Laughing at Mass Death Brings Us Closer to Fascism


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We have witnessed the evolution of a social and moral binary in the United States: vaccinated and unvaccinated. Immersed in a culture of blame and condemnation, around the spread of COVID-19, we have also seen the rise of a brand of humor that author Kelly Hayes characterizes as “recreational dehumanization.” So how should we be talking about vaccination and mass death, and how can we be constructive? In this episode of “Movement Memos,” Kelly talks with activist Johnny Dangers, about overcoming vaccine hesitancy, and Shana McDavis-Conway, with the Center for Story-Based Strategy, about how we can constructively frame the moment.

TRANSCRIPT

Note: This a rush transcript and has been lightly edited for clarity. Copy may not be in its final form.

Welcome to “Movement Memos,” a Truthout podcast about things you should know if you want to change the world. I’m your host, writer and organizer Kelly Hayes. Today, we are talking about the ways in which we relate to tragedy, and how we can curb some of the disturbing trends we’re seeing, in terms of how we’re processing our anger about the pandemic. We’ll also be hearing from my friend, activist and journalist Johnny Dangers, about overcoming vaccine hesitancy in our communities, and from Shana McDavis-Conway, with the Center for Story-Based Strategy, about how we should be narrating our politics in this moment, and what kind of framing we should reject right now.

When we started this show, back in January of 2020, I had no idea we would be talking so much about death. I didn’t think we would be avoiding the subject, because a show about building the relationships, knowledge, and analysis we need, if we’re going to change the world, was always going to involve a lot of discussion of death, and people dying, because the forces we are up against are deadly and always have been. The abolitionist scholar, Ruth Wilson Gilmore, defines racism as “the state-sanctioned or extralegal production and exploitation of group-differentiated vulnerability to premature death,” and the United States is an avid manufacturer of conditions that bring about premature death for differentiated groups. We are also living in a time of global climate catastrophe, so even in the absence of the pandemic, a reckoning with our relationship to mass death was an imperative, but here we are, coping with the delta surge, after a period when many people believed the worst of the pandemic was over, and people are not just slipping into despair, but also schadenfreude, which to me, honestly, is more frightening than despair. Despair can make us feel like we’re drowning, but a drowning person can be helped out of the water. I feel like I have a better sense of how to interact with that than with a person whose relationship with death has become so warped that they would laugh or make jokes as thousands of people drown. To me, that’s a lot more frightening than despair, both in terms of the harm being done to people’s psyches, and in terms of what it will ultimately make us capable of tolerating, as a society.

We have witnessed the evolution of a social and moral binary in the U.S.: vaccinated and unvaccinated. Even President Joe Biden has weighed in to cast “the unvaccinated” as the villains responsible for all of our problems and difficulties restoring normalcy — even as the federal government discontinues pandemic unemployment benefits, and mass evictions unfold in an economy where billionaires have seen a $1.8 trillion surge in their wealth during the pandemic. In other words, billionaires have gotten 62 percent richer, at a time when over 86 million Americans have lost their jobs, and over 688,000 people in the U.S. have died of COVID-19. For many of us, the pandemic has been a time of devastation and disruption. For the rich, this era has accelerated the consolidation of wealth that they have enjoyed since the 1970s, when the US economy continued to grow, but wages began to stagnate, thanks to the innovations of neoliberalism. Neoliberal policies gutted public services, including public health, and public education, disempowered workers and initiated decades of ever-increasing inequality.

Now, we’re living in a gig economy, where young people Venmo each other lunch money, to avoid going hungry, and desperate people launch gofundmes to pay medical bills or avoid eviction — and usually fail to get the help they need. The destruction of public education has also meant the destruction of political memory, so most people don’t even fully understand this trajectory, or how badly they’ve been screwed. So here we are, experiencing what should be a watershed moment, when we should be saying “no” to these capitalist patterns of consolidation, and human and environmental sacrifice, but instead, we have a narrative around returning to normalcy, and the villains who are preventing that return, we are told, are “the unvaccinated.” This narrative overlooks the fact that children, who are not eligible for vaccination, are filling up pediatric ICUs, and that disabled people, who either can’t take the vaccine or haven’t benefited from it, are also dying. And let’s of course forget the fact that all of this resistance was historically predictable, and that our society has simply created the perfect storm for hesitance to blossom into polarization and the rejection of facts.

