The Medicine of Social and Ecological Belonging in Metro Detroit During the Covid-19 Pandemic

by | May 7, 2020 | awakening the dream, our work, writing

Detroit Protesters  |  Photo, Jena Brooker

When warnings of the coming pandemic arrived on local news, I thought initially that lockdown might allow me to finally make progress on certain lingering projects – but this morning, while shoveling compost, I noticed I’m doing other things. Unknowingly, seemingly naturally, I’m leaning into projects that feel right for this moment.

Always, but especially in these times of urgency and loss, I believe that it’s important for us to commit to actions that make us feel well, because the worlds we imagine and build will form the bones of future realities.

For me that means participating in mutual aid projects, working in the garden and spending time connecting with nature nearby.

 
 
Wellness Action 1
Mutual Aid As Solidarity, Not Charity:
The Benevolent Anarchy of Improvised Socialism

 

Before the chaos of the pandemic hit the metro Detroit area, I had already begun a friendly collaboration with Justin Onwenu and Lauren Schandevel, attempting to build solidarity between Oakland, Macomb, and Wayne Counties around issues of environmental justice. Metro Detroit is extremely segregated in terms of race, class. Historically, the environmental injustice experienced by Detroiters has been met with complacency by suburban residents. One recent recurrence of corporate neglect, which resulted in extraordinary environmental pollution across municipal boundaries  reaffirmed the need to forge new alliances across lines of race and class in order to push for state-level policy changes and to shift cultural awareness of the unequal distribution of environmental harm.

 

Bridget Quinn, Justin Onwenu, Lauren Schandevel, January 22, 2020.

Then the Covid-19 pandemic gripped our attention.

We scurried to figure out how to adapt to the rapidly changing circumstances of everyday life in the pandemic, quickly seeing its magnification of race and class inequities in metro Detroit  and across the globe. 

When the Pandemic hit, Lauren Schandevel immediately set up a Facebook group called Metro-Detroit Covid-19 Support and invited Justin and me and a few others to help moderate the page. It quickly became an active place for people to share resources and ask for help – with childcare, food, supplies, masks, money, educational resources for kids, assistance with filing for unemployment, and more. My contribution has been small in comparison to those contributing on the frontline; as an admin I simply help to maintain this new commons, filtering distracting posts, staying focused on the core purpose of sharing resources, and connecting people on the page.

Screenshot from Metro-Detroit COVID-19 Support Facebook Page

As a white suburbanite currently residing in a working-class area of Macomb County, I’ve witnessed the racism, classism, and extreme dysfunction of local Facebook groups (City of Warren Political Page, I’m looking at you!). Yet what I’m seeing happen on the Metro-Detroit Covid-19 Support Facebook page, with its tri-County participation, is something that makes me feel more hopeful. Admittedly we have had to delete awful comments at times, but we remain committed to maintaining a virtual social space that elevates acts of generosity and civic cooperation that people need.

What I see happening is a benevolent anarchy, an improvised socialism, softening the entrenched political stances that oftentimes keep people from seeing each other’s humanity.

People are asking for and receiving help with housing, food, and other basic needs. People who are able are organizing around sharing their stimulus checks. 

Another side effect of this virtual commons maintenance has been this feeling of being held by my community – I can’t overstate the importance of that feeling to my personal wellbeing in these uncertain times.

 Lauren Schandevel’s seedlings, grown from gifted seeds (Photo by Lauren Schandevel)

In response to a long history of structural racism and disinvestment in BIPOC (B lack, Indigenous, People of Color) communities, Detroit has developed deep networks of mutual care – the We The People of Detroit water justice movement being one notable example. These networks of care are responding to the life-or-death threats faced by people of color living in a racist society. Could white folks in the suburbs – many of whom hold deep-seated beliefs in individual and not collective responsibility, isolated nuclear family structures, competitive economics, and white supremacist ideologies which exacerbate the unequal distribution of harm and resources – be waking up to what collective care looks like?

In an op-ed titled Detroiters Lack Privilege To Distance Socially,  Yusef Bunchy Shakur points out, “Black Detroiters have been organizing resistance to corporate greed, violence and oppression for nearly a century. If we want to prevent this from happening in the future, white America must not keep Black people at a social distance ever again.” The tri-County Metro-Detroit Covid-19 Support page is an externalization of both need and care, inviting everyone into a deeper sense of connection, belonging, and responsibility. Our well-being and liberation have always been directly connected to each others’.

Could this crisis, and virtual spaces like the Metro Detroit Covid-19 Support page help white suburbanites see beyond race and class silos and help us wake up and act collectively in accordance with this fact? I continue to ask myself, how can I help as an agent in that process? How can I live in deep alignment with my values? Right now, community care and self care feel very much entwined.

 

Wellness Action 2
Connecting With Nature and Gardening:
From Social Distancing To Bio-Regionality

As I shovel compost into my expanding garden, I feel anxiety dissolve. The physical work, the biophilic effect of contacting soil and sunlight, the wonder of being involved with the lives of plants and animals – these are tremendous sources of personal well-being. As with mutual aid, this backyard wilderness gives me an enormous sense of belonging, revealing to me that the very foundation of social belonging is in fact ecological. Our current health crisis reveals that we are irrevocably ecologically connected to each other and that this ecological connectedness can, and must, serve as the very basis of our social belonging.

We all have something to give. Capitalism and techno-industrial growth have driven production at an enormous scale, and consequently the pandemic has crippled them at a commensurate scale.  Our need to rely upon local and regional trade networks is becoming increasingly clear. Some businesses in Detroit are adapting to meet these needs – shifting from making cars and trucks to masks and ventilators. 

Individuals, artists, and craftspeople have transitioned to making all sorts of colorful masks to help keep our communities safer during this tragic time. Local families are returning to their spring gardens with renewed vigor, finding sustenance in their everyday, nearby ecologies. Trading seeds and tips with one another. Bartering for supplies and asking for guidance.

Now, as I savor time outside with the rowdy cardinals, the overgrown lawn, the returning natives, and the medicinal weeds, I see these activities not as leisure nor luxury. These are acts of political imagination, healing, and solidarity with neighbors, including – by consequence – distant people and ecologies that I may never meet. Could a gardening and local food renaissance brought on by supply chain disruptions incrementally lessen our collective dependence on industrial agriculture and wage slavery? This is a big hope that I can’t bear not to indulge in, given the scale of damage done. 

On a more modest personal level I hope to be in community with others who will share the food that we grow and things we make.

 

Wellness Praxis:
Experiencing the Covid-19 Pandemic in Metro Detroit will change me forever.

Some of the things I knew on a cognitive level are now being felt in my whole body, with every fiber of my being. My whole being now knows that my personal well being is completely interdependent on the wellbeing of my community – both social and ecological.

 

Grace Lee Boggs said, “Another world is possible.” She was right, and we are building other worlds each day with each action we take. I think if I am doing it right, I will feel moments of deep alignment between heart, mind, body, and my actions in the world. The alignment and reconstitution of these realms signifying a deeper soulful type of wellness that is rarely spoken about yet available to all.

Native plant seeds from my friend Julia Sosin, traded for masks. (Photo by Bridget Quinn)

More from Bridget Quinn: www.bridgetfrancesquinn.com

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We are especially grateful to The Institute for Integrative Health for the visionary, scholarly and material support that makes this project possible.