Music for this episode: Penny the Snitch by Ikebe Shakedown.
Sun, 10/31 4:56PM • 41:42
Gregg Gonsalves 00:00
I think we have to go back deeply into history to understand our presence specifically, in my mind, the nature of how we have developed our systems of health care, public health and social protection. The idea that we’re a shining city on a hill, that we are the beacon for the world and everybody wants to come here. Yes, if you’d like places where dogs eat dogs.
Sam Goldman 00:35
Welcome to Episode 83 of the Refuse Fascism podcast. This podcast is brought to you by volunteers with Refuse Fascism. I’m Sam Goldman, one of those volunteers and host of this show. Refuse Fascism exposes, analyzes, and stands against the very real danger and threat of fascism coming to power in this country. In today’s episode I’m really excited to share an interview with Gregg Gonsalves discussing his recent Nation article: America as a “Shining City on a Hill”—and Other Myths to Die By, which I encourage folks to read.
One of the goals of this show is for us together, you included, to deepen our engagement and networking with people and social movements in an effort to forge understanding and relationships aimed at preventing the consolidation of fascism. Some think it can be a disservice to use the ‘F’ word, but five years later can anyone really say they didn’t know this is a movement hellbent on eliminating the rule of law and democratic and civil rights? And well, folks, that is the defining feature of fascism. If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck, even if doesn’t have the same silly looking bill. We have to question who is telling us not to say the ‘F’ word and why, and most importantly, what is served by refusing to name it and act accordingly. What is strengthened by this continued refusal? I’m really looking forward to sharing Gregg’s insights with you regarding public health and American mythology, but first let’s talk about some developments from this week as they relate to the continued fascist threat.
We heard opening arguments in the Klu Klux Klan Act case against the organizers of Unite the Right in Charlottesville. Between the racial epithets and threats in the opening statements from the fascists and the brutal footage of the violence, you might think it’s an open and shut case, but that is all almost incidental to the case. All that these avowed white supremacists have to prove is a lack of evidence that they specifically conspired. It is a deep lesson on the inability of the US justice system to make even a dent in the fascist onslaught. Meanwhile in Kenosha, where the facts of the legal case are even clearer against Kyle Rittenhouse, we have a judge hellbent on getting the fascist killer off — a judge whose pre-trial decisions and decades-long career attests to the fact that he’s most likely jealous that he didn’t pull the trigger himself.
Speaking of Kyle Rittenhouse, and his mother who literally drove him to murder, Rep. Madison Cawthorn, a North Carolina Republican Representative and Trump loyalist, told an audience “Our culture today is trying to completely de-masculate all of the young men in our culture…. They’re trying to de-masculate the young men in our country because they don’t want people who are going to stand up… All you moms here — the ones who I said are the most vicious in our movement — if you are raising a young man, please raise them to be a monster.” As Chauncey De Vega, writer for Salon, noted in his article covering this, “Raising monsters for the fascist movement is one of the main goals of today’s Republican Party and its “family values.” Madison Cawthorn isn’t the only believer in the Big Lie and supporter of the right-wing coup attempt of Jan. 6 gaining political clout. As reported on by CNN, the dozen GOP “Young Guns” of the House GOP’s most prized recruits for the midterms have perpetuated lethal lies about the 2020 elections, embracing Trump’s vicious deceitful battle cry as they seek to flip the chamber next year.
Turning our attention to the fascist initiatives rapidly advancing in statehouses across the country: In Texas, State Rep. Matt Krause has drawn up a list of 850 books on subjects ranging from racism to sexuality that could “make students feel discomfort.” He is demanding that school districts across the state report whether any are in their classrooms or libraries, how many copies and how much money was spent on them. In Florida, the University of Florida (a state public university) has barred three faculty members from testifying for plaintiffs in a lawsuit challenging a voting-restrictions law enthusiastically embraced by Trump protege Gov. Ron DeSantis. As reported on by CNN, officials and aides in secretary of state offices in Arizona and other states targeted by Trump’s effort to overturn the election are living in constant terror for their own lives and for their families. There are no budgets to monitor threats, or protect them; no systems to fully investigate or back these folks up. After a year of constant threats including specific ones citing details, these officials and aides are at risk of these threats of violence only intensifying going into the election.