Now, I am not telling you not to be upset or angry that people are resisting vaccination. I am angry and upset about it myself, and some days, I’m downright heartbroken. Preventable suffering and death have always enraged me, which is why I became an activist. And maybe that’s why I’ve had better luck than some people I know in persuading hesitant people in my life to consider vaccination — because it is not unthinkable to me that people would refuse to accept the grim reality or their situation, or ignore a moral obligation to help other people survive, or to reduce suffering. I am very accustomed to negotiating with that kind of refusal. I have spent years watching people cling to normalcy, maintaining their own routines, disconnecting their own sense of well-being from the suffering of others, and indulging in an unrealistic sense of optimism about their own fates amid a deteriorating situation — all of which are behaviors we have observed during the pandemic. I am used to trying to reason with people about things that are, to me, obvious moral imperatives. Most people aren’t, and to make matters worse, our experience of public discourse increasingly occurs online, where we are conditioned to treat dialogue as an observed competition — something to be won in the eyes of spectators, rather than something that pursues mutual agreement or understanding. We have been conditioned to applaud commentary that resonates with us emotionally, regardless of how it impacts the situation we’re upset about.

But even worse, we have become incredibly reductive when analyzing social problems. Right now, the problem of vaccine hesitancy is rampant, and we are also faced with the right-wing weaponization of vaccine anxieties. Last week, Shane Burley and I both talked about the role the right-wing is playing in undermining efforts to stop the spread of the virus. We’ve all seen it in the news: the demagoguery and the misinformation, the hostility and violence around masking, the death threats being made against pharmacists and clinicians. Friends, I find the people perpetrating all of that duly terrifying, so I don’t want anyone to think I am downplaying the nature of what they are doing, or how dangerous it is, when I say this: projecting a fascistic persona on all unvaccinated people is incredibly harmful.

The human rebelliousness, and distrust of doctors and authority that we are seeing right now are not unprecedented during times of mass illness. We just happen to live in a fractured, fucked up society that is amplifying the worst kinds of conspiratorial thinking that arise in these situations. Historian Steven Taylor published a book about pandemics in 2019 which anticipated rampant conspiracy theories, the scapegoating of targeted groups, and the risky behaviors of people who seem to think they’re exempt from infection. His predictions were gleaned, not from the study of conservatives, but from the study of how people have acted during pandemics.

In that book, The Psychology of Pandemics: Preparing for the Next Global Outbreak of Infectious Disease, Taylor issued the following warning: “During the next pandemic, the likelihood of seeking vaccination in people with high intolerance of uncertainty will likely depend on the availability of information about the safety of vaccines. If there are widely publicized doubts about vaccine safety, then it is likely that people who are intolerant of uncertainty will worry and procrastinate about whether to seek vaccination.”

Trump set the tone with his coverups and lies, but the far-right is generally very opportunistic about conspiracy theories, so it’s not surprising that they’re a major conduit for misinformation. But spreading misinformation is also a profitable branding maneuver in a capitalist society. The Center for Countering Digital Hate found that just twelve content creators are responsible for almost two-thirds of anti-vaccine content circulating on Facebook. The same study indicated that those content creators use social media platforms to target Black people in the U.S., exploiting fears of experimentation and medical racism to spread misinformation. The Vaccine Confidence Project has found that exposure to even a small amount of online vaccine misinformation can reduce the number of people willing to take a COVID vaccine by up to 8.8 percent.

Some imprisoned people distrust the vaccine because of this country’s history of experimentation on prisoners. Even today, imprisoned people in the U.S. experience non consensual procedures, such as sterilization, and unauthorized medical treatments, that some call experimentation.

But many people have begun to conflate the status of being unvaccinated with being a right-wing fascist, and even among those who don’t go that far, there is a culture of blame that has emerged, around the current wave of mass death we are witnessing, where people are viewed as deserving of less empathy, or maybe even deserving to die, because they just should have gotten vaccinated. One of the ugliest manifestations of this tendency has emerged in the Herman Cain Awards subreddit, where the social media posts of people who are vaccine resistant are featured alongside news that they’ve died of COVID-19.

