. So, organizations like Winnunga [Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health and Community Services], which is a Aboriginal health service, organizations like Night Patrol, which does a lot of programs for rough sleepers at night around the Canberra, one of the domestic violence shelters. So a lot of things like that. And then from there, people started messaging me like, “I’m driving up from Melbourne, I can bring 400 masks” and “I can bring a thousand masks.” And we eventually just kind of slid into a system where we were making deliveries every day. The amount of messages we got was just pretty overwhelming, to be honest. And we had masks continually coming into the city. During this time too, when there were fires that were blocking access to roads some of the times, and also while the post delivery was still down. So it was quite like an urgent response to what was a very serious crisis, and then the scale of the problem as the air quality continued to decrease and we started to realize, we don’t have capacity to cover every single nursing home in Canberra. We don’t have capacity. We don’t have the networks to cover every disability group. There are institutions that lock communities away and lock community members way. When we can’t access them, we can’t provide masks. And so this is when we kind of realized that we actually need to start having discussions about putting pressure on the ACT government to be distributing these masks at a state based level for free. Because as great as that little network was that we didn’t have the resources and the capacity to help a city with over 400,000 people.
KH: I think it’s amazing that you jumped in and because you saw a need that wasn’t being met, I found that people get way more invested in mutual aid when someone takes that first step and initiates and begins a process of people helping one another and folks see how amazing that can be and how much we’re able to do when we just choose to do the thing that people aren’t doing and don’t see ourselves as existing outside of things that should or shouldn’t happen.
It’s really astounding to me that some people are still managing to sort of mentally distanced themselves from these events. I get it. Compartmentalization is a natural reaction to things that we just can’t handle. People put it in a box and push the box to the back of their mind and just keep clinging to normalcy, but there’s no running from environmental collapse. None of us are going to move to the right place or have enough money to not be deeply affected by these events that are unfolding and will continue to unfold. There were, there are actually a couple of beaches near me that, as of this week, they’re unrecoverable. We’ve been hit with some pretty good storms out here, but nothing on the scale of what you all are experiencing or what people in some parts of the United States have experienced, but it really drives home to me that people feel like this isn’t happening to them.
VH: I think it’s starting to hit average people who may not be politically engaged or who may not acknowledge the urgency of the climate crisis. And for them to be like, “this what life is going to be like now and we actually need to prepare” And it’s not good enough to prepare as individuals. And that has been really heartening too, I think a lot of people instinctively know, I can’t just get masks for my family. I need to help. We need to collaborate and do things together. Which has been really inspiring as well. I totally echo what you say about ableism. So I’m a disabled person myself, and my mom was also a disabled woman. She recently passed away in a hospital in my city after medical negligence, and she was living in a group home at the time with four or five other disabled women. And I just think about, if she was still alive during this situation, what would have been the response by her house, her institution she lived in? What would have been the response? And I think it would’ve been really, really poor . She had respiratory issues. So she would have been incredibly vulnerable to this. They would have done nothing. And I think too about the ACT government, the state government in my city, they just don’t give a shit. And I think as community organizers, and as people who are on the left, we acknowledge that the government will not intervene, that we need to create mutual aid networks ourselves, that we need to do these things ourselves, and we hold that commitment. But it is completely different, or at least I’ve found it’s completely different, when you are actually going through a crisis.
And even though you hold that commitment and you hold that knowledge that government won’t do anything, you kind of wait for it to still happen. Like you expect at least they’ll have some kind of response. I’m not going to be politically happy with the response, but it will happen. But nothing happened. So it’s completely different to actually see with your own two eyes, just nothing, you know? Absolutely no acknowledgement. And it took us pressuring the government to even have a meeting with them and within that meeting, the strategy from public health organizations in our city and the government broadly was just like, we don’t want to create public anxiety, so we’re not going to acknowledge this is a public health crisis, and that we’re not prepared to deal with this, so we’re not going to. It’s overwhelming and it was a very despairing moment for me, I think.
KH: First, let me say, I am so sorry for your loss. I lost my father a couple of years ago and I know how devastating that was for me.
VH: Thank you.
KH: I absolutely agree that it’s terrifying to envision these scenarios. It really is what happens when you have a particular debilitation and you know. You just know the government’s not coming to save you.