Returning to the January 6 fatal coup attempt and the Republi-fascists’ continued slow coup, we learned from a report in the Washington Post that John Eastman, the Trump lawyer who infamously authored what many are referring to as “the coup memo,” sent an email to Greg Jacob, a Pence aide, reading “The ‘siege’ is because YOU and your boss did not do what was necessary to allow this to be aired in a public way so that the American people can see for themselves what happened.” The email was sent as both Pence and Jacob were hunkered down in a “secure area”, under armed guard, due to the still-raging siege of the capitol — which featured gallows and gunned up pro-Trump zealots calling for Pence’s execution. The exchange shows just how far Eastman and other members of Trump’s “War Room” team went in their quest to overturn the will of American voters in order to keep Trump in power, and exposes the rifts that formed even before the smoke cleared and Trump supporters were still milling about the Capitol building.
Hunter Walker at Rolling Stone detailed how two of those insurrectionists are communicating with House investigators on the January 6 Commission, expected to testify to close communication between insurrection organizers and GOP senators and representatives to coordinate January 6, promises of a “blanket pardon” from the Oval Office, and much more. Meanwhile Sarah Mimms at Buzzfeed reported how at least 12 participants in the January 6 coup attempt will be running for office on the Republican ticket this Tuesday, less than a year after trying to overthrow the last election. The candidates include state legislators running for reelection, as well as local officials and candidates seeking statehouse seats. Lastly, Tucker Carlson shared the trailer of his truly horrific and sickening “documentary,” a high production value turbo-charged deadly delusional whitewashing of the attempted deadly fascist coup as a false flag operation. This will be released tomorrow on Fox Nation, Fox’s streaming service.
We are continuing over 18 months since the start of the pandemic to have hoards of people living and dying with this morally sick and the actual sickening spread of the virus in their refusal to vaccinate. Just look at the protests of NYPD and NYFD against vaccinate mandates, declaring their right to be an asshole trumping your right to live, especially if you are a person of color. As Andy Zee, co-initiator of Refuse Fascism and host of the RNL Show on Youtube, said in a program we held on COVID last December in regards to the fascist “belief system” that it is “buttressed by twin pillars of American chauvinism that refuses to look at the history and present-day reality of the U.S., which has put this country in vampire position of sucking the life blood of the rest of the world.” He went on to say that, “Buttressing this is an epistemology in which facts are subordinated to their desire to benefit themselves and take revenge upon those whom they believe stand in the way of their further gorging.”
One of the things I continue to appreciate about Andy’s presentation almost a year later is his challenge for us also to look at the epistemology of progressives who were outraged at Trump/Pence but refused to acknowledge it as a fascist regime and to act against in the only way it could truly be defeated: through sustained nonviolent protest. He said about these liberals something I think is essential, that they “may be made uncomfortable by confronting the reality that their complacency, and putting their faith in the institutions and normal political processes, particularly the Democratic Party, is also based on the reality of living atop the food chain of capitalism-imperialism.” You can listen to the program from last December COVID: A Case Study with Life & Death Stakes: Science, Epistemology, Conspiracy & Fascism by checking out episode 34 of our podcast.
But now it’s with great excitement that I share my conversation with Gregg Gonsalves. In the beginning of the pandemic, and as a hallmark of the growing fascism which we are confronting even before this, we have been confronted with a wholesale demonization of any form of expertise in science itself. When the value of objective truth and reasoning are desecrated, we are left with a value of brute force, money and power. Not just individuals but whole sections of society are taken in by unbelievable lies. In a moment where the only way to ignore the vast amounts of debt and extreme suffering is to cover your eyes and plug your ears, we have people wearing their vaccine refusal and mask refusal as a badge of honor. The willful violence and terror of continuing to spread this disease is no less real for its buffoonishness. It is a form, in my opinion, of white rage.