I realize that we all respond ungenerously to other people’s misfortunes, at times, particularly if we think they’ve caused a great deal of harm in this world. But there is a difference between the party I intend to throw when Henry Kissinger dies and treating mass death as a source of entertainment. The recreational dehumanization of other people, who are dying horribly and alone, is a really bad sign, in terms of where we’re at as a society. In the years ahead, as things get harder, what spectacles of suffering will we accept, or welcome, or allow ourselves to enjoy? I think we’re making those decisions now.

And let’s remember that this persona, of the Republican anti-vaxxer, is being projected onto everyone who is unvaccinated, or laying in a hospital bed, or otherwise suffering from COVID-19. I am aware that some of the people who are dying had no sympathy for others, or any regard for the harm they may have caused. Some even mocked the suffering of others. But we are not supposed to be like those people. We are not supposed to emulate what we find most abhorrent in this world. Our enemies lose nothing by embracing death and suffering as entertainment, because in many cases, that is wholly consistent with their politics. Our politics, our beliefs, our ways of relating to other people, are supposed to exist in opposition to all of that. We lose something when we engage with mass suffering and mass death as entertainment, and we are already so hardened, and complicit in so much harm in this society. We also lose something when we flatten problems, turning everyone who is being unhelpful into caricatured villains, who we can rage against, and mock for entertainment, while the worst and most effective villains in our society laugh all the way to the bank.

As Abdullah Shihipar recently wrote in Business Insider:

It’s not easy to hear, but making fun of these deaths effectively means we have stopped resisting mass death and have accepted its reality. It’s tempting to think that there is some cosmic justice when an anti-vaxxer dies, but it’s just the reality of how a virus spreads. Yes, anti-vaxxers are dying, but so are scores of other people. I don’t write this just to lecture others, but rather to hold myself accountable. Using humor like this is an easy distraction and a façade from the shame we should feel that this is where our country is at during such a late stage in the pandemic.

I recently had a conversation with my friend Johnny Dangers about vaccine hesitancy. Johnny is an independent journalist and activist who has done some great outreach work, having conversations with people about vaccination, and even accompanying people to get vaccinated. His efforts have included some tremendously successful on-the-ground efforts to encourage people experiencing homelessness to get the jab. I recently asked Johnny about those experiences, and some of his thoughts on hesitancy. Here’s some of what he had to say.

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Johnny Dangers: I think people have this image of people who are unvaccinated as anti-vaxers and those people definitely exist, but I’m in Portland, so I realize the vast majority of people that I’m talking to are going to be people who would be wanting to get the vaccine, but just, for various reasons, have not. And when I’m talking to people on the street, that’s going to be younger people or people of color. Most all the reactions that I’ve got have angry people from older white guys, which isn’t that surprising. And in the clinics, I noticed a lot of the people are immigrants, they’re older immigrants and they’ll bring their family there. So it’s people that should have been reached, the first people reached and they’re some of the last people that have been reached to potentially get the vaccine.

So I try to come at it with an understanding of those failures and from a place of love and understanding. And I get why people think immediately of the person who has wild conspiracy views that they’re seeing online and is very unlikely to actually get the vaccine. But on the ground, when you’re talking to people, a lot of the people that have still not got it, are not those people. They’re people that are your allies on the ground, are people that you are going to be supporting in any number of organizing efforts, and you should work to reach those people where you’re at, so they can get the vaccine. Because at the end of the day, nobody deserves to die or to get sick or to get hospitalized because they were fed misinformation.

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Since the beginning of the pandemic, I’ve tried to help in whatever ways possible, be that masks or just informing people the right information. So when people were able to start getting vaccine appointments, I tried to help reach out with people through vaccine websites, even if they’re in Florida or Wisconsin, where I grew up, or here in Portland, because it was really hard to get an appointment.

So fast forward to July, the appointments ended and they finally started drop-in appointments at clinics here. So Multnomah County started a program where they would offer a $100 Visa gift card if people went to one of these county clinics, but they didn’t advertise that these existed. So you just had to know about it. And they were only on certain days, in certain places.

So nearby, on Tuesdays, they had a, Multnomah County clinic where they were offering this special $100 dollar visa gift card. So right away, thinking of how I could best organize this, I decided I’d bike around the neighborhood and see who would be interested in going there. So I’d to the transit stops, the bus stops and the train, which is pretty nearby, and the grocery store, and the parks, and a few of the bigger houseless encampments and just talk to people. I went from there on how to best approach talking to people.

