Cover Image from Mt. Lebanon, PA (photo credit unknown)
By Pennie Opal Plant, Co-founder of Movement Rights and Idle No More SF Bay
This virus is teaching us and reminding us that to survive we must include the collective WE in what we think and what we do. When we look at graphs like this one which went viral online from New Zealand, we see how Covid-19 spreads when people are not considering anyone but themselves and stubbornly put thousands more lives at risk.
We are at a crossroads. One path leads to destruction. The other is living together in harmony with nature. Please watch this ancient Hopi Prophecy, Two Paths—Destruction or Survival interpreted by Hopi religious elders Thomas Banyacya and Grandfather David Monongye.
The Hopeful Global News about flattening the COVID curve:
Countries which were successful in reducing infections followed very different paths than countries where the pandemic is currently in full swing. In South Korea, a country which has flattened the curve of the pandemic within their borders, officials immediately began testing citizens who were sick. Those who tested positive were quarantined and treated which took them out of the cycle of infecting potentially hundreds, even thousands, of other people. As of March 24, 2020, this is the most successful country at keeping its people safe.
Some Hard Truths Here at Home:
Conversely, in countries like the United States, where the main concern by many powerful elected officials is the economy, the stock market and corporate success, there was zero assistance from the federal government for residents at the beginning of 2020. There were very few tests available for the great majority of the US population during the first quarter of the year which has led to more than 1,000 deaths as of today, and sadly that number will increase (see Worldometer for US and global figures updated daily). There are still not enough tests available in the United States, not enough ventilators, not enough hospital beds, not enough protective gear for health workers who are most at risk ,and not enough N-95 masks, gloves, antibacterial wipes and sprays for people in one of the wealthiest countries in the world, the United States. There was no assistance for the most vulnerable during most of the first quarter of the pandemic, including those in prisons and ICE Detention centers, those who have no homes, the working poor and unemployed. Most elected officials did not consider the most vulnerable.
The current Administration of the United States has failed its people miserably. The President of the United States gave misleading and false information during the first three months of the year and is still doing so in an attempt to keep the economy afloat. Some Senators and Congressional Representatives are doing the same. Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick suggests that, “the elderly should die to save economy from coronavirus.” One wonders if that includes the elderly members of Congress and the President?
As of today, 18 states, including California, Washington and Oregon, and many countries including most of Europe, have issued quarantines/stay-at-home orders of their citizens in some fashion or another. Health experts have stated that this is the best way to contain the pandemic, yet the President of the United States has not issued a country-wide quarantine/stay-at-home order. This will lead to thousands of additional deaths in this country.
Why have so many elected officials, especially state governors, in the United States not issued shelter-in-place orders when it is clear that this is the only way to stem the pandemic. Could capitalism, the stock market and corporations have something to do with that? When the President of the United States, a wealthy businessman himself, and many members of Congress are urging citizens to consider making themselves vulnerable to becoming infected by going to church on Easter on Sunday, April 12th in order to “help the economy”, it begs the question: what are the nation’s priorities if not to make the wealthy wealthier? As Forbes contributor Erik Sherman wrote in his article, Letting People Die To ‘Save’ The Economy Is A Losing Idea, “the people suggesting that are generally not thinking that they’ll have to bear it. And the target of what to save isn’t America—which is its people—but economic and power interests that overwhelmingly belong to just a few. It wouldn’t be the first time.”
The View From our Family Home as we Shelter in Place
As global emissions have become reduced the air has become cleaner and people are noticing. Wildlife around the world has been seen wandering deserted city streets. My own family lives near a freeway and the Chevron Refinery in the San Francisco Bay Area and my husband and I suffer from respiratory issues as a result, but when the traffic dramatically reduced and the refinery has recently not been flaring toxins in our air, neither of us has had the respiratory problems that have become normal.
Our world has slowed down and we are entering the second week of the shelter-in-place order. I am a small, retail business owner as well as a co-founder of several organizations focused on ensuring a safe, sustainable, healthy future for coming generations. I opened my current business in 1991 and my business has successfully endured many economic ups and downs. I closed my business shortly before the shelter-in-place order in California was issued. I was concerned for my co-workers’ health and the health of my customers. It was the right thing to do even though I knew it is possible that I may lose my business of 29 years due to no income and bills that still have to be paid.
During the first week of the shelter-in-place, I felt like my shoulders were boulders. I spent most of every day on a very difficult application for a Small Business Administration (SBA), Financial Disaster loan, watching SBA webinars, and speaking with SBA officials. The loan application is grueling. I was scrambling to find resources to make it through the crisis. It was so stressful that I decided I needed a day off, and during that day off I realized something: this unhealthy system keeps us so busy that many of use have no idea what is really happening in our world. We believe we need to rush everywhere, must complete and take care of this or that, because we are seduced into the mainstream concept of “I” and not the big “WE” that humanity functioned under for over 99% of our existence. The fierce individualism that is imposed on us as children is not natural. It is a way of creating consumers for a system that doesn’t care about us – which is so obvious to so many now during this health crisis. And, I relaxed upon realizing that I had fallen onto the colonizer’s trap of hurry, hurry, hurry. I decided to slow down.
