COVID-19 + Imperialism = Plague on the Health of the Oppressed
We mourn the hundreds of thousands of people who have died due to the incompentancy of the U.$. government from the federal to the local levels during this pandemic. Deaths in prisons from COVID-19 are at 2,173 as of 19 January 2021.(1) We know of one comrade in California who died who was working with a local USW cell.
In California, Governor Newsom put prisoners at the forefront of their vaccination roll out plan. However, things have not gone so smooth. All over the state vaccines are sitting unused, while they have opened up access to more than 10 times the number of people than they have vaccines for. According to the COVID Prison Project, which is tracking the vaccination of prisoners across the country, almost all of the 19,000 vaccinations administered through the California Department of Corrections and “rehabilitation” so far have gone to prison staff. Though California is one of a handful of states that have confirmed data of vaccinations having begun (currently at 65 prisoners).(1)
As infections and deaths reach record-breaking numbers every day, prisoners continue to be much more likely to be infected with SARS-COV-2 virus and they are more likely to die from COVID-19, despite the fact that the population in prisons is younger than those outside prisons. Old age is a very strong risk factor with COVID-19. This demonstrates that being in prison in the U.$. has a significant negative effect on your health status and the health care that you receive. It is very ironic. One would think that prisons are the most effective way to “stay inside” and get a population safe from a viral plague. The fact that prisons are rampant with this disease shows that “natural” disasters such as plagues, earthquakes, and floods are in fact bound with social relations just like all other things.
As you see in this issue of ULK, we continue to receive reports of lack of masks, staff not wearing masks, and infected prisoners being moved around and spreading the virus. With such lack of care demonstrated by those in charge, the higher death rates in prisons are no longer surprising.
On top of that, prisoners are suffering disproportionately from the conditions of shelter-in-place, nominally to stop the spread of the virus. The rest of the country gets to decide for themselves whether they want to follow best practices and stay at home and where a mask. As one might have predicted, this model failed horribly and is leading to hundreds of thousands of unnecessary deaths. But for prison staff, lockdowns are a routine affair. In many rural, white communities, sheriffs have refused to enforce state ordinances to promote public safety by sheltering in place. In prisons, correctional officers are happy to lock oppressed people in their cells for months with little access to the outside. This hypocrisy exposes the pigs true intentions.
Being in prison is about controlling all your time; the labor time you could have spent building up wealth and the leisure time you could have spent building your relationships and community. As mentioned above, being locked in a prison in the United $tates has a strong negative affect on your health status. It seems that many who don’t die from COVID-19, will have long-term effects. This will affect people’s ability to be productive and enjoy leisure time after being released from prison. U.$. prisons have long-term affects on peoples’ class and gender outcomes throughout their lives, especially for the oppressed nations which have less resources and support to overcome these setbacks.
Meanwhile, there is some pleasure involved on behalf of staff instituting lockdowns to make their jobs easier and refusing to wear masks because they “don’t feel like it.” Pleasure that would not exist for people who actually cared about others.
While there are economic reasons at the heart of why the oppressed always bear the brunt of “natural” disasters, there are cultural reasons as well. So much death and suffering could have been prevented in U.$. prisons without any affect on capitalist profits. And arguably, the U.$. economy would be doing better right now if the government had implemented better, clearer practices in society in general.
The struggle for basic health, including mental health and social connection, are struggles for basic humynity. Struggles we see falling more in the realm of gender than class, because it is not about economics and production. It is about transforming the relationships between people in a cultural way. A way that works to eliminate the possibility of one group finding pleasure in the oppression and suffering of another. We see the examples of the oppressed coming together in these conditions to struggle for basic humynity, and to build it between each other, as the early steps of a revolutionary transformation of national and gender relations in our society.