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What Will Never Be Again

What Will Never Be Again

 

Jane Shi

 

Content notes: suicide, genocide, deaths in long-term care, serophobia, medical abuse, labour exploitation, overdose deaths

 

Dionne Brand’s piercing article “On narrative, reckoning and the calculus of living and dying” teaches us that ‘normal’ is an anti-Black, anti-Indigenous, and capitalist ruse: 

What the COVID-19 pandemic has done is expose even further the endoskeleton of the world. I have felt tremendous irritation at the innocence of those people (mostly, but not only, white) finally up against their historic and present culpability in a set of dreadful politics and dreadful economics — ecocidal and genocidal. Their innocence is politically, economically and psychically lucrative. . . .Was the violence against women normal? Was the anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism normal? Was white supremacy normal? Was the homelessness growing on the streets normal? Were homophobia and transphobia normal? Were pervasive surveillance and policing of Black and Indigenous and people of colour normal? Yes, I suppose all of that was normal. But, I and many other people hate that normal. Who would one have to be to sit in that normal restfully, to mourn it, or to desire its continuance? 

What Billy-Ray Belcourt calls “a new grammar of living,” what Jody Chan calls madness, what Audre Lorde calls “poetry as illumination,” what many call disability justice, is prefigurative work that often begins with a sigh. Which is to say, a breath, an exhale, and acknowledgement that we are still here, and when we are here, we also speak (or sign, or finger spell, or mumble, or type, or use AAC) to the many who are not, and when we tell our stories, when we make art, when we protest, when we scream, we are also calling into the room all we have lost who, despite no longer being here physically, still buoys us (through the love we have for them) into living a life they would have wanted (or that the world convinced them they should not get to live) and, in turn, wanted for us. A sigh: this is not the life we owe one another. A sign—it’s not too late to demand a different one.  

This pandemic is one where rituals and traditions communities have cultivated for mourning have also been interrupted. Despite estrangement and disconnection, I have felt called to translate and rework these rituals into other ways to mourn—poems, art, memes, bouts of madness, the absence of productivity, mutual aid, reflection, organizing. After all, despite being an ocean away from one of my hometowns (Shanghai), soundwaves of aunties’ wails—heard from videos uploaded to Twitter and Youtube—still register as grief, as hunger, as anger, as relation. This fraught and tenuous digital room is a temple wall echoing in multiple languages and dialects: no more, no more, no more.

In “Who Could Have Lived,” Erin Soros asks “[b]ut what if we are neighbours, not just those of us who inhabit our stationary homes beside one another but all those of us travelling by foot and bicycle, wheelchair and subway, taxi and even car through our cities?” The movement in this scene reminds us how our lives overlap and intermingle, that despite the state’s attempt to hide, silence, suppress, or kill us, we who fail normal will always make ourselves known, if not in an article, in a scream, if not at a march, in the wave of a sword, if not on the tracks of a subway, in care work, if not in blockades, in virtual performance art, if not in a public hearing, in a disability filibuster on Zoom, if not in a suit, in the long drag of a pipe.

To be unmoved in the face of ongoing genocide, in a heat dome, in floods, in a poisoning massacre, in the sixth wave of an uncontrolled pandemic, throughout global vaccine disparity, is the cruelty of watching all sacred sites burn in a climate catastrophe while insisting only on the church of white supremacy and business as usual. Rejecting this worship also rejects how capital insists we move. In “Everything is Waiting,” Jónína Kirton “long[s] for a world where we go as slow as the slowest person in the room, where those who are fast and efficient sit down and listen.”

The room is as wide as the universe. The room includes those who died.

 

An image of a pink rose bush blooming against green leaves, a coniferous dark green tree, and a blue sky with the letters "immunocompromised people are worth protecting" in yellow in Cooper Black font with a slight black shadow. Artist credit: Jane Shi
An image of a pink rose bush blooming against green leaves, a coniferous dark green tree, and a blue sky with the letters “immunocompromised people are worth protecting” in yellow in Cooper Black font with a slight black shadow. Artist credit: Jane Shi

Calculus

Dr. Bonnie Henry, British Columbia’s Provincial Health Officer, built her career first as a naval officer and grew up in a military family. In 2003, she was associate health officer in Toronto, where she–along with other medical experts–made a “costly error” that failed to contain SARS cases despite insisting otherwise, “compounded by a dire, patriotic urge to prove to the rest of the world that Toronto was free of severe acute respiratory syndrome.” On March 10th, 2022, Dr. Henry announced that the mask mandate in British Columbia would drop a day later, on March 11th, and that the vaccine mandate would also drop on April 8th, 2022. 

