Culture leads the way to change, whether in a house, a neighborhood, or a society. American society now feels to be groaning under the weight of the rotten culture of racialized consumer capitalism. But small communities within American Empire often embody vastly different cultures of care. This week, we offer to you some compelling stories about building cultures of artistic, spiritual, and material care.
Culture leads the way in change. Sometimes a single image will make all the difference in pushing a nascent movement into a mainstream cause. At other times, the weight of collected images and songs and poems both represent a community’s embodied resilience and its dream for a future, as CGC co-founder Peter Block says, “distinct from the past.” Art and artists lead the way.
Long time activists and friends and Edgar Rivera Colon share an important conversation about community care. Drawing on their experience in navigating the AIDS crisis within their communities, they remind all of us who are harried and worried and burning out: “I’m part of a collective, even if I’m isolating. I’m a part of folks.”
When the AIDS epidemic came to light in 1981, the public health response was slow. Queer and vulnerable communities not only had to self-advocate, but also develop protocols of care to protect themselves and their loved ones. Although the coronavirus is very different from HIV, the legacy of AIDS activism nevertheless may offer lessons for the current health emergency on how to combat stigma, prevent spread on a community respectively.
In this conversation, artist, educator, and organizer Pato Hebert speaks with medical anthropologist Edgar Rivera Colón about life during the pandemic, its impacts on vulnerable communities, and the importance of cultivating an ethos of care while learning to live with the coronavirus. Hebert, whose work explores interconnectedness, has worked in grassroots HIV prevention initiatives with queer communities of color since 1994. Rivera Colón, an expert on Latinx queer cis male sexual cultures, trains health professionals as well as Black and Latinx activists on preventing HIV in their communities. Their insights from experiences in community activism, education, and spirituality permeate this discussion on inequality and resistance during the coronavirus crisis.
Community Care is not only interpersonal, it is also structural. If you love your neighbor, even the ones across town that you don’t know, then you will want them to have some systemic, structural justice. Michael Harriot tells a gripping story of one South Carolina community, and reminds us that community care includes restitution – not as punishment, but as making people whole.
Sometimes their children walked.
Sometimes their children rowed.
Sometimes their children died.
In 1948, when only 16 states in America had outlawed segregated public schools, Black parents in the tiny hamlet of Summerton, South Carolina, where three out of every four residents were Black, finally got tired of being robbed by white people. Their children were mostly just tired.
Every day, young Summertonians maneuvered through one obstacle course after another, only to be rewarded with an inferior education. If the children were lucky, they walked as far as nine miles to attend one of the segregated schools in Clarendon County’s District 22. On other days, rain would force students as young as 6 years old to wade across a stream to attend school. Often, when the water was particularly high, someone would provide a raft to row their way across the Lake Marion Reservoir. When they arrived at school, they would have to chop wood for their unheated classrooms … if they arrived.
Sometimes a student would just drown on the way.
Near one Common Good Fellow’s home in North Carolina, someone put up a hand-painted sign that read “Money Isn’t Everything.” Which is true. But another neighbor saw that it required a rejoinder, and so wrote below it, “But It F@*^ing Helps!” Which is also true. Caring for neighbors is much easier when resources are equitably distributed.
Like many of the virus’s hardest hit victims, the United States went into the COVID-19 pandemic wracked by preexisting conditions. A fraying public health infrastructure, inadequate medical supplies, an employer-based health insurance system perversely unsuited to the moment—these and other afflictions are surely contributing to the death toll. But in addressing the causes and consequences of this pandemic—and its cruelly uneven impact—the elephant in the room is extreme income inequality.
How big is this elephant? A staggering $50 trillion. That is how much the upward redistribution of income has cost American workers over the past several decades.