VH: It’s not even not coming to save you a lot of the time. It is actively disposing of you. We’ve seen in, for instance, with one of the fires, in a town in Victoria called Mallacoota, a lot of pictures went viral. I think maybe you’ve seen it a picture of a red sky and a boy on a boat wearing a P2 mask. So that was in one of the really severely hit areas where people had to evacuate to the beach and the Navy had to come in and rescue people and then take them up the coast on the Navy boats. And from what I saw, it was like able body people first. You know, it’s like, we’ll come back for disabled people later.
KH: We have been so acculturated under capitalism into this individualistic mindset that is never more apparent than it is when a crisis hits. We’ve been stripped of our natural instincts as social animals to cooperate and try to ensure one another’s survival. And I feel like all of my disabled friends have expressed these thoughts at some point. Ultimately our survival is not compatible with anything about the system and the way it works and the way it distributes power and resources. This is a death making setup for many of us.
VH: I totally agree. And I think as I was kind of getting out before, I think, you know, we need to foundationally change the way that we relate to each other and here in Australia, and I’m sure in many other lands too. I think that entails two things so nicely. I think that entitle sovereignty and land rights. Colonialism is killing this country. And we have seen the effects of that on so many sacred sites within Australia right now. So many Aboriginal communities were being hardest hit by the fires, especially on the South coast. And there’s nothing. Government aid does not go to Aboriginal people. Government aid goes to largely white middle class people. So again, First Nations communities are having to organize fundraisers and do these things ourselves. And then the other thing too is again, ableism. I was reading a Sins Invalid essay the other night, because I was trying to calm myself down and trying to read a little bit more about disability justice and climate justice. And it was talking about how often disabled people are, the canaries in the mines, who kind of signal the alarm, and feel some of the first effects of climate change. And we let other people know about these effects, but often, you know, it comes at the expense of disabled lives. And I think it’s like such a similar thing for a lot of First Nations communities and a lot of disabled communities here is that because of the different systems and violence that we’ve been subjected to. We’ve learnt coping strategies and survival mechanisms and those are really useful survival mechanisms. There are really useful strategies that we can implement in mutual aid networks for each other, and that’s something that I really, really, really wish the left would start to understand a bit better is that First Nations people know how to withstand a lot of these crises, because we’ve had to. That’s the same with the disabled community. You know, we know how to look after each other. I mean, knowing what needs to be done because we’ve had to do it before. Like this is not the first time our lives have been put at stake. And I think that, yeah, it’s that transformational aspect of things that we really need to be focusing on and focusing on the fact that these different knowledges are what is going to get us through.
KH: I think that’s absolutely true and I’m really grateful to you for bringing that perspective to this conversation. My own people, the Menominee. Our reservation has been hit with some pretty severe storms, but there was a moment last year and that gave me a lot of hope. I was seeing on social media that the reservation was getting pounded really hard with a thunderstorm, which is very destructive, but community members had reached out to each other.
They were moving all of these large freezers that folks had into a local school and telling everyone to bring their frozen food.
I was seeing on social media that the reservation was getting pounded really hard with a thunderstorm. It was just incredibly destructive, massive power outage. But people organized to bring freezers to the local school where there were generators running and folks were invited to bring all of their freezer items to keep them in a freezer and keep them from going bad.
You know, if we don’t have each other, a lot of times we’re not going to have anything when we’re up against this stuff. I think that people who come from long lineages of cooperation. Often have that embedded in their culture and their tendencies, especially when they’ve had the benefit of getting to live in community with people who also historically share those values.
We desperately need people to start respecting the knowledge that Indigenous people can bring to the table and really acknowledging that Indigenous communities that have been allowed to maintain their traditional practices are the best possible guides we have because they are the best stewards of the land that they occupy of anyone in the world.
This has been established again and again in study after study, Indigenous people take better care of the land and keep it more intact and survivable then anyone else.
VH: A lot of governments now are talking about how we need to be resilient and we need to, we need to adapt. We need to improve adaptation strategies, which is true. We were not prepared for the scale of this crisis. But I think that has the potential to come at the cost of actually making meaningful political change as well. We should be fighting for that broader struggle to actually change the way that we organize our society. So I think there’s a potential that the conversation is going to change from, “How do we need to reconfigure our society and our relationships with each other as a community” to “how many masks do we have in the national stockpile?” Or how are people going to get water filters, or just focusing on that one conversation as well. Because I think mutual aid, as important as it is, and I think it is important, and I think in this crisis it has been the most important thing, to be able to at least alleviate or cater to people’s immediate suffering and their immediate needs. But I think, too, that can’t come at the cost of actually fighting for the society that we want. And so I’m, I’m quite, I won’t say pessimistic, but I’m quite scared that that conversation will not happen.
