Community Care in the Age of Corona: Dispatches from New Orleans

Community Care in the Age of Corona: Dispatches from New Orleans
“We demand a just recovery from COVID-19 for New Orleans, for the Gulf South, for the country and for the world.” (Shutter Runner)

I’ve taken risks all my life, but never considered myself “high risk” until now. But as a 42 year-old fat, brown, asthmatic, borderline diabetic, I am particularly vulnerable to the potentially fatal complications of COVID-19. My elderly parents—who I am care-taking during this already nearly month-long quarantine—are even more so.

It is heart-breaking and infuriating to bear witness to actions and hear words effectively deeming our lives expendable and disposable. 

This willingness to put marginalized communities in harm’s way—being directed from the highest office in the land—with a willful disregard for our health and well-being, is well known in the sacrifice zone communities all across the Gulf Coast.

For generations, the Deep South has been exploited, its land and labor stolen, its people forgotten, displaced and neglected.

At this very moment, my adopted hometown of New Orleans suffers from sky-rocketing rates of coronavirus-related deaths—with a death rate twice that of New York City, another so-called hot spot (also, where I grew up), and infection rates increasing at a rate impossible to track given inadequate testing.


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Let’s just say, in both of my hometowns, it seems we all know someone who’s had “the ‘rona” already, and if we’re lucky, is alive to tell the story. 

Community Care in the Age of Corona: Dispatches from New Orleans
Louisiana National Guard Soldiers and Airmen test first responders for COVID-19 infections at Louis Armstrong Park, New Orleans, Louisiana, March 20, 2020. (The National Guard)

To make matters worse, this crisis is accompanied by a slow-motion economic catastrophe: Our deeply culturally rich, yet monetarily poor city, depends upon tourism, which has disappeared with devastating consequences on wage-workers.

All of this has a disproportionate impact on Black and brown people. In fact, Black people in Louisiana make up 70 percent of the deaths in all known coronavirus patients in the state, while only representing about 32 percent of the population.

The common understanding is Mardi Gras was a petri dish of community spread, with people from all over the world coming to party on our streets: sharing the virus along with jello shots.

Now that the party’s over, our city is left scrambling to care for its residents who have some of the worst health indicators and toxic environments in the country to begin with.

Imagine being a resident of Gordon Plaza, having to shelter in place in your neighborhood built on a known toxic landfill, where cancer rates are second highest in Louisiana and its residents already suffer from chronic respiratory problems, of particular concern with COVID-19. It’s truly terrifying—and high time to relocate Gordon Plaza residents to safe housing like the city should have done decades ago. 

In response, though, as always, people are coming together to take care of each other. There are an incredible number of mutual aid networks springing up around the country providing emergency food, shelter and resources to all who need it.

Some great examples of this kind of work in New Orleans are Familias Unidas—providing direct delivery of food to undocumented families in our city—and the Banchalenguas Language Justice Collective—providing emergency translation and interpretations services to ensure language access for all.

Feliz tarde noche a todos, estamos informando a las familias que están llamando para anotarse en la lista para recibir…

Posted by Familias Unidas en Acción on Monday, April 13, 2020

We have been maintaining a comprehensive resource guide to community care at Another Gulf Is Possible, as there are so many ways folks are stepping up to care for each other in mutual aid and support right now.  If we do this right, we’ll never go back to the way things used to be, because these models of community care will deepen their roots to flourish long after this crisis is over.

A Just Recovery

Response, recovery and rebuild efforts centering systematically oppressed communities during disasters form what we in the climate justice community call a “Just Recovery.”

When there is a disaster, the Just Recovery framework supports the most vulnerable communities to rebuild around the dreams, visions and needs of those severely impacted, while increasing our power, agency and self-determination so that we are better off than we were before the disaster. When the most pressing issues of those most impacted are resolved, everyone benefits. 

In this moment, that means meeting immediate needs, like ensuring PPE for those caring for us—from grocery store workers to health caregivers in places like long term care facilities and hospitals. Many of these essential workers come from Black and brown communities dealing with endless economic, social and climate crises and have understood what it means to be on the frontlines for much longer than this pandemic.  

If we learn anything from these catastrophic times, it is that we can create new systems that will respond, recover and rebuild from COVID-19—so all can have what they need to be healthy and safe.

Community Care in the Age of Corona: Dispatches from New Orleans
“Many essential workers come from Black and brown communities dealing with endless economic, social and climate crises,” writes Dutta, “and have understood what it means to be on the frontlines for much longer than this pandemic.” (Wonderlane)

Let’s work together now so the networks of mutual aid and locally-led structures of support organically being built all over the country can meet the needs of people in our communities once this is over. Let’s demand local, state, and federal governments solidify the safety nets so we will never find ourselves in the extraordinarily dire situation we do today. Let’s demand a shift from the extraction of land and labor to regenerative practices that center our humanity and ecological wholeness.

We must fight to ensure the local wins around food security, paid sick leave for all, universal healthcare, access to clean and safe drinking water and land free from toxic pollution last for good. We want these policies codified at the local and state levels.

We know this is possible: Our job now is to safeguard it for the long-term benefit of all. 

During this moment of monumental shifts and a crisis of literally pandemic proportions, generations to come will be living out the consequences of our actions.

We demand a just recovery from COVID-19 for New Orleans, for the Gulf South, for the country and for the world. 


The coronavirus pandemic and the response by federal, state and local authorities is fast-movingDuring this time, Ms. is keeping a focus on aspects of the crisis—especially as it impacts women and their families—often not reported by mainstream media. If you found this article helpful, please consider supporting our independent reporting and truth-telling for as little as $5 per month.

About

Jayeesha Dutta is a tri-coastal, nearly tri-lingual Bengali-American interdisciplinary artist, cultural organizer and pop-ed facilitator. She is a co-founding member of Another Gulf Is Possible Collaborative and serves on the national steering committee for the Climate Justice Alliance, galvanizing voices and experiences from across the Gulf South to the Global South working towards a "Just Transition" for our people and the planet.