To be human during a crisis
“Once you know what it means to be human, you can never finally turn your back, your body won’t let you. Bearing witness to both the beauty and the pain of our world is a task I want to be part of. By bearing witness, the story that is told can provide a healing ground. Through the art of language, the art of story, alchemy can occur and if we choose to turn our back we’ve walked away from what it means to be human.” – “A Voice in the Wilderness” by Terry Tempest Williams, Edited by Michael Austin
To be human is to bear witness to the horrors and magic of this world. From a young age, I began to witness the ways my body and my family’s bodies were interpreted in different places. As I grew older and gained the vocabulary to analyze, time after time I’d revisit those memories. My neighborhood council taught me the power of organizing from the age of 12. I remember gathering near my school to arrange mural projects that brought our community together. I realized quickly that there was power in bringing the community together for causes that are important to us.
Ever since, I’ve always been part of clubs and organizations that organized together. Oftentimes, I was attracted to fighting for public health issues. I was able to see how public health issues come full circle as part of a larger network.
As of right now, I’m channeling my energy to my current immediate communities that are Beloit Public Health Initiative (BPHI) and my closest friends (virtually). After a few virtual happy hours with my friends, we decided to start a book club. This week we began “Freedom is a Constant Struggle” by Angela Davis and had a great conversation.
In our discussion, we came across these questions that were posed in the introduction of “Freedom is a Constant Struggle” by Angela Davis: “’What can we do? How can we do it? With whom? What tactics should be used? How should we define a strategy that is accessible to everyone, including a general public that has reached levels of depoliticization that can make atrocities seem acceptable? What is our vision? How can we make sure “we” are talking to “everyone”? How can we catalyze and connect sustainable, cross-border, and radical movements?’”
We realized that in our different paths of life, we are constantly asking ourselves these questions. One of my friends mentioned that even when watching Netflix shows, he is always actively engaging in critical thought.
That’s when I thought about Williams’ quote on being human. These are questions that organizers ask themselves everyday and become ingrained into all aspects of our lives from the public to the personal. Terry Tempest Williams talks about this as well, writing that there is no separation between the secular world, the spiritual world, the intellectual world, the physical world, and the political world. She mentions Gregory Bateson when explaining that “patterns connect, the stories that inform and inspire us and teach us what is possible … somewhere along the line we have become segregated in the way we think about things and become compartmentalized… that contributes to our sense of isolation and our lack of a whole vision of the world..” This was how I became so passionate about public health; when it comes to health, everything is interconnected. The wellness wheel for instance shows how seven health dimensions of the individual are linked and impacted by each other.
At a societal level, the health care system impacts different communities’ health and wellbeing. Structures beyond what is thought to be the health care system also impacts the overall health and wellbeing of several communities.
“Freedom is a Constant Struggle” begins by discussing the focus on “how to make the struggle a truly global one, one in which everybody on the planet has a part to play and understands that role.” Understanding the different links between global issues to stand as a movement and as people is the beginning of decolonizing our mental borders imposed into our consciousness by the oppressive institutions. Naomi Klein talks about the “winner-takes-all economy” attitude during this crisis where some people carry out the narrative of “I’ll take care of me and my own, we can get the best insurance there is, and if you don’t have good insurance it’s probably your fault, that’s not my problem”. An illusion in which the political and economic elites do not realize how tied together everyone is in this society. If our essential workers are constantly getting ill and dying from COVID-19 due to the poor health infrastructure, who else is going to grow, harvest, package the food that consumers buy at the market?
Bubbles are bursting, I hope. The political and economic elites have created an unfair system for essential workers that leave them with poor to no health insurance nor access to COVID-19 personal protective equipment out of corrupt and conservative thinking. It’s unfortunate that even this argument has to be made where “essential” workers are “essential” to the entire society’s economy and health. Simply that we are all humans who all deserve a fair living wage and healthcare isn’t enough of a “convincing” argument for the elites.
This pandemic couldn’t be any more proof that our underlying issues with the political and economic system are beyond policy reform. Our solutions are not in the realm of the existing political and economic systems but rather among the collective people.