I am also an Indigenous grandmother who traveled around the world after selling a small retail business in 1988. I was in my thirties. The first year I traveled alone and spent six months camping by myself and visiting Aboriginal communities in the Outback of Australia among other places. I knew that in order to follow what I call “my instructions”, which are messages from my unseen helpers, I needed to shift out of the time frame of the Gregorian calendar that binds us to the over-scheduled, work oriented, mainstream calendar, to what I call “natural time”. This took me several months in the beginning of my trip, and before I was in Australia. I knew I had shifted out of mainstream time when I woke up without the stressful feeling of “what am I supposed to do today?”
Life is very different in natural time. Capitalism does not function in natural time, there is no work week, no banking hours, no shopping hours. The Gregorian calendar helped create the work week of five days of work and two days off – if you are lucky.
Time to Decolonize: Everything we do is about WE now
Many Indigenous people around the world still operate in natural time and there are stories, including my own, which tell of people living many hours or days away who, without a phone or radio or other modern method of communicating, know a guest is on their way, a relative or friend needs help, when it is important to go somewhere. It is a profoundly different way of being. It is natural and it falls within the natural laws of Mother Earth which has her own way of managing time, a way of experiencing time that is very different than what we are forced to live with in most of our lives today.
The great majority of people living in this time have been colonized by a capitalist system which is geared to make wealthy people wealthier. We have been duped into thinking that this is the way life is supposed to be and there is no other way. We have been conned into the idea that anyone can “pull him/herself up the economic ladder by his/her bootstraps.” This is false. Yes, there are a few, mostly white men, who have been successful at creating great wealth for themselves. But, how important is that in a time of a world-wide pandemic with over 20,000 deaths as of today and this crisis not even close to be over? Is the wealth of one person more important than the health of millions?
If there is a silver lining that the pandemic is giving humanity, it is the gift of seeing that the system of capitalism is one that emphasizes the individual, especially wealthy individuals over the well-being of the many. It is the gift of seeing that this system prioritizes the economy over the health of all of the people, which leads to the lack of health care and concern for each one of us. Another silver lining to the pandemic is the slow down of industry, leading to cleaner air, water and soil, and a growing awareness that we all truly need one another.
This is an aspect of decolonizing our societal structures, our communities and ourselves. We, the big WE, are obligated now to refuse to obey the destructive system that is destroying our health and our world in order to serve a system that does not serve the big WE. Nature herself is demanding that we shift our way of thinking of our place within the sacred system of life and pay attention to the natural laws of Mother Earth.
There are many Indigenous prophesies about this time we are living in which many of us call the “purification times”. We can see that this virus, as horrible and deadly as it is, has gifted us with purer clean skies and water in a short period of time. Imagine what the water, sky, and Earth herself would be like if we demanded an end to everything that is destroying our own and our non-human relatives’ ability to live as we are meant to…recognizing that we are a tiny aspect of this beautiful system of life? We can begin by acknowledging that we are meant to consider the WE in all that we do. We are at a time when we must live with consideration of any action that could negatively impact the next seven generations and decide to choose a safe, healthier path. Imagine this awareness and commitment to the “WE” being the culture and law in every land…what a beautiful world we would create for ourselves and our children’s, children’s great, great, great, great grandchildren.
Imagination is a powerful tool. Everything that humanity has created that we now know harms the sacred system of life began as an idea in someone’s imagination. Perhaps they didn’t know their invention would be become so harmful that it would destroy what we need to simply exist, but it did and it was.
Now, I invite you to join me in thinking about your own community and how it could become the most healthy with clean air, water and soil. Imagine where the food, energy, clothing, would come from – maybe within the community? What would our homes be like if they were created with consideration of the climate where we lived? How could we reduce our consumption of products if a community shared what we all use? What would our healthcare system be like if everyone was taken care of? What would our bodies feel if we were able to reduce and eliminate all of the toxins? How could inter-generational wisdom and experiences be easily integrated into the education of our children? How could our elders be respected and their lives be treasured and honored?
The only way to get there is to begin to imagine these ways of being and then to work to create them in our communities. I believe this is a part of what will save us from destroying ourselves and the beautiful system of life that allows us to exist. We are all in this together.
By Pennie Opal Plant, co-founder of Movement Rights along with Shannon Biggs and Idle No More SF Bay along with Alison Ehara-Brown, both of whom assisted in helping write this piece. Pennie is Yaqui and Mexican on her mother’s side, and undocumented Cherokee, Choctaw and European on her father’s side. She has worked for over 40 years on ensuring the sacred system of life continues in a safe, sustainable, healthy way for future generations.