Solidarity in the Time of Corona

Solidarity in the Time of Corona
Berlin — We’re two and a half years into the coronavirus pandemic, and I long for the first days, for the late winter and early spring of 2020 when it seemed that as a whole we gave a shit about collective action and solidarity for one another. But, like all nostalgia, I’m imagining a past that was never really there. What solidarity we had, what amount we were willing to sacrifice for our neighbors, our movement, strangers we don’t even like was always less than we hoped it was.

Do you remember when lockdown started and in every neighborhood Gabenzäune sprung up? For a moment, I thought it was nice that people wanted to help, but it was so apparent that it was an easy way for people to throw their unwanted clothing over a fence and pat themselves on the back for their generosity despite almost none of it being useful for rough sleepers. Or the odds and ends of food that couldn’t be prepared without a stove. It was a gesture, a performance. And maybe we can blame that on the misguided liberals who have no connection to the support structures that exist to help the unhoused and say that we as radicals did better.

People took to social media with the hashtag #NoOneLeftBehind in hopes of evacuating the camps where refugees and migrants at were imprisoned at the European borders. Posters and banners appeared in our neighborhoods. Some tagged sidewalks with chalk and walls with paint paint in hopes of spreading the message that we are obligated to pull the humans out of their squalid camps, that Europe and all its constituent States had the ability to save these lives but were choosing not to. But words are easy when they’re about a conflict so remote.

I remember when it was popular for events to announce—almost to the point of bragging—about their “hygiene concept” and how they were going to keep attendees safe. Yet despite these declaration of ideals, few enforced masking or testing, and next to none checked vaccination status. Full rooms, closed doors, and not nearly enough masks. Personal preference and the avoidance of minor discomfort created an environment that left many behind. During our failed eviction defenses, the ones pre-vaccine, do you recall the Ruheräume, the rooms reserved for the injured and the street medics that were full of drunk and unmasked people? What solidarity did that show?

And now, years into this, the governments have removed mandates designed to minimize the spread of the virus. Indoor dining has resumed. Bars, clubs, concert halls, cinemas, and all manner of other indoor spaces are fully open and almost no one wears masks any more. Even thought it’s technically required on public transit, what fraction of U-Bahn passengers are still masking? Perhaps a third, at best, on days that aren’t particularly warm. Private companies have backtracked on these measures as well by recalling employees to the offices or removing mask mandates on planes to disastrous effect. Those with institutional power are giving up.

If you don’t have direct contact to people affected by the coronavirus, take a look online. Go find any post about long-COVID or people commiserating with each other about how their lives have been ruined by this disease. The mothers lost, the brothers now bed-ridden. The neighbors that have to ask for help with basic tasks. The friends who lost jobs—the ones that are unfortunately necessary to procure life’s necessities—because fatigue won’t let them stay on their feet. Read the stories about lives that have been catastrophically changed by the (semi-)permanent side-effects of infection. Listen to the sorrow.

“I couldn’t avoid it. I tried, I tried, but I had to keep working. I got sick, and now I’m diabetic.”

“I was careful, but my roommates weren’t. One got it at a party and gave it to me. I can barely get out of bed now.”

“My son got COVID at school, and brought it home to me. I gave it to my dad, and he died three weeks later.”

Do you not feel the agony? Can you not see that this isn’t some background noise that we just have to “deal with” or move on from? The lack of precautions is a mass disabling, mass murdering event. For everyone who’s died, there’s a dozen more friends and family members who are wracked with grief. For every four people who didn’t get it “that bad” and recovered, there’s a fifth who now has life-altering complications. Organ damage, fatigue, loss of lung function, brain fog, loss of memory, loss of hair, new allergies, blood clots, aneurysms, strokes.

We, the anarchists, the radicals, are remarkably unable to fill the void left by the so-called leaders who chose to let us die so they and their cronies could profit. Thought, that’s being generous. Plenty of them know it will kill us off, but they know it will kill off the poorest, the most marginalized, and lick their lips at thought of being able to passively induce some indiscriminate genocide.

