Disease and Denial in Prison

This letter was received from Stateville Prison in early April, reporting on conditions there during the COVID-19 crisis.q

I am a student in Northwestern University’s Bachelors program. Like many other students, I also work, though in my case, both my college program and my work take place inside a prison—Stateville. When I am not in my cell or studying, I am on the paint crew. In fact, I painted the Northwestern logo in the school building. Stateville is basically held together by coats of paint, so it’s a never-ending job. The “slap a coat of paint on it and keep going” approach applies here. Take COVID-19.

It’s odd how the news first reported that Stateville and Cook County Jail were national hotspots with COVID contraction rates 20 times the national average. Now you hear absolutely nothing about what’s going on here! Why? They have clamped down tight. They don’t want people to know what’s happening here. I believe the reason is because they don’t want anyone to know how many guys are actually sick here. If they do test, then they will have to report the results. However, if they don’t test, there is nothing to report. Continue reading

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A Socialist Response to COVID-19

A mural in Turin, Italy celebrates Cuban medical help during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a recent “Democracy Now!” interview, Noam Chomsky called Cuba a “superpower.” What did he mean? Well, let’s look at health care. According to the World Health Organization, Cuba has the highest ratio of doctors in the world, 8.4 for every 1000 people. In contrast, the US has 2.6 per 1000.

According to a recent Counterpunch article by Helen Yaffe of Glasgow University, there are 449 polyclinics in Cuba, geographically evenly dispersed, each attending to the needs of 20,000 to 40,000 people and serving as a hub for 15 to 40 family doctors. As opposed to the US, where health care is a business, in Cuba health care is a public good, and everyone gets free care within a single free system which stresses prevention over cure. Cuba’s pharmacology industry produces 70 percent of needed medications, and exports to 50 countries. The country has a highly developed disaster mobilization system, as seen in its exemplary evacuation response to hurricanes. And since it has long experience with infectious diseases, it knows how to close its borders and implement effective quarantines. Finally, Cuba has prioritized medical internationalism, sending 400,000 health care professionals to 164 countries since the 1959 revolution to provide free care, mostly in the past few decades. Before the current pandemic, there were an astonishing 28,000 Cuban health professionals in 59 countries, and more than 2,300 additional doctors and nurses have gone to 24 countries since the outbreak, including even Italy. In an effort to counter this solidarity, the US State Department claims that Cuba’s medical humanitarianism is just a cover for human trafficking, and that these health care professionals are no more than “slaves.” Continue reading

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Mateo’s Story: Connecting with the Twice-Marginalized

Mateo, an interpreter for Unit 4 schools, keeps families informed of food distributions, such as this lunch distribution at Shadow Wood.

If you are a Q’anjob’al speaker in CU, you are probably familiar with the young face of Mateo Sebastian. In videos shared through social media he has helped the local community keep up with information on the virus, school closures, food and rental assistance, and stay-at-home rules. Below he describes his role during the Covid-19 crisis.

From Guatemala to California to CU

I left Guatemala when I was 16. When I got to the Mexican border, I was expecting to meet a relative, but they weren’t able to meet me and I spent three months in a detention center. They asked me about my life, and when I told them that my father had died of TB when I was twelve, they really put me through a lot of medical checks. Luckily, I was OK, and since I was an unaccompanied minor, I was placed with a foster family in California for the next four years. Continue reading

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The Migrants of India Before and During the Covid-19 Crisis

Children often work long hours in the kilns while also trying to finish their schoolwork, watch siblings, and cook for the family.

The global COVID-19 pandemic claims to spare no race, religion, or social class. Yet over and over we see marginalized and vulnerable communities struggling to get the care and shelter they need during this crisis. India, like numerous other countries, enforced a lockdown to contain the spread of the virus, but, sadly, India’s migrant population was once again forgotten. Migrants who had traveled hundreds of miles for work in urban cities found themselves unemployed and stranded on streets and platforms, and desperate to find a way home.

