A plea for survival during COVID-19
“Like anybody, I would like to have a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will.”
-Martin Luther King Jr. on April 3, 1968, the evening before he was assassinated.
These final prophetic words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. echo in my head; they hit that nerve of mortality and feel especially relevant right now.
I don’t expect to be around much longer. It’s just the grim reality of my situation: I’m immunocompromised, barely holding onto shelter and lacking deeply in support networks. The word of the day for disabled people like me is “eugenics.” After all, we are the expected losses of disease under “regular” circumstances, when there is plenty of hospital equipment but never enough insurance money. During the “spike,” if I roll up to the emergency room in my wheelchair next to a 20-something brogrammer, do you really think I’ll stand a chance? Let’s be real. Even when there is a vaccine, there’s already talk about people like me being the last ones to get it.
There’s a new campaign to fight this kind of eugenics, and combat state-sanctioned manslaughter. Nobodyisdisposable.org seeks to champion the obvious in a time where ableism is determining what lives are kept and which ones are not. When you wake up one morning and see #nobodyisdisposable trending, that it is referring to you – that you are disposable by the state, it really messes with your head.
What makes a life worth saving? How do we decide who gets a ventilator and who doesn’t? I’ll come back to that…
First, an unreality check: Tom Hanks and Boris Johnson, both very wealthy and previously admitted to the ICU from COVID-19, are out walking around and back to work. Tests are being refused to my friends with severe fever and coughing, while celebrities with no symptoms are getting their results back ASAP and telling us not to cry.
Meanwhile, people over 80 are turned away from the hospitals in Italy. Just go home and die. If you want to fight for your life, and you are experimenting with herbal remedies in the U.S., the FDA is going to shut you down in less than 24 hours. Death rates are inaccurate as ever, still unable to account for the massive death tolls in people’s homes. Nursing homes are spreading COVID-19 like wildfire; as if it wasn’t bad enough that SF government employees were sexually abusing disabled people in Laguna Honda, now they’re killing them by spreading disease. Xenophobic attacks are at an all-time high too, with desperate people in New York looking for someone to blame.
Amidst all this, how are disabled people supposed to interview for care workers? Or get food? Or get medications and basic help with hospital visits? Or access sanitation and safe shelter? Nicole Sirotek, a New York City ER nurse has come out as a whistlebower on the mistreatment and murder of people of color in hospitals. New York COVID-19 ER doctor Craig Spencer has been publicly outspoken about the medical triage happening saying, “The patients I normally see are nowhere to be found. Every single person I see has #COVID19. Every single patient.” So where are the “regular” sick people?
We’re fucked up at home or outside, not getting treatment.
For our severely disabled brothers and sisters living without shelter, the new Holocaust is already here. The “convenience” of disease has given politicians like Mayor London Breed the expedited passport to accelerate a murderous agenda they’ve practiced for years. We at Street Sheet, and the activists of this city, continue to blockade that agenda.
But now Mayor Breed doesn’t need to rely on a corrupt police force, an “accidental” shot in the back, a drug overdose, or a suicide to reduce the homeless count that embarrasses her constituents each year. Now, the disease can do all her dirty work for her; a clean euthanasia in the midst of worldwide chaos. The “shame of the city,” as Gov. Gavin Newsom likes to call people, is nothing more than a liability to those in power; an “eyesore” which can only be manipulated to tug voter heartstrings.
Similarly, the pandemic could succeed in wiping out unhoused disabled people from public view far more than Sen. Scott Wiener’s changes in the conservatorship law.
Don’t forget, this is the same governor (and previous SF mayor) who in 2010, pushed San Francisco to criminalize human beings who sit or lie on the sidewalk.
Don’t forget, this is the same state senator (and previous SF supervisor) that has called for the destruction of tent homes for years.
Don’t forget, this is the same mayor that adamantly opposed a modest tax on the ultra-rich for homeless shelters in 2018 and continues not to build shelters, even after the voters turned out to support it.
Gavin Gruesome, Scott Meaner, and Mayor Greed did not grow a conscience overnight.
Their diseased policies continue to enhance the homeless death toll, and compound human suffering within the spread of this terrible virus. And, like many politicians before them, they continue to collect accolades from the public by cloaking their terrible work into a “heartfelt” quasi-liberal vernacular.
The only remaining question is: how to make killing us all off by COVID-19 look like an “accident.” How long can Newsom, Weiner and Breed keep up the charade of PR liberalism?
I hope you aren’t getting duped, ’cause I sure am not.
It’s one thing to die needlessly, it’s another to die by state manslaughter under a veneer of kindness. As of this writing, the monthly Faithful Fools Street Ministry newsletter is begging the mayor to provide one wash station per fifty unhoused persons. Yes, Fifty! That’s where we are right now in negotiating with the crooks in office.
The Mayor’s Office on Disability was quick to cancel disability meetings in March, as was Paratransit and the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency. While many meetings are happening over Zoom and other safe and accessible technologies, SF City Hall is using the opportunity of the viral outbreak to circumvent the democratic process and stifle public input.
As of this writing, the Mayor’s Office on Disability has neglected to fulfill a public records request I submitted in January, even though section 67.20 of the Sunshine Ordinance requires requests to be filled in 10 to 24 days. Instead of following the law, MOD is citing COVID-19 as a reason to not fulfill the request. They also refuse to provide updated info of cancelled meetings on their calendar (or the MDC calendar), or any easily accessible recordings or agendas of previous so-called “public” meetings on their homepage.