KH: I think we’re living in a moment where it’s only a matter of time before these realities catch up with people. I’ve been involved with mutual aid work here in the United States that was all about providing services that the government should have been offering but wasn’t for whatever reason. And we work really hard. We scramble to help people as best we can.
We create social relations that make the world more survivable, and yet it’s government that takes our money. It’s government that claims that they’re going to come in and do the work when bad things happen, and we know that they chronically leave people behind. So we know this is a really messed up situation and we know that we need to pressure the government to step in, but it’s really, it’s really chaotic. Trying to do the work of in-person mutual aid and then also trying to do the work of forcing the hand of your government to take more action, which is one of the reasons I think we need so much more involvement than the people on the ground. Like, yes, giving money helps, but people who are doing on the groundwork can’t be the only ones that are crying out for the government to do its part.
VH: Obviously I think that this climate resiliency narrative and discourses are going to become bigger in Australia, and so it’s our responsibility as community organizers to make sure that we don’t let that happen at the expense of that broader political narrative. But also I’m, I’m quite scared of people picking and choosing what things they want to incorporate going forward. Like I definitely am seeing a lot of talk about the importance of Aboriginal cultural burning. And that’s where the conversation stops. Well, if there isn’t a broader conversation amongst the general public about not only cultural burning, but about relationship to land and relationship to country and land rights, cultural rights, things like that, I think if we don’t push, so that political transformation, it will just be settler colonial states picking and choosing what Indigenous knowledges they want to take. What they want to use for adaptation and their own “resiliency.” And I think that will largely be the same too, with disabled communities. You know, governments taking what knowledge they think is useful, but actually not foundationally acknowledging helping Indigenous communities or disabled people. And I think that’s why, you know, what we need to do. Need to transform the way that we have government. We need to transform everything. It’s quite scary. It’s quite scary. And I think too, especially in Australia, it’s quite heartbreaking to me that still the climate movement, I think a lot of times has a superficial relationship with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and has a superficial relationship with disabled people, to the point where sovereignty and land rights indigenous justice is an add on to climate change and disability justice is an add on to climate justice rather than actually being, you know, those two of those foundational building blocks for climate justice. And I just, yeah, I think that’s where I’m struggling the moment as an organizer, I just don’t understand how to change people’s minds on that. It seems a lot of the time, people are okay with things that are essentially eugenics, even as leftists, you know, they are okay with these discourses of we will let Aboriginal communities suffer during this water crisis because it’s the government’s responsibility to be delivering water and we need to push the government to deliver water. And they don’t see that immediate need. And it’s the same with the disabled community. People still struggle to challenge that really toxic ableism that essentially all of us have internalized, and they still think that disabled people are, we’re just the expense that as society we have to cough. We just are going to have to be the ones that die. We’re disposable and that’s just unfortunately the way it is. And how to change people’s minds on those things, especially given the urgency of it, that is something that is really daunting to me. And you know, it speaks obviously to the fact that we need political change and a shift that actually incorporates, well these different forms of justices, and that climate change is interconnected to all these other struggles, which a lot of us on the left acknowledge now.
But I think the actual extent of that as organizers, we don’t front up to that, like we don’t front up to the need that. We need to dismantle these other really violent and toxic systems in tandem with environmental justice and it needs to happen now.
KH: I just want to say, first of all, what you all did was tremendous, and I am so inspired by it. And I couldn’t agree more that we have to be fighting for that larger political transformation that creates a culture of care where this work isn’t necessary, but I really think that whether we make it or not, whether are a lot of people make it or not is going to depend on our willingness to take care of each other rather than just prioritizing our own well being in moments of crisis. It’s incredibly heartening to see that happening. I know we’ve seen a lot of meaningful political action over the years. Folks organizing spontaneous mutual aid in the wake of disasters that has led to some great political work. Do you feel like people are being politically activated through this work?
