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Standing in Solidarity with those Who Must Refuse to Keep Social Distance: Disability Activism in South Korea
The presence of those who couldn’t afford to keep social distance has laid bare the forms of segregation and exclusion that have been in place long before the outbreak of Covid-19. The sense of frustration that non-disabled people have felt during lockdown has been prescribed to people with disabilities as their condition of life. As many of them are unable to carry out their daily affairs without caregivers, the imperative of social distancing implies not only another form of institutionalization that they fought so hard to reject, but also something close to a death sentence.
Therefore, the April 20 rally was also a moment in which the solidarity among “different bodies” revealed how the very fear of Covid-19 was the normative, as it was rooted in racism and eugenics that excluded the bodies that deviated from the socially normative view. The march was slow, and oftentimes the participants let out indistinguishable cries into the air. The stage at the rally was filled with dancing bodies. The dancing, staggering bodies at the CHORUS-20 posed a major challenge to the normative view on disability and illness.
For people with disabilities who have long been socially segregated, there is no “normal life” to go back to. Thus, the movement for solidarity during the era of pandemic began by refusing to keep social distance, and necessitates envisioning post-Covid-19 from the non-normative perspective on disability and illness.
Dr. Ciwan Mistefa is a Health Official at the Central Crisis Committee and the committee’s only spokesperson, reflecting the socio-political approach towards health professionals in North and East Syria during the pandemic.
Mistefa: We started taking precautionary measures when the coronavirus spread near us in Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and regime-held areas in Syria. …
I am a member of the Central Crisis Committee of NE Syria, which we established to coordinate our response to the coronavirus outbreak. This committee has regional subcommittees in the seven administrative regions, and all of these committees have representatives from the areas of health, education, municipality, and security. These officials are the ones actively fighting the crisis at the frontlines. Some decisions such as the ban on movement between cities and closing border crossings were made by the central committee but the implementation of all decisions is done regionally as each region has specific conditions. There is constant communication and feedback among the regional and central committees. The central committee only makes decisions in response to the suggestions and debates that come from the regional committees.
SOCIAL HEALTH CLINICS SOLIDARITY NETWORK
The whole world is in lockdown. Everybody feels a pervading sentiment of fear. Afraid for their lives and for imminent punishment in case of noncompliance to state orders. In this context, we continued efforts with social health clinics created years ago in the aftermath of the financial crisis, creating a solidarity network. Social health clinics are self-organized, bottom-up health clinics operating through horizontal decision making processes, like open general assemblies. Our most important goal is to deploy and project another understanding of health and illness that doesn’t distinguish doctors, knowledge holders, and patients who must accept whatever the specialist says. We aim to establish horizontal relationships between care givers and care takers, creating conditions for care takers to become care givers, contributing to the social health clinics’ “solidarity chain.” We want people to realize that health care is everyone’s inalienable right and cannot be commercialized.
During the pandemic’s spread, we decided to create a solidarity network connecting efforts in four social health clinics in Athens, one in Thessaloniki and one in Volos. This network expands continuously, connecting existing members with members of recovering addicts and others supporting our aims. Meeting people’s needs for food and pharmaceuticals, the network creates online psychological support for people experiencing difficulties in these special circumstances, in housing deprivation or suffering mental illnesses.
Kadıkoy Solidarity Network, collective interview
“YOU REMINDED US THAT WE ARE HUMAN BEINGS”
As we were the first among the solidarity networks which got organized pretty fast after the outbreak, we became widely known. We have been receiving calls from many districts and provinces ... We received a call from Çankırı State Hospital, where Doctors requested face shields, so we sent shields. Our friends who make shields wrote notes on the boxes “We love you so much! We can’t be without you!” If I were a doctor, and received these masks and shields and these notes from a person very far way, whom I didn’t know, when the state was not even able to provide me with surgical masks ...
Solidarity makes people feel incredible emotions nowadays. My phone number is one of the contact numbers on posters. We hear this sentence many, many times: “You reminded us that we are human beings!” I heard this both from those who have resources to share and those who are in need. This is so real!
Solidarity makes us human beings indeed! People calling me, especially the ones 80–90 years old, tell me that they would like to see my face when these days are over, and meet over a coffee. Yes, I reply, “We will definitely meet one day.”
The system, the state that you pay taxes to wants to get rid of you, leave you to death .... However, there are others who care about you, who stick by you in solidarity without any expectation. Then you start feeling like a society ... You start realizing that you are in the same boat, whether young or old, employed or unemployed, health worker, baker, as ones who have been left to their own destiny. You realize that you are stronger together and you must act collectively!