A Letter to My Anti-racist Feminist Sisters in the Time of COVID-19

—Zillah Eisenstein

Political Viruses are Deadly.  And COVID19 is as political as it is a medical pandemic. I already knew that white supremacy is murderous. (I am white). I knew that misogyny kills. (I am a woman). COVID19 mimics these other plagues. And, given its contagion takes away considerable ability to do enough to realign these forces.

It is so hard to think when the grotesqueness of the stimulus economy leaves me in a rage with my feelings. So I write because that is how I cope. It lets me break through the enforced isolation, as I try to think.  I am hoping you will be company for me, and I, you.

The contradictions of this catastrophe make me numb: those of us who love humanity are locked-down by those who don’t.  The people who are in charge, the racist macho capitalist bullies, hate most of us—the peoples and women of color/s, the poor.

When COVID19 came visiting, with open doors, the US, was already a country with a failed state, little political hope, crisis health care, downward mobility, Black death and murder by police, and rampant sexual violence. The disproportionate death of Black and Brown people or what Ruthie Gilmore calls the cruel vulnerability of premature death writes COVID19. The virus attached itself to this host and impersonates it.

A macho-fascist pandemic has moved across the globe paving the way for COVID19. So we—most of us across the planet, but most especially women—cis, trans, of every identity, of all colors, and castes and classes—must take note. We must remember who is orchestrating the response and how global capitalism continues to grab its obscene profits rather than address the needs of health care workers, essential laborers, and most of us.

Our lives are always personal and political simultaneously. So I had to first find myself—find my footing in this morass called COVID19.  It is a brutal virus. It leads with the fear of death. But once you get a hold of this fear of possible death, push against it.  For those that death is more probable, push for them. Push against the selfish corporate response to this human catastrophe—here in the US, to Palestine to Kashmir to Overton, Miami, to the Bronx, to Mumbai, to Jakarta, to Accra.

It feels like madness—that everyone but the racist/capitalist criminals are in lockdown. My fantasy hope that keeps me sane is that a revolutionary response to COVID19 led by the essential workers keeping us alive, the women of all colors across the planet is in the making.  We need to see each other across the enforced “distancing”. So there is work to do—to imagine beyond the strictures smothering us with fear. I know that fear is never a good thing. I am pushing to be fearless.

265 million people suffered the ravages of daily hunger before the pandemic. Many of the countries in Africa are moving fast to stem the virus before it fully hits, with their knowledge from HIV/AIDS, TB, and Malaria.  But if there is not assist from China, Europe and the US 300,000 people a day could die on the continent.  It is time for reparations: PPE, and ventilators and test kits need to be shipped. Nothing less than international solidarity is enough.

My newest rule: Imagine beyond my limits.  Demand that I see more and know that I cannot see enough as a white person.  Make sure others help me see beyond myself. And do this in my isolated distanced site but always with others. And while distancing in place make sure I/you are getting closer to the truths that will allow us to break free from this smothering rapacious inequality of everything.

Imagine health care as a human right and free and available to all.  Imagine a guaranteed wage for each human being that will recognize all forms of care as labor.  Imagine that everyone has a domicile and enough food. Imagine that disability is not a limitation. Imagine that we can stop the climate crisis. Imagine all of it.  And then “we”—the majority of us–find ways to begin the work as we create new formations within our “distanced” lives.  This is not a time to pause given who is in charge.

COVID19 has put the environmental crisis of the planet in the bold. There is no escaping that mother earth must be treated more fairly, equitably, kindly and with respect if we all are to continue with life.  It is time to end the use and dependency on fossil fuels. The brutal honesty of this moment allows for new uncompromising work towards a radical justice of solidarity—an egalitarianism of race and class and gender and sex and disability; a radically inclusive abolitionist socialist feminism, yet unknown in its full expression. This is not about a return to normal, but a move forward towards a new fabulousness of not-yet experienced justice.

When I see that the COVID19 pandemic does not truly effect the capitalist—that they are still making their millions and billions, I remind myself who/what the enemy is. The Trump administration paid millions for N95masks from a bankrupt military contractor and a Montana firm was awarded $569 million for building Trump’s wall but not for manufacturing ventilators. The gross greed is criminal.

These male thugs who rule stupidly and viciously mobilize warrior masculinity so that militarist choices become normalized.  Instead I will envision a passionate struggle to regain a healthy relationship to the earth and the environments of the planet and with it the health and self-determination of human bodies, especially women’s access to abortions that is under new assault. 

