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From the belly of the beast – angry considerations on coronavirus management

First published on Facebook by Sara Agostinelli, Bergamo[1], translated from Italian by Davide Grasso, Turin[2] | the original is also available online, as well as a French translation

I’m from Bergamo and I’m sick, presumably from Coronavirus.

I still read posts quoting experts who reassure me: “80% of the population will be affected by Coronavirus but let’s not worry, for the most part it will just be a flu. The mortality rate is low and mainly affects the elderly and people with previous illnesses.”

Today, March 14. Again this bullshit.

I’m not a scientist or a statistician but I’m pissed off: I’m terrified that outside of here we’re not understanding what’s happening to us. We’re dying like flies here. Is that clear?

Dozens of deaths a day. Dozens and dozens.

The town cemetery can’t dispose of the bodies. The town bell towers don’t ring the death bells anymore because they’d do it all the time. The doctors are exhausted or infected, and they begin to die in turn.

We’re all sick, or almost sick. Three-quarters of my acquaintances are sick, friends, relatives, colleagues, family doctors themselves.

We have very long and resistant fevers, very strong pains in various parts of the body, shortness of breath, coughing, and a portentous cold. Not for everyone, fortunately.

But that doesn’t mean we can talk about “trivial flu”. Trivial flu, my ass.

Three weeks of fever, hallucinating tiredness, headache, shortness of breath, resistance to any medicine, the ghost of the intensive care unit always on your shoulder like an evil crow and, of course, isolation and loneliness: it’s not a trivial flu. And I consider myself highly fortunate.

Most days are spent on the phone: continuous medical bulletins. How are you, today a little better, tomorrow a little worse, how is daddy, aunt, friend, friend, but what do you have, I have this, ah yes I’ve been told by many people then you probably have it, yes yes I think I have it.

Here we self-care, on our own, when it goes well we can get some telephone directions, because even the family doctors can’t follow us all.

The sirens never stop outside the window, night and day, and if you call 112 they can’t answer you for who knows how long. And they take you to the hospital when you’re serious.

Because there’s no room. Because they can’t cure us.

The tests are reserved for those who arrive in the emergency room (and for party secretaries and footballers), the others must infer, imagine and, in doubt, isolate themselves in quarantine, so even those who might really have a « trivial influence » must give up helping those in need, elderly parents for example.

The mortality rate of this virus is low, of course. If we are all sick and “only” dozens of people die “only” a day, of course the mortality rate is low. But we are all sick, and we die non-stop, continuously, in large numbers.

It’s a tragedy. It’s not a common fucking flue.

And of course a lot of people who are not young and maybe with some previous pathology die.

So what?!??!?!?!?!??????

60-70 years old people who could have lived another few years, what are they, expired goods to give a shit about? Aren’t they human beings who leave love and affection in pain?!?

What the fuck has life become???

And I write this, hopelessly atheist, convinced that life is not sacred at all and is life only when it is worthy. But every life is love and bonds around it, and deep pain when it is lacking.

Italy is a country of old men. Don’t bullshit us: all of a sudden you can’t tell us about our old people as expired pieces that we can get rid of lightly.

NO.

Every one of us here knows someone who is between life and death in intensive care, many of us have lost relatives or are waiting for news on the phone.

Almost 1,500 dead in two weeks and we’re standing here saying, “everything’s gonna be okay”??? “we’re gonna be okay”?

No, we’re not comfortable.

WE’RE AT HOME.

Because they haven’t offered us any other solution to deal with this huge disaster. Because if, in other parts of Italy, we become what we are in Bergamo, thanks to two weeks lost without making decisions, telling us one day everything closes and the next day you go out and eat pizza, we won’t stop the city, it will be an even worse slaughter than it already is.

Because in those two weeks of lost time, due to irresponsible unpreparedness and probably also because there are so many big economic interests at stake, WE ARE ALL LOST.

Gentlemen here we are not joking: precisely because it is not a trivial influence and precisely because thousands of people will die, we are worried.

Enough with these dissociated messages, which calm down by belittling what is happening: enough.

