Caring Across Distance:
Some Things to Consider Before Movement Gatherings During COVID-19
By Maryse Mitchell-Brody
Para leer este documento en español, haz click aquí.
To read this document in Spanish, click here.
Hear some of these considerations talked through on Healing Justice Podcast's bonus episode, "Should we cancel?" Coronavirus, travel & organizing? Listen & access the transcript and other resources at www.healingjustice.org/podcast/corona, and consider sharing these resources with your team so you can make grounded decisions together.
If you’ve found your way here, you might be trying to figure whether or not you should cancel an upcoming gathering, conference, party, or other in-person event. Here’s what’s coming up:
- Some Things That Are True About COVID-19 and Its Context
- Some Things to Take Into Consideration About Gatherings & COVID-19
- Some Alternatives to In-Person Events
- Even More Things That We Know About COVID-19 (Risks + Rates + Links)
You can check out Section 4 if you would like a very brief summary of risks and statistics, but please don’t go there unless you’re feeling grounded. You probably know most of it already, tbh.
My hope is that this resource helps y/our people feel more informed about what we’re facing and some ways to get through it together by caring across distance. This is a living document, I’d love to hear feedback: firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. Some Things That Are True About COVID-19 and Its Context
Let’s acknowledge a few things first:
- The racism and xenophobia that have accompanied COVID-19 are violent and harmful and we can and should organize against them.
- The state has a long history and present of using quarantine and pandemic as a means of harming and controlling people. We can and should be suspicious of the state now and always and we can’t let up the pressure.
- Some people can’t work remotely, can’t afford not to work, or will get fired if they don’t, and some people and organizations depend on work that involves crowds for income. We need to organize and fundraise to help folks make it through.
- A lot of how organizing is traditionally done - from campaigns to conferences - is done with big groups of people gathering in person, and it sucks to have to change this for now.
These other things are also true:
- We can intervene in racism and xenophobia without minimizing the very real risks of COVID-19, especially for people most at risk, because no one is disposable.
- We can and should come up with community-centered responses that are in line with our movement values.
- Movement organizing has a huge place in building safety for y/our people at this time, and we have the creativity and brilliance to make it through.
Some more things that are true, this time about COVID-19:
- The more people in a space, and the closer people are to each other, the higher the risk of transmission. One person with COVID-19 went dancing in Berlin and 16 other people at the club got sick.
- If too many people get COVID-19 at once, it could overwhelm our healthcare system, like what’s happening in Italy right now.
- The greatest risk of traveling is not that an individual will get sick, but that they will transmit COVID-19 either to a community that hasn’t had it yet, or that they’ll bring it back to their own.
- Many people do not have regular access to risk reduction supplies, especially houseless and incarcerated people, including those who face elevated risks due to chronic illness.
The MOST important thing we can do to reduce the risks of COVID-19 is social solidarity through physical distancing,* because it will “flatten the curve” - meaning that it will reduce the total number of people who have COVID-19 at any given time and place. This will allow for hospitals to stay within capacity, which means that the people most at risk among us have a fighting chance.
(*I’ve followed others’ leads and am now calling it physical distancing + social solidarity, since we need each other, and social solidarity looks like physical distancing at this time.)
2. Some Things to Take Into Consideration About Gatherings & COVID-19
Here are some things to consider as you or your organization try to make some very hard choices about what to do next :
- What are your organization’s values? What does the world you are working for look like? Who are you centering and what are people most impacted calling for in this moment? Knowing what we know about COVID-19, how can you reflect that in how you plan for it?
- Remember that COVID takes 3-14 days in general to show symptoms, with 6 days being the average, and testing takes even longer in places without active COVID-19 testing and treatment responses already in place. As soon as there is one person in your area with a positive test, it means that there are likely other people who already do have it. This means that everyone planning events should be prepared to cancel any non-essential in-person gatherings ASAP, and be ready with backup plans in place to try and achieve some of the same goals.
- It is EXTREMELY risky to hold national or regional conferences or other convenings. Travel by air, train, or bus are all very risky both because of people being close together in small spaces, but also because they’re coming together from all over and then spreading out again. There are very few things that cannot be done over the internet for organizers these days. The risks of in-person events far outweigh the good they bring, both for individuals and for our collective well-being.