For everyone who stopped caring, there’s some other bürgerliche normie who wishes we could keep masking, who wishes that we could do something to stop the spread. We, the anarchists, could be showing the world that there are people who look out for them. We could push for voluntary masking. We could harass corporations for not requiring masks in their shops. We could take direct actions and shame people on public transit who don’t mask. Would you tolerate a swastika-wearing nazi on the U8? What about someone with a shirt that says “I don’t care if the poor die”? What about a Querdenker with an anti-vaxx shirt and poster? Why then do we not act out against this passive acceptance that the vulnerable are excluded from the most basic building blocks of a functioning society? We could be showing that another world is possible, one built on care and community in ways that counter the isolation and despair of our current system.

That’s a word we love to repeat. It’s such a powerful word, one with such strong connotations that when we speak about it in German, we don’t use Gesellschaft or Gemeinde or any of the other native words, but the English one. “Wir bauen zusammen eine starke Community für alle.” Are we though? Can we call what we’re building a “community” when our inactions, our poor Maßnahmen gegen Infektion are so hostile toward the people we most want to include?

But then again, this lack of concern for others is surprising to no one, especially if they are once or multiply marginalized. Our scene is full of so many problematic behaviors that exclude others. Sometimes it’s because someone wants to hold on to their privilege or wield just a bit of power over others. Maybe it’s because we’re uncomfortable with conflict and it’s easier to send a victim of racism, sexism, or abuse packing then to have to face the people we call “friends” and “comrades” and tell them that their behavior is unacceptable. How many of our spaces are overwhelmingly white? Or cis? Or run by men? How many have a German core that drives out immigrants? This is known within our scene, yet we find ourselves so unable to address it. The core trait that prevents us from kicking out sexists and racists is the same that prevents us from dealing with corona-minimizers.

It’s not even that that there’s generalized apathy, but there’s active hostility. There’s the wing-nut conspiracists who “don’t trust the government” telling us to mask up despite the government downplaying the pandemic to get us back to work. They don’t believe in the vaccinations or the effects of long-COVID. Some of them attack others for masking and blame them for creating division in the scene or just wearing them to show off their moral good as part of the “new narcissism.” I’ve even been called a cop for masking because “only cops mask these days.” You could say so much of this comes from poor understanding of the science or even the impossible to kill off anti-science that plagues our movement, but that’s just an explanation for how we got here, not an excuse that means we shouldn’t combat these tendencies. This aggression to the most basic measures of protecting others coming from a conspiracists would be one thing, but the fact that comrades tolerate this as an acceptable difference of opinion only feeds the inhumanity of the situation.

For all the talk about community, we cannot even extend the most basic solidarity to so many of the other members of our scene. Everyone wants to show up to a demo to block the AfD or Der Dritte Weg from marching. We want to smash patriarchy and racism, to punch every nazi in their stupid fucking faces. But we’ve mistaken militance for violence and aggression instead of taking it to mean determination and discipline. Punching a nazi is a hell of a lot harder when you don’t have a Bloc of comrades behind you to back you up. Smashing a window during a riot, yeeting a Sterni bottle at a cop, these can only be done when you know that someone will have your back and pull you out of the clutches of the State. We have to be able to trust each other not just to act but to sacrifice. De-arresting works only when the Bloc acts selflessly and its members put themselves in danger in the hopes of saving someone else.
Ask yourself this: Can you really trust that not just one comrade but five or more will jump to your aid to fight off the Zivis that are pulling you toward the wall of the Behelmte when those same comrades won’t even put on fucking mask or skip yet another party? I can’t, I’m sorry.

Even if we just focus on solidarity in the context of the coronavirus, and we accept the premise that this is a mass disabling event, I don’t trust nearly enough of my comrades to care for me if I’m walloped by COVID and left permanently unable to fend for myself in this capitalist hellscape. If someone won’t skip their fourth anarchist/queer/radical party of the month, do you think they’ll care for when you can’t work? Will they skip those parties to dumpster dive or pick up a night shift so you can have enough to eat? It seems doubtful. If you’re reading this now and say to yourself, “if my disabled comrade couldn’t afford to eat, I’d give up my social life to feed them,” then ask yourself why you wouldn’t make smaller changes to your social life now to prevent them from becoming disabled in the first place. The ableism of our scene is so disgustingly apparent, and I hope this quote from disability activists sticks with you:

No one is “not disabled.” They’re only “not yet disabled.”