It’s in this moment, where I’m really excited to talk to Greg Gonzalves, who is a national public health correspondent for The Nation, is co-director of the Global Health Justice partnership, and assistant professor of epidemiology at the Yale School of Public Health. Not only is he all these things, but his experience and work with Act Up is exactly what people need to be learning from now. I’ve been reading Gregg’s work for a while and his recent piece on the role that American exceptionalism and American mythology play in hamstringing collective response to a pandemic, really got my attention. I’m really excited to welcome Gregg. Thanks for joining us.
Gregg Gonsalves 11:49
Thanks for having me.
Sam Goldman 11:51
I wanted to start with something that you wrote in your piece for the Nation that I believe was a presentation that you gave originally. The article, for those listening, is “America As a Shining City on a Hill and Other Myths to Die By,” and it will be in the show notes. In it Greg wrote, “Perhaps it’s time to put myths aside. To face the world we actually live in, not the world we aspire to, there is a task before us: the work of undigging; digging out of our history, not to leave it behind, but to excavate it, display it for what it is, to learn its lessons and recognize how it can be deadlier than any virus.” I’m wondering if you can talk to us about what do you think we need to be excavating in particular. What part of our history needs to be fully confronted?
Gregg Gonsalves 12:40
I think we have to go back deeply into history to understand our present. Specifically, in my mind, the nature of how we have developed our systems of health care, public health and social protection. Jeneen Interlandi, who’s an editorial writer, wrote a piece in The New York Times 1619 issue, which said, “Why doesn’t the U.S. have national health care — it has everything to do with race.” That piece was published before the pandemic. It had a profound influence on me because it started to tell the pieces of history that appear in my Nation article that I had no idea even happened. The smallpox epidemic after the Civil War, which basically got written out of history, was in there. She talks about how at the turn of the Civil War, turning a blind eye to the smallpox epidemic, was about a set of theories of Black extinction — that there were people who were inferior who didn’t deserve our help, and even if they did, they were constitutionally unable to survive in the in the modern world. The idea that providing health care, providing services to freed slaves, was not an investment needed to be made. She also talks in a piece about a woman physician, Rebecca Crumpler, who said every disease has a diagnosis and has an underlying pathology. Rebecca Crumpler basically says we have to excavate those causes; what’s happening in the American South and other places that she worked needs to be subject to scrutiny to understand what’s going on.
Every affliction has a cause. My friend Amy Kaczynski, from the law school here at Yale, and I started writing about the epidemic in Boston Review last year. We were confronting two streams of American history that really got us into the hole we were in last last year. We didn’t have to end up on the shores of this great catastrophe that we did in 2020 to 2021. A lot of that history is tied to our history of white supremacy, and that history is tied to capitalism over the centuries, but also neoliberalism. It’s a more contemporary form, which left us basically with a fragmented healthcare system, which really has two classes of people: people who can pay for the care they need and get the best services and then people are either uninsured or underinsured. We rely on a public system that isn’t necessarily the best in the world, and then the sort of absolute disgrace of the public health infrastructure in the U.S. Again, it’s a sense of ambivalence that public health, community health is something for others, which means we spend three cents for every dollar we spent on health care and public health, and then to the neoliberalism which drove everything to profit. If you can’t make money on it, what good is it? So we have a top heavy healthcare system, which is about specialty care, not primary care and community care. Then you have a pandemic that shows up and takes advantage of all three of those sort of deficiencies in American society and culture.
Sam Goldman 15:10
Thanks for that. I was reading something in The Lancet recently that really connected with what you were talking about at the end of of what you were just saying. They wrote “U.S. policy continues to frame the pandemic, largely as a matter of individual responsibility to the detriment of public health. As public health professionals and advocates, we call for a renewed commitment to core public health principles of collective responsibility: Health, Equity and Human Rights. Public health implicates government obligations to realize the health of populations, focusing on ‘what we as a society do collectively to assure the conditions for people to be healthy.’ Securing public health does not merely reflect the health of many individual persons, rather a collective public good that is greater than the sum of its parts.” I thought that echoed a lot of what you were saying in terms of the intersection of both the history of the apartheid medical system and the society and capitalism. I was wondering what your thoughts on that are?