Let’s not skip over the male self-indulgent stupidity here. It appears that women leaders are addressing COVID19 with greater effect in stemming the spread. Maybe they recognize the vulnerability and fragility, and interdependency of human life, and more readily endorse social distancing. Or maybe they just refuse to copy male abusers like Trump and Modi and Bolsonaro. Maybe the aggressive misogyny of these global vultures sets a new(ish) context for feminisms to flourish–after all there have been no shortage of macho women like Golda Meir and Madeline Albright.

The injustices/outrages being ripped open by COVID19 that is carved in the virus and alongside it are a fragile offering of sorts. The shadow pandemic of domestic and sexual violence has not originated with COVID19 but has intensified it. People are relegated to their home and their family, whatever their non-functional status is.  The fantasy home or house bludgeons those without. Shelters and safe-places are essential but lacking.

COVID19 unmasks the violence/s of racism and economic and sexual exploitation.  It also discloses the sexual violence that underwrites these abuses. These exposures are multiple and fundamental to everyday life.  The sustenance done by women of all colors that allows some semblance of life is newly visible.  Although women have made up the working class/es across the planet for always, they do so today with new numbers and new visibility.

The present crisis of living with COVID19 uncovers much of what has always been there: the universal labor/s of women in every country across the planet, paid and low-paid, and unpaid. The shutdown of paid labor has put all of women’s labor, as essential, in stark view, in all their colors and castes and classes. The extra-ordinariness of nurses, nursing home workers, janitors, health aids, pharmacists, cashiers, waitresses, food workers, grocery workers, wood gatherers, mail delivery people is fully in view.  This newness clarifies that the working class is not, and never has been, simply male.

Add to this the new labor/s of women with the explosion of on-line daily life, if one has access to the Internet.  Women set up the interfaces to receive the school instruction for their children; and manage on-line domesticity; and oversee the digital nodes that won’t work without a bit of human intervention or presence.  Women are disproportionately the working class/es of this new world we are in and we will re-make. We must make sure to re-imagine and re-align women’s labor as mothers and paid-workers with structural transformations that free us all.

Feminists across the planet have been radicalized and are radicalizing themselves given COVID19 towards building a new solidarity across borders. This activism was well under way before COVID19 came visiting with Chilean and Argentinian feminists leading the way in cross-border dialogue.

So, what is to be done? Remember to remember: hugging, kissing, standing close and intimately. Revive ourselves to rescue what we need to be humanly whole.  Stay resistant and ready.

Remember Li Wenliang, the Chinese doctor in Wuhan who would not be silent, even at great risk to himself. His death is a reminder to demand courage from ourselves.  

Build a new economy to take care of those suffering or might suffer COVID19, one which will set up domiciles in which to live, food to eat, medical equipment that is needed. Use stimulus packages to assist a new restorative economy that regenerates an inclusive public health for now and the future.

Look and see each person who is making your life possible right now and never forget who they are.  They are your posse for forever.

Every kind of anti-racist feminist progressive—and who cannot be this in this moment of total exposure (?)—needs to be preparing for a general strike if the macho capitalists hold on through the pandemic.  This means organizing and building liaisons between all essential workers—paid and unpaid, inside and outside the home, blue collar, white collar, pink collar, sex-workers, nursing home aides, all of us.

We may not know exactly where we are going, or how to get there, but we are headed there together.

This newest working class made up mostly of women of all colors in the US must end the criminal rule of racist male profiteers. Their plans for the planet and for us are devastating.  So even though we are exhausted and overworked in this time of COVID19 don’t give up or in. We need to be and stay primed to shutdown the globe and make the world we want.

If you are saying this is utopian or too idealistic or not realistic enough you are not seeing newly enough.  We are essential and we will make a revolution because it has already begun, and we can.

And, by the way, while we do all this, we must vote and make sure Trump does not have another 4 years.

A noted feminist writer and activist, Zillah Eisenstein is Professor Emerita at Ithaca College. She is the author of twelve books, among them The Female Body and the Law, which won the Victoria Schuck Book Prize for the best book on women and politics, and, more recently, The Color of Gender: Reimaging Democracy and Hatreds: Racialized and Sexualized Conflicts in the 21st Century. Her book Abolitionist Socialist Feminism: Radicalizing the Next Revolution is available from Monthly Review Press. 

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