I’m on my 16th day of official Coronavirus lockdown. Since day 1, I’ve been seeing a welcome revival of all sorts of virtual conversations, resources and inspiring quotes about care. But here’s the thing: most of them focus on self-care rituals, yoga, mindfulness, and exercise regimes – the ‘well-being complex’ and ‘wellness industry’ at our rescue.
Before you leave thinking this is a moralizing post meant to induce guilt, read this: the corona crisis brings up issues of how we care for ourselves and each other. So I’m just proposing that we focus on both.
Care is essentially the sustenance of life. The critical moment we are living through starkly reveals what has been true all along: our deep dependence on each other. We are able to grasp how much more interconnected we are than our (brutal) economic system allows us to believe. And echoing what has been common knowledge for epidemiologists, we realize now that we are only as healthy as the least healthy member of our community.
We may have thought that we’d be granted safety if we stayed home, took precautions and had access to good medical care. But if the person who cultivates, prepares or supplies our food, or who cleans our streets, cannot have access to medical care, let alone stay home because they do not have the privilege of taking a break from work or having sick leave, all of us will not be safe.
We are seeing which jobs and human lives are the ones that reproduce our own individual lives, as well as our global and local economies. With the stripping back of the bandage of ‘normality’, priorities such as the accumulation of wealth and blind pursuit of GDP growth are able to be more openly questioned.
At its core, this moment highlights how interdependent we are – we cannot consider ourselves as isolated from the people that pick our food, that care for our bodies, that care for our children and elderly. Care cannot possibly continue to be treated as individual in a world where we are cared for by many.
Caring about care
Times like these present a grand opportunity for many more to start to care about care – beyond the wellness industry, beyond the individual, beyond just healthcare. Conversations on wellbeing and care have gone under the radar next to the more ‘important’ topics, which we’ve somehow managed to disconnect from collective well-being. And it takes me back to a question raised in a previous set of resources I compiled on Wellbeing and Development: is wellbeing political?
For the majority, it is not the wellness industry that is sustaining them during these times: it is their neighbors, family networks, friends and strangers that are sharing time and resources. It is the care and support infrastructure of society: decent wages, well-protected labour rights, a welfare safety net, a resilient and well-funded public health system, a roof over everyone’s head, etc.
Without underestimating community solidarity, this pandemonium exposes shortcomings of policies that fail to account for the immense care labor that is needed for there to be a labor market in the first place. It exposes the violence of our societies. It exacerbates the efforts that working families must make in order to comply with family obligations and those of paid employment, the economic knockdown effects of lockdown, and all other forms of social suffering (which already existed) that create unequal grounds for wellbeing. Meanwhile, some might never have even considered what it could mean to live with fragility, or the idea that a force larger than themselves could make them poor.
Wellbeing is political, so thinking about it involves rethinking resources, priorities and power dynamics. And crisis is an opportunity for us to realize what’s truly important and redirect priorities accordingly. Health and wellbeing are not individual responsibilities or a product to be purchased.
We can see that care is what justice can look like in a particular moment and context. Care is harm reduction in the face of amplified inequalities. Care is solidarity as a political act.
Reflecting on this, I’ve attempted to start a compilation of resources that can help us think about wellbeing in a time of crisis. How can care reflect principles of justice and collective thinking? How can well-being be aligned with principles of solidarity and justice to rebalance the asymmetric effects of the pandemic? I hope you’ll keep adding resources in the comments below. As always, #PowerShifts is a collective effort.
Shifting narratives towards collective care
Covid-19 is an unfolding story that hasn’t been fully written yet. How can we shape the narrative? This excellent write-up lays out some key storytelling features to emphasize during this time, as well as other resources on how to communicate during the pandemic. I love that they pointed to ‘my care is your care’ as a motif that we need to come back to time and time again throughout this story.
The metaphors and vocabulary used to explain this coronacrisis have relied heavily on militarized language (we’re at “war;” “Waging a war against an invisible enemy;” “we will defeat”). What’s the opposite of militarization? Organizing, compassion and shifting priorities. This is a moment – well, an era that’s long past due – to center the language of change, care, policies and paths forward on inclusion, empowerment and justice. Read more in this resource from the Opportunity Agenda.
Higher Ground Strategies put together Reflections on “Movement Strategy in the Time of Coronavirus” with some powerful thinking on the challenge to movements now: narrative, organizing, infrastructure, funding and more. For an example of narrative change in action, the Centre for Countering Digital Hate launched their #DontSpreadTheVirus campaign to counter misinformation, as well as xenophobic, hateful messaging that risks being amplified at this time.