So pretty early on, it reminded me a lot of knocking doors for somebody where people had snippets of information. So the best practices, I kept it simple and to the point and opened with very non-confrontational language. So my normal thing, I’d be on my bike or I’d be walking the bike, say walk up to somebody that’s waiting for the train and maybe they have a couple minutes, five minutes. Maybe the train’s going to be there in 60 seconds. I’d point to my shoulder because not everybody necessarily speaks English or can hear well or hear English well. So I’d point to my shoulder, say, “Have you had an opportunity or a chance to get the COVID vaccine yet?” So that’s fairly non-confrontational language because I’m attempting to reach people that have not got it. So if they have, you know, it’s not a big deal, I got the vaccine and I’d have a different conversation with them. But you really want to be non-confrontational with people that have maybe waited and maybe get frustrated if somebody’s been asking them about it.

So a lot of time [they would] say, “Well, I haven’t had a chance to get it yet.” And then I would immediately go into, “Well, just a couple blocks away, there’s a Multnomah County clinic where they have a special program where you get a $100 Visa gift card you can use anywhere.” So I start right away with where it is and why. And then I can judge, if they’re interested or if they have questions or if they’re just done, [and] it’s not going to happen. And most of the time, you get very positive reactions from people that have, one, either got the vaccine already or two, are interested in talking to you about it.

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KH: Not everyone is going to do the kind of work that Johnny is doing, and personally, there are days when I feel like I’m out of moves, when it comes to talking to people who might actually listen to me about things like vaccination, or wearing a mask, or being cautious. So, if that’s where you’re at, I am not asking you to burn yourself out trying to recruit people to get shots, or to bang your head against the wall when it comes to staunch anti-vaxxers. But I would ask you to remember that we are all storytellers, and that people use narratives, not facts, to make sense of the world. We all understand the world in stories. That means that the way we frame events, when discussing them with other people, in terms of what we mock, or what we simplify, or what nameless crowd we paint as villainous, all of this affects our collective potential. I recently had a conversation with Shana McDavis-Conway, the co-director for the Center for Story-Based Strategy, and she also had some thoughts on the way this phase of the pandemic is being framed.

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Shana McDavis-Conway: My organization’s methodology is called story based strategy, which is why we’re the Center for Story-Based Strategy. And that intervention, it’s a “framework for building narrative power for organizations. And it’s one that is participatory in nature. So it’s about creating a democratic intervention in communications and narrative work so that the folks who are most directly impacted have an opportunity to contribute to the stories that are being told about them.

So I mention that because I think one of the challenges with media coverage and with popular memes around people impacted by COVID really ignore the folks who are being directly impacted. So they prioritize as the primary victims those of us who are vaccinated, who are perhaps relatively healthy, and they show the villains as folks who are dying.

And so of course, this is deeply dehumanizing and it uses a classic drama triangle of hero, victim, villain to place the folks who have absorbed misinformation, who have challenges with getting access to being vaccinated, who have health issues and reasons that they might be susceptible to COVID, it’s presenting them as the villains, as opposed to the victims actually of right wing forces, who are the true villains. So I do think that there’s an opportunity for us to use that drama triangle and flip it to try to tell a story that really illustrates and brings out of the shadows these right wing forces that are involved in misinformation. So I think that’s a strategic approach that I’d love to see us use more. I also think that part of why these kind of contemptuous places and storytelling is so seductive and provocative it’s because we do love humor and we’re in the middle of a serious crisis.

We’re also in the middle of collective grief. And humor is one of the ways that we try to deal with and manage our grief. And so when we let the realm of humor only exist in dehumanizing stories, it kind of abdicates the possibility of using humor to actually evoke other kinds of emotion and to get people to take action, to intervene in ways that would actually make life better for the majority of Americans and for folks across the world, whether that’s increase access to COVID vaccines worldwide, whether that’s increasing access here in the US, whether that’s policy interventions or supporting mask wearing. There’s all sorts of things we could ask to do. And we could actually use humor to get people excited about that, so that there’s a space for people to use that gallows humor in a way that actually provokes positive action.

