The Sickness In Our Midst
or, On Immunity
I usually write these posts with a certain story-telling tone in mind. This one is different. I’m disturbed, even infuriated. And I want to try and pull together what I think someone needs to be saying right now.
This is about the coronavirus but really about much more.
A virus is most problematic for a person with a compromised immune system. If a person’s body is poorly equipped to fight off a virus, the virus is going to do more damage. This is why seasonal flu kills a lot of people every year. This is why even a common cold can potentially be fatal. I think that this concept is widely understood.
Beyond the question of whether a person’s body has a strong or compromised immune system, I would suggest that a person’s external life can have a strong or compromised immune system. Such system has less to do with biological function and more to do with social function. If you’ve got good health insurance, you’re more likely to go to the doctor and get better treatment. If you’ve got a good job, you’re more likely to have paid sick leave. If you’ve got a good family life, you’re more likely to have people around you to help you through difficult times, be they due to an illness, or to something like work or death of a friend or any number of things.
I want to tell you all about Vaughn Occupational High School.
Vaughn is located on the Northwest Side of Chicago. It’s a school for otherly abled kids, such as kids with Down Syndrome.
We used to live a few blocks away. In the past I’d met some parents and kids and been in the building for a couple of meetings. I do not claim to know any of them well but I met people who… you spend five minutes around them and you just know them. They’re simply amazing people. Vaughn is a loving and resilient community.
Last week an aide who works at Vaughn tested positive for the the coronavirus. This morning I saw a mention of it in a newsletter. And it occurred to me to see what one of the people I had met was posting about it all. Her name is Cindy Fah-Ok. She’s the chair of the Local School Council at Vaughn.
I found a Chicago Sun-Times article where it says that Chicago Public Schools basically told the entire Vaughn community to self-quarantine for two weeks. That means those kids staying home. That means those parents staying home.
This is Cindy, quoted in the article:
“A lot of our parents are immigrants or they live at or below the poverty level, so they’re being forced to stay at home to look after their kids. I don’t know if they have enough resources to take off work, so I’m trying to find them support.”
Cindy has put together a GoFundMe. This is the link:
What Cindy is saying - and following through on - is the idea that these families have compromised immunity. In some cases that might be literal biological immunity. But I mean external immunity. These are families where the breadwinners may not have paid sick leave or vacation, or it may be minimal and will easily be exhausted over the next two weeks.
Right as of the time of this posting, that GoFundMe has just achieved its goal of $10,000. It is heartening to see that the greater community around Vaughn has stepped up.
It is nevertheless infuriating that the best mechanical thing that can be done right now is a GoFundMe page.
It is infuriating that people who worry they might be infected may feel that they cannot afford to go get tested.
It is infuriating that, when a governmental entity can tell hundreds of people to self-quarantine, that government generally is not prepared to step in and truly help. (Yes, local elected officials are stepping in here. But that’s not really the same thing.)
It is infuriating that in the most affluent nation in the history of the world that when a public health crisis strikes, people who are already disadvantaged in other ways must simply accept some of the worst of the fallout.
I can very easily imagine a single mother of a disabled child, someone who works very hard all hours of the day, outright losing her job because she has to take two weeks off.
I can also very easily imagine a single mother of a disabeld child, someone who works very hard all hours of the day, making the calculation that she simply cannot afford the risk of losing her job, and showing up anyway.
We may be at the precipice of a widespread public health crisis, one which is going to most profoundly affect those with compromised immune systems such as the elderly and the infirmed. But we may also be at the precipice of a another widespread crisis in parallel. We as a society may not be able to magically restore healthiness to everyone. But we should be able to bolster collective immunity to keep people who are compromised in other ways from being hit the hardest. Shouldn’t we?
Up to this point I haven’t made anything which I consider to be a political statement. I think we should be able to reach common understandings about what is decent and right in our affluent society without it having to be “political” per se.
Well, I do have a political statement or two to make.
When progressives talk about equality - when we talk about deep social and structural change - we are not talking about “mass handouts” or whatever other nonsense bullshit people might want to claim. What we are talking is how goddamn disgusting it is that a woman would be put in a position like the one I describe above, instead of simply being allowed to take care of her child without fear of losing her job!
And for whatever it’s worth, the difference I see here between progressives and liberals goes like this: While I think liberals may also find the situation disgusting, their political reaction is somewhere on the order of “Let’s see if we can do anything about this”, whereas progressives will react by saying “We’re going to do something about this.” It’s the distinction between agreeing that such a thing is bad, and agreeing that such a thing ought be considered unacceptable in the modern affluent world.
Two weeks from now, or four months from now, or whenever exactly it is that the coronavirus isn’t at the forefront of our thoughts, and we’re not viscerally considering the plight of that single mother, liberals are liable to find a way not to do something, not because they might not want to, but because they will somehow conclude that they just can’t. This is why I hope none of you reading this are seriously considering voting for Joe Biden, who might very well instinctively want to help families like this, but who in practice made it even harder through his role in ramming through the 2005 Bankruptcy Act. If politics is “the art of the possible”, isn’t it interesting to see how easily erstwhile well-intentioned people manage to discover impossibilities?
See, I firmly believe that the vast majority of the American people think that it would be good to do something about all this. Conservatives, liberals, progressives, radicals, whatever they might call themselves, I think there is a greater-than-reported broad acceptance of the notion of social welfare, even if the word welfare has been abused by some politicians.
But I also believe that we are hamstrung by another sickness - the sickness that says we just can’t. This sickness manifests itself a lot of different ways. Sometimes it’s in the form of saying “well, government shouldn’t be doing blah blah”. Sometimes it’s “both-sides-ism”. Sometimes it my very well be well-intentioned. But what’s lacking is a widespread common comprehension that there are more than sufficient riches generated by all of our collective labor and all of the bounty that the earth has provided us to ensure that single mothers not be forced to make a choice like the one I outline above. What’s lacking is a universal shared understanding that there is a baseline level of human decency that we can and ought to meet, and that such baseline is much higher than where a lot of people believe it “can” be.
It is not that most people are bad, or stupid, or anything like that.
It is, instead, that many people, for whatever reasons, simply believe that we can’t.
Well, we sure as hell can.
If someone tells you oh, we can’t then I want you to channel my mother and counter why the hell not?
Now. If you haven’t had the opportunity to vote yet, I am asking you to make sure to go out and vote for Bernie Sanders. I am also asking you spend the small amount of time necessary to figure out who all else on your ballot, running for down ticket offices, to vote for as well. And if you’re not sure where to look for advice, come find me, and I’ll help. It’ll be easier if you live next door and your ballot is the same as mine, but if you live anywhere from Tallahassee to Toledo, and you need research help, I will try to help.
Right now, though, I want you to do two things.
First, I want you to share this post far and wide, if you believe in what all I’m saying.
Second, I want you to go to this GoFundMe page and kick in something to help these families at Vaughn. Yes, they’ve met their goal. But you can trust that this money will be handled responsibly and will truly help people. Vaughn is a shining light and those kids and their families deserve support. Be part of the light. Be part of the can. And not just today.
I certainly don’t mean to downplay the severity of the coronavirus.
The sickness in our midst, though, is the can’t. Don’t think about what we can’t do. Think about we can do. And be a part of the can. Maybe we can’t magically eradicate a terrible virus. But we can collectively build a greater, more resilient society. I can. You can. Be part of the can.