This year, Canada tops up its military spending by $8 billion CAD, adding to their ten-year defence budget of $32.7 billion. While making it easier for poor disabled people to die through an expanded Medical Assistance in Dying law (Bill C7), 2022’s federal budget squeezes out a meagre $272.6 million CAD for employment involving people with disabilities for the next five years. Canada’s 2022 budget makes no mention of the Disability Benefit Act, or the Canada Disability Benefit that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party campaigned on. In British Columbia, the provincial government temporarily created a $300 COVID-19 crisis supplement to their disability assistance program in April 2020 before cutting half of it in February 2021. The province offers nothing to those who spent more than 90 days in prison.   

In lockstep with the federal Liberals’ bootstrap disability budget, Ontario’s Premier Doug Ford’s response to questions on raising the Ontario Disability Supports Payment (ODSP) program imagines support exclusively through the lens of capacity to work: “the best way to help someone who can work is to get them a job.”

Tracey Thompson, a former chef who contracted COVID after a physical attack, tells me of where these budgets leave her:

As long COVID is not yet a recognized disability, I’ve been depending on crowdfunding for housing & healthcare. Two years of being bed/housebound has run through my savings.

There’s nothing in place for people incapable of working, whether it’s from Covid or other health issues. Without the ability to supplement the ODSP, you cannot survive. The current climate here seems more focused on lining the wallets of the already wealthy & leaving those on the bottom to scrape by or die by attrition.

War, like the pandemic, is a mass disabling event. Between 2001-2014, Canada spent $18 billion on the war in Afghanistan.

An image of a pink rose bush blooming against green leaves, a coniferous dark green tree, and a blue sky with the letters "respecting your pandemic boundaries is important to me" in yellow in Cooper Black font with a slight black shadow. Artist credit: Jane Shi
An image of a pink rose bush blooming against green leaves, a coniferous dark green tree, and a blue sky with the letters “respecting your pandemic boundaries is important to me” in yellow in Cooper Black font with a slight black shadow. Artist credit: Jane Shi

Compassion

Tristen Wybou, a Ts’msyen community and social service worker, tells me that while the healthcare system in the lower mainland is absolutely strapped, many parts of the province of British Columbia don’t even have it. In remote areas, getting to the nearest hospital can take over an hour; often, patients can only get to them via seaplanes or helicopters. Within Indigenous communities in the North, Wybou insists on having “truly compassionate, heavy, difficult, trauma-laden conversations”: without accessible and Indigenous-led services, vaccination rates will continue to be low. Ongoing legacies of Indian hospitals and segregation means that vaccine hesitancy comes not from the racism of anti-vaxx movements, but from the violence of colonialism:  

For something that seems as tiny and simple as a routine vaccination for the rest of us is not if you have faced sterilization or medical experimentation, or if that’s history held in your family. It’s someone putting something that is painful and scary and unknown into your body and all the information about why has also just come from the government that hurt you to begin with.

While the fascist convoy that occupied Ottawa and other parts of the country used the opposition to pandemic mandates as a rallying cry, their political goals are diametrically opposed to the well-being of Black, Indigenous, and racialized communities, many of whom experience vaccine hesitancy and are at a greater risk of hospitalization and death from COVID from working in frontline jobs. In British Columbia, organizations like Hogan’s Alley Society, Bao Ve Collective, South Asian Mental Health Alliance, and Yarrow Intergenerational Society for Justice have responded to the deep systemic barriers within the healthcare system which lead to mistrust and exclusion. 

RL, a non-binary East Asian Deaf person living in Vancouver, also tells me that d/Deaf and Hard of Hearing people need live, culturally appropriate, anti-racist interpreters within medical settings, not just video relay services, which often fail to consider clients privacy when accessing healthcare. As of now, there is a shortage of live medical interpreters in ‘Canada,’ and pandemic safety concerns make in-person interpretation challenging. While the convoy called for an end to the mask mandate, their concerns have nothing to do with the fact that some d/Deaf and Hard of Hearing people rely on lipreading and facial cues to communicate and face language deprivation within the medical system and beyond. 