KH: As I mentioned earlier, this society hasn’t exactly handed people the skills they need to have constructive, persuasive conversations with each other about complicated issues like vaccine hesitancy, or much of anything really. So I asked Shana what advice she might have for people who are trying to develop a practice of education and persuasion, rather than just angrily emoting at people, or engaging in recreational contempt.

SMC: Well, I think my advice, and I’m just thinking about this, because it’s a tool that I was just training some folks on today is to think about imagining a liberatory future and what liberation could look like for all of us. So I think it’s so easy for us to get trapped in our current present moment. How can we tell a bigger story about the future that we want to see together, a future where we’re probably all healthy and safe and surrounded by people that we love? And I think starting there and then having the conversation about how we get there is more effective I think. Let’s start with the love and the vision that we want to get to in the future. We have a tool that we use called the 4th Box that does that. It’s available on our website for free. And it’s actually a visual tool to get people to think about how we imagine liberation for ourselves and it’s my favorite tool for tough conversations with people we may disagree with.

KH: And if you are interested in checking out the 4th Box, please hit up the show notes at the end of this episode’s transcript, on our website, and you will find a link to that tool and some other great resources from the Center for Story-Based Strategy. As someone who has been facilitating direct action and organizing workshops for years, I find the resources that the Center for Story-Based Strategy creates absolutely invaluable.

One of the things we talk about a lot on this show is the march of right-wing power and the threat of authoritarianism, and it’s really important to me that people understand how that connects with our relationship to mass death. At this time last year, I was co-organizing a week of memorialization for victims of COVID-19 because I felt like we needed that outlet for our basic human emotions. I was also terrified by the lack of commemoration I was seeing, for political reasons. Because I know what the further normalization of mass death could mean for a country with our political trajectory.

As I said, we have a serious problem of complicity with the mass disposal of human beings in the United States. We know it, and the rest of the world knows it. And right now, that complicity is escalating, as our tolerance for suffering and mass death escalate. That’s what losing to the fascists looks like, and it doesn’t happen all at once. It will happen if more and more of us start believing that it is either not our responsibility, or not in our power, to save millions of people whose deaths are wholly preventable. There are ways in which we, as a society, already enact that kind of learned helplessness, but it can get much, much worse, and it will, if we allow it. And while I am not going to pretend we can save every person who is imperiled, as climate catastrophes continue to unfold, and things like water scarcity and famines grip countries around the world, but we are going to be faced with a lot of decisions, in the coming years: Will we aspire to save as many lives as possible, and to sustain dignity and comfort for as many people as possible? Or will we continually down-size the sphere of people whose survival matters, until most of us find ourselves adrift, in the realm of human surplus? The latter is what our enemies are counting on. They want to put ourselves first to the bitter end, and to harden, and to stop seeing other people as worth fighting for, particularly when it comes to criminalized people and migrants, whose well being will be continually pitted against our own by the powerful. The fascists and the neoliberalis are hoping we will be pacified by our fears, and that we will cooperate with the mass sacrifice of others, if it means that we get to reenact normalcy a bit longer.

We cannot fight the people who would destroy us without fighting for our own humanity. Because, as is always the case in politics, our own imaginations, and our own impulses, are a front of struggle, and that front cannot be neglected. That means we must dismantle our notions of disposability. We can do that here and now, by being more vocal about things like vaccine apartheid, disability rights, migrants rights, and the rights of imprisoned people. A people without empathy cannot defeat fascism. It thrives among them. And I am really worried by what I am seeing in some people, in terms of their willingness to accept mass sacrifice, and this dilapidated version of normalcy we’ve been handed, as if there are no alternatives. My mantra, when it comes to fascism, is that we surrender nothing and no one, and that’s not some fair weather ideal, reserved for the brink of full blown authoritarianism. It’s the position we have to take under neoliberalism and capitalism. It’s the position we have to take now: that disabled people are not disposable, that migrants are not disposable, that imprisoned people are not disposable — and that people who make bad choices, or simply have the wrong information, in this fucked up society, are not disposable. We have to live that belief now and build culture around it. The humor we engage in, and our public performances of contempt and vilification, are part of the culture we build. We have to remember that.

There is no innocuous way to enjoy mass death. You have to hold onto your humanity the whole time. I’m sorry. I know it hurts. But to stay fully human, you’re stuck with that pain, and your humanity is needed.

