March was three months ago.
It was also a lifetime ago.
In mid-March, both my husband and I had jobs. We were able to travel occasionally to our home country of Colombia to visit our families and get medical care. We could send money to our families there. We didn’t have a lot, but we had enough.
Then, this pandemic hit. With the looming fear of infection and the realization that we don’t have adequate health care, my partner and I lost our sense of stability.
Due to COVID-19, I lost my part-time job at a small chocolate factory. My husband and I now must rely on our U.S. health insurance because, like everyone else, we can’t travel. With high deductibles and unclear coverage, we’re putting our healthcare on hold as much as we can until we are able to return to Colombia. If we were to test positive for the coronavirus, I don’t know what we would do.
Gabriel, my husband, is a mechanic at a bicycle shop here in Milwaukee, which has implemented good sanitation and safety protocols. All incoming bikes get disinfected, and he doesn’t interact with customers. He has his own set of tools, and the shop owner has made sanitizer widely available. While at work, he washes his hands constantly. And when he gets home, he undresses before entering the house and again, washes his hands. But we still worry. Is it a good thing for him to go to work every day? What if he gets infected? What if I get infected? What if we both get infected?
If either of us comes down with the symptoms, then we would get tested because that’s free. If we test positive, we might be able to pay the $2,000 deductible — or maybe not. We might have to go home and self-quarantine and hope for the best.
My husband and I suffer from what Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, calls policy violence, because of policies that deny affordable health care and paid sick leave to poor and low-income workers. Barber is the co-chair of the People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival.
This shouldn’t happen in what’s supposed to be the greatest country on earth. Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, co-chair of the national Poor People’s Campaign and a Wisconsin native, has said that “the pandemic has demonstrated that everyone’s fates are intertwined with those of the poor” and that this crisis “reminds us that we all are only as secure as those with the least health care access among us.”
That means that your health is only as good as my health and the health of my husband. And our health is only as good as that of anyone we see at a grocery store or pharmacy. We are truly all relying on each other now, and we all deserve a living wage, paid sick leave and quality healthcare.
This point is even more urgent after the Wisconsin Supreme Court struck down the state’s Safer at Home order.
Policy — and police — violence
Others, such as George Floyd, the African American man who died as a Minneapolis cop pressed his knee on his throat for eight minutes and 46 seconds, are victims of policy and police violence. Not even the best health care in the world could have spared Mr. Floyd’s life. He was killed in plain sight not only by a rogue cop, but also by the systemic racism, poverty and militarism that allow abuse to hide behind a badge.
This system is violent in explicit ways, like through the too common police killings, often with impunity that fill the news cycle until everything again quiets down. But it is also violent in more hidden ways, such as allowing 140 million to be poor or at risk of poverty in the richest nation in the world.
Police brutality does not occur in a vacuum. Killings like that of Mr. Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor are symptoms of a society that was in crisis before this pandemic hit. When death occurs at the hands of police, or when people face the choice between staying home and risking hunger — or being forced to work and risking death from infection and lack of healthcare, the problem runs deep in our society. So solutions must also be built deep and from within.
That’s why even before COVID-19 hit, I was a volunteer organizer with the Poor People’s Campaign. I want to be part of a movement that’s fighting to create a just society for all, and that’s the mission of the Poor People’s Campaign. That’s why I’ll be participating in our digital Mass Poor People’s Assembly & Moral March on Washington on June 20.
I urge everyone to join me in the Poor People’s Campaign. Sign our petition.
Let’s fight together for the just society we all deserve. Let’s fight for justice for Mr. Floyd and for the thousands that die silently, but unfairly, among us.
The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival, is building a generationally transformative digital gathering called the Mass Poor People’s Assembly and Moral March on Washington, on June 20, 2020. At that assembly, we will demand that both major political parties address the interlocking injustices of systemic racism, poverty, ecological devastation, militarism and the distorted moral narrative of religious nationalism by implementing our Moral Agenda.