Categories
Covid-19

All I Wanna Say Is: People Don’t Really Care About COVID-19

Danielle Joanne Clayton is a New York-based writer and freelance editor. Currently, she is a senior at the Eugene Lang College of Liberal Arts majoring in Literary Studies with a Writing Concentration and will be graduating in May 2021. Additionally, she is the Editor-in-Chief and Head Writer of Un-Associated, a faith-based lifestyle media platform created with the sole purpose of helping the youth of today answer one question – who am I? By way of Un-Associated, she has written on a wide array of topics including, but not limited to identity, self-love, faith and social justice to name a few.

2,621,944 people dead (and counting) and yet, some still believe this is a conspiracy. Masks are required in almost all establishments and COVID-19 tests are required before any travel or return to work and some people still believe this is a hoax. Hospitals are at maximum capacity and nursing homes have been evacuated, but people are still throwing wall-to-wall packed parties. We can’t see our air or breath unless it’s just really that cold outside but we don’t dispute it. However, we’ve seen what COVID-19 can and has done. It has killed 2,621,944, it has hospitalized far more, and it has upended life as we knew it, so where is the protestation of its effects? Where does this ignorant and self-serving denial come from? How is it that we are a year into this global pandemic, into Zoom University, into working from home that we still don’t get it? How is COVID-19 still a point of contention and denial? How is it still viewed as anything other than a threat to all our lives and something to take seriously? How could anyone still not see COVID-19 for the danger that it is?

The answer is not as sound as it is obvious and perpetual. It is selfishness and as my father has always said, selfishness is a disease that affects everyone. 

Devoted to or caring only for oneself; concerned primarily with one’s own interests, benefits, welfare, etc., regardless of others is the definition of selfishness, which is just another way to say
We live in a society that only prioritizes that which they are impacted by, and so long as no one in their family has COVID-19, then they’re
impenetrable, and COVID-19 isn’t their problem. Except not only is that way of thinking selfish, but it’s also harmful. Despite having been in this pandemic for a year we are still learning about COVID-19, especially how it spreads, so no one person is exempt from taking precautions just because they haven’t lost a family member or themselves had it. And even after a year of living in what is jokingly now referred to as a panorama, some of us still don’t seem to care about the unpredictability of COVID-19 and the fact that our actions directly impact others, not to mention that again it has already killed millions worldwide. Even after living through this pandemic for a year now, there, for some of us, is an immense lack of a sense of urgency and compassion within. Caution is literally being thrown to the wind for the sake of parties and for what some feel they are being deprived of, which is to say their former lifestyles. But we were all called to change our lives a year ago – each and every one of us, for the safety of each other and even now, a year later, only some of us feel obligated to abide by that mandate, while others of us continue to think of no one but ourselves and thus, are endangering everyone, especially the people we claim to love.

Martin Luther King Jr. once said that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. COVID-19 is a disease and unfortunately, it does what diseases do – it infects, it weakens and it kills but the injustice comes in when there are people who beckon for it with the way they choose to live, when they pretend it doesn’t exist because it hasn’t knocked on their door and taken anyone from their home or inner social circle.

We can no longer live in a world where we only care when it is in our home or impacting the people we love. We want this to be over, to be able to live life the way we used to, but honestly, if and when COVID-19 is no longer a threat, our world will still be forever changed. But that sliver of normalcy we’ve all been craving, the urge to just go outside free of looming disease isn’t going to come any sooner with the parties and the non-masking outings. We can’t be a part of both the solution and the problem. You can’t throw parties, live dangerously, and then also, condemn COVID-19 and the stay-at-home order. COVID-19 is doing what it’s supposed to, unfortunately, but are you? Are we? A year in, you’d think we wouldn’t have to ask these questions, but, collectively, are we doing our part truly? Are we standing 6 feet apart from people? Are we wearing our masks over our noses when we enter establishments and really, everywhere? Are we getting COVID-tested? Are we washing our hands? Are we abiding by the occupancy rate of establishments before we enter?

None of this is hard nor is it intellectually unfathomable but some would argue that it’s inconvenient, that it clashes with their lifestyle, but personally, I think death is much more inconvenient and menacing than any adjustments I may have to make to prevent sickness and in my own body, the bodies of the people I love and people I don’t know, but don’t want to infect either.