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We Don’t Live in a Food Desert, We Live under Food Apartheid: Interview with Dawn Blackman

“Motherdawn” Blackman

Dawn Mosley Blackman, a Chicago native, moved to Champaign in April, 1993. She is the current steward of the Randolph Street Community Garden and a pastor at the Church of the Brethren. As a military wife she lived in Europe and the Middle East, where she apprenticed with native craftspeople, which led to the founding of Motherlands Multicultural Resource Center and Motherlands Culture Club, located at Church Street Square, in 1995. In the spring of 1999, Motherlands Culture Club was adopted as a ministry by the Church of the Brethren. She is a recipient of a McKinley YWCA award for community service, and was named a 2015 Purpose Prize Fellow by Encore.org. Dawn shares her proud achievements within the local community, including hosting a food pantry at the Champaign Church of the Brethren and coordinating the community gardens, which are affiliated with the church.

We Don’t Live in a Food Desert. We Live under Food Apartheid

“When I was growing up as a child in Chicago, there were a few grocery stores in my neighborhood. I remember there were three or four of them; they were close enough to walk to. They mostly had non-parity foods. One chain would overcharge shoppers in our area; another would send bruised and days-old fruits and vegetables and stale bread from stores in affluent neighborhoods and sell them at full price in our area. In the ’60s and ’70s, families with cars would shop outside of the community in order to get fresh produce, fresh bread, and shelf items that were not damaged, dented, or dusty.” This is how Dawn Blackman remembers accessing food during her childhood in the Grand Crossing neighborhood of Chicago. However, she continues, “now when I go back there and drive around the neighborhood, there aren’t any full-service grocery stores within walking distance.” Combining memories of past and present Chicago, she argues that “we currently don’t live in a food desert, we live under food apartheid.” Continue reading

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Digital Inequities are Social Inequities

Envisioned and realized by Dr. Will Patterson, the Hip Hop Xpress draws on the model of George Washington Carver’s Jesup wagon, a movable school. The current version, the Double Dutch Boom Bus, is an internet-enabled mobile classroom and sound studio, a means to collect oral histories, a cross-generational catalyst for music sharing and production, and a method to link communities across the state through music, dance, visual arts, and history. Artist John Jennings designed the graphics. https://publish.illinois.edu/hiphopxpress/.

When the COVID-19 pandemic closed schools, libraries, and other institutions that aim to serve the public, the disparities among “the public” were highlighted in ways that have long been present, but are frequently ignored. One important gap was access to the internet. When people cannot get online, they are excluded from participating in nearly every daily interaction that we must conduct to live in the current US.

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World Labor Hour Farewell 

Top right: David Johnson in the WRFU studio, looking engaged in his work at the sound mixing board. Bottom right: David Johnson and Gus Wood in the studio, along with two guests featured in a show from 2018.

The airshifters at WRFU 104.5 FM are sad to announce that the end of one of our most beloved programs, the World Labor Hour, is drawing near. Hosted by David Johnson, Bill Gorrell, and Gus Wood, the World Labor Hour has served as a prominent, important voice in challenging the mainstream news narratives around issues of labor and capitalism. Truly, a beacon of independent radio is leaving us. So, join us in congratulating David, Bill, and Gus on a fantastic show! And don’t forget that you can always go back and listen to all of their old shows at http://stream.wrfu.net/wrfu-recordings/.

Breaking news: Bob Paleczny and Gus launched Radio Free Labor on July 4 to carry on the legacy, Saturdays from 11 am to 1 pm on WEFT Community Radio, 90.1 FM, weft.org.

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Cover Image for May/June Issue

Essential, Disposable and Replaceable

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Visibility and Vulnerability in the Age of COVID-19

While diseases don’t discriminate, social responses to pandemics do. The disproportionate impact COVID-19 has had on African Americans in Chicago, the Navajo in the Southwest and the incarcerated across the country highlights the way marginalization contributes to tragically different outcomes from the same disease. But even in these stories, we are glimpsing only one set of measurements—the infection and death rates. These are horrifying, but the impact of this crisis goes far beyond those who get sick. The politics of what we measure, who we see on the news and whose experience of the disease dominates cultural discussions is not just an intellectual curiosity but a practice that keeps some lives and some struggles invisible. Continue reading

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Blurs and Erases

We find ourselves at an interesting moment. Pivotal, in fact. As we collectively attempt to navigate uncharted waters, I am constantly thinking about how prepared I am. For a large portion of my life, lockdown was my reality. This in no way suggests that our current shelter-in-place order is comparable to the physical lockdown currently being experienced by two million-plus incarcerated men and women across this country, because it’s not. However, there is something that lockdown and shelter-in-place have in common: it forces us, and allows us, to be still. Continue reading

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A Student’s Perspective on COVID-19

On January 21, 2020, the first case of COVID-19 within the US was confirmed. During the first few days of the University of Illinois spring break, it was announced that all courses would transition to online-only learning by March 23, 2020. Then, Governor J. B. Pritzker issued a stay-at-home order through at least April 7, 2020, which has since been extended through the end of May.

