“Only rich white people get Corona. Do you know anyone who has got it?”
The houseless, poverty skola chuckled as he refused another one of my attempts to hand him a mask.
The sad irony, as all of us poor people know too well, is this evil virus ended up killing more poor Black, Brown and indigenous peoples due to so many factors, not the least of which is poverty, medical racism, dangerous work conditions, and poor-people healthcare access.
“Masks are for pussies, I don’t wear a mask, Corona virus is a hoax, it won’t kill me…I’m already dead … I’m having my damn birthday party no matter what , I don’t trust these doctors no-how, we have been lied to before, I can’t quarantine when we live in one room, my boss isn’t giving any PPE, expects us to buy our own, I have to work no matter what, we get no sick leave, our sick leave means we are fired…”
From rural underclass to indigenous border resistor, to b-boy to pastor, so many of our come-unities in poverty, indigenous peoples, poor folks, since the beginning of this global terror have actively been discriminated against, forced to work, or passed disinformation, misinformation and confusion rooted in 528 years of medical apartheid, medical racism, removal, incarceration colonial terror, and the lies of the privileged class to us poor people back and forth among our communities.
There have been amazing acts of liberation from grassroots revolutionaries like Community Ready Corp, Oakland Brown Berets, Self-Help Hunger Program, Mask Oakland, Homies Empowerment Sacramento Homeless Union and Poor Peoples Economic Human Rights Campaign in Philly and us at POOR Magazine/Homefulness drastically increasing the radical redisibution of healthy meals and tents and blankets we have been distributing for eight years on the streets to include, supplies, groceries, money, diapers, masks, hand sanitizers and medicine to more than 1,200 very poor housed and unhoused community across the Bay.
All the while there have been insane acts of genocide in the carceral nation in COVID like the cultural genocide of indefinite sentencing and false border “detention” of families in this stolen land.
It doesn’t help so many of us folks scattered across this land have been “ruled” over by a rapist, criminally negligent wealth-hoarder whose “leadership” has helped the United States have the highest COVID numbers in the world. And please believe poverty and racism has everything to do with so much about staying healthy
I am not pro-Big Pharma or pro-White medicine. I am one of these confused peoples, notwithstanding my light-skinned privilege, I am the daughter of a traumatized, disabled, angry indigenous Afro-Taino woman, who was tortured and experimented on as a child, whose thyroid gland, ovaries and heart were poisoned by those experiments and who passed way too young because of the damage of all of that to her poor body. Since age 18 I was on poor people hellthcare plan (read: no healthcare) and my idea of care was an 18-26 hour wait in an emergency room for everything from an inhaler to a cast and watched my fierce mama take on the racist classist doctor class when they tried to say she wasn’t “entitled” to cardio-rehab programs cause she was on state poor people insurance aka Medi-Cal and only offered her a nine-pill cocktail of Big Pharma as her only solution.
What I do know is I got this shit and it almost killed me.
So if anyone cares to read on, I am writing this story for the sole purpose of helping fellow poor and indigenous peoples figure out how to survive and think through this nightmare we have collectively found ourselves in.
I also know that masks, social distancing and hand-washing aren’t everything but it’s something — and right now, in addition to taking extra care of our immune systems, it’s all we have and frankly anything to avoid this killer illness is worth doing cause it is not something you ever want to get if you can avoid it.
How to you shelter in place if you have no place?
The day the Shelter-in-Place order was enacted, POOR closed all of our multiple in-person teaching programs including our liberation school for very lolw-income, homeless, disabled, indigenous youth Deecolonize Academy, Po Peoples radio trainings, community writing workshops and support work — and at the same time began amping up our street distribution work, as so many of the huge non-profiteers ended up shutting down, leaving thousands of fellow poverty skolaz/ houseless and poor people with no food, no supplies and no shelter.
We increased our two days a week on the street to four days a week and we took all the masks we had collected when the fires from the summer happened to distribute to everyone that needed them as well as hand sanitizers and cleaning supplies to folks on the street who had no access to water much-less soap or paper towels. And because so many poltricksters are evil and people are haters, were still struggling with the violence called “sweeps” even in a pandemic.
Internally at POOR Magazine we adopted all the safety protocols we could possibly do and provided each other with PPE — never went out without masks and gloves and practiced social distancing and constant hand washing and as much safety as we could manifest. From March to May we distributed to more 800 people each week all across the Bay.
And then on May 25th, my birthday, something happened. A member of our community came down with COVID. The next day my son literally collapsed saying he was too weak to stand up, and the following day, I almost fainted, and another member of our Homefulness family also fell ill. We closed everything else were doing down, sent everyone home and got tested and lo and behold four of us formerly houseless residents of this beautiful liberation village called Homefulness had contracted COVID-19.
I lived in the “school/ office/recording studio/Mac Lab building,” so all of the group activities and bathroom use and traffic and supplies came in and out of the place me and my son lived. I, as someone who literally was on the street houseless with my mama for all of my childhood and then again before we moved to Homefulness in 2013, was happy and blessed to even have a roof, a home and safety.
But in some ways at this moment meant we weren’t as safe, because as we un-packed it our private areas were public and we had no way to control that, so we weren’t able to really prevent contact.
