By Michele Karlsberg
SF Bay Times
Michele Karlsberg: LGBTQ+ activists were on the frontlines of activism throughout the COVID-19 pandemic—fighting for health equity, safer sex information, prison abolition, and more. This activism is detailed in the new anthology Crisis and Care: Queer Activist Responses to a Global Pandemic (PM Press) edited by Adrian Shanker, with a foreword by Rea Carey. Here is an excerpt from one of the contributing authors, Zephyr Williams, who is the Deputy Director of the nonprofit Black & Pink National ( https://www.blackandpink.org/ ):
The first year of the COVID-19 pandemic was intense, a veritable game of social justice whack-a-mole. It felt like every time we started getting an ounce of control over one situation another one would pop up, laughing maniacally as we pivoted to restrategize.
Then came George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Dion Johnson, and Tony McDade. All Black people. All murdered by cops. Enough was finally enough. Communities across the country rose up to face down the dynamics of power, privilege, and race and demanded a new way of life. The resounding message was clear. The tools of oppression are too costly to ignore or sustain any longer.
COVID-19 made visible what those of us on the ground, community organizations and activists alike, have known for years. Prisons and jails are dangerously overcrowded, unhygienic, violent, and dehumanizing institutions. It wasn’t a question of if COVID-19 would spread through correctional facilities but when.
Jails and prisons are not designed for people, let alone for preventing the spread of a deadly virus. Social distancing is near physically impossible in an eight by six–foot cell crowded with people. Meals are mostly communal, with incarcerated people seated elbow to elbow. Personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies were also in short supply. Frequent handwashing is difficult when soap is not readily available. Most people on the inside are not provided with soap; they must buy it from the commissary. During COVID-19, correctional facilities simply didn’t have it. In many facilities, alcohol-based hand sanitizer is considered contraband.
Like many other community organizations, Black & Pink rallied behind our people. We raised rapid response funds and resources through crowdfunding, mutual aid networks, and emergency grants. This allowed us to put money on our incarcerated people’s books so they could purchase needed items.
Post-COVID-19, will be a rare moment of opportunity. The mere fact that correctional facilities across the country were releasing incarcerated people in droves signaled that perhaps just reforming prisons isn’t the answer. Maybe we shouldn’t be incarcerating this many people in the first place.
Was our way of bringing people to “justice” always this way?
Can we move beyond reforms to something more restorative, more transformative?
We can, and we are.
(Copies of Crisis and Care are available through local bookstores, and online at www.pmpress.org/crisisandcare )
Zephyr Williams is a queer, gender liberated creatrix and advocate striving towards collective liberation and prison abolition through a transformative justice practice. They bring over a decade of experience challenging the oppressive systems that perpetuate violence on the trans and queer community. As Deputy Director of Strategy & Organizational Health for Black & Pink, he organizes to dismantle the prison system and creates community-centered, trauma-informed restorative and transformative programming and practices. Williams believes the clearest path to collective liberation is by reigniting that spark of courage within each of us that fans our flames of embodied worthiness and love so we feel secure in our ability to imagine possibility. In their spare time, Zephyr can be found curled up with a good book, analyzing natal charts, having a dance break, or traveling the trails.
Michele Karlsberg Marketing and Management specializes in publicity for the LGBTQ+ community. This year, Karlsberg celebrates 33 years of successful marketing campaigns. For more information: https://www.michelekarlsberg.com