VH: Oh, a hundred 110% 110% And it’s unfortunate that it has taken such devastation, but finally the broader community’s starting to accept the need for things like, okay, cultural burning, which it shouldn’t have taken the devastation of our country and our homelands for that to have happened, but it has, and people are also starting to become very skeptical of the government’s commitment to the climate crisis, like we already do. We have a very conservative government power, and we have had a conservative government in power for a very, very long time. But even from just our conversations with people who we were dropping masks to, I think people started to get what we’re facing. It’s something that requires a foundational transformation of our society. It can’t just be something that the next government implements. So to be able to say that, why would delivering masks, I think it was really, really important too. I definitely can see the embeddedness we have within the community now withstanding the crisis. I think that’s really important too. You know, I’ve thought a lot about what people would call disaster communism and what are the opportunities to create community in these disasters? And I definitely, I think I have seen that for the first time, which is amazing.
KH: I absolutely share your concerns there in my reading about climate resiliency, because I’m pretty obsessive about reading about fascism and what I’ve come across repeatedly is that resiliency efforts, as they’re described, magnify existing inequalities every time. The crisis itself will magnify the impact of the inequality, and usually, the response to the crisis also amplifies the inequality that’s already at work. So if you live in a place where inequality is extreme, then resiliency efforts are probably going to leave you behind, which again, is why people have to challenge their governments now.
We cannot wait, again and again, until people are left to die to figure out what are we going to do about this as people. I really think that more people have to get real about the fact that it’s time to push left like our lives depend on it, because they do. The social, political and economic dynamics that are going to inform our experience of an era of collapse are being decided now. Capitalism will continue to cut its losses and its primary function is to maintain itself. So when there are more and more surplus people that no longer fit within the system, the system is going to find places to put those people, or it’s simply going to let them die. I really believe that we’re going to see more people mobilize in the coming months and in the coming years. The big question is always, will it happen fast enough, and I really hope folks are as inspired by the work you’re doing as I am, and that maybe they’re move to take a little more action in their own communities. I really do think it all begins with us and how we treat each other and how much we care about each other’s survival. So as we start to wind things down here, I just want to ask, if you could send one message to the world right now, what would it be?
VH: I think one of the messages that a lot of us have been thinking about, this is less for the world and more for community organizers and for people in the left, is what is the difference between mobilizing and organizing? We need to figure out what our relationship is with organizing and what our relationship is with mobilizing and really reevaluate that and see what’s working. I think that would be one of the messages I would send down and to the broader community and to the world. It seems corny, but like time’s up. You know what I mean? Like white middle-class Australians are saying, “Fuck, I thought we had 20 years,” but we’re living through it now. And what we’re doing now will dictate either our future or our demise. And we need to keep reiterating to ourselves that we need to center First Nations communities, the needs of disabled communities and the needs of other marginalized people. Time’s up. Business as usual is gone. Like, it’s over. And if I could just to add something really quickly. I work in the community sector. I work in domestic and family violence policy. And I was really lucky to have this sort of workplace where we put out a statement from our work saying our policy advocacy is going to change. What we’re doing is going to change because we need to completely reorient things around climate justice. And I was really proud that we were able to put out a statement that said, we can’t work on a business as usual schedule anymore. And I think that our workplaces and our communities need to start made to really start fighting for us. Time’s up. Business as usual is over and we’re fighting for our communities and our lives right now.
KH: You know, I’ve read that statement and I found it very powerful and it’s great to see folks having these conversations in workplaces and in organizations. Clinging to normalcy is no longer an option and we just don’t get to do that anymore. I also really appreciated what you had to say about organizing versus mobilization. We need more people building networks and organizing outside of frameworks that cooperate with the system. And I think that as you’re saying, people need to understand that meaningful action isn’t that you show up for a rally and you feel empowered and you go home. It’s hopefully that you show up for the rally. Feel empowered, go back into your community and figure out how are you going to be part of this? What is your contribution? What is the injustice you most want to address, and what can you contribute? No one can do everything. As Mariame Kaba says, pick a lane and go. We all have something to bring to the struggle and we all have to figure out how we’re going to do that. Well, I want to thank you again. It’s been a great conversation and I hope we can talk again soon.
VH: Yeah. Thanks so much for having me, Kelly.
KH: I also want to thank our listeners for joining us today. Y’all hang in there and remember, our best defense against cynicism is to do good and remember that the good we do matters.
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