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There is Good to Be Done: By Luke Dukinfield

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I was really ill as a child, my health bludgeoned first by respiratory problems and then a near-fatal bout of Meckel's Diverticulitis, gangrene and appendicitis. It's sad, but some of my earliest and most vivid memories are languishing in a hospital bed, wired up to drips, bracing for the spectre of white coats arriving with injections to puncture my skin and sting my eyes with tears. It felt like my whole existence wavered on the edge of that needle, the very injections that sustained my fragile health warped into an endless source of anguish and dread.

The physical pain was grievous, of course, but that fear, terrorizing and tainting every moment, blighting any illusion of certainty or innocence, twisting the softness of my family's faces and touch, the delirious limbo of being trapped just waiting from one injection to the next - that was a torment. The foreboding spread like an infection, wracking my body, rampaging in shadows across my mind and rest, each dose more clawing and punishing than the last, until I had to be held down screaming by the doctors, my whole world locked down to a hospital bed, coming utterly undone.

How do we carry on, pick up the pieces, rise to this daunting challenge?

This experience resurfaces from time to time, as trauma does - acute in its sensation, recurring and preying on you in flashbacks that at once eclipse and harshly illuminate every detail, the cotton wool covering your wound, the sterile hospital lights, the emaciation enrobed by uncomfortable hospital gowns. I still feel those scars seething under my skin, no less than when holding the hands of loved ones in waiting rooms and on trolleys in hospital corridors whose lives have been at the mercy of a cruel, rapacious system, whose suffering was precipitated by the turmoil of insecure work and abuse and poverty and then exacerbated by the budget lacerations inflicted upon on the NHS.

All these tensions are coming to the fore again during the coronavirus outbreak - the sense that something has fundamentally ruptured in the fabric of the world around us, like we are closed in, the storm we all feared we were on the verge of finally ripping through our lonely isle. The dread seeping into and envenoming everything, collapsing the vortex of all our anxieties, exposing and intensifying every crisis we've fought against, consuming us with worry about whether we'll be able to retain income, whether our chronically ill friends who've already had hospital appointments cancelled will be okay, whether those we love who are elderly or more vulnerable will be able to weather this - braced for the cracks to once again give way, with carers and disabled and ill people treated as disposable by a ruthless government already responsible for untold misery. How do we carry on, pick up the pieces, rise to this daunting challenge? Where, even, to start?

My own health anxiety, then, is not merely my own, but the pain of nurses and doctors who will be pushed over the brink during the coronavirus outbreak after already being under so much stress due to under-staffing and unbearable workloads, as private hospitals grotesquely demand rent from the NHS to utilize beds during a public health emergency, the vultures already flocking to leach their spoils from the casualties whilst doctors are forced to triage as if it were wartime. It is the strange dislocation of drifting through raided supermarkets after re-emerging from the seclusion of disintegrating one's mind into fateful news reels, remembering how demanding retail work was at the best of times, let alone when you have to shoulder the strain of replenishment and public resentment in the throes of restless panic-buying. It is captioning entrepreneurial self-help videos on coping with anxiety during the coronavirus, not knowing when your freelance work will evaporate and with no guarantee of any kind of security from the very platform you're toiling away for, the absurd, lingering agony of trying to tread water as the whole vessel lurches and sinks.

It is the pain of friends with anxiety and depression for whom self-isolation is always a kind of dark temptation, for whom quarantining would take a serious toll because they so often have to force themselves out from the retreat of helplessness, whose panic you race to hold but too try to temper with the consolation that social distancing does not mean completely severing yourself off from the world. Panic cannot and should not just be dismissed, but we must remain grounded, look after each other, not substitute our hatred and rage and fear of the government and their subservience to market interests for conspiracies of abstract evil that jettison sound scientific and public health expertise in knee-jerk social media flurries. Risk can never be eliminated, only minimized, and whilst remaining vigilant, we must not lose ourselves in hyper-alertness or catastrophizing. It is in our very shared vulnerabilities that we might find common ground.

I think of the foodbanks low on stock, the people for whom home is not a sanctuary but a site of repression and violence, the people in the lurch of crowded temporary accommodation more likely to contract coronavirus because they are poor and in deeply unsafe living conditions. I think of trans people grappling with the despair of whether they'll be able to access transition treatment, migrants in detention centres who are confined against their will and have always been shut off from quality healthcare. I think of the wrenching choices that many will have to make to risk their health because they can't afford to lose the income living pay check to pay check, fearing that they can be discarded at any time and that even in the midst of a pandemic no compassion can be expected from their landlord or boss. That, when Johnson, in his elite, sneering negligence, proclaims 'loved ones will die', he means us, not them, as we once again bear the brunt of a crisis whose impacts will be framed as natural or immutable but will in reality be disproportionate along already existing inequalities, with the government missing in action as masses of people are laid off and NHS workers do not have even have proper safety, protective equipment or capacity due to cuts.