Wybou argues that more work needs to be done to ensure these services are not only concentrated in better-resourced urban centres and respond to low vaccination rates in remote parts of the province and country.   

The compassion Wybou offers to his community is one frequently denied people who use drugs. Eris Nyx tells me that Drug User Liberation Front, the group she founded with Jeremy Kalicum, is “a public health intervention that aims to deal with this ever-increasing pile of bodies of drug users.” Along with other harm reduction groups in Vancouver, DULF uses tactics learned from the Black Panther Party and other civil rights activists in the 1960s to challenge and confront governmental neglect and the inherent conservatism of drug policy reform. Giving out free, tested heroin, cocaine, and meth amidst a deadly poisoned drug supply, in other words, is necessary direct-action work in the face of “horrendous, AIDS-level numbers of people dying, especially in the Downtown Eastside.”

Despite this parallel pandemic, poor drug users are reviled and feared, often treated as though they will infect others with AIDS. Nyx tells me in our interview, “People get afraid of each other, and especially, you know, drug users. There’s so much compounded stigma and hatred and ignorance in that statement: ‘you’re going to give me AIDS.’” 

In Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers’ documentary Kímmapiiyipitssini: The Meaning of Empathy, the broader societal rift which pushes racist, colonial policies and attitudes onto Indigenous substance users is met with truth-telling, grace, and the difficult work of holding grief. Recounting how the Indian Act, the residential school system, the slaughtering of buffalo on Blackfoot territory, as well as the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway impacted the Blood people, stories on the reserve are situated within the broader violence of settler colonialism in Canada. 

As is the case in the Downtown Eastside, drug toxicity from fentanyl has amplified on reserves in recent years. Like Indigenous-led vaccine clinics, Indigenous-led harm reduction-based detox centres and Indigenous doctors provide vital, culturally safe and non-judgemental care to Indigenous substance users and reserves and beyond. In the film, Tailfeathers’ mum Esther Tailfeathers prescribes methadone and suboxone to community members young and old; she and other healthcare practitioners also learn from harm reduction organizers in the Downtown Eastside. 

To adapt and learn from one another amidst ongoing colonial violence is a necessary lesson in this pandemic. Without the governmental mandates, how do we collectively respond? 

An image of a pink rose bush blooming against green leaves, a coniferous dark green tree, and a blue sky with the letters "drug users are worth protecting" in yellow in Cooper Black font with a slight black shadow. Artist credit: Jane Shi
An image of a pink rose bush blooming against green leaves, a coniferous dark green tree, and a blue sky with the letters “drug users are worth protecting” in yellow in Cooper Black font with a slight black shadow. Artist credit: Jane Shi

Culpability

In the first few weeks of the pandemic, a white woman ran away from me as I walked across the street toward the park while wearing a mask. After various waves of changes in pandemic protection policies, after so many deaths (not only from COVID), after so many police murders, after so many people in my communities continue to fall ill, what persists when this fear is placed on me is the trauma of racialized violence, ableist neglect, and the pernicious feeling that taking up space in the world is both impermissible and unsafe. For me, safety is not the co-opted notion of the state, police, or white feminism, but a sense of peace within myself: that I am not too much, or doing too little. 

Thy Phu argues that the “racialization of disease can be seen in discourses about SARS, for even though infections were confirmed on several continents, and although it is no longer acceptable to name a disease according to the place of its apparent emergence, as in the cases of Ebola and Spanish flu, the contagion nevertheless remained associated with Chinese and, more generally, with Asian bodies.” Chinese migrants had been first useful to the Canadian state as lower-wage labour to build the Canadian Pacific Railway and to work in mines. Paul Yee’s Saltwater City recalls how John Robson, British Columbia’s provincial secretary in 1885, declared that Chinese migrants’ habits were as filthy as they were immoral. This prevailing attitude about Chinese migrants justified their mistreatment as workers: many died in landslides, from malnourishment and the absence of medical care. 

In 1908, a year after the anti-Asian riots in Vancouver, former prime minister and then deputy minister of the Department of Labour Mackenzie King adopted the Opium Act, thus launching prohibitionist drug laws still in effect today across Canada. Using broadscale associations of Chinese bachelors with opium-use as a lynchpin, King argued that some good came out of the riots after all.  

