A camp of common care

27 / 8 / 2020

The Black Lives Matter mobilisations in the USA and those in Chile, Lebanon, and – even more recently – Belarus have broken the monotony of those demonstrations (some substantial, but most ephemeral) invoking a supposed freedom not to believe in the existence of the Covid-19 pandemic that have lately captured the attention of global media. Such demonstrations hold together those who believe that the defence of public health is not a valid reason to slow down economic growth, old-time conspiration theorists and anti-vaxxers, nationalists and racists convinced that the best remedy is their blood lineage. All behind their respective leaders – who are often aged white men that before catching the virus (and even after, as they are granted access to the best healthcare) hail the pandemic with youthful enthusiasm as the “hygiene of the world”. This (not so) diverse galaxy has one common denominator: the defence of capitalist proprietary individualism, an individualism that in the time of globalisation has rediscovered its link to ethnical identity as the main prop to the status quo, an unequal society, patriarchal, racialised, atomised, anesthetised in regard to the need for change. A conservative spirit that is alive even among those who, with similar eagerness, see the virus as a mere health problem to be treated within an emergency framework that opens the way to a technocratic governance and has as its only response norms of “social distancing”, individual behaviours or, even worse, lifestyles. 

The challenge of Venice Climate Camp is to overthrow this dichotomic order of discourse and this phenomenology of the health crisis that sees it as aseptic and separate from the contradictions that built over time the relationship between capital, nature, and life. The emergency management of the Covid-19 crisis, with its chaotic series of governmental decrees, was hopeless in averting what turned out to be an unsurprising but epoch-making failure of neoliberalism in the face of the pandemic. We are talking about the protection of the universal right to health that, eight months after the first alarm by the World Health Organisation, does not seem to represent a priority neither to the European Union nor to the Italian government and local administrations. We have not seen any major investment in public healthcare and research, nor any U-turn on privatisation, not even the possibility to generalise prevention measures and mass access to tests. At the same time, the most basic preventive mechanisms are not in place in many workplaces, with the latter being a major vector of contagions during these months.

In the present conjuncture, to speak about the gravity of the health crisis means understanding it as a key terrain of social and political struggle. It is not through “social distancing” and the messianic wait for a vaccine that Covid-19 can be defeated and its social effects mitigated. Only by overthrowing the current balance of power can we imagine a structural change of the healthcare system to turn health into a common.

Yet, in order to do this, all the corporeality of social movements is necessary. We need to secure our possibility to meet, organise assemblies, refuse bans on political actions, beginning from the Venice Climate Camp. This is not motivated by an ideological fetish, but by the crucial importance of social conflict in a historical process geared towards abolishing the conditions that produced the current pandemic, starting from the dismantling of the public healthcare system that resulted in a literal massacre of the most vulnerable.

We have repeated it many times during these months: Covid-19 is not a godly punishment or a trick of fate. The “liberation” of new viruses and their speed of circulation are linked to the aggressiveness of capitalist extractivism – in the constant search for the appropriation of new domains for the purposes of value accumulation – and to capitalist logistics moving relentlessly commodities and people for the sake of profit in the hands of a small number of individuals, as well as the increasing exploitation of growing dispossessed masses. But neoliberalism (with its asymmetries along race, gender, and species lines) is not only responsible for an increased risk of pandemics but also for the dismantling of infrastructures of care. To make a long story short, a privatised and classist healthcare system is unable to respond to an emergency like the one we are living, and actually makes it worse.

To back this statement, we could mention several examples such as the USA catastrophe, but we will stick to Italy here. The “Lombardy model” (widely imitated in many other Italian regions) crumbled because public resources had been diverted towards the private sector. Hospital beds were reduced, and the territorialised health infrastructure was weakened in favour of large hospitals (unable to meet the needs of different local communities) that turned out to be massive hotspots for the virus. Obviously, we are criticising here systemic dynamics and not the generosity of healthcare workers, first in line when the virus seemed to be unstoppable. 

The scandal of care homes and the massacre of “our old ones”, of the elderly and the sick (many of whom were deprived of the status of full subjects for having lost physical or mental self-sufficiency) are a hideous symptom, similar to (although not the same as) the necropolitics of migration policies with their most violent racialisation of our society, which is now hitting home for the first time, impacting significantly upon white Italian citizens. It goes without saying that there are huge differences between the two phenomena: the current massacre of migrants is juridically planned and ideologically justified to safeguard the asymmetries put in place by colonial modernity. The same cannot be said about our care homes, and yet this issue puts under the spotlight a political rationality that leads to a choice over who can and must be left to die, rather than biopolitical action on how life should be lived (in pandemic times, on how life should be healed). To such necropolitics we must respond with a new biopolitics of care, care of the self, of communities, and of the world.

With only a few days left before the Venice Climate Camp, we are seeing also in Italy a new rise in the curve of infections, which makes it even more important that the event take place in conditions of high safety for all. Now more than ever, conflict and care must be understood as inextricably intertwined. It is impossible to think them as separated and we cannot build this symbiosis without a physical space to discuss, organise, and shape our political action. 

With this in mind, we have thoroughly assessed the material conditions to hold the Camp in the area that we had formerly identified in Venice Lido, to see if they met the criteria of the full safeguard of collective health and wellbeing. As a result of such assessment, we have decided to move the event to the Rivolta Social Centre (via Fratelli Bandiera 45, Porto Marghera), a space fully equipped and suitable to guarantee all the personal and collective protection equipment that we will deploy. Safeguarding Venice Climate Camp and its community means in the first place protecting a key political hub for social movements, a gathering against the conditions that made the emergence and diffusion of the virus possible and that undermined the necessary care. 

There is no environmental revolution without an end to extractivism and full healthcare for all, beginning from the most vulnerable, but at the same time it is not possible to carry out radical political organising today without breaking the equation collective health = “social distancing”. To this we respond with a different equation, collective health = common care. What is common care? In the case of the Camp, it is the capacity of a temporary community to be together safely, a capacity developed not through a disciplinary dispositif of self-isolation but through the deployment of behaviours and practices inspired not by individualism but by the common.