Viral Hope

By Loretta Wrobel

Daily, all of us are exposed to violence, senseless acts and trauma. When we attempt to inform ourselves, we continue to ingest an abundance of negativity, harmful acts and terror. As a person having lived nearly eight decades, I sometimes lose all hope and can easily move towards despair and devastating sadness for our present world, as I witness constant cruelty and prejudice.

Somehow, the coruscating book, Viral Justice: How We Grow the World We Want by Ruha Benjamin, fell into my hands. And I was infused with hope and exhilaration.  Ruha’s words spoke to me instantaneously, as she shared her personal experiences and discussed how minor shifts in choices can have a gigantic influence on our lives.  There are extreme issues existing in our world and it hardly seems that what each one of us does is going to matter. Ms. Benjamin demonstrates with numerous examples from her own life and the lives of her family and friends that small changes work!

The author focuses on mutual aid and collective healing. There is an energy that builds when people come together and work toward a more creative and practical solution. If you are on the receiving end of an injustice, you know what you need to transform your life. Often the individuals who are designated as the problem solvers, by our patriarchal, racist society don’t have any experience with the problem and may not be in a good position to devise a solution.  

Viral Justice means we acknowledge the truth and work towards repairing the past and ongoing issues. One effective tactic is to support grassroots groups, because they have intimate knowledge and a strong passion to transfigure our society to a just and fairer system. I love the simple demand clearly announced by Ms. Benjamin ,“Nothing about us without us!”   

Ruha talked about the lack of trust in the medical establishment by people of color, mainly due to the history of Black people being unknowingly used as research subjects. She reported on the success of advocates going door-to-door to educate minority communities about healthcare, and to teach people to understand healthcare as a right. Quality and consistent healthcare is essential for everyone. This truth is empowering to many Black and brown people. 

Ms. Benjamin discussed LeeAnne Walters, an environmental activist from Flint, Michigan. This committed and fierce woman exposed the issues of lead in the water in her town of Flint. She led a citizen’s action group that demanded the Flint water be tested, and exposed the toxins residing in the public water system. She is a self-taught problem solver. She exposed the fact that 1 in 6 homes in Flint had dangerous lead levels in their water that exceeded EPA safety standards. She did not waver in thinking that the issue was too big to tackle, and her desire to protect her family and her community energized her. A tremendous role model for all of us in today’s world.  

The author offers many suggestions for how to begin to solve many of the seemingly unsolvable issues front and center in our racist society. She encourages residents to organize media protests over unjust and discriminatory practices. She suggests using the power of barbers and hair salons to educate their communities regarding healthcare issues and delivery of services. Community-driven health institutions that include midwives, doulas, health justice advocates, and mental health advocates could help repair our broken healthcare system. She challenges white people who hold power to use their privilege to push for systemic change, particularly in areas of medicine, education and government. She questions, “What are scientific and medical institutions doing to demonstrate their trustworthiness to Black communities?”  What is possible when we work together? For example, what if we had a more expansive approach to public health rather than a rigid system driven by profits? If medical schools addressed racial justice in their curriculum, how would that change our healthcare system for everyone?

Ruha talked of the value and benefits of a Universal Basic Income. A four-day work week with paid vacation, guaranteed sick leave, and disability accommodation are basic to the move from an unjust and unhealthy society to a system that promotes wellbeing for all its citizens. Her assessment is that private accumulation and institutionalized greed are the culprits. In 2020 around 40 million people lost their jobs, while the billionaires experienced a ten percent increase in their wealth! That statistic really exposes who we are as a culture, and what is important in our flawed worldview.

The disempowerment of workers was another topic that Ms. Benjamin focused on in her book. The phenomenon of the gig worker, where the advantages are setting your own hours, working parttime, and being your own boss, are truly outweighed by the disadvantages of receiving no benefits. This is a colossal obstacle, because if you don’t work, you don’t get paid. If you are sick, you can’t work so you don’t get paid. You lack medical insurance. You don’t have any guaranteed income. If you have more expenses, you must seek out more work. Plus, there are no pension plans or any guarantee that you will have work. In today’s world, benefits are vital, especially if you have a family. If you are an Uber driver, deliver food, work in the food service industry or other low paying jobs, you can’t afford to only work parttime. In academia the university makes out, as the adjunct faculty earn no benefits and usually get paid a minimal amount per course. There is no guarantee the course will be continued and you will continue to have an income. In the university system there are 1.8 million faculty that have no benefits, and these individuals are responsible for the bulk of the teaching and functioning of the system with only a pittance of financial reimbursement for their efforts, and no power within the system. A sad commentary on the corporatization of academia. 

I recommend taking the time to peek at Viral Justice to inspire you to use whatever skill set you possess to make a tiny but important change within our dysfunctional institutions and systems. It is best to start where you are, with the issues that impacts you. By reimagining work and redistributing wealth, we can turn toward democratization of our economy and society. It involves shifting what we value, and placing caring over cutthroat competition. We need to be educated consumers who do not fall for the manufactured scarcity. We can then build on a society that welcomes all to use their creativity and skills to find meaningful work that supports themselves and their families without exhausting their bodies. By working together, we can create astounding solutions to today’s overwhelming, burning matters and questions. Be revitalized by perusing Viral Justice, and become immersed with Viral Hope!!

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