This transition to full online education applies to all three University campuses, in Urbana-Champaign, Chicago, and Springfield, impacting over 44,000 students and over 10,000 academic and administrative staff members.

Since the ongoing pandemic swept across the world, day-to-day life as we know it has changed drastically. Even menial tasks, such as going to the grocery store or post office, have been altered. What’s more, mental health and financial issues are contributing their own burdens; college students are no exception. Continue reading

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Is the Addition of a Larger Police Presence to Urbana Schools a Human Rights Violation?

On February 4, 2019, I was in class at Urbana High School when a student came in and said there were students fighting in the hall and a teacher had been knocked out. My teacher quickly locked the door and we waited until all students were released from classes at 1:20 p.m. We watched in anticipation as police cars from across the county, fire department vehicles, and ambulances lined up outside our school. I knew that I was safe, but I did not know what was happening outside my classroom. Later we would learn that a fight had broken out in the lunchroom and moved into the hallway, and that several students and a parent had been arrested.

In the aftermath of the fight there was a greater emphasis put on ensuring student and staff safety. In an effort to do this, and to quiet the nerves of anxious parents, the Urbana School Board voted to employ two full-time police officers, who would be allowed to display their weapons while inside the Middle and High Schools. I find this both a gross mistake and a violation of human rights. Continue reading

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Pro-Business Bias and Conservative Extremism at the Supreme Court

Supreme Court Evolution, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

As recent books and law review articles have confirmed, the Supreme Court has been moving to the right since the Nixon Administration. Abetted by Republican politicians, anti-abortion advocates and organizations, and conservative legal entities like the Federalist Society, this rightward trend has led to legal decisions that have undermined prior gains in overcoming racial and gender discrimination and in protecting the environment and labor rights made under the 1950s and ‘60s Warren Court. The rightward drift has been an important factor in the rise in inequality in the US and in creating a less democratic society. With the election of Donald Trump, however, the rightward drift of the Court is now secure enough that the even more ambitious goal of reversing the egalitarian and social solidarity policies and programs of the New Deal is now possible. Worse, with the addition of Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, the Court’s present conservative majority has evidenced a willingness to support the most heinous elements of Trump’s white nationalist agenda and his proto-fascist drive to remove himself from constitutionally defined checks and balances. Continue reading

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How to Squander a Research Library

Main Library bookstacks

The University of Illinois Library at Urbana-Champaign is the largest publicly supported research library in the country; and as far as all university libraries go, only Harvard is bigger. The library holdings are regularly used as an incentive to recruit talented faculty, and scholars come from all over the country and beyond to use the rich rare collections. But, unfortunately, this amazing institution has been in decline for some years.

Neo-liberal ideology has permeated our society, and even though libraries are mostly government or non-profit agencies that focus on the public good, they are also being run on corporate models which emphasize public relations and the bottom line. The U of I Library is no different. Continue reading

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Struggles against Global Aquaculture: Ongoing Conflict between Coastal Communities and Fishmeal Factories in The Gambia

Protest in Sanyang, 2018

In June, 2018, I protested alongside locals to plead with the Gambian government to mitigate the ongoing conflict between a fishmeal factory and Sanyang village residents. The Nassim factory processes sardinella into feed stock, a flour-type material, for the Chinese aquaculture (fish farming) industry. The protest demonstrates how the global aquaculture food chain negatively impacts local and poor communities, while simultaneously feeding global and more wealthy communities cheaply. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the United States is the leading importer of seafood products worldwide. Its imports make up about 90 percent of seafood consumption, of which about half is farm-raised, mostly from China and Vietnam. Young men and women led the protest in Sanyang, along with women gardeners who claim that their plants have been impacted by pests from the factory. The protest led to a short-term closure of the factory in late 2018 by the Gambian National Environmental Agency (NEA). Yet the fishmeal factory resumed operations soon after, when the ban was lifted. Sanyang is not the only coastal village battling Chinese-owned/affiliated fishmeal factories in The Gambia. In Gunjur, there is the Chinese-owned Golden Lead, and the Mauritanian-Chinese JXYG is in Kartong Village. Residents of all three coastal communities claim livelihood and environmental destruction caused by operations of the factories. Gunjur and Sanyang residents especially continue to protest against the factories. Continue reading

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The Pandemic and Pro Wrestling

In the November, 2019 Public i, I wrote about one of the earliest gig economies: professional wrestling. There, independent pro wrestler David Starr discussed the incredibly imbalanced power dynamics of the corporate wrestling scene in America.