Gregg Gonsalves 16:10
Well, we should be delighted more often because Richard Horton, who is the Editor in Chief, wrote a piece last October called Offline COVID-19, A Crisis in Power, and said the struggle for health is a struggle for human dignity, liberty and equity. But we must also meet our obligation to question power and its effects on truth and truth impacts on power. One important strand of public health is the struggle against objection. So you know, it’s straight out of the political playbook that probably you and I could agree on.
Ed Young from The Atlantic, wrote a piece two weeks ago about public health roots and campaigning for social reform, and talks about how at some point medicine captured public health and made it into a technocratic enterprise, and public health was trying to ape and mimic medicine, which is all about healing us as individuals. Public health has the word in the title. It’s about the polis, it’s about the public, it’s about what we owe to each other, and how we keep each other safe. It was amazing to watch the sort of solidarity that happened beginning of the pandemic, in terms of mutual aid and all these sort of ways in which we tried to stay at home if we could afford it to protect each other and protect our families. But we left a lot of people out in the cold: the frontline workers, not just healthcare workers, the grocery store workers, Amazon workers, meatpacking plant employees, people who work in prisons and jails, people who are locked up in prisons and jails.
In a weird sense in 2020, with the absolute capitulation of the Trump administration, we were alone against the virus, as my friend Amy and I wrote and often reviewed. The idea was that we had to do this together, we had to band together to keep ourselves safe. But it became almost a mantra as if the capitulation of the Trump administration — we’re not going to do anything, if we’re going to do something, we’re going to do it badly — became a creed for the Republican Party in its worst form, saying we don’t even have the obligation to get ourselves vaccinated, wear masks. Even things that are long settled, like childhood vaccination. None of us, including every Republican governor, could go to school without a measles-mumps vaccine. Now they’re talking about undermining the childhood vaccination mandate.
I grew up in the Reagan era. That’s how I was formed. Thatcher and Reagan were really about the individual; there’s no such thing as community, about the attacks on welfare queens, and there was no sort of form of social solidarity. I thought that was pretty bad. What’s happened today is all of that on steroids, even to the extent that people are willing to let their constituents die to hang on to a political ideology. I wrote another article in the Nation about the sort of rising COVID infections in the early fall in the Southern states. This is all tied to the history we’re talking about. We were willing to let the smallpox epidemic disappear from history — to ignore it when was happening in the post Civil War era — and we were willing to ignore the COVID pandemic as it raced through the South, because there were completely entrenched economic and social ideologies that we were more beholden to than to our obligation to our fellow human beings. That’s the sort of the idea that we’re a shining city on a hill, that we are the beacon for the world and everybody wants to come here. Yes, if you’d like places where dogs eat dogs.
Sam Goldman 18:58
It’s extremely heavy thinking about how, on the one side, when the pandemic — we were first really aware and in it — I was struck by how genocidal it seemed, and I knew that with the Trump regime in power, there was not going to be any rush to the prisons, to the detention centers that they packed our migrant siblings in, or to the communities that were being ravaged the most, which were Black people they would easily kill off and not care. I remember being deeply struck by the mass dehumanization — if people need to be disposed, so be it. Keep the economy running. I remember I was very inspired by Act Up and was part with my husband and some friends and started dropping body bags at Trump properties. Then I remember there being this shift in noticing that they would kill their own; that all these unvaccinated white folk will also die and they are Trump supporters. I remember being very confused by why those same people who are supporting Trump were against a vaccine that Trump played a hand in. I was wondering if you had any thoughts on that dynamic?
Gregg Gonsalves 20:18
Well, if you remember the book “What’s the Matter with Kansas,” people vote against their interest all the time. Sociologists and political scientists have suggested that what the Republican Party nowadays offers is status and a tribal belonging. Lee Atwater said this in the old days: we can’t talk about race anymore, but we can talk about special rights and who’s deserving and undeserving, and our people will hear the dog whistle and know that you were basically saying, white makes right, and that the threat to you is not from Ron DeSantis or Greg Abbott, it’s from your neighbors who look different than you, who love different than you, or believe differently. This has been a strong sort of tribal identification and collective brainwashing, that puts people into just enormous danger for their own families and their friends as they walk into the full force of the epidemic in communities that are under-vaccinated and refuse to mask. For all the ones that have these deathbed conversions, knowing if I know what I know now, well, the point is that for all the ones that we hear the stories of, there are plenty who are just dying quietly and still believing what they were told on Fox News the night when they went into the hospital.
