Battle Gear

Happy image of me and my kid juxtaposed with actual picture of this year going to hell in a handbasket. No baskets were harmed.

Conspiracy theories aren’t really my jam. Mostly because I don’t think humans, singly or in groups, are organized or diligent enough to pull them off. I do think we can openly, non-conspiratorially undertake large scale fuckery. Like genocide, for example.

Right now, I feel like there’s a fairly open, not particularly well organized, but committed campaign putting out a hit on what I think of as “civilization”. Now mind you, “civilization” means a lot of shitty, colonialist things but it’s also fair include within it the social advances associated with education and health care, and the recognition of civil rights for humans who are not white, male, hetero, and cis.

In the U.S. right now, the centers of political and economic power are basically forcing the core players in human welfare into a bloody cage match, with teachers, parents, healthcare workers, children, elders, people with disabilities, low wage workers, and childcare providers all forced to fight each other for artificially scarce resources, with the only reward being “who gets to die last.” I’m consumed with rage at the sheer viciousness, and my own helplessness to do anything about it. I want to fight, like Ripley in Aliens, and shoot flames at the nightmare monster, but I worry I’m actually a non-player character getting eaten by zombies. (or best case scenario, the last Sarah Conner: old, angry, drunk, outliving my only child). My action for today is to do a little fund raising campaign for one tiny outpost on a long, ragged battlefront: Family Forward Action, an organization founded and run by moms working to make the world, and Oregon in particular, a more care-giving friendly place.

Make no mistake about it, care for our fellow humans, and the people who provide it, are on the block, whether you think its the auction block or the executioners block, it’s still a bad block. I feel like the money I have to give is like handing a sword and shield to someone about to make a fatal charge into artillery, but here goes. I’ve got $700 in it and I’m hoping to raise a match. Family Forward is out there fighting for expanded sick time and family leave, childcare funding, equal pay, living wages, essential worker protections: the things that the pandemic has shown we need, and which we as a country are deliberately, pathologically avoiding.

I keep seeing think pieces about the pandemic setting women back by generations because the burdens of homeschooling, household maintenance, and child care are all being concentrated into households (meaning onto moms). Where middle class families had activities, camps, day care, there’s now parents, and maybe a nanny. For more vulnerable kids all of the support, safety (and nutrition) at school, Head Start, and even grandma’s house is gone.

Sickness, risk of sickness, death from sickness, fear of sickness, and preventing sickness have defined the world for the past four months. Sickness requires care: hospitals, medicine, equipment, but first and foremost people. A sick human requires other humans to clean them, watch over them, and prevent them from dying. Nurses, aides, assistants, therapists, doctors, and all of the clerical and administrative structure backing up the line. The people doing the hardest, dirtiest, germiest of those jobs are frequently the lowest paid.

Non-sick humans require things too: brand new humans need cleaning, watching, and prevention from dying (sometimes by administration of food, sometimes with more complicated means). So do old humans and numerous categories of humans whose bodies work differently than average. Feeding, wiping, turning, bathing, and all those other intimate acts of care and protection are hard, dirty, and germy. Daycare providers, home health aides, nannies, and orderlies are all low paid, despite being charged with keeping body and soul together. They hold the heart of humanness — the vulnerable, poopy, helplessness that distinguishes us from a newly hatched fish fry, or precocious pecking duckling.

Young humans need skills to develop the bones of what makes us human: the complex social beings that communicate using thousands of visual and aural signals ranging from our first words, to enormous sculptures, and gigabytes of signals on a tiny data storage device. The teachers who do this from the time we can focus our eyes and chirp may be our own parents or grandparents, but in industrialized societies, they are frequently paid professionals who coach, model, coax, and lecture from the time we are 2 or 3 until we are 23. They move us from wet, sloppy bundles of muscle that need only food, wipes, and hugs to people who do All The Things, even things we can’t yet imagine.

In America teachers are under paid, overworked, charged with being parent, social worker, PE coach, class room coach, disciplinarian, human shield against spree killers, and in exhaustible font of dry erase markers, stickers, and hand sanitizer. The schools reopening debate imbeds an expectation hat teachers will now start buying PPE out of their own pockets, teach children how to use PPE, and risk incapacitating illness for themselves and their families.

Parents desperately need support because we can’t do our jobs and fulfill the functions of professional educators at the same time, even though school days are already too short for parents who work outside the home and neither school or daycare takes into account people who work nights, evenings, or even inflexible, 8 hours, punch-in-and-out shifts. And most working people can’t afford childcare anyway. The plague has blown the cover off of America’s festering inequity, like ripping a tarp off a corpse to abruptly reveal the seething maggots and decaying flesh that we knew was there all along.

The people who society expects to Care — for everybody and everything — at the lowest possible remuneration we can get away with, are mostly women: Nurses, elementary school teachers, and as the jobs get harder and dirtier, the more likely they are to be women of color, nurses aides, nannies, daycare providers. Women of color, with incomplete or limited education, and frequently caring for children and other family members of their own, shoulder some of the hardest caring jobs in the country, for wages that frequently don’t allow them to make rent, much less mortgage, a car payment, and new school clothes for their kids.