While watching corporations and states favor profits over science and labor in their plans to reopen during the COVID-19 crisis, I was reminded of a quote from our interview: “When your number-one priority is maximizing profit over taking care of your people … that’s when you get this idea that the people at the top … can collect tens of millions of dollars in bonuses but they can’t seem to write paychecks that afford somebody the ability to live.”

His remark perfectly sums up the dynamics of how the largest corporate pro-wrestling entity in America—World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE)—is handling the pandemic. Continue reading

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Urbana-Champaign Independent Media Center Offers Digital Venue Space and Community with its Sounds Like Community Web Series

The UC-IMC has always been a popular venue space for performances of all kinds, from spoken word poetry to live music, to art shows, plays and much more. But when the pandemic struck, the IMC Board of Directors was forced to close the building to the public.

This however did not stop members of the IMC’s Programming Committee. They were determined to continue to offer a space for performers and local artists to thrive and for community to happen, even if that space was digital.

Sounds Like Community, a weekly community night Wednesdays at 7 pm, was the result of this process. Running for over eight weeks at the time of this writing, SLC has since served as an excellent source of exactly what it was meant to be. It provides a space for us to come together weekly even though we’re all apart, a place to share with one another the talents, skills and discussions that make us all human. And you can be a part of it! Every Wednesday at 7 pm, until the IMC re-opens, Sounds Like Community will be there. Go to www.ucimc.org/slc to check out past shows and get info on what’s next for the series.

Janelle Pleasure performs for Sounds Like Community on Wednesday, May 13

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Support the Eastern Illinois Foodbank

With so many unemployed, the demands on our local food bank are greater than ever. The Editorial Collective of the Public i urges you to help those in need by donating to the Eastern Illinois Foodbank, 2405 N. Shore Dr., Urbana, Il, 61802; eifoodbank.org.

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Urbana Civilian Police Review Board Under the Spotlight After Violent Arrest

For the past seven Urbana City Council meetings, residents have lined up to deliver what has amounted to several hours of criticism and dozens of misconduct allegations against the Urbana Police Department. Sparked by the violent arrest of an Urbana resident captured on video by vigilant civilians, this incident has brought the most prolific and persistent public presence to City Council in years.

A common theme recited by many: where does our Civilian Police Review Board stand in this picture? Unfortunately, unless someone who was physically present manages to file a complaint, Urbana Police Chief Bryant Seraphin claims that the civilian board has no power to review the incident.

The Urbana Civilian Police Review board, frequently shortened to “CPRB”, was created in 2007 thanks to local grassroots efforts. Unfortunately, the ordinance ultimately passed by City Council was not exactly what the founders had in mind. Much of the investigative and disciplinary powers of the board were stripped away from the initial proposal, leaving the CPRB in a state that some residents have called a “rubber stamp” for the police department. Continue reading

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GEO Open Letter Concerning Student Healthcare Access Passes 200 Signatures

On Wednesday, May 12, the Graduate Employees’ Organization (GEO) Local #6300 AFT/IFT/AFL-CIO representing graduate employees at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign sent an open letter to university administrators with over 200 signatures. In addition to being signed by the Campus Faculty Association and the Non-Tenure Faculty Coalition, about half the 200 individual signers were faculty at UIUC.

The letter calls on the administration to cover summer healthcare costs for all employees and revoke the planned 33 percent insurance premiums hike set to impact graduate and undergraduate students this fall. The delivery of the open letter comes on the heels of a car rally on May 1 and a call-in event on April 24 during which the GEO phone-banked the offices of the administration calling for the same demands to be met.

On May 1st, the GEO organized a car rally calling on the university administration to provide summer health care for graduate workers and drop plans to increase student health insurance premiums by 33% this fall. Photo by Ben Joseph Lash

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