We have a whole culture that’s been built up over the past, all of my adult life, basically, that’s pushed us away from each other from any collective responsibility to our brothers and sisters. Tony Jett wrote a book in 2010, before he died of ALS, called Ill Fears the Land, and says, you’ve made a virtue out of selfishness. In over the past 40 years, you’re talking really about the Reagan-Thatcher era. After that, we’d need to learn the important political questions again: Is a law or policy good? Or is it just to tell people we have to learn those questions again, he says in this book. So what’s been happening to the U.S. has been remarked upon way before the COVID pandemic, but we’ve never been able to politically organize to get us out of this hellscape that the second decade through the decade of the century is turning into.
Sam Goldman 22:04
I spoke this summer with Wajahat Ali who made a really good point that I found echoed in your Nation piece. I’d like to hear more, and what you think of this. In talking about the Trumpist true believers, he said, “If given a choice between renting a room to a person of color or burning down the house, they will choose to burn down the village, they will die for whiteness.” Do you think that’s accurate? And where do you see this going from here, especially in relation to the collective, not individual people’s decisions, but as a larger group?
Gregg Gonsalves 22:39
Well, there’s a whole book called Dying of Whiteness. It’s about the same phenomenon you’re talking about. “I’d rather cling to sort of a white racist identity than think that I have anything to do with anybody else, whether it’s my neighbor, the person down the street, or the person across the country from me if I consider them outside of the fold.” It doesn’t necessarily have to do with race. It could be to do with sexuality or gender. It can do with class. This is the kind of narrow tribalism that the Republican Party has become genius at, but now into a cult like form, and sort of an audio- homeo- genocide sort of form. It’s like we’re willing to kill our own and do it in the context of states we preside over, just because we’ve drunk the Kool Aid in addition to the one we’re serving to our constituents.
Sam Goldman 23:22
An it’s coupled with if we need to sacrifice some for this larger goal, so be it.
Gregg Gonsalves 23:29
Yeah, a piece I read about the American South, they said you have to break some eggs to make an omelet, right? This is exactly what they think.
Sam Goldman 23:36
I think that we’re that we’re seeing that in Florida and Texas very clearly. In the iconic fascist regimes of the past, those that people know, and among many of the most notorious fictional dystopias, the state is all-controlling. But, in my opinion, part of the cruelty of America is in its contrived neglect. The Nazis would kill you, but given the choice, America would rather let you die. It’s part of the contract of the deserving and undeserving, or at least they make it seem that way. We’re conditioned to believe that this is somehow better in this moment, with the pandemic and global warming and cascading crisis on top of another. I was wondering about your thoughts on where you see this going?
Gregg Gonsalves 24:19
It’s interesting because there’s a lot of debates about whether Trump is a proto fascist or a fascist, because then it goes to the comparisons to the worst excesses of the 20th century and Hitler and Mussolini and the rest. We can just look at the present and not analogize and realize it’s just this horrific dystopian realization of lots of kinds of things — white supremacy, neoliberalism, capitalism. As you said, in many fascist states, the state is all powerful. Here, the state is all powerful only in the context of the military, the police and the carceral system.
In other forms, the state is completely weakened and hobbled, so that it provides nothing to many other people. If you’re in Black and brown communities, you may be over-policed, but if you’re in a poor Appalachian community, you may have nothing, very little contact with any sort of part of the state whatsoever in terms of the ability to help you. That was part of the game, right? The game is like the state can’t do any good for you, so you don’t need it. Reagan said the nine most scariest words in the English language are: “I’m here from the government and I’m here to help.” The whole idea is to demonize government in its reform and its social responsibilities and in its idea that it needs to regulate the economy so that we don’t have elites stripping the state for its assets. We collapse the state into a sort of basically policing military infrastructure with nothing else.
