Today we’re lucky to have two great guests. Karen Geier returns to write about the mass graves found in Canada’s residential school system and the country’s continued allegiance to Nazi monuments. Previously she wrote in along with others for this piece What the hell is going on in Canada right now? regarding their spotty vaccine rollout. Also today Lizzy, a “cripple punk comrade” from Ohio, writes about the state’s recent efforts to enact stringent and punitive means testing measures for people who receive SNAP assistance and what such policies would mean for people like her and others who need them to survive.
Elsewhere you may also check out this moving piece by Libby Watson from the Discontents collective about the passing of her mother, and how in the UK healthcare system, as under assault as it is, there is still less systemic cruelty than what many experience here in the US.
What my family was able to do for Mum in her final days was ultimately quite simple: We were able to care for her. We could display our love for her, express it in each little comfort we provided her, and ease her passing. We were able to care for her so well because of our privilege (and having a doctor in the house), but also because the NHS helped us do it. Things like being given a room at a hospice, getting a free hospital bed for the house, or having a nurse and a doctor come to our home for free—those are clear examples of how a society can give families more ability to care for their dying relatives. We all love Mum more than anything, and it sure feels to me like she was the most special person who ever lived, but what made her death better than others wasn’t just how much we loved her; it was that our circumstances, and the NHS, helped us turn that love into physical acts of caring.
Speaking of Discontents, in yesterday’s edition Jack Crosbie wrote on the building collapse in Surfside, Florida and the media’s coverage of the tragedy.
What interests me now is where the story goes. For the big dogs at CNN and the other networks, covering trauma is largely a self-masturbatory exercise. There are clear narratives to follow, but most importantly, mainstream audiences want to feel like these episodes are just islands of horror out of sync with the American experience. Major anchors are happy to oblige them. Sure, there will be reporting on who is to blame. A villain will be found. NPR reported yesterday that residents were assured by a building inspector back in 2018 that the building was “very secure,” despite an engineering report from the same time frame that warned of failed waterproofing in the building’s concrete slab.
What won’t happen, I’d bet, is that Wolf Blitzer or Chris Cuomo or Anderson Cooper or Lester Holt or any of the others down there will conclusively link the devastation in Surfside to anything else wrong with this country.
I also really liked this recent piece by Sarah Miller spurred by the building collapse and the ever worsening climate emergency.
I could end this story by saying “We kept swimming and it was beautiful even if it will all be gone someday or some shit” but I already ended another climate story that way. I have, several times, really nailed that ending, sad, wistful, something like pining for lost love but worse because larger in scope, but not worse, because not totally immediate. Writing is stupid. I just want to be alive. I want all of us to just be alive. It is hard to accept the way things are, to know that the fight is outside the realm of argument and persuasion and appeals to how much it all hurts in every way. It is terrifying to know that the prize for many who care may be prison or worse. But all the right words about climate have already been deployed. It’s time for the right weapons.
I would be left with an unthinkable choice
by Liz Andromeda @Liz_Andromeda
Every night I wonder if it will be worth it to wake up in the morning. Every morning I do wake up I wonder if it will be worth it to keep trying to fight against the chains of oppression growing tighter at the hands of those in control.
As politicians revel in their lavish lifestyles without a worry towards their ongoing survival, I sit here as a quadriplegic, forever a prisoner of my own body, wondering if I will be able to afford rent, food, and other basic necessities this month. I live with the fear that I will lose my home health aide to yet another complication of our privatized state home health system. I live in anguish and dread that I may someday be institutionalized should the state deem me unable to care for myself. These are the psychological chains that mark my everyday reality, and they are sometimes heavy enough to make me doubt the worth of my existence. I know also that I am not alone in carrying these chains. And so I do wake up in the morning to help carry that weight for others like me. For myself, as much as them, I have to try.
Earlier this month Ohio Senate Republicans inserted into the state’s proposed yearly budget bill a new means test provision, one that would include the value of any vehicle worth over $4,650 in determination of eligibility for food assistance. It also included “changes to reporting for all SNAP households” and “child support cooperation enforcement,” and required “eligibility redetermination of all Ohio Medicaid recipients after the conclusion of the COVID-19 emergency period.” In addition to this, having any amount of assets over $2,250, including personal savings, having any change in income greater than $500, or even refusing to communicate with a domestic abuser to coordinate child support, would have precluded or threatened eligibility.