The response to Coronavirus is a feminist issue
Feminist resources have been extremely useful in centering collective care through a gender lens during the coronacrisis. Here are a few recommended ones:
- A Feminist Reading List on Care, Crisis and Pandemics
- Call for a Feminist COVID-19 Policy – Statement of Feminists and Women’s Rights Organizations from the Global South and marginalized communities in the Global North
- Feminist resources on the pandemic with a list of key considerations from a feminist perspective
- The introduction to a very timely series on radical care by the Sociological Review
- Thoughts on Radical Care in African Feminist Praxis, Jessica Horn
- “Waging War” Against a Virus is NOT What We Need to Be Doing, Cynthia Enloe
- African feminists are showing us how it’s done in ‘We got this: Finding hope in the time of COVID-19’
- COVID-19: Las mujeres asumen más los cuidados y la exposición al virus (Spanish), Noemí López Trujillo
- Coronavirus y economía: cuando el cuidado está en crisis (Spanish), Natalia Quiroga Diaz
- Autocuidado físico, emocional y digital en tiempos de pandemia: prácticas y recursos (Spanish)
- Autocuidado y cuidado colectivo, prácticas de resistencia en tiempos violentos(Spanish), Daniela Fontaine
FemNet (The African Women’s Development and Communication Network) also has some graphic offerings with reminders and useful reflection points. See two examples below, follow them on Twitter and the #InclusiveLockdown hashtag for more.
Make sure to check out this timely new report by ActionAid “Who Cares for the Future” on how debt, austerity and regressive taxes have weakened many countries’ public services including health and education, leaving them dangerously vulnerable to COVID-19.
Lastly, the way care is enacted is deeply linked with capitalist and patriarchal logics (surprise!). Check out this video narrated by Naomi Klein on confronting what she calls ‘Coronavirus Capitalism’. It talks about the ways the still-unfolding Covid-19 crisis is already remaking our sense of the possible.
What solidarity can look like
Care and solidarity are two sides of the same coin.
Solidarity initiatives are even being led by groups most in need of solidarity themselves. In Barcelona, I’ve (virtually) witnessed some of the most incredible acts of migrant solidarity during this time. Despite facing police harassment for not being documented, migrant street vendors (known across Spain as ‘manteros’) have been making masks for health workers and organizing food banks. This is a community that is routinely marginalized and excluded, yet despite that, they are acting in solidarity with a society that has rejected them.
Across much of the Global North, we are seeing openings for a narrative shift. After decades of stigmatization and demeaning the value of migrants, European societies are realizing much of their lives depend on them. And some of the wealthiest countries are regularizing the status of migrants (Portugal), or flying in thousands of migrant workers to support with crucial care work (UK), from nursing to agricultural labour. Demands for migrant justice become ever more visible under the current climate.
Here are more solidarity initiatives (please add the ones you know about in the comments below):
- Read this fantastic round-up of some initiatives around housing and fuel poverty in Europe
- Greek refugees battling to prevent Covid-19 with handmade face masks
- Here’s a full list of support groups in the UK
- MutualAidHub.org has a map-based directory for new groups forming in the United States.
CoronavirusTechHandbook.com has information on how to get involved in things like designing open-source medical devices.
- Berlin opens first hostel for the homeless amid coronavirus pandemic
- Caja de Resistencia para Trabajadoras del Hogar in Spain
- Plan de Choque Social in Spain – “The Government must listen to hundreds of anti-racist, feminist, environmental and social unions, organizations and platforms that demand a way out of this health, social, care, climate, ecological and economic crisis”
Below you can find some readings on mutual aid and collective care (expanded from Jennifer Lentfer’s open letter to her friends and family)
- What is mutual aid? Big Door Brigade
- What Is Mutual Aid, and How Can It Help With Coronavirus?, Vice
- How lending circles and mutual aid groups create community resilience, Jassmin Poyaoan
- Letter on a plague year: Everything is on the table, Jennifer Cooke
- There are a few different kinds of organizing. Some focus on “local efforts to build networks that can respond at the neighborhood or community level,” while others “build networks to serve more at-risk groups.
- Coronavirus calls for care, solidarity and action, Friends of the Earth Europe
- Ayuda mutua: ética anarquista en tiempos de coronavirus (Spanish), Enrique Javier Diez Gutierrez
- This anarchist thinker helps explain why we feel so driven to help each other through the coronavirus crisis, Ruth Kinna and Thomas Swann
We are at a significant crossroads, and the global implications of the coronacrisis are uncertain and unpredictable. Yet what we do know is that this is a moment for acknowledging care, a time for us to focus inwards and outwards. As the eco-feminist scholar Yayo Herrero notes, ‘precisely the order to isolate ourselves and maintain social distance, has been the trigger for many people to start to look out of the window, to start to name their neighbours, and worry about others.’
Care, for so long neglected and devalued by mainstream economics and politics, is now inescapably on the agenda. The skewed priorities of our system, exemplified by the hesitation from politicians on whether to preserve lives or the status quo, have rarely been so starkly exposed.
When it comes to rethinking the future, the crucial question, as Guatemalan human rights activist Lolita Chavez asks is: ‘what gives us life?’ We can no longer go back to an era of invisible care or lifeless economic indicators. From academics discussing how to embed an ‘ethics of care’ into academia in a time of COVID-19, to feminist economists outlining plans for a new regenerative economic model, the ground is now fertile to put care at the centre of a post-pandemic world. We must take this opportunity.
And as we navigate and sail in these turbulent times, neither can we forget ourselves. If you’re in need of support yourself, turn to this beautiful resource on mental health compiled by people who have experienced disasters in many forms.
Take care, everyone.
Featured image: Fotomovimiento, CC license.