- You can absolutely postpone an event instead of cancelling it. When postponing, though, bear in mind that we don’t know yet how all this is going to pan out. Most epidemiologists agree that COVID-19 will likely last at least 3 months in each location that it hits, that it could go on for much longer, and it is likely to hit almost all towns and cities.
- Existing contracts for event costs, like space reservations, may mean that you lose money on an event. Some cities are providing no-interest loans and grants to businesses that have lost income. You may be able to negotiate with the venue for hosting the event at a later date. Organizing a conference? Consider asking attendees to donate all or some of the costs of their registration if you cancel it.
- Do you run a small business or community space and are you considering closing? Consider asking folks to buy gift certificates for your goods or services to be used at a future date, and share that income with your staff. Some business owners who expect to be closed for a month or more are considering laying off their employees so they can collect unemployment and then plan to hire them back when the businesses reopen.
- When you cancel, please do whatever you can to still compensate the impacted workers - including speakers, performers, facilitators, service workers, tech staff, photographers, and especially folks who are disabled, trans, and/or BIPOC. Many of y/our people live gig to gig or hourly wage to hourly wage. If your organization can’t do it, but you’re still getting a salary, consider pooling your own resources to compensate them directly. This is especially true for white folks with class privilege.
- Community care in this moment means canceling or postponing everything, with very few exceptions. Here is the only potential exception: is your gathering, event, or everyday activity providing direct material aid to support people most at risk?
- In particular, are you directly helping homeless people, elders, immunocompromised people, sex workers, drug users, incarcerated people, or other people with elevated risks from COVID-19 to get access to the medical and risk reduction supplies that will help them survive?
- If so, and you plan to try to stay open, try and work with staff to identify what their own risk levels are, and if possible, ensure that people who are at lower risk and are not caretakers for people at lower risk are on the front line. Make sure to provide workers with the supplies needed to reduce transmission risks.
- Consider running a skeleton crew. Consider shifting to street outreach only, as transmission risks are potentially lower outdoors, and posting a schedule of where you’ll be and when.
- If your organization is not prepared to take on the costs associated with medical care for COVID-19, you should not be pressuring or encouraging people to put themselves at risk by attending gatherings.
- Be aware of how chemical sensitivities and allergies may interact for immunocompromised people with sanitizing products. Bleach can trigger asthma, so try not to use bleach products while asthmatic people are in the space or for at least an hour before they arrive. Isopropyl alcohol of at least 60% also will sterilize surfaces and tends to be less irritating for people with respiratory issues.
We need to keep our eyes on the long game and cultivate abundance in the face of panic: we have a lot of work to do ahead of us and we need to do whatever we can to keep as many of our people thriving for the long haul as possible. Short term losses from cancelling events will look really small next to collective trauma and loss from contributing to the pandemic.
3. Some Alternatives to In-Person Events:
- Consider using online messaging platforms like Slack or Discord for larger meetings and assemblies. They allow for threaded conversations and various channels with the added bonus of being more accessible to folks with learning disabilities, folks who are neurodiverse, Deaf/hard-of-hearing, etc. These can have similar functions to a Facebook group with the added bonus that younger people may be likelier to use them ;).
- Zoom is your friend. It is by far the most reliable platform for online meeting conferencing. They have a number of free or cheap options available and users sign up for free. There are also small virtual breakout rooms available on some plans.
- You don’t have to cancel your entire conference - you can move some sessions online! That said, doing it online means you do need to think about shifting format, how much content you plan to share, etc. 2 hours is a very long time for a webinar and they shouldn’t be any longer than that. Funding Forward, put on by Funders for LGBTQ Issues, cancelled their in-person conference but shifted to 3 online webinars of 1.5 hours each, with one for each day of the conference, highlighting key issues and take-aways.
- When meeting online, if at all possible, try to provide language interpreting and closed captioning services. Check out language justice interpretation options in your area.
- Try to provide detailed agendas ahead of time, use slides with visuals if possible, and have an assigned notetaker to take detailed notes in a Google doc that everyone can see in real time.
- Not everyone has a laptop or a data plan that allows internet browsing on their phones. Allow for folks to call in, and text the information around beforehand.