You have to know things as they are, really, what you risk, really, to be able to behave responsibly and SAVE LIFE AND PAIN.

Continuing to ask ourselves if there was no other way to deal with this disaster, because maybe there was or still would be, but how can we know, let’s worry and do it seriously: because only if we are worried, really worried, we have the chance to do something sensible for us and for others: avoid as many deaths as possible.

Let’s stop bullshitting each other and let’s tell it like it is: worry, and stay at home.

And at home do read and listen and ask yourself questions, as well as take care of yourself and the people close to you, because now the goal is to survive, but when this disaster will be “over”, and we will have to get up, we will need to be lucid, very lucid.

We will have to understand why we have come to this point, and how. Think about our hospitals, our schools, our old and young people, our work.

We will have to realise that it is not possible to dismantle the health care system of a country piece by piece and then find ourselves dying in clusters with doctors and nurses who massacre themselves risking their lives in an attempt to keep our own.

That we cannot reduce to misery thousands of precarious and “freelancers” who live hanging only and only on their own painful turnover and who, when everything is rightly blocked for fear of death, find themselves in front of a working desert that will be months or maybe years long.

We will have to understand if this tragedy has helped us to improve or has thrown us even more into the abyss we were already in: on one side an army of underpaid people in white coats who kill themselves with work and risk contagion, and on the other side, few meters or just a few kilometers away, flocks of people who queue up to get on the chairlift, to walk in the old town or to try on their clothes at the mall (left open, very open, while schools and cultural events were all closed and cancelled long ago).

If there are the unwilling ones, it’s everyone’s problem.

If hospitals don’t have beds it’s everybody’s problem.

If hundreds of people die and it seems almost normal because “they were old or with other diseases” it’s everyone’s problem, and it is a big problem.

It’s not going well at all and it’s not “it’s going to be all right”.

Only if we realize that, we really do, we can limit the damage and we can do something different when we come out of it.

Because we’re gonna get out of this, and we’re not gonna have to give discounts.


Notes

[1] The original was published on Facebook on March 14, 2020.

[2] Davide Grasso resides in Turino, Italy. His translation was first published on Facebook on March 15, 2020.

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Classé dans Davide Grasso, Sara Agostinelli

From Latin America to Quebec: Violence as an Irreducible Political Debate

By Martin Breaugh, André Corten, Charles Deslandes, José Antonio Giménez Micó, Catherine Huart, Vanessa Molina and Ricardo Peñafiel*

Violence is frightening. For many it is enough to cause nightmares. The world is increasingly violent. For mass media, it is the violent “news” which grabs the most attention. Yes, the media magnify violence, but violence is nonetheless there. Since 2001, violence has become terrorism. Since 2001, violence has become evil itself: an evil whose very existence (or designation) triggers a self-protective reaction from the established order. But identifying violence is not so straightforward. It is also a way of interpreting reality: it’s legal yet violent, it’s illegal yet not necessarily violent! The student strike in Quebec this spring, its ensuing repression, and the pressure it generates — whether at the Palais des congrès in Montreal during the Premier’s speech to Plan Nord investors, in downtown Montreal during evening demonstrations, or in Victoriaville at the Liberal Party Congress — forces us to reassess what violence tells us.

Before discussing the so-called “fake” semantic debates surrounding the word “violence,” let’s take a look at the street-driven transformations that have taken place in Latin America since 2000. In the 1990s, Latin America entered its period of “democratic transition.” Legality and elections replaced dictatorships, summary arrests, torture and forced disappearances. But soon afterward the population began to realize that legality was the Trojan horse of neo-liberalism. Perhaps the most emblematic sign of this new awareness was the Bolivian “water war.” In the year 2000, Bolivia’s constitutionally elected president privatized the water supply. The street protests that erupted against it lasted four months. In the same constitutional context there followed two gas wars. Despite violent repression in the guise of legality, the street imposed another voice. The indigenous peoples no longer had to wear ties or be elected in order to be heard. The landless spoke up, blockading and occupying the cities. Violent repression was justified in the name of legality, whereas street violence questioned this very legality. The mobilization on the streets exposed the limits of representative democracy. But who exactly was calling all this into question and seeking to paralyze and outflank the established order that had replaced the dictatorships? None other than the plebs**, a mass movement, though not a monolithic one, one that cannot be interpreted as representing a class, lobby, or of any other special interest group. It was a heterogeneous movement whose unifying characteristic was its persistent exclusion from the social order, or, at the very least, its exclusion from the institutional structures and official channels where “decision-making takes place.”