Sam Goldman 25:29
And do you see this, this changing?
Gregg Gonsalves 25:32
My friend Amy Kaczynski and I are trying to figure out if we can write a book, and trying to think about how do we move toward the politics of care, which we wrote about in the authoring of a few pieces in 2020, two springs ago. Time is all strange now. I keep thinking of it as last spring, but it’s the spring before. Part of leftist thinking over the past several decades is that we get to the promised land and everything’s gonna be fine. That he will feel the bern, and Bernie will be elected, and all our problems will be solved. I voted for Bernie, so I’m not making a criticism. But the point is, we have an ongoing struggle to make.
Even if we get good elected leaders into place, even if we had a democratic socialist House of Representatives, we’re still going to have a struggle to face on an ongoing basis. The idea is like there’s a famous — I actually quote it in the Nation article — It’s not your job to finish the work, but neither are you allowed to neglect it. It’s from old Jewish philosophy and religious documents. The point is that the future is building out something that we think is better, not with an idea that we are going to get to a point where we’ve overthrown the Trumpists and the Republican Party and everything’s gonna be fine and dandy.
We’re going to always have an ongoing struggle about people who believe in the virtues of selfishness, and that they don’t have any responsibilities to other people. We have to keep building a society that we want to live in. It’s going to be a struggle we pass on to our children and our grandchildren, and not think of it as sort of a thing that we can solve with “revolution.” It ends up making us into sort of strange utopians that are mirrored in the Republican Party, that all we need to do is get Trump back into the White House or do this or that, and then we will be free. We’re not going to be free, ever, into the context of our own struggle against our fellow men and women, because we’re not always going to think alike. So Act Up was great. [? editor] did some good things. Frances Fox Piven writes the history of social movements, the labor movement, the women’s movement, all these things. These cycles ebb and flow.
How do we sustain the 60-year old struggles since Goldwater that the American right has put together that has been relentless? The right reorganized after Goldwater’s defeat, and all through my lifetime has basically chalked up victory after victory, and now it’s at a level where it’s just, you know, they’re eating their own. But where is our infrastructure that could start with somebody who’s born today can wake up in 50 years and say, there’s been this 50 year campaign to make us into a freer, fairer place? I don’t see that happening. I see us atomized and working on different issues. I see us clinging to electoral politics, while some people are saying no, don’t even deal with it, it’s totally corrupt by money, you can’t do anything. At some point, we have to pull everybody together and say: “Look, I don’t know what it is, but we you know we are losing badly.” Should we have Trump 2.0, Ron DeSantis, or somebody smarter than him in the White House, turn out the lights and say goodbye? Because I don’t know what will be unleashed should they regain control of the Congress and the White House again. It’d be really spectacularly awful.
Sam Goldman 28:20
There’s so much that I unite with. What you’re saying about the deep danger that we face and the do or die moment for humanity. What you’re saying gets me at my core about “Look at the fascists.” Look at those most detached from reality, from humanity, and how they are able to marshal their force and sense of purpose, and remake the world in their image, if you will. And those who are the most decent are the most paralyzed, in my opinion. Those who have a sense of humanity, of justice are completely paralyzed. In my opinion, it does have something to do with seeing the role that they play in a very limited fashion; limited to what I see as what people deem the politics of the possible.
While I don’t think we can wave a magic wand and create a utopia, I do think that so long — and again, this is my personal opinion, not the opinion of everyone in Refuse Fascism, let alone all you listeners — but I do think that so long is there is a system that’s based on exploitation and oppression, the way that we relate to each other, the way that we treat each other, the way that we see ourselves, and what we’re out for in the world, all that morality is shaped by the system. So long is that we’re operating based on ruthless accumulation of wealth and capital, I think that does irrevocable harm on all our social relations and the way that that we treat each other, and I do think personally, I do think we need a revolution. I don’t think that’s something we’re gonna go out and do tomorrow.