My father has also always said, do what you have to do so you could do what you want to do. If we want the freedoms of yesteryear or at the very least, not to have to worry about COVID-19, we have to do our part. Doctors and nurses, they’re doing their part. Scientists are doing their part and all we are asked to do is have some respect for the space between us and another individual, is to keep our noses and mouths covered so we don’t spread germs, is not throw ragers, and is ultimately, to exercise sound judgment, restraint, and empathy. This is not an every man for himself kind of thing and that is the downfall of our society – failing to see that we are in this together, that we need each other, and that our actions impact others. There are far too many lives at stake for any of us to continue to be this selfish, this undiscerning, and this careless about others. This disease, this virus has shown us how random it is, but also, how our actions have a direct impact on the lives of others. The truth is our actions have always had a direct impact on others, whether we’ve realized it or not, but in a moment where we still don’t know the ins and outs of COVID-19, that impact takes on a much greater and dangerous meaning. I don’t know what else to say other than the fact that we really cannot afford to be any more selfish and dismissive of a virus that has already killed 2.5 million people and that has turned our world upside down. Selfishness is a luxury we cannot afford and will kill just as many people as COVID-19 if we don’t take this virus as seriously as we should and especially if we don’t value the lives of others as much as we value our own.

One year ago, COVID-19 came like a thief in the night and changed our lives, transcending any understanding we had of the word normal. And a year later, families are still grieving, parties are still being thrown, masks, for some, are still a suggestion and COVID-19 is, to some, still perceived as a hoax. We need to do better and be better. It’s just that simple. Our lives depend on it.

Categories
Environmentalism Sacrifice Zones

What happens when there’s nothing left to drink?: A look into Pennsylvania’s water Crisis

Written by Lauren Ariel Hoffman

Lauren Ariel Hoffman is a Pennsylvania-based photojournalist. A senior at The New School graduating May 2021 with a BA in Journalism + Design, she covers longform and investigative pieces on public health and healthcare, Jewish identity and the environment, in addition to writing personal essays. She often covers strikes and protests regarding the environment and human rights: covering the Climate Strikes in 2019, and the many responses to the 2020 election. Her reporting puts emphasis on finding local voices and making equitable representation for her sources. Hoffman has had pieces featured in Good Morning America, Earther and Hey Alma, and hopes to continue her post-college reporting in her home state, focusing on the city of Philadelphia and her hometown, Phoenixville. Check out the rest of her work here: https://laurenariel.github.io/.


When you grow up in Pennsylvania, dirt and decay are just a fact of life. Roadkill line the highways like mile markers, sewage plants touting rotten egg smell fill the already muggy summers, and abandoned iron, steel and gristmills break up the ever-rolling green farmlands. There’s a layer of grit to everything, but that’s part of what gives us that rustic charm we’re known for.

Unfortunately, this also applies to our drinking water. 

Pennsylvania is a state that is defined by its history of manufacturing exports: iron, steel, textiles, metals and chemicals. Cities like Philadelphia and Pittsburgh were hubs for industrialization, with the latter being the main source of steel production for most of the United States throughout the majority of the 19th and 20th centuries. But by the turn of the century, emergence of manufacturing conglomerates, meant there was no longer use for our industry anymore. And while the farms still exist, many of the factories that helped build most of America were shut down, left to rust in a hilly field.




Carrying away and loading the pigs (pig iron), blast furnace, Pittsburg, Pa. | Library of Congress

Pennsylvania still makes iron and steel, but not nearly at the rate it used to. There are over 14,400 manufacturing establishments still active in the state, according to the Department of Community and Economic Development. Only now our manufacturing is dominated mainly by  pharmaceuticals. 

But that doesn’t mean the influence of the steel age is gone. The nostalgia for the olden days is alive and well, and its inside our pipes.

Abandoned facility of defunct Youngstown Sheet and Tube Company.
Abandoned facility of defunct Youngstown Sheet and Tube Company | stu_spivack

In 2016, an article on my hometown of Phoenixville (which is in eastern Pennsylvania) was released, stating that the water in our area had tested positive for Chromium-6: a contaminant so toxic it can cause cancer, reproductive problems and liver damage even from the tiniest exposure.