- Make a conference over social media instead. You could allow each speaker to make a social media post with key points from their workshops or panels, and let them do livestreams on your accounts over the span of a few days. Or just have a twitter conversation and use hashtags to keep track.
- Organizing a party or a show? Make it go online and have people RSVP like they would for a webinar - Eventbrite works well for this. You can livestream on social media, or lots of us cooped up at home would LOVE to have an excuse to put on a cute outfit and cheer for you from our couches.
- There is a role for small in-person actions to pressure the state, but we need to rethink what this looks like in this time and hold risk reduction sacred. Anyone coming together in public at risk of arrest should have been physically distancing for 2 weeks prior, be at lower risk, and be symptom free - the last thing we want is to bring COVID-19 into jails or holding cells. Folks should maintain at least 6 feet of distance from each other during an action and recommit to physical distancing for 2 weeks afterward. Maybe it looks like a small die-in (4 or fewer people), or banner drops or art installs or direct actions with small numbers of people done in the early hours of the morning. This is also a great time for call & tweet & email storms, social media actions, online petitions and testimonials, just saying. No matter what, the potential impact of any action has to be worth the risk, so make sure you’re clear on the best targets and tactics to get you towards the goal of your action at this time.
A lot of what I’ve learned and shared has benefited from insights, wisdom, and conversations with folks like Adaku Utah, Agustina Vidal, Ana Conner, Autumn Brown, Che Gossett, Chelsea Cleveland, Dori Midnight, Ejeris Dixon, Eric Stiens, Jade Marks, JD Davids, Jeff Sebo, Joy Messinger, Kate Werning, Kiyomi Fujikawa, Lauren Giambrone, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, mai c. doan, Monica Trinidad, Nicole Myles, Rye Young, Susan Raffo, Tourmaline, Triana Kazeleh-Sirdenis, Woods Ervin and the individual and collective genius of many other BIPOC and QT comrades in disability justice over the years. Thank you for helping us make it through.
Some things about me:
My bio: Maryse is a white Jewish queer non-binary facilitator, fundraiser, organizer, and radical social worker. They have been active in movements for healing justice, sex worker organizing, racial justice, economic justice, and LGBTQI+ liberation in their hometown of New York City for over twenty years, including work with The Icarus Project, the Rock Dove Collective, the Allied Media Conference, and Resource Generation. In 2018, they co-organized the Sex Worker Giving Circle, the first and only sex worker-led fund housed at a U.S. foundation, and they are now the Sex Worker Funding Officer at Third Wave Fund in addition to their consulting practice. Maryse lives in Brooklyn on Lenape land, where they geek out about science and keep company with their partners and community, their dog Smoky, and too many houseplants.
You can learn more about my work at http://reachmaryse.com/
4. Even More Things That We Know About COVID-19 (Risks + Rates + Links)
- The more people in a space, and the closer people are to each other, the higher the risk of transmission. One person with COVID-19 went dancing in Berlin and 16 other people at the club got sick. At a conference in Boston with 175 attendees, 70 people came down with COVID-19, likely from one person.
- Epidemiologists suggest that at least 33% of Americans may get COVID-19. Germany is predicting that as many as 70% of their population could get it. The mortality rate for elders age 70 and over is 8-14%. A conservative version of that math means that four out of every one hundred elders in the US may die if we continue down this path without physical distancing.
- Remember that COVID takes 3-14 days in general to show up, with 6 days being the average, and testing takes even longer in places that don’t have active COVID-19 testing and treatment responses already in place.
- The most dangerous risks of COVID-19 occur when hospitals are overflowing and no longer able to admit people and/or are running out of supplies, like what is happening right now in Italy. This means that people most at risk of death, including elders and immunocompromised people - are being turned away to die.
- The healthcare system in the US is hugely underprepared. The best thing we can do to avoid a worst case scenario is flattening the curve - check out this really comprehensive guide for how we can do that, written by an epidemiologist.
- In fact, social distancing measures paired with adequate healthcare cut down the fatality rate by ten times - that’s why people are calling for us to cancel everything. For more on this and many other statistics from another epidemiologist on what’s already happened and models of what might happen next, check out this article, but it’s a doozy.
Remember: there’s a whole lot we can do to take care of ourselves, each other, and our movements. We’re still in this together, even though we’re apart.