In Quebec, as elsewhere in the modern industrialized West, we are not in a period of “democratic transition,” and any comparison with Latin America would be on shaky ground. Representative democracy is relatively well established here, especially in terms of electoral practices and civil rights. A certain kind of right to dissent has managed to make headway thanks to the on-going struggles of union, civic, and grass-roots groups and has led to domestic legislation and international treaties legalizing and enshrining the freedom of assembly and of speech. And yet, these “rights” — which have been granted in order to prevent the escalation of conflict that is part and parcel of any hierarchical society from getting beyond its control — are now being called into question by a government that refuses to give any legitimacy to extra-parliamentary forms of public expression. By stigmatizing acts of civil disobedience and peaceful protests as being violent, and by ignoring the protestors’ demands and trying to obstruct them by means of the violence of conservative legality, as if they were acts of sedition, the current government has endeavoured to render the students (as well as the broader group that supports them) in a plebeian position — sans titres, voiceless, without the legal right to speak out on the validity of the law or its procedures.

What is currently happening in Quebec can be seen as the beginning of a plebeian challenge to the legitimacy of the elected government’s decisions and of the State power that carries them out. Within the student movement and its numerous supporters one can see the characteristics of a heterogeneous popular movement that is attempting to overwhelm the established order, within which it has no place, neither in terms of its values or the structural rigidity which it attempts to impose. This Québécois movement calls into question the fact that the representative democracy with which it is familiar is being transformed input from outside, a transformation that can be characterized as the passage from the universal social welfare state to a system based on pay-as-you-go user fees. This phenomenon is not new, but has become generalized in tandem with an   increasingly inflexibility in the workings of representative democracy. The public in general is addressed as if it were separated into market segments.

In the street, ideas of legality and violence are currently being redefined. New sans titres are springing up. Students are not workers, it is said, and therefore don’t have the right to strike. It’s true they don’t negotiate the way unions do; instead, they put pressure on hierarchies, including those within their own organizations. The tribune of the plebs is contested: it is the street that speaks. In Bolivia, the “unofficial voices” have been identified as the indigenous peoples, just as in Quebec they are the students, but the issue has gone beyond immediate group interests and has become a questioning of the entire system. Beyond the issue of tuition fees, the students are gradually proving to be a secessionist force that refuses to be marginalized. They are challenging the monopoly on the definition of violence that the State accords itself. The violence which the CLASSE refuses to condemn — that which is carried out against symbols of the economic, structural, symbolic and repressive violence that they endure — now becomes a legitimate posture. At the very least, there is a struggle to establish its legitimacy. Such is the nature of a living political struggle, which is not pre-planned and which does not operate according to the pre-conceived parameters of conventional politics, limited to the negotiation of private interests according to predefined procedures.

Une version française de ce texte est aussi disponible.

También hay una versión en español de este artículo.

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Note :

* The signatories are researchers of GRIPAL (Research Group on Political Imaginaries in Latin America), research team which has just published a collective book on popular uprisings and spontaneous direct actions in Latin America: L’interpellation plébéienne en Amérique latine. Violence, actions directes et virage à gauche, Paris/Montréal, Karthala/PUQ, 2012.

** The name « plebs » refers to an experience, that of achieving political agency and assuming the dignity and responsibility of political action. Plebs is not the name of a social category or of an identity, but refers rather a political event of the highest order: the passage from a sub-political status to that of a full-fledged political subject. » Source: Martin Breaugh, The Plebeian Experience, New York: Columbia University Press, forthcoming.

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