In their current form, prohibitionist drug laws are killing thousands of people every year. It is impossible to fight against anti-Asian racism without also fighting the ways our pathologization is intertwined with the pathologization of people who use drugs, of poor folks who live in ghettoized neighbourhoods, of fat people, of sex workers, of Black and Indigenous people, including in the South, who are criminalized in drug wars and swallowed by prison systems. 

In the city of Vancouver, as well as the suburb of Richmond where I grew up, mainstream fights against anti-Asian racism often fail to account for systems that make violence against migrant, poor, working-class, and disabled Asians permissible in the first place. In “Organizing the suburbs,” Justin Kong, Edward Hon-Sing Wong, and Veronica Yeung situate the de-clawing of the left in Ontario with the rise of the non-profit industrial complex: 

The model of “service without organizing” – of providing support without talking about how issues like homelessness, poverty, and domestic violence are structurally reproduced – is ultimately a recipe for disaster. It perpetuates the power of middle-class brokers, and fails to politicize new migrants. As a result, beginning in the 1980s, there was a political vacuum in the Chinese community where the grassroots left used to be, which the right has been only too happy to fill.

Of course, Chinese communities also immigrate with conservative beliefs and an interest in building and preserving middle-class and upper-class interests. 

In BlackLife: Post-BLM and the Struggle for Freedom, Rinaldo Walcott and Idil Abdillahi astutely observe that “[t]oday we speak of immigrants or immigration; guest workers or various kinds of worker programs; ‘illegal aliens’, their undocumented/non-status, generations of immigrant children and so on. But all of these terms reference some kind of movement and reordering of the globe under Europe’s terms or conditioned by those terms. Thus, movement as a condition, even more than a practice, is fundamental to modernity in its very conception and its practices and based in Black debasement.”

The relative upward mobility of Chinese labour across history is rooted in anti-Blackness and the ongoing presence of transatlantic slavery. As Moon-Ho Jung notes in “Making sugar, making ‘coolies’: Chinese laborers toiled alongside Black workers on 19th-century Louisiana plantations,” “[i]mporting indentured labor from Asia emerged as a potential way to maintain the British Empire’s sugar plantation system” in the aftermaths of slavery’s so-called abolishment. Ableist, ageist, and anti-Black conceptions of work positioned Chinese workers as superior to their Black counterparts: according to Jung’s research, the New Orleans Times noted that Chinese workers were “young, athletic, intelligent, sober and cleanly.” Such hierarchies of racialized labour pervade how we continue to live and organize, casting some as unworthy of care, love, and solidarity. 

In the 21st century, Canada’s Express Entry program, also known as the points system, magnifies Black debasement through the criterion of qualification where migrants are deemed only as useful as their replaceable labour. If you aren’t the right kind of newcomer, if you aren’t young, athletic, intelligent, sober, or clean enough for Canadian labour markets, you face the threat of deportation and ongoing violence within precarious labour. These standards are inherently impossible to fulfill if you are already deemed unqualified.  

In the context of Canada’s collapsing healthcare system, migrant labour exploitation lies at the heart of the crisis. As Harsha Walia recounts,

Many migrant workers and migrant domestic workers have consistently said the temporary foreign worker program is basically a privatized system of care—that the state gets off the hook from providing elder care services, childcare services, daycare services, by having this program. Many migrant domestic workers have also been very clear that in their home countries, they’re actually accredited to be healthcare workers, to be childhood educators.

The deskilling of migrant domestic workers, ER and ICU nurse Birgit Umaigba argues, has led to severe nursing shortages in recent waves of the pandemic in Ontario and elsewhere. Without offering permanent residency to internationally-educated nurses, Canada’s collapsing medical infrastructure will continue to fail to meet the needs of everyday people as well as respond to incoming waves of the pandemic. By design, migrant workers are needed to take care of its aging population as an extension of slavery, Black debasement, and settler colonialism.   

Disability justice calls to abolish long-term care is thus also migrant justice. 

An image of a pink rose bush blooming against green leaves, a coniferous dark green tree, and a blue sky with the letters "youth are worth protecting" in yellow in Cooper Black font with a slight black shadow. Artist credit: Jane Shi
An image of a pink rose bush blooming against green leaves, a coniferous dark green tree, and a blue sky with the letters “youth are worth protecting” in yellow in Cooper Black font with a slight black shadow. Artist credit: Jane Shi

Complex 

Nyx observes that “drugs transcend class. Every class uses drugs. Not every class lives in the ghetto. And the ones that have enough money not to can choose to leave whenever they want.” Similarly, while everyone’s impacted by this pandemic, not all disabled people face the same risks: those who can work from home, have a car, and don’t live in crowded, congregate settings have not experienced the same forms of exploitation, neglect, and devastation.