I don’t think that we’re anywhere near the revolutionary crisis that would need to exist, but I do think that we’re at a crossroads right now. Radical change is coming, and I think that the danger right now is that it will be a radical change that is further enslaving, a radical change that puts that the Trumps in power and turns back the clock for anyone that isn’t them. That scares me to my core, but I do think that there is great potential in all the people who came into the streets around George Floyd. I think that there’s great potential in all the people that are younger than me, largely the people that are younger than me that are like: We’re not going to have a planet to live on! There’s not going to be a livable future. There’s certain things that give me hope for people lifting their heads to think about what are we doing for the future for humanity. But I do think that so long as we confine ourselves to the politics of the possible, we’re going to keep living the politics of contrast, and accepting things that we shouldn’t accept. Again, those are just some of my personal thoughts.
Gregg Gonsalves 31:00
But I think when I talked about the history that we started with, we were going back further. We have a legacy that started when the first boats landed here from Europe. We’re not just talking about fixing what happened when Reagan was elected President. We’re talking about much, much further back into our history. That’s why the people on the right hate the 1619 project, because it says this is 400 years of built0-in oppression. So, what are we going to do step by step to get us to a better world? Maybe in 100 years we’ll be closer to the place that you and I would be happy with.
I want to know what we do now. Part of the work I’ve been thinking of lately has been around the new politics of care and how that’s not just about preparing for the next pandemic, but it’s actually honoring Black lives, which were in jeopardy before the pandemic and not just from police violence. There were tens of thousands of excess deaths among African Americans, due to disparities in health that we’ve had for decades upon decades. How do we deal with these things? From my own field of health, how do we ensure decent education for people above a living wage, paid family, all these things we need to do? How do we get a platform together where Refuse Fascism and the Liberal Democrats — let’s put those at the two ends of the spectrum — to be united together to make this happen?
Sam Goldman 32:06
I wanted to close out our conversation with turning back to the pandemic that we are still in. In case anybody thought something different, we’re still in it. As someone who works in a school, we are still really in it. Talking with people, you hear the next pandemic conversation and people are like, WHAT? I know that on the one hand, it’s like talking about the next pandemic when you’re still very much in something can be difficult for people, but I’ve been thinking about how asking if we’re ready for the next pandemic is like getting ready for the next Trump coup. The great majority are actively refusing to look at what got us here. Most of those people are refusing to take any meaningful action that would come out of that investigation. How do you think that, right now people of conscience… what role do we play? There’s what those empowered you to prepare for next pandemic, but what do people of conscience, what role do we play?
Gregg Gonsalves 33:06
I read somewhere that infectious diseases will always be with us, but pandemics, epidemics, are man-made human made creations. I think we have total control over what happens in the pandemic. People of conscience have different spheres in which they can operate. First of all, local public health. So many people are fleeing local public health because we’re being harassed, threats of violence, they’re paid terribly. Health Departments are like: Okay, this week, we’ll do vaccinations because we only have two people, so we can’t do testing and vaccination, and restaurant inspections, forget about those… It’s about figuring out how to build up local public health. That means holding mayors and city councils to account, and then you go up the chain, because we need to rebuild Public Health from the ground up. It’s been deeply under-invested in, and we need to think of that.
But, health isn’t just the public health infrastructure. In public health schools, you learn about the social determinants of health. Education, taxation, policing all have something to do with health. These are all things that you can control locally. You don’t think the school board or the police accountability board is important? Or you may think it’s important, but it’s not health related. It’s all health related. There’s a play called Angels in America about the AIDS epidemic that Tony Kushner wrote in the 1990s. At the end of the play, they’re all around Bethesda Fountain in New York, and the angel Bethesda tells the story in the play. Her foot touched the ground in Jerusalem in a spring and waters were pouring out, and if you dip your foot in that spring you were healed from whatever ailed you.
At the end of the play, Prior Walters is around this statue, memorializing the angel Bethesda in Central Park and says: “We won’t die secret deaths anymore. The world only spins forward. We will be citizens.” In a sense, people of conscience need to think about the big thoughts, about the things we’ve been discussing, about social movements and the nature of human nature and revolutions. We could also think about people’s sphere of influence. We can change the world. ACT UP showed we can we can make a difference. We can make a difference really, really close to home. I do think like there are struggles playing out in terms of access to basic health services and social services and social support in our own communities.