“Yet.” One day you too will be disabled. Old age my take your sight or your ability to walk. Violent conflict with the state might leave you in chronic pain, paralyzed, made catatonic with PTSD. Disability is coming for you, and you can prepare face it now, or can wait for it to catch you off guard and knock you on your ass.
So what are we do to do?

We talk about building community, building structures, building a movement. All of these start with the individual. A community can start with one, just one. You. You can be the first to incept and idea and put it to action. From there, you can find another who shares that idea. And another, and another. Soon you have a crew that shares your ideals, and when you connect to others you can start to build the community you imagine.

But community needs to start with you being altruistic and actually solidarisch. These aren’t things you declare yourself to be, but they are adjectives that describe the acts you do. You, me, we all need to start acting in ways that are inclusive and protect others, especially the most vulnerable and marginalized. I don’t care if you say you’ll punch a nazi. How often does that happen? And moreover, how often does that in a way where you could even get away with doing it in public? On the other hand, you can multiple times per day every day choose to put on a mask or protect those around you. It’s frequent, zero-risk, and low-effort, yet so many of us drag our feet and barely do it.

I’ve been organizing here for nearly nine years, and for all my frustration with so many facets of organizing in the BRD and Berlin, nothing—and I mean nothing—has demoralized me as much as our collective apathy and negligence about stopping the spread of the coronavirus. It seems that we’ve forsaken fundamental components of anarchism and bludgeoned them to death with individualism, holding up as a defense the not-even-real quote attributed to Emma Goldman: “If I can’t dance, it’s not my revolution!” This decontextualized slogan that was compressed from a passage in her book Living My Life does not speak of about dancing as being the revolution in and of itself, but rather that asceticism is counter-revolutionary. Berlin thinks of itself as uninhibited and hedonistic, but this idea of all night partying has been repacked and sold back to us as edgy and counter-cultural. It’s much easier to snort some K or speed and party all night at a rave in a squat’s basement than it is to convert that basement into accommodation for undocumented immigrants and refugees.

If one of the principles of anarchism is that one’s individual freedoms cannot infringe on those of others, then your right to party from 22h to 7h no matter what the corona numbers are should not take precedence others’ right to participate in a movement that doesn’t endanger their lives. Can you find a way to meet your needs that doesn’t put others at risk? One that reduces how likely you are to spread it to roommates, comrades, or service workers? One that won’t contribute to the continued overloading of the German healthcare system, one where workers from Berlin to NRW are striking for better pay, staffing, and working conditions? How removed are you from the material conditions that you think that all forms of fun are morally permissible in the name of self-care and kicking back?

I want to cry every day, but I’m so depleted that nothing comes out. I’m so tired, so fucking tired. Tired of skipping events. Tired of seeing comrades do things that endanger me. Tired of seeing my desire to stay healthy dismissed, not just the desire to protect myself but to protect others and ensure that I can care for them in some future wave of post-COVID disabilities that is inevitably coming. Tired of my trust in comrades—those close to me and those barely known—continuously eroding because they can’t recognize that the world of 2019 isn’t coming back any time soon and that we will have to restructure of lives to the world where the coronavirus is endemic.
Do the minimum. Wear your mask. Stop going to indoor parties (and for fuck’s sake, stop hosting them). Avoid crowded spaces. We’re still in a crisis. It’s mid-summer, yet the cases are already rising again; they’ve nearly doubled in Berlin in the last week from an incidence of 165.6 to 292.7.

You have to change yourself and those around you. “We protect us” as the Schlachtruf goes. We have a moral and ethical obligation to take the coronavirus seriously and minimize the damage from continuous and repeated infections. If anarchism means solidarity, then it also means protecting others from infection. We need to be better, and if we can’t, we will not be able to build the sort of community that can resist the wave of fascism that is sweeping the globe.