“COVID-19 is not the first or the only crisis that has hit our communities of color, our working class, and our migrant communities, unexpectedly,” the Reverend Juan Carlos Ruiz noted. [See his talk in Performances and also his essay in ConTactos: Essential and Excluded]. Centuries-long racism, gender violence, and inequality were also ravaging us. The death rates in the ZCMP Zip Codes were dramatically higher than in nearby wealthier neighborhoods. As some ZCMP participants repeatedly noted, “essential” workers who looked after the sick and dying and delivered food to wealthier neighbors were dying while New Yorkers from more affluent Zip Codes left for country homes. The brutal injustice of the system, however, had long been normalized. Being isolated and confined in the city made the disparities more visible. New Yorkers heard the ambulances and saw the refrigerated trucks filled with bodies. Their bodies are in ice trucks. The bodies have names, one participant wrote in his journal. We saw death in front of us in a way that we had never experienced it, said another. Every night, I thought, I am the next number. See our film, Together, Not Alone.
“Is it uncanny or overdetermined” asks Mary Louise Pratt, “that the two epic events that have upheaved the U.S. and the world—the pandemic and George Floyd’s murder—are both about suffocation?” Read AIRWAYS. Across the country, people overcame isolation and fear when George Floyd’s televised murder detonated resistance against the normalization of violence. Outraged by that performance of racist power, millions of protestors took to the streets demanding “Justice for George Floyd” and asserting that Black Lives Matter. This widespread anger and consciousness made it seem possible to join together with others to demand justice.
Justice, as a right, as a demand, was an aspiration motivating the ZCMP. DEMAND JUSTICE, the Illuminator projected on the façade of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. But justice meant so many things to this diverse group of New Yorkers. Provide healthcare to all, participants proposed. Respect the lives of others. It’s all in the money––down with capitalism It’s about time that people begin to think in other ways. Our emphasis on healing and community reconnection during ZCMP was aimed to encourage us to coalesce, as a group, around concrete political demands. And yet, during the continuing hardships of the pandemic, and during the short time we spent together as a shifting group of participants, justice remained an aspiration. Together, one participant said, we can imagine and create better worlds. It is a goal most of us shared. The work of justice remains to be done.
Header: Projection by The Illuminator, photo by Desiree Rios