To all the people who are about to write me angry emails about this episode, I just want you to know that I share your anger. I am not asking you to feel any particular way about the people you’re upset with, including me. Your feelings are your own, and I hope you get everything that you need to cope in these times. I don’t think most of us are getting what we need, in terms of healthy outlets for our grief, or our pain, or constructive outlets, that might help us make a larger difference, so I hope we can work together to address some of that as well.

If you need help connecting with grief counseling, a project I co-organized called the Mutual Aid Mourning and Healing Project can help connect you with remote assistance, and I will be adding a link to that effort in the show notes as well.

I know we’re all carrying a lot of stories right now that enrage us, and that hurt us, about people who didn’t have to die, or people who should be living full or healthy lives right now, but cannot, due to a lack of communal effort around public health. But I want us to remember that there are other stories, too. Stories about people who did everything right, who are still dead or living ruined lives, because in the end, it’s this system that’s screwing us the most. There are a lot of stories we are not hearing, and some of them are about the lives of everyday people, and how they wound up confused, or afraid of the vaccine, or simply in denial about the urgency of the moment — much in the same way that so many people are in denial about the urgency of climate change. And, I think, in a lot of cases, if we heard those stories, we would have no difficulty processing the fact that those people don’t deserve to die.

So I wanted to make sure we all carried at least one of those stories with us, too, to help us remember that not everyone fits the stereotypes we might project on them. So I want to return for a moment to a story my friend Johnny told me about a man named Henry, who Johnny reached out to about getting the jab.

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JD: So on one of the early weeks in July, I was biking around and I’m in the Kenton Park neighborhood of Portland, which is in North Portland and that’s a historically black neighborhood, but people have been being pushed out of that neighborhood as it slowly gentrifies. So I’m near the library area and I try to talk to everybody, especially younger folks, because a lot of younger folks haven’t got the vaccine. But I see Henry, and Henry is, it turns out, an 83 year old black man. I pull over from the bike and say, “Hey, how are you doing, man? Have you had a chance to get the vaccine yet?” Very friendly, and he immediately goes into why he hasn’t gotten the vaccine. Henry’s from North Portland, but immediately says, “I wanted to get that vaccine right away. I wanted to get it for months, but the VA is telling me that I have to go to Vancouver and I hear there’s a lot of cases up there and I don’t know how to get there. And it’s been hard to schedule.”

So I know immediately, Henry is, he wants to get the vaccine. He just doesn’t know where. He even mentioned that Vancouver, they have a lot of stuff going on there and kind of alluded to the racism in Vancouver, that Vancouver has a lot of Proud Boys, they have a lot of far right extremists. And that may have been a reason he also didn’t want to go to Vancouver, to the VA. So it sounded like he didn’t really have access or help to go to one of the clinics or that he could go to a lot of these other places. So, I said, “Hey Henry, there’s a clinic just down the road. I can walk you there.” It was about five blocks away. It was really hot that day. It was like 90 degrees and Henry is 83 years old. He’s got his veterans hat on and a t-shirt, a very cool rainbow mask on.

So I walk my bike with Henry to the clinic in North Portland. We’re going pretty slow because he’s an older guy and he starts telling me some of the reasons why he hasn’t gone, alluding to not wanting to go to Vancouver. He started telling me about his time in the service and that his uncle was part of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. I’m a big history buff because I think through history we can correct the mistakes of the past and learn going forward. So it was incredible to hear him talk about his uncle being in the Abraham Lincoln brigade, which only about 3 to 4,000 Americans went and fought in the Spanish Civil War against the fascists there. He said his uncle returned, did not get killed in service over there. And he had served overseas, post World War II in Europe.

By that time, we had reached the clinic and you could tell he was very excited to get there. He was like, “How much further is it?” Because it was pretty hot that day. And I’m like, “It’s right there.” And he crossed the road and he thanked me and he got the shot, didn’t have any issues. It was a great feeling to know that I was able to help Henry, who I kind of thought of my grandparents, how I had to help set up their appointment and I was prodding them and they had issues themselves back in Wisconsin, and… when I went out and I try to help people get the vaccine, I think of the people that have not been reached like Henry who absolutely, somebody should have went to where he lives and he should have been one of the first people in Portland to get the vaccine, back in December. And it took all the way until the beginning or the middle of July to get it.