Had the pandemic arrived only a year or two before, my own risks would have been far greater when I was living with roughly eight other poor and working-class queer folks. The mouldy, pest-filled walls of the house we lived in, now in heaps at its intersection along Kingsway, contributed to a worsening cough that often makes me an object of fear in this pandemic. Such external interpretations of health status askews the reality of where a chronic cough may come from: the impacts of global capitalism, accelerating climate catastrophe, and the specific effects of pollution in urban Chinese cities. While those who live above the heap of my former home complain about its unsanitary, unsightly quality on a Reddit forum, I wonder where Canada’s so-called universal healthcare really is and why it costs so much to live in a place where my health is not devastated.

Sean Strub’s concept of the viral underclass–used originally to understand the criminalization of HIV positive people–also helps Dr. Steven Thrasher to explain what makes the most vulnerable even more vulnerable in this pandemic. This concept also highlights glaring inequities within disabled communities. 

For low-income Chinese seniors in Chinatown, the absence of language appropriate long-term care homes and home care services means that many seniors are stuck in poorly ventilated and cramped buildings with no elevators. Beverly Ho, Operations Coordinator at Yarrow Intergenerational Society for Justice, tells me in our interview that they know “a senior who didn’t come out of her unit for at least half a year, because she wasn’t able to make it up and down the stairs. And so her elderly partner was doing most of the caretaking because he’s more mobile. But you know, he’s close to 90 as well.” For seniors who are themselves undocumented, fewer choices exist outside crowded and pest-filled SROs (single room occupancy hotels or buildings). The choice to enter long-term care homes, where more than twenty thousand people have died in this pandemic, is no replacement for systemic overhaul within Canada’s aging population, but for now, seniors who aren’t fluent in English face barriers to even having that option. When I think back to the house I lived in, I notice how absence of available affordable housing pushed me to accept what I had out of survival. When Beverly tells me that many seniors in Chinatown share this resignation, I grieve conditions that make  aging comfortably as multiply-disabled racialized people a fargone luxury. 

This pandemic, then, is also the pandemic of the housing crisis. Wybou reflects that in the port town of Prince Rupert:

and in surrounding areas, because of things like displacement, LNG, inflation, [and] Vancouver landlords buying property in remote and isolated communities in the province, full and entire families have lost housing for years now and there is an absolutely cacophonous waitlist to be able to access housing. In these remote areas where there’s minimal vaccine education, minimal COVID education, very, very high fear of the government from abuses in the healthcare system, we now have all of those things combined together sometimes with twelve people all sharing very very small households. It will be you, your aunties, your uncles, your cousins, your friends, your coworkers, because everyone’s lost housing. They’re having to convert hotels now into single room occupancies, with shared common areas, shared bathroom areas, because there’s just not enough housing.

Within her work at DULF, Nyx situates the viral underclass within a cascade of systems: “the prison industrial complex feeds into the housing industrial complex, which feeds into other kinds of resource industrial complexes.” For criminalized and unhoused Indigenous substance users interviewed in Kímmapiiyipitssini, housing is at the highest priority of their needs. For Thompson and many others whose finances have been devastated by both pandemic closures and the impact of long COVID, homelessness has become an ever-looming reality dependent on access to income support that the Canadian government has no plans on increasing. 

Nēhiyaw poet Erica Violet Lee beautifully argues that “[i]n this moment there exists no spreadsheet of convincing statistics, nor any exhaustive study of critical theory that will change the minds of those who still cannot or will not envision a world beyond police, prisons, and punishment. We cannot afford to spend our time bargaining with colonial governments for our humanity.” It is no exaggeration that to give more of ourselves to institutions that have only glutted on our hopes in the past two years means we are giving up on each other. 

In a Disability Filibuster panel on medical ableism, queer Black writer and artist Lucia Lorenzi reframes hope as violence within the medical industrial complex: “Hope is not a replacement for care. Hope is a form of abandonment.” For us non-Black and non-Indigenous disabled people, ending the pandemic means fighting to end the conditions of Black debasememt and  settler colonial captivity, including in medical settings. It means following Black and Indigenous disabled leadership in the futures they are already building. It means putting our care into practice, not merely hoping that these futures come into fruition. 