I also fear police and state crackdowns and closed borders, and that the left might too readily throw caution to the wind and abandon its instincts in panic when reasonably calling for shut downs, as police are vested with increased powers to detain anyone suspected of having the virus in the UK, as they brutally clear streets and fine anybody without proper documentation who ventures out in Italy. I fear, too, the denial of 'business as usual', the wretched impulse to keep work and the market afloat at all costs whoever might drown, our health and lives always subordinate to their profits. I fear the shadow of social decay, the lack of resilience in all our infrastructure and institutions and civil society to adapt to such crises, how a primeval Survival of the Fittest logic is still a vector in the sordid institutions of capitalism that have long pronounced the End of History, that looming, endless war and climate change and financial crashes have left our futures so fraught and poisoned with uncertainty.

These are trying times, but we have been tried before, and have persevered, together

Here, more than wrangling over the appropriate scientific response or containment strategy, we must double down on what has always been the task of the left: organizing and solidarity with the immiserated and exploited, those losing income or without sick pay, those threatened by sanctions or evictions, those struggling in self-isolation and deprived of care. This is the desolation of an unfamiliar squall, in dismal and uncharted territory, with the vessel creaking: but it is too the same course of organizing in conditions not of our choosing. This is an emergency, but also an extension of the same fractures of neo-liberalism that it has always been our duty to intervene in. We must act with exigency, but sustainably, and with the foresight that this crisis cannot just be siloed off into a few weeks, too. We will need the infrastructure, coordinated experience and collective capacities of strong organizations and unions to rise to this challenge, and must ensure that mutual aid initiatives are not scattershot or structureless if we are to be effective.

We must be ready to make bold demands, like requisitioning private hospitals, full programs of sick pay and unconditional social security, immediate cessation of rent, mortgages and bills, but also consider our leverage and what forces and strategies we might bring to bear to achieve this, where in countries like France and Denmark these concessions have been granted in the backdrop of robust civil society, social movement and union power. These concessions are a glimmer of possibility, with echoes of the formation of the NHS, welfare state and decent public housing after the end of WW2, where the contradictions of sacrosanct market logics detonate and can be surmounted if there is sufficient political will for progressive transformation.

More subtly, I also feel solace in the courage of communities banding together, the miracle of friends quietly reassuring one another that they are here, the clarity ultimately derived from trauma that we can overcome this too, the recognition that even as our organizing shifts in form, our historic mission remains constant, the hope that we can imagine and create together, inspire extraordinary reserves of solidarity, even from calamity. Now is not the time to become further wary of or alienated from one another, but come together all the more resolutely, with great faith and trust in our collective strength.

For there is good to be done, and good will come again. Spring is here, and yesterday I could hear the birds singing, choruses of Bella Ciao sung from balconies like serenades of resistance swelling and reverberating in my mind. I was scared, but we locked arms through the fabric of our coats, determined to do everything we could in the community, to make the interventions that are needed, even as our organizing arsenal might feel utterly depleted. I saw a dear friend the other day and we shared stories and confided in one another about our anxieties, and I felt that spark of joy and excitement and connection that no darkness could ever hold. I recall the contentment and sense of nostalgic adventure I felt when I visited York the other week with my partner, the majesty of the city and its landmarks, the Pride flags flying in the quaint café we had cake in, and the food we shared with new friends. I find solace in bonding with my housemates, in the rousing pulse of music and exhilarating memories of gigs that will not fade even with event cancellations.

Cleaved even by distance, there is also now the dawning of how interrelated and fragile our livelihoods are, the fortitude of communities pulling together in mutual aid groups to combat the crisis, the grace of acting in intimate conscience of our connections and responsibility to each other. There is the gravity of realizing how every one of our actions can ripple outward, how it might affect others more vulnerable than us, how our fates are intertwined together through all kinds of labour and care, even across oceans. Undimmed, not to be prised apart by isolation or panic, those bonds remain.

I can still remember smiling as I coloured in the books my mum brought to me in the hospital, how rejuvenating it felt to breathe fresh air and feel the warmth of the sun on my skin when I weakly stumbled back out into a world that, while constricted, had not disappeared. These are trying times, but we have been tried before, and have persevered, together. Vigilance to crisis does not detract from the importance to live: it renders it all the more imperative, all the more necessary, to cherish every furtive hope, every impossible yearning, every quite ordinary beauty, that we can. Our lives here are little more than frail serendipities that we must undertake every effort to defend. There is good to be done, and good will come again.

Luke Dukinfield

Luke (@iridescence45) is an organiser and contributor to Novara Media. You can support them on Patreon.

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