Like yesterday, two days ago, when I went out and I talked to a few of the people, I would think of my brother who needed a little bit of prodding, but there’s a lot of people that maybe didn’t have somebody to do that prodding. And then they just haven’t got it months later, and then I’ll see the 25 year old in the hospital and that could have been my brother if he had moved to another state and was getting bad information.

KH: There are so many people like Henry out there, whose stories we don’t know or understand. Some of those people may have been battered with misinformation. Some of them may be in absolute denial about the state of the world we are living in. It’s okay to be upset with those people, or even angry with those people, for not doing the right thing, but if you are listening to this show, you probably aren’t someone who simply wants to be right, and to feel justified in your feelings. You’re probably someone who wants to make the world a better place, and people who want to make a difference have to do more than be right. They have to be constructive. And if you can’t engage constructively with unvaccinated people, that’s actually okay, because there is a lot to be angry about that we can rage against very constructively, together, while targeting the people who created the conditions under which we are experiencing this mess, and the conditions under which we will experience a larger era of collapse. I am not telling you to take a pollyanna approach to these times, because I think our anger has a lot of value, but I want us to think carefully about who we target and how, and what we are trying to accomplish by doing so, as we build culture, and as we spell out, one joke or interaction at a time, what our humanity is worth to us. So let’s ask ourselves, in what spirit are we engaging with this moment? Are we sharing stories about people who didn’t believe in the vaccine, who are dying, because those stories are tragic and we want people to be aware, or are we simply becoming people who laugh at suffering and death while the world burns?

I said earlier that losing to fascism looks like us losing our empathy, and cooperatively assuming our roles in a capitalist death march while others are ground under. It looks like indifference to death, or even assuming others were less deserving of survival than we are. That’s not the thought I want to leave you with today, so let me also say this: winning looks like the creation of a world where people understand that our fates are connected, and that we can demand more than life and death on the terms set by the capitalists. We can demand a society where people are not forced to endure deprivation, and where people have access to healthcare, and housing, and education — and all of the political memory that a real education can bring — and we can make that world. Because when we look at who the real villains are in this society, the people who are truly enforcing misery, there are a lot more of us than there are of them. So let’s try to remember that.

I also want to thank our listeners for joining us today, and remember, our best defense against cynicism is to do good and to remember that the good we do matters. Until next time, I’ll see you in the streets.

Show Notes

You can check out the 4th Box tool that Shana mentioned here. I also recommend checking out the self-paced online workshops offered by the Center for Story-Based Strategy and the many resources available on their website.

To keep up with Johnny Dangers, you can follow his work on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Further reading:

Making fun of anti-vaxxers who died of COVID-19 is a dark indication that we’ve all surrendered to the disease by Abdullah Shihipar

The Psychology of Pandemics: Preparing for the Next Global Outbreak of Infectious Disease by Steven Taylor

Updates: Billionaire Wealth, U.S. Job Losses and Pandemic Profiteers by Chuck Collins

The Most Influential Spreader of Coronavirus Misinformation Online by Sheera Frenkel

Inmates Weren’t Told They Were Given An Anti-Parasite Drug Instead Of COVID-19 Meds (AP)

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The Mutual Aid Mourning and Healing Project connects people with free grief-related services.

Kelly Hayes is the host of Truthout’s podcast “Movement Memos” and a contributing writer at Truthout. Kelly’s written work can also be found in Teen Vogue, Bustle, Yes! Magazine, Pacific Standard, NBC Think, her blog Transformative Spaces, The Appeal, the anthology The Solidarity Struggle: How People of Color Succeed and Fail At Showing Up For Each Other In the Fight For Freedom and Truthout’s anthology on movements against state violence, Who Do You Serve, Who Do You Protect?  Kelly is also a direct action trainer and a co-founder of the direct action collective Lifted Voices. Kelly was honored for her organizing and education work in 2014 with the Women to Celebrate award, and in 2018 with the Chicago Freedom School’s Champions of Justice Award. Kelly’s movement photography is featured in “Freedom and Resistance” exhibit of the DuSable Museum of African American History. To keep up with Kelly’s organizing work, you can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.  

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