Me and Tibu’s reality is sadly like a lot of poor people living communally, like the more than 830 families we support weekly at Sliding Scale Cafe/Mercadito de Cambio at Homefulness with masks, food, hand sanitizers, medicine, produce, diapers and groceries. Most of them live in communal housing and are unable to successfully “quarantine” even if any of them gets sick.
On top of that, unless they are engaged with Street Level Health project or some other indigenous medicine clinics, they struggle with access to their indigenous healing practices, living on this stolen land thousands of miles away from their villages and mamas and community doctors and yerbas (herbs).
All of our village elders convened an emergency meeting and we decided to close everything down, beginning with our school Decolonize Academy which we were already holding on zoom most days but now even the promotion ceremony was moved online, PNN-KEXU radio and all of our outreach work like Sliding Scale Cafe and RoofLESS radio so as not to put anyone else at risk, this being our first and foremost priority that we realized we must do so no-one else would suffer our fate.
It takes a ComeUnity to boost an immune system
While you could say that being embedded so deeply in community caused our collective virus, it also was responsible for our survival and eventual health.
First, we went into an arsenal to bump up our collective immune systems, determined to not end up in the increasingly filled up ICU and because we knew that white Science did not hold our collective cure.
A nutritionist and herbalist at Street Level Health Project created a tincture blend of baikal skullcap, red root, boneset, elecampane, usnea, and licorice (no licorice for those with high blood pressure) for each of us that we took religiously for four weeks — 90 drops of horrible tasting wonderfulness in water. Michele Kim, and her fierce mama, one of our POOR Magazine solidarity fam created some beautifully amazing Korean healing soup, which was all me and Tiburcio and the other family member here could seem to eat.
I began an extremely rigid regimen of 1,000-4,000 mg of Vitamin C, (which I learned from a doctor in China), eight mg of zinc, 10 mg of melatonin, ginger, garlic, turmeric, reishi and Vitamin D every day and as much nettles, mullein, and other lung tonic teas as I could get. I cut all sugar out and replaced it barely with tiny slivers of the insanely expensive Marukan honey as prescribed by indigenous Filipino nurse /teacher Sockie Lala Smith ( referred by beautiful sisSTAR Pearl Ubungena.
I had heard that in France, for people that had asthma like me taking an antibiotic is a good idea to kill the infection that might grow in the lungs and so I got a “Z-Pac” or Zithro-Max, which if you ask a doctor for , they act like you are slanging it in the streets and make you fight them for, and to be clear this didn’t cure me, but did take the edge off a bronchial infection that was growing in my weak lungs thanks for the violent attacks of this evil COVID.
Covid ain’t got nothing on the trauma in our heads
Minutes leaked into hours, hours into days and days into weeks. Time passed in that molasses way that time passes for traumatized people who can’t stop thinking, worrying, activating, working because the minute we slow down, even a little, all that we are working so hard to forget fills our heads, we start obsessing and depressing and get lost in the silent terror of our trauma that lurks there in the shadows, that drives us to seek the man’s poison, dangerous killer substances and our own death just to quiet the pain.
We held each other, not actually, but spiritually and metaphorically, held each others’ stories and shared those survival tips, survival thru the violence of our own dangerous minds, that has kept us alive this far even when we thought we couldn’t go on any further. We prayed deeply in all the traditions each of us practice and fed the ancestors with offerings and requests for help. And then we just waited.
In two weeks, we felt sort of okay. Just be sure we waited another two weeks and then tested everyone in the village. We all tested negative. Twice. After a full six weeks, raising funds and acquiring a porta potty so community could use a bathroom not in someone’s house and public messaging posted all over the land as well as ongoing teachings/trainings with youth and elder residents, visitors and workers about COVID protocol and a whole overhaul of use of community space, we tentatively opened up for limited community service activity.
Although we were “healed” I never felt exactly the same. None of us would qualify as “long-haulers” but I never got back my sense of taste or smell. And even with the negative tests, I felt like my immune system was constantly being tested and for at least three weeks more I would teeter on what felt like the knife’s edge of getting sick again and would amp up the garlic, ginger, mushroom, cilantro, mint caldo de pollo (chicken soup) and as much water and clear liquid as I could stand and more of the high doses of vitamin C and on and on and on.
Wealth-hoarding kills; radical redistribution heals
Now let’s get real about something: These tinctures and vitamins and organic food and produce aren’t cheap. Health in this country is tied to access and resources. It is one of the many reasons we work soooo hard to get organic, homemade healthy food out to our Sliding Scale Cafe each week and why we collaborate with multiple bakeries, Green Gulch, the Fruit Guys, Phat Beetz and The Self-Help Hunger Program to get fresh produce harvested and distributed out to all the hundreds of very low, no-income families and elders we support weekly at Mercaditor de Cambio and across the Bay with houseless folks in RoofLESS radio.