Late Cree poet, spoken word artist, and prison justice advocate Cory Cardinal reminds us in“Prisons are built on our backs,” that “keeping the prisons full sustains this economy, which keeps the common correctional officer employed, in order to feed their families. We as inmates have become job security and a valuable resource for anyone employed within the correctional system, putting in 25 years, working toward securing a pension…If the prisons were empty, there would be no employment.” Cardinal’s insight is profound in light of this pandemic as a mass disabling event: arguably, when more people  can’t work and need to rely on mutual aid networks to survive, more  of us have the capacity to join struggles to dismantle policing, prisons, and the many other industrial complexes that have only worsened in the past two years. 

If the ruling class want this pandemic to end, they would do well with giving up their billions, giving land back to Indigenous peoples, and dismantling every death-making system built on stolen land, genocide, and chattel slavery. 

And since they won’t, our struggle is to fight furiously for each other, and fight furiously for those who died. 

An image of a pink rose bush blooming against green leaves, a coniferous dark green tree, and a blue sky with the letters "elders are worth protecting" in yellow in Cooper Black font with a slight black shadow. Artist credit: Jane Shi
An image of a pink rose bush blooming against green leaves, a coniferous dark green tree, and a blue sky with the letters “elders are worth protecting” in yellow in Cooper Black font with a slight black shadow. Artist credit: Jane Shi

Camaraderie 

Céline Chuang observes that within the Downtown Eastside, this fury is rhizomatic and deeply relational: “[t]he settler colony’s poorest urban postal code refuses categorization and subjugation, and although varying degrees of marginalization can intersect to form fissures — state-enforced scarcity breeds contempt among the injured — bridges and connective tissues too emerge, flexing muscle memory in the ongoing struggle against rampant gentrification.” Beverly Ho tells me that Chris Livingstone of Smoke Signals and many others in the Downtown Eastside have ensured that there are Chinese-language workers in their organizations to show up for older women who disproportionately face harassment in food lineups and face barriers due to language access. As Chuang points out, the work Yarrow does in Chinatown “drinks from a rich wellspring of grassroots activism, tended by warrior women like Harriet Nahanee, Stella August, and Rita Blind who birthed the Women’s Memorial March in the 1990s and marched against the 2010 Olympics.” These moments of care, reciprocity, and learning are worth more than the most well-funded museum the province can purchase or the fanciest glass storefront. 

Communities have never faced, survived, or resisted our struggles alone. As COVID continues to spread, grassroots activism needs to adapt as well. Without official governmental pandemic safety measures–never robust or flexible enough to rely on in the first place, I look to the hard won wisdom of long-term community organizing for strength while imagining what expansive and accessible disabled mutual aid and solidarity can look like. Pandemic policies thus far being enforced punitively and by police means that the alternatives we offer must be rooted in compassion, camaraderie, and genuine care. 

For every disabled person who needs virtual, hybrid events, many more do not have tech access or literacy. For every disabled person who can afford N95 masks, many cannot. For every disabled person with access to fourth doses of vaccines in the Global North, many in the rest of the world do not. For every person who can call doctors, many cannot. For every person who can easily digest pandemic science, many need plain language translations. For every person who can self-isolate, many live in crowded apartments and work in cramped delivery rooms. For every person who feels safe in a vaccine clinic, many need truly trauma-centred and culturally appropriate care. These aren’t normal conditions in which to fight and care for one another, and so, our strategies can’t be the same as what they were before, either.

This is a time when we need to affirm and acknowledge the labour of long-term queer, trans, fat, sex working Black, Indigenous and racialized disabled organizers, writers, artists and culture workers, as well as welcome and offer mentorship to newly politicized and disabled people. This is a time when we need to offer each other grace, for many of us have not had most of our needs met over two years and counting. This is a time to demand accountability from the institutions continuing to keep prisons running while exploiting the land, the waters, and our collective labour. This is a time to reimagine life, work, and love, because what will never be again is the false hopes and expectations we’ve placed on them, on ourselves. 

This is a time to ask how those who died would want us to live. 

Thompson tells me that where she lives “there are some great grassroots initiatives: a tenant-run food bank, tenants’ rights associations, community fridges & larders, but it’s not enough to ensure that all people are housed, fed, able to access care & medication. People shouldn’t be at the mercy of food bank donations to survive.” RL tells me that they dream of a world in which we do not need to rely on government ‘help’ and that we create our own system of our ways to make that community care possible.” We are already doing this work. 