In 2019, another article on Phoenixville came out, detailing seven previously identified contaminants in our water that had risen significantly above the town’s recommended level. The highest contaminants, trihalomethanes, were 344 times the rate of the recommended amount. All seven of these contaminants have the ability to cause cancer.

The Wall Street Journal published an article in February 2020 about the Philadelphia suburbs where most of the residents don’t drink the tap water. It stated that 80,000 people across three townships lived in an area where the groundwater had been contaminated by a decommissioned military base

In the town of Aliquippa, Beaver County, the town’s system of cast-iron and lead pipes caused its residents to fall ill with boils, rashes, headaches, and other skin conditions, according to a September 2020 article.

The town has been protesting for better water treatment, though the board of their water municipality insists it is fine.

The issue is less about the impact of Pennsylvania’s industry, and more about a lack of governmental oversight and urgency. For one thing, there isn’t a federal legal limit for the more recent “forever chemicals”, dubbed PFAS (per-and-polyfluoroalkyl substances) by the Department of Environmental Protection. Because of this, states and nonprofit groups have taken it upon themselves to set their own limit, which wildly differs from region to region. In addition to this, the defunding of the Environmental Protection Agency under the now twice-impeached President has made it practically impossible for these departments to regulate clean water efficiently.

Pine Creek Gorge, Pennsylvania | NICHOLAS A. TONELLI/FLICKR
Pine Creek Gorge, Pennsylvania | NICHOLAS A. TONELLI/FLICKR

But do not abandon all hope, ye who enter Pennsylvania, because there is action being taken. In the past few years, citizen activism has proven to be more effective when it comes to handling environmental issues.

On March 27th, 2020, a labor and environmental coalition called Pittsburgh United partnered with the National Resources Defense Council and the Pennsylvania Utility Law Project to negotiate a settlement that resulted in the city of Pittsburgh agreeing to eliminate its lead pipes by 2026. In July, just four months after, the city reported the lowest lead levels in 158 homes in over 20 years, and this is in addition to a chemical additive that was added in April 2019.

While there are changes being made, the burden of clean water should not fall onto the residents in these areas. It is my hope that in the coming years there will be substantial environmental change, but I worry that the impact on those in my state who are falling ill will be irreversible if immediate action is not taken, if our concerns are not listened to, and if our right to clean water continues to be treated as an industrial commodity.

Categories
Art Environmentalism

Art and the American West

Written by Eilish Spear

Eilish Spear is a recent graduate of Oberlin College and Conservatory, where she earned degrees in Viola Performance and Politics. At Oberlin, Spear developed her interest in artistic responses to societal crises, founded a beginning violin, viola, and cello class for 15 men currently experiencing incarceration at the Grafton Correctional Facility, and reported longform stories about the Oberlin community, notably about the activists fighting an oil pipeline slated for construction through the town. Originally from Golden, CO, Spear can be found on long meandering hikes, somewhere on her bike Gladys, or fighting for public lands and water conservation in the mountain west. Spear works at The ClimateMusic Project, where she helps develop new programing and innovative ways to engage diverse audiences.


In the world of high art, the American West is an idea, a romanticized, commercialized, and idealized mirage of beautiful vistas. Of sweeping high desert, snow capped mountains peaking up from swaths of glorious red and gold forests, rivers flowing for thousands of miles; vast, beautiful, and untouched. This art tradition embraces a romantic notion of the West, glorifying the vast “emptiness” of the land, the stunning beauty, the freedom from banal urbanity and the suffocation of suburbia, and framing it, as William Fox describes it, as nothing more than “an advertisement for nature.” This “advertisement” is the high art interpretation and commercialization of the West, negating the reality just beyond the lens, of the destruction of natural resources, development, and continued erasure and genocide of the people who lived there before. Just outside the frame of the photo, oil wells pepper the landscape as far as the eye can see, millions of acres burn due to a century of forest mismanagement and rising temperatures, gravel mines and water extraction destroy river basins and groundwater stores, ranching and destructive agriculture ruin grasslands, and always, the ever growing spread of human development, building, and building, and building.

