The Long Haul

Right now, my thoughts are with the long haulers and the way the personal is always political but often in surprising ways.

Two weeks or so ago, I attended a meeting organised by my doctors for people they call the COVID-19 long haulers. These are people who have supposedly recovered, but from the call, it was clear that they need high levels of support, rehabilitation and perhaps a whole new approach to healing. Many of those who suffered moderate to serious C19 symptoms now have to reckon with the damage this virus wrought in unanticipated ways. They are in it for the long haul.

My journey to this meeting started five years ago when suddenly I couldn’t breathe. My lungs were gripped by a deep, stubborn inflammation whose cause was never diagnosed. Since then, it has been a struggle to find my breath and balance as the simplest everyday activities required ridiculous levels of management supervised by teams of doctors. Only now, after all this time, my medical team thinks I might have had an early version of C19 because my symptoms had such a strong resemblance to this disease. Be that as it may, the doctors thought my presence might be useful to the long haulers because, well, I have been doing the long haul.

I don’t know about that, but I know this personal journey has been and has become political in at least two ways. Firstly, the struggle to maintain a sense of wholeness and possibilities of well-being while managing lungs and the feeling of being choked is perhaps the struggle of all us politically right now. An issue-based approach is not going to cut it. Whether we are working on access to water or land or against violence, we have to look at the health of our political society as a whole. The only way we can make sense of this moment is to treat it as an invitation to remake completely a world that is being devastated by pandemics, unsustainable economic systems, and structural violence.

Secondly, if we are going to accept this invitation, then we are in it for the long haul. The work of organising, popular education, and movement building is critically important. It is this work that sustains the displays of public protest that visibly challenge and change the system. The slog work, which a friend jokingly calls the slug work, is about organising street-by-street, block-by-block, and neighbourhood-by-neighbourhood paves the way for the slow growth that allows people to seize the political opportunities when they arise.

That is what happened with the #BlackLivesMatter work in some ways. People are at a place where they are calling to defund the police and actually making inroads on that agenda. The moment has been fed by years of careful organising: on the ground, door-to-door, street-by-street, community-by-community. In this moment, we can be bold and shift things at the levels of narrative, policy, and hearts and minds. But yes, we also never forget the people on the long haul, who made this moment of free breath possible.