When we buy food for our school and homefulness communities we only buy organic and this is not cheap and made possible by the radical redistribution principals we teach young folks with race and class privilege at our biyearly PeopleSkool. It’s also why when we launched Homefuness with ComeUnity gardens it was always open to everyone to pick and eat and have and lastly it is because of conscious medicine makers like Bay HRT ( Bay Area Herbal Resource Team) who in addition to Street Level redistributes organic bugie vitamins and Fire Cider (an immune-boosting tincture).
From COVID to cancer
“I have a theory, not at all proven, but a theory, that COVID attacks the immune system, allowing cancer cells grow,” said Rupa Marya, a revolutionary doctor friend who has been working on a book to connect the way colonization causes our collective “inflammation.”
Two weeks ago, on December 15th, I went in for a perfunctory Pap smear and discovered that I in fact had cancer.
“I have difficult news…we found cancer in your uterus….”
As she spoke the doctor’s words seemed to lift out of the phone and drift off into the afternoon sky, as they did they melted down into a pastel blob blending into other words, grabbing memories and turning them into images, dark into light. Fear into terror. I really don’t know how but then I ended up on the floor of the POOR Magazine revolutionary service van that we use to transport endless amounts of disabled children and elders into and out of school, events, support. I’m not sure how long I sat there, numb and confused. Really?? I murmured to my breaking self, hadn’t I been through enough struggle for 10 people in my life? did I really need more loss, more sorrow, more evil, more to “overcome?”
It was a blur. My Mama Dee who always sent me messages from the other side of the spirit journey, sent me a message, cut and dry like she always did, without any fat or frills, in a blog of survivor stories by a Boricua sister that even looked a little like her named “Dee M.” Yea it was mama alright, It stated simply “If you catch it early you will be ok,” mama and her jokes.
White science I had never trusted, never had success or trust in, came through, claiming after a CT scan that a robot could take all my life-giving parts out, that I must do this procedure quickly, and trust implicitly in everything I had no trust in.
I consulted with my madrina in the Yoruba tradition I practice and learned that this was a full circle back to the day of having my son when I was houseless with my mama, when I was caught in a dangerous DV relationship that almost killed me and my mama was gravely ill with what took her to the other side. The best day of my life and the worst, all mixed together, where I was 5150ed in my white-science, softly violent hospital room, the police were called on me and I almost lost the beautiful life I had just brought into this world.
The robot and me
I did this surgery. On Monday December 21st, Solstice, the longest night of the year. The night that is like a womb itself. The weird robot was apparently 100 percent successful.
They handed pain-killers out to me like it was candy and threw me out of the hospital way too soon — and I’m still alive. The intense pain subsides a little more every day and I grapple with that this terrifying lesson I really didn’t need to learn taught me.
For one thing, cancer ain’t got nothing on the cancer called trauma that plagues my mind as I sit and try to “rest,” my thoughts racing. But community surrounds around me with a love blanket I can’t even describe.
There is this magical thing called a Meal Train, set up by sister warrior- friend and collaborator Corrina Gould, who along with Fuifuilupe Niumitolu, Muteado Silencio, ISrael, Jeremy Miller, Nancy Chavez, Pearl Ubungen, Juju, Mama Blue, Mama sue Kuyper and Sue Ferrer, Jewnbug, Queennandi, Dee Allen, Joseph Bolden, Angel Haert, Yael, Paige, Tony, Leroy, Loa, Christy, JV, Westyn,Talibah,Frances, Momi, my beautiful son and so many more in my village have been here holding up skies, sending me food, buying groceries, offering love, rides and more, breaking through my deeply terrified head-space and layers of trauma and desperate alone-ness.
My mind wanders back to me and mama who were, above all, so desperately alone. Whenever crisis would hit there was no-one to call, nowhere to stay, no one to talk to, or community to call on. My mama was a mixed race, unwanted orphan, and unprotected child, who suffered severe abuse in orphanages and violent racist foster homes throughout her childhood and therefore trusted no one. She was left and hurt and betrayed over and over again. She had no reason to believe in people or institutions because they had always let her down, hurt or almost killed her. So crises hit us and we were all we had. Always.
I can’t say the COVID caused the cancer but it wouldn’t surprise me if it did. What I can say is this virus should be fought on every front. For everyone reading this please take these lessons VERY seriously, please integrate all safety practices you can to avoid it, from masks to social distance.
In addition, please overstand and understand that the other viruses called poverty, police terror, incarceration, racism, classism, and isolation in this stolen land are also extremely dangerous and our lives as humans aren’t meant to live in this hater, hoarding, I-got-mines bubble called krapitalism.
And for all of you that know this poverty skola, people’s souldjah is here, working my hardest, as I have always done, to resist, protest, manifest, implement, listen, pray, dream and walk into with you into decolonization, degentriFUKation and liberation so we can all heal together from all of these deadly pandemics before they kill us all.
Tiny and other skolaz will be on the road this spring and summer helping other houseless poverty skolaz launch Po Peoples Radio/POORNewsNEtwork outlets while also teaching/ sharing the medicine of Radical redistribution with as many wealth-hoarders as are ready to degentriFUK and decolonize- so other sites for Bank of ComeUnity Reparations can be launched – to invite her to your town, church, group, college or encampment email firstname.lastname@example.org or go to @povertyskola on Twitter or @poormagazine on IG.