Photo: John Fowler. You can find these burners of excess gas from oil drilling all over San Juan county in northwestern New Mexico.
Photo: John Fowler. You can find these burners of excess gas from oil drilling all over San Juan county in northwestern New Mexico.

Art and climate activism have always gone together—but this requires a different interpretation and definition of art than that found in the halls of conservatories or opera houses or art galleries. As Lucy R. Lippard writes in her book Undermining: A Wild Ride Through Land Use, Politics, and Art in the Changing West, “There is a point where artists too must take some responsibility for the things and places they love, a point at which the colonization of magnificent scenery gives way to a more painfully focused vision of a fragile landscape and its bewildered inhabitants.”

Left: Cover of Lucy R. Lippard's Undermining: A Wild Ride Through Land Use, Politics, and Art in the Changing West (2014). Right: Lucy R. Lippard. Photo: Peter Woodruff.
Left: Cover of Lucy R. Lippard’s Undermining: A Wild Ride Through Land Use, Politics, and Art in the Changing West (2014). Right: Lucy R. Lippard. Photo: Peter Woodruff.

Art has always gone hand in hand with lived experience and environmental activism in the West. Indigenous art has always been about place, about “history, colonialism, kinship and innovation.” Lippard writes, “contemporary Native (American) artists have challenged many of my Yankee predispositions,” describing the many ways in which alternative forms of art, those that refuse the conventions of modernism, commercialization, “post modernity, and the shifting mainstreams of the art world,” can become about place, and the lived experience of those living under very present realities of colonization and environmental racism, climate destruction and drought.

Artists are realizing that alternative futures are possible, in art and our broader world, and that art is increasingly essential in this work of imagining another world. Broadening out beyond the traditional confines of environmental art, primarily the centrality of aesthetically scripted photography, organizations like The ClimateMusic Project, where I now work, and Biophilia Records are developing ways of communicating the urgency of climate change and the importance of conservation through science informed music and entire albums about place.

Visual artists like Jenny Kendler are reimagining installations to communicate the crisis that is swiftly overtaking us. Writers like Rebecca Solnit have always wrapped their art making and activism together, each inseparable from the other, and the definitions of what is art and what is activism are slowly blurring. Lippard writes, “artists are good at slipping between the institutional walls to expose the layers of emotional and esthetic resonance in our relationships to place. They can ask questions without worrying about answers…I’ve concluded that the ultimate escape attempt would be to free ourselves from the limitations of preconceived notions of art, and in doing so, help to save the planet.” There is potential in this slipping, and we live in a time in desperate need of potential.

When I left my small mountain town home for college, and headed east to music conservatory, to study Beethoven and Brahms, I left the part of me defined by place and terrified for it’s destruction far behind. There was no room for transformation and activism and urgency in the ever narrowing halls of high art music. But a changing, burning, starving world requires action, and ways to communicate the urgency, build community, and a way to tap into alternative ways of viewing, understanding, and internalizing tragedies. This new world requires alternative forms of art to match alternative forms of living. If we take the time to reimagine the possibilities of art, it can be expanded to describe both absences and presences, the past and the future, and imagined alternatives to where we find ourselves now. Art has the potential to describe these potential futures, both those more horrifying than we can conceptualize now and those that move beyond the confines of our imaginations as they are now, towards a better world, and we need it now more than ever.

Categories
Sacrifice Zones

Stop Dumping Death On Us: A case of the Dandora Dumpsite in Nairobi Kenya

Written by Peter Mwashi Litonde

Peter Mwashi Litonde is a proponent of social justice, social inclusion and equity. He is a community Development expert serving the vulnerable grassroots communities in Kenya. Born and raised in the slums of Korogocho, which is the 3rd largest slum in Kenya. Peter uses participatory development approaches such as drama and art to organize, mobilize and engage community members especially children in addressing issues affecting them and influence social change. Peter is a passionate writer gifted in creative writing and uses his writings to raise awareness and provoke the society to reflect, deliberate and inspire change. In his 18 years’ experience in community work he has initiated and been part of different community based initiatives in and outside his community on children issues, youth development, community capacity building, media projects, environmental justice and Human Rights programs. Peter is an enthusiast of children & youth mentorship as a tool to protect and inspire a future.