I’m not saying you should be a volunteer and that mutual aid is the solution, but we can hold our local leaders to account. That is like the bare minimum. It’s also something that like: oh, I can’t go to Washington to go to that protest. You don’t have to go to Washington. Walk down the block, go to your city hall, run for elected office, pester your local representatives, because the changes that are happening on the national level are all important and great, but public health plays out at the local level. This is the way public health operates in United States. CDC is a technical advisory body. Governors and mayors dictate the rules of the game in public health. So, people of conscience have a lot of power at the local level to put a counterweight. Think of all the public health powers that are being rolled out, rolled back, and state after state. The attacks on public health workers from the reopen Virginia, reopen Michigan crowd, and the people who run DeSantis and Greg Abbott and others you’re egging on.
Be the counterweight, support public health in a very direct way, and try to make it a priority for your mayoral election. I was reading a piece that a friend of mine wrote about the New York City mayor elections, and about Rikers Island. He is hell bent on putting that onto the agenda for the next mayor. You can be in a small town and have things to think about carceral reform. There’s all these things you could do at a local level. Really, I think that’s where you start to build power. That’s where people of conscience can start every day they wake up.
Sam Goldman 36:17
Thank you so much, Greg, for taking the time to chat with us. If you’re a listener, and you want to read the article that we talked about, it’s gonna be in the show notes, along with the link to where you can follow Greg on Twitter. Are there any other works or places where people can read you, or things you want to direct people to? I just wanted to give you an opportunity to share that.
Gregg Gonsalves 36:38
Yeah. Amy Kaczynski and I wrote in The Boston Review last spring. All those essays are online: Alone Against the Virus, Markets Versus Lives and New Policy Care. The Nation articles as well. We’re talking about Myths to Die By, I just wanted to let your listeners know that it was part of the Alan Berkman lecture at Columbia University. Alan Berkman was a physician who spent time in jail because he was a physician who treated some of the people who were involved in the Brinks robbery and the radical protests in the 1970s. Alan was a deeply committed progressive physician activist. If you don’t know a lot about his slides, there’s a biography of Alan that people can read and a link at the bottom of The Nation article.
Sam Goldman 37:15
Thanks again so much for sharing your expertise and perspective. I know that I learned a lot and I’m sure my listeners did as well
Gregg Gonsalves 37:21
Sam Goldman 37:22
The fascists unrelenting, 50-year long game plan, push has been possible, in my opinion, not because they were smarter or more strategic. It’s because their methods and goals aligned with the system we live under and the way that such a system is able to confront the crises that they face today. Which tells us two things: 1) We need to break our resistance to fascism out of the confines, norms, institutions and limits of the system. 2) Ultimately we need to overthrow this system. I’ve heard the same line of “let’s start a long term strategy that starts at the school boards and local offices and works our way up…” for the 20 years I’ve been involved in this struggle, and my older comrades have heard it for much longer. But the fact is we are at a moment where we can’t fuck around with that much longer because if we kick off our doomed 50-year strategy now, it’ll be difficult to take the time to assess its failure under water between the category 7 hurricanes.
But it’s not only global warming. All of this is in relation to crises that are bigger than mere public opinion — crises rooted in how our society is structured at its most basic level — all just as real as global warming, if not always as obvious. This is not a reason to give up, but to look deeper into how we can truly get free and break free of the constraints of respectable dissent. On November 1 oral arguments will be hemard at the Supreme Court in a case challenging Texas’s abortion ban. Be part of making noise for abortion rights & access in Texas and across the U.S., loud and proud Abortion on Demand and Without Apology. In the Name of Humanity, We Refuse to Accept a Fascist America. You can join protests 9AM protests outside SCOTUS building in D.C. Visit Center for Reproductive Rights for more information. Womens March has announced protests: Everywhere 6:00 pm, local courthouses, wear green. Tag us in your photos and video @RefuseFascism.
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