Kayli, a mixed HK-Chinese Canadian student who teaches at Simon Fraser University, is one of many taking on the the work of sharing the impacts of long COVID after developing it: 

It can be very lonely feeling like you’re the only one who cares about COVID still. I often have to be the ‘downer’ that declines social invitations, isolates at home, avoids theatres, restaurants, and the mall. . . .Many people I encounter still don’t know or understand what Long Covid is either which is immensely frustrating given the risk it poses to everyone. I often have to list out my symptoms to people in a very long-winded way so that they will understand the enormity of what I go through on a daily basis, since I look ‘fine’ or normal on the outside.

Naming the enormity of what we experience is part of the work. Yes, this work can be deeply lonely at times. But we do it because we have a responsibility to one another, to stretch the muscles of our empathy and to build networks of care strong enough to withstand the isolation of racial capitalism and ableism. We do it not because it’s part of our careers or vocations but because the world we inherit is burning. 

Disabled organizing isn’t a trend: we aren’t going anywhere, and we won’t leave anyone behind. For now, a friend and I are raising funds for N95 masks in our neighbourhoods. We aim to raise $5000 before the fires arrive again this summer.

In “How Disabled Mutual Aid is Different from Abled Mutual Aid,” Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha points out how disabled mutual aid transforms our relationship to time: 

We were sick and disabled before the pandemic and we know all about how things don’t go according to plan, how timelines stretch out, how people stop calling after the 2 weeks which is the longest they can conceive of a body/mind emergency happening. We know about not ever being able to go back to “normal.” We know crip needs stretch out long like horizon, like forever. 

To stretch out long like the horizon means not being afraid to take up spacea nearly impossible lesson in the climate of competition and scarcity we live in. As a Mad, autistic queer survivor, I dream often about the care and solidarity I can offer my younger selves, what Lala and Nic of Seen the Podcast call time-travelling. When I return to these earlier selves, I do not find a more normal version of myself: I find someone who is just as crazy and in need of care as the person I am today. I am grateful for her. 

Solidarity work in the city, Wybou tells me, too often goes at the pace of corporations and at the pace of techno feudalism. I would rather go at crip time, which is sometimes, not always, the slowest in the room.

 

FOR MORE

“Reimagining the Autistic Mother Tongue,” by Jane Shi, Disability Visibility Project, June 13, 2021.

ABOUT

A double exposure photograph, wherein two images are faded onto one another in a single image, of Jane sitting at her desk on a black office chair.  Jane is a light skin East Asian person, with her eyes closed, wearing brown and black glasses and short black hair that slightly flares at the end with rounded bangs like a bowl. In one exposure Jane’s face is larger and closer to the camera; there are lights directly behind her. In the other, she is sitting on a black office chair and holding a sliced open half of a pomegranate. Behind her is a round, moon-like light. The desk behind her is a medium orange-brown and contains a head shelf, with books ordered in red, black, white, and the rest of the rainbow ordered on the top of the table. There’s a small brown monkey plushie near the left end of the desk. There’s a black and white ink illustration above the orange to blue books on top of the desk where there’s an open space.
A double exposure photograph, wherein two images are faded onto one another in a single image, of Jane sitting at her desk on a black office chair.  Jane is a light skin East Asian person, with her eyes closed, wearing brown and black glasses and short black hair that slightly flares at the end with rounded bangs like a bowl. In one exposure Jane’s face is larger and closer to the camera; there are lights directly behind her. In the other, she is sitting on a black office chair and holding a sliced open half of a pomegranate. Behind her is a round, moon-like light. The desk behind her is a medium orange-brown and contains a head shelf, with books ordered in red, black, white, and the rest of the rainbow ordered on the top of the table. There’s a small brown monkey plushie near the left end of the desk. There’s a black and white ink illustration above the orange to blue books on top of the desk where there’s an open space.

Jane Shi is a queer Chinese settler living on the unceded, traditional, and ancestral territories of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), and səlil̓ilw̓ətaʔɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) First Nations. She is the author of the forthcoming chapbook Leaving Chang’e on Read (Rahila’s Ghost Press, 2022). Find her on socials @pipagaopoetry and at her website at janeshi.org

 

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