In their most recent “Virtual Town Hall” meeting on 05/12/20, the Mayor’s Office on Disability director Nicole Bohn went so far as to say “this is not a public meeting,” and limited the public from recording the Zoom meeting while forcing everyone to wait till the very end to leave any comment (usually public comment is at the beginning and end of disability meetings).
When speaking on the most vulnerable demographics to COVID-19, presenter Nicole Bohn also failed to mention the homeless, immigrants, or people of color whatsoever. This is particularly astonishing, given that CitiBank has donated money for the most vulnerable to be the first recipients of emergency PPE (mask, gloves, etc.). As usual, MOD has neglected this population and seems to have no plans in place for our disabled homeless neighbors.
SFMTA voted to raise their fares, towing fees and fines through some ludicrous claims, and San Francisco Public Works is moving forward with cutting down healthy public trees, despite the recent evidence that shows that air pollution drastically increases the spread of COVID-19.
Do you still think these people care about your health? Do you really think these are the people that should decide our fate?
Does a disabled immigrant organizer get life-saving medicine and support or the local investment banker? Does an African American musician get the last remdesivir or does a real estate speculator? Will a venture capitalist get a respirator over a 60-year-old librarian? It’s a sickening feeling to decide a person’s fate, and I don’t want to be one to do it. But if we have to, and I mean really have to, shouldn’t the criteria be more than ableist convention? Isn’t a human being more than the sum of their pre-existing health conditions or the amount of time they’ve been around? I know some saint-worthy food justice activists over 60 to whom I would gladly give my ventilator.
These are tough decisions, and we should collectively decide with whom and how they are made, employing the greatest measure of compassion possible.
What concerns me most however, is the way that people are retreating into themselves. Friends of mine who no longer pick up phone calls or texts, even just to respond and say they can’t help. Although it’s understandable, and a natural response to the sheer overwhelm of events, sticking our heads in the sand to play Animal Crossing 24/7 isn’t the solution, either.
I’m asking you to be strong for us. If you’re able-bodied and have shelter right now, you can help. Hundreds of people have already volunteered across the city and many more are needed. See the sign up list and petition as one of many ways to get involved. There are also more resources and ways to get involved, linked at the bottom of this article. The Coalition on Homelessness is always in need of support and you can help too, just by spreading the word and raising awareness to protect our unhoused neighbors.
Two of the greatest things to come out of this pandemic are grass-roots community resource lists and a remotely accessible world. As recent as early March, I had been turned away from a therapist’s office because they refused to speak with me remotely. “Just come on down to my office; don’t worry, I’ve got hand sanitizer by the door!” she said.
During the modern day to day, or what we call “normal” times, we live under the unspoken law of ableism. Disabled people like me (and especially the homeless) are denied access to doctors appointments, transportation, grocery stores, and numerous basic survival needs. Socializing? We barely ever get to do that. Current disability law in America does not even require homes built before 1990 to have a wheelchair ramp when it’s needed. House call doctors are only available for the rich, and bars and music venues are not exactly welcoming of cripples like me. We’ve been “social-distancing” long before COVID-19.
It’s especially ironic that during this time, I’ve had access to social events that have been denied to me for years . All of a sudden, I’m able to attend music concerts, board game nights, comedy shows, public meetings, friend chats, and a lot more. I call it the “Disability Oyster.” This has been a godsend for me personally, however, it is only available to those with the privilege of shelter and Internet access. For our unhoused neighbors, these benefits are not readily available.
The future is decidedly uncertain. While people are doing good work and I’m here to fight as long as I can, I have also never been one to shy away from the facts. Although I can’t compare myself to Martin Luther King Jr. (by any stretch), I can definitely agree with the sentiment of his final speech. By “God’s Will,” I believe he meant through sacrifice and empathy in helping out his fellow (wo)men and the poor; to benefit others and reduce the chasms of inequality that exist in America.
These are dark and turbulent times for sure. While my bodily limitations and special needs limit what bits I can do to affect change, I hold onto the hope of what you will do with this collective perspective; that somehow, someway, truth will conquer political deceit and loving kindness will replace ableism and bigotry. I think the new Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, the immortal Whitney Houston, put it best in her 1988 hit Love Will Save The Day:
Many things in this world bring you down,
It’s a wonder you can make it through the day–
Well, you can’t sleep ’cause your problems are too deep
And there’s always something getting in the way.
And when you turn on the evening news,
Mass confusion is the only thing you see;
Well, there’s no question that we need a new direction
‘Cause we all could use some peace and harmony!
The future for us is unwritten; we can’t know who will make it through this and who won’t. Let’s support one another, practice self-love and absorb a minimum of emotionless shock news. Most of all, let’s remember the human values that make us proud to be on this earth, and express ourselves with intention. Whitney Houston finishes her top 10 single with a soaring soprano, reminding us:
What you need’s a little change of heart
Forget this fear and frustration
Love will always play the greater part
When your battles wear you down
Here’s my advice
When you’re feeling down and out
And you’ve got troubles on your mind
Love will save the day
Love will save the day
LOVE WILL SAVE THE DAY!
Want to get involved in other ways to help disabled and unhoused people during this crisis? Come to the this week’s Virtual Town Hall meetings and share your concerns and visit https://nobodyisdisposable.org/ for ways to combat medical eugenics during Covid-19.
There are some amazing resources lists that were compiled by grass-roots orgs (read: without non profit bureaucracy) such as the one here. There is also a compilation sheet of medical studies on COVID-19, housing resources, POC justice resources, and many other guides and community lists here.