We didn’t get here by accident. In our “peer” industrialized nations, the state regards the welfare of its most vulnerable, and the investment in its young as a shared good and common objective. Parents get adequate time off to care for newly hatched humans, the cost of caring for children and the care infrastructure itself recognizes that people work outside the home and children need care — at the same time. Even in the evenings. And on weekends. There is no reason why this country couldn’t do the same. American babies don’t pop out of the womb full fledged and ready to become grocery stockers or tech workers. America’s elderly don’t go barreling along, vigorously golfing and taking unassisted showers until 82.5 years of age, then peacefully fail to wakeup one morning (despite what you see on TV). Americans get dementia, multiple sclerosis, become quadriplegic, are born with spina bifida, and get plain old norovirus just like Germans, Swedes, Canadians, or Norwegians. So why exactly does this whole country regard frailty, and development itself as a giant opportunity to rain piss down on ourselves. Have a baby? You’d better have won the job lottery to have paid leave, or you’re back on the factory floor next week, bleeding from a third degree vaginal tear. Survive brain surgery? Good thing you live with your adult daughter and teenage grandchildren so they can keep an eye on you when you fall down and shit yourself for the next two years. Got a touch of dementia? No worries, your single adult son will move you into his house and take care of you while holding down a full time job. If you’re poor, isolated, marginally employed, uninsured, or in other common circumstances, fuck you. Lose your job, go bankrupt, die.

I got into a big argument last year with someone because I said the reason the United States has royally reamed most of its citizenry is because in the aggregate “we” hate women and black people. Apparently that’s a hateful, divisive statement. Versus I dunno…*being* a woman (or a pigmented person, or a queer one) and thus on the downslope of that dynamic and perpetually excluded from the “We” in “We the People.”

Seriously tho, show me the lie. Let’s talk about 500+ years of mercantile imperialism, the impact of the agrarian revolution, colonialism, the transatlantic rum trade, the evolution of trade unions, and the transition from Reconstruction to Jim Crow! Actually, let’s not. I mean, sure, just maybe later. I’m an amateur history person, not a pro. But trust me on this, the reasons we have crammed all of society’s logistical and emotional labor associated with young humans onto women as a group, and onto underpaid women in particular is inextricable from how we’ve created fucked up subclasses of workers (“tipped wage”) who don’t get minimum wage, but are structurally reliant on sucking up to assholes. And that is in turn related to the fact that huge parts of this country developed from literally stealing the labor value of whole classes of humans in the form of hereditary chattel status.

Our “natural” or “default” way to get human needs met is to extract them by force from someone with less power and more pigment, or dump them on someone with less power and more pussy. Need to get your rocks off after writing the Declaration of Independence? There’s a teenage slave for that. Classy ladies don’t breast feed their own babies? Give the babies to a black mammy who is basically a cow for you while her own babies starve. We built an empire on the backs of laborers of color the same way. The big bad Union came and freed all your cotton pickers and road graders? Lynch and jail them into permanent labor peonage.

We value no one’s children and protect no one’s frailty because to do so would require white people to treat black people’s children as people, not units of labor. It would require acknowledging that labor itself is never free, but has value to the person performing it. If we paid people living wage for doing hard, dirty, intimate labor we would have to acknowledge we do not own the bodies of the people doing those jobs.

Paying teachers and nurses salaries commensurate with their duties, experience, and demands on their time would mean acknowledging that women and gay men provide value in the free market, and aren’t just “more nurturing” and carrying other people’s water out of love. Low status work is woman’s work, underpaid work is work only women of color and immigrant women do, and as each segment of a job sector gets more “feminine” it gets lower paid and the people who do it get darker. “Chefs” are men. “Cooks” are women. Maitre d’hotel is a man, waitress is a woman. The hospital has white male doctors, white woman nurses, and the orderlies and assistants are people of color. As more professors and lawyers are women, the status and pay of the profession drops.

Family Forward works at the intersection of all of these things: we advocate for paid sick leave because everyone gets sick, even farm workers, home care workers, and part time workers. We advocate for paid parental leave because all babies need care, not just the babies of white, professional women with advanced degrees. We fight for fair wages and fair scheduling because everyone deserves to make a living from their labor.

All of these things were true before we elected the most corrupt, incompetent, and openly racist executive in history. (We’ve had corrupt and/or incompetent administrations before. And every branch of government has been racist for most of this nation’s history. But I think the blazing, unashamed presence of all three at the same time is unprecedented). We needed caregiving friendly public policy before 2016, and before March 2020, when the patchwork of hierarchical, antiquated, passive-aggressive solutions we have collapsed. Right now, the whole florid shit show has me so demoralized I can barely get out of bed in the morning. The forces arrayed against us (Mitch McConnell, 200 new federal judges, unfettered oligarchy) make me feel like I’m getting ready for the proverbial forlorn hope: that scene in the movie where the women and children pile up the rocks, scab together a pitiful fort, and wait to be ridden down by horses or mowed down by tanks. Sometimes it ends up like the epic tragedy (and even more epic cinematic flop) of Heaven’s Gate where the range war ends with a woman shooting her horribly wounded husband and then herself. Sometimes it ends up with Mrs. Weasley losing her child but still winning the war, while scorching the piss out of one of the baddies. But however badly outmatched we are, I’m going to harness up and keep fighting, because I can. I have a few more resources than the person in the line behind me, so I’m going to use them.

Geez, why can only find images of white ladies



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