One million is the number of lives on the periphery of Kenya’s Nairobi capital subjected to toxic fumes from the deadly Dandora dumpsite. One million on a death-row.

In 2018 a group of children in Korogocho undertook an art and crafts project to advocate and raise awareness

The Dandora dumpsite is the largest in Eastern Africa. Located just about 8km from the City centre and 15km from the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP)
headquarters. The dumpsite is about 30 acres of landfill full of trash. It was established in 1975 through the support of the World Bank by then serving a small population of about 0.5 million people sparsely populated in Nairobi. The idea was to fill up a quarry on location.

Heading to five decades later, the dumpsite which was declared full in 2001, continues to receive more than 2000 metric tonnes of solid waste every day.

The waste here includes food waste, plastic, rubber, glass, industrial and clinical waste including syringes. It all comes from the over 5 million population in Nairobi. With minimal informal recycling happening at the site much of it is burnt through methane fires and other regular burnings that shrink the volumes. Toxic fumes engulfed in clouds of smoke blowing to the residential communities including the nearby Korogocho slums is a common image that the residents have witnessed endlessly for 45 years and counting. The Dandora dumpsite juxtaposes the ugly gap between the rich and the poor in Kenya.

The Dandora dumpsite juxtaposes the ugly gap between the rich and the poor in Kenya.

“This place which I call home and its people should also count as Kenyans, deserving a better, cleaner, safer and healthier environment.”

-PETER MWASHI LITONDE

This a country where 60% of its population are impoverished and subjected to harsh conditions such as scavenging from the dumped trash. It frames the injustices forced on people in terms of economic, social, health and sadly environmental inequalities. Lack of proper planning, inadequate solid waste management and lack of political will have escalated the problem which amounts to violation of fundamental Human Rights of the people. A study by UNEP in 2007 shows that 50% of the 328 children sampled from the communities around the dumpsite, exhibited presence of heavy metals in their blood including lead which was way beyond the World Health Organization’s acceptable levels. The samples also confirmed respiratory diseases such as Asthma and chronic bronchitis being common among the population around. 

Noxious chemicals from the waste run into the nearby Nairobi river causing a health risk to those using the water down the stream. The waters of the Nairobi river flow into the Indian ocean and hence to the global community. The soil contamination and vegetation poisoning in the land at the dumpsite sadly maybe a long-term damage. 

It is not unusual for children in the nearby schools to study only a half day due to the increased smoke blurring their vision to the blackboard and a continuous cough during the lessons hence a hindrance to their academic dream, a future dimmed. 

About 1500 people come to the dumpsite every day to scavenge for food and collecting recyclables from the trash. Here people compete with pigs, cows, goats and marabou storks for a daily bread. They do so without any protective gear, exposing them to more harm. The farmers who feed these livestock at the dumpsite are oblivious to the toxic contamination of the meat which ends up in different butcheries and eateries throughout the larger Nairobi area. 

There have been past efforts by various institutions within and outside the community to lobby and agitate for change. However, these efforts have been futile due to corruption as a result of economic and political interests of the dumpsite. There are allegations of politicians using the dumpsite to syphon money from the county by awarding themselves tenders for garbage collection. The dumpsite also harbors criminal gangs who control the dumping and collection of recyclables at the site. This criminal network continues to silence the residents who are overcome by fear to confront the issue and demand for better. A people silenced even when they can’t breathe. 

In 2018 a group of children in Korogocho undertook an art and crafts project to advocate and raise awareness about the problem. They did so by recycling waste to make crafts which they then exhibited in the community and at the dumpsite. This advocacy themed ‘My Environment My life’ ran on the hashtag ‘Stop-dumping-death-on-us’ in line with many efforts that helped to stop the illegal extension of the dumpsite. 

Indeed, here is a clarion call to unmask and confront environmental injustices subjected to the people by the Dandora dumpsite and save a future chocked by the pollutants. This place which I call home and its people should also count as Kenyans, deserving a better, cleaner, safer and healthier environment.

Meanwhile time is ticking, a gasp of air full of toxic. Every inhale equals the risk of cutting short a life, but with every exhale is hope that it shall be better someday and that the people around the Dandora dumpsite will breathe again.