This type of means testing is extremely dangerous for anyone who is trying to be a productive member of society in this late capitalist hellscape, but especially for someone like me. My accommodated van is currently valued at $30,000 due to the extensive modifications that make it wheelchair-accessible. As a quadriplegic who uses a powered wheelchair for mobility, my van is my lifeline for access to the world. However, if these stringent new policies, or others like them surely to come later, were to go into effect I would be left with an unthinkable choice: Do I sell my vehicle so I can keep the SNAP benefits that allow me to eat, or keep my accessible vehicle so that I can get to the specialist doctor’s appointments that my healthcare requires. Either option is close to a death sentence for me. I'd be left between a rock and a hard place, forced to choose between mobility and nutrition.
Surprisingly, after significant pushback from local advocacy groups and others, these proposals were stripped from the language of the budget last night. But this legislation is just a small part of the constant war that our “able bodied” world wages against people with disabilities in budgets and laws like this in Ohio and in other states around the country. Lawmakers treat the matter as nothing more than numbers in a budget, but for me and millions of others, this is about a daily struggle for survival. The Center for Community Solutions highlighted that the changes to the reporting requirements, for example, were not supported by the legal precedent of any other state, as it presented “a challenge for individuals who work hourly and/or fluctuating positions.” In particular the terms of the child support cooperation enforcement would have taken “food away from families with children who are victims of domestic abuse and do not want to pursue a formal child support arrangement to protect their safety.”
Just because we narrowly dodged a bullet this time it doesn’t mean this type of thinking doesn’t accurately demonstrate what our lawmakers want for us. Ohio Senate Republicans staunchly defended these provisions in spite of, or perhaps because of the pain they would cause, but what else is new? Of course they frame this support in terms of false compassion. Senator Tim Schaffer argued on the Senate floor that lawmakers are "repairing our safety net so that it’s strong enough to catch the needy, the folks eligible to receive — and need — public assistance." John Fortney, a Senate Republicans spokesman said “This simply follows federal guidelines" and "we want to make sure these critical funds are available to those who need them the most.”
To this I ask: Who exactly do they think are the needy? Real people in need can tell them what we require to survive, but in reality they do not want us to survive, which is why we live under the threat of punitive and draconian measures like this being dangled over our heads all the time. The capitalist system does not value the lives of people with disabilities because we don't easily fit into the cookie-cutter workplace molds that allow companies to exploit each and every worker for maximum profit. “Disability” as a social category is a relatively new construct, one that came into being with the advent of capitalism. Prior to this, daily work took place in or around the household, and people with disabilities could be accommodated by our families and communities. It was only when daily labor transitioned toward the factory and the office that “disability” as a social category came to be seen as something to label, something undesirable, a “problem” needing a “solution.”
Today people like me are defining new ways of approaching our identities and our communities. After centuries of being shamed and stigmatized, we are finally reclaiming our agency to empower ourselves and each other. Republican lawmakers want to erase people like me. They want to cut us off from our communities and relegate us to the margins of society. We have come so far, and they want to take away all of the ground we have gained. Things may not have worked out as badly as they could have this time, but they’ll surely try again. When they do, I implore you, please don’t let it happen. As Eugene V. Debs said, “The rights of one are as sacred as the rights of a million.”
Follow @Liz_Andromeda on Twitter.
The defacement of this statue, which should not exist
by Karen Geier
You may have recently read a passionate defence of Sir John A MacDonald (one of Canada's worst prime ministers) in the Atlantic. It came on the heels of a series of defacings and removals of monuments to Canadian historical figures with ties to our residential school system, a re-education camp/concentration camp hybrid designed primarily for the systematic genocide of First Nations children. The inciting incident for those protests was the discovery of the unmarked graves of 215 children on the grounds of a former school in Kamloops BC. That school is one of 150 such dotted across the country. It is believed that the grisly discovery there is not an isolated incident. More recently Cowesses First Nation made a similar finding on the site of a former residential school in Saskatchewan. For many Canadians, like the Atlantic’s David Frum, the larger social ill here is destroying a hunk of metal, not the centuries of horror the men represented in them have inflicted on Canada’s First Nations people throughout history and up to the present day. (The last residential school closed as recently as 1996, the same year the last episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air aired.) Many First Nations people will tell you Canada’s Foster Care system is the new way that Canada inflicts pain on these communities.
What’s always curious in discussions about Canada’s ‘monuments’ is that many of them honour pretty dubious figures. Canada’s right wing will yell at you that there is a monument to Justin Trudeau’s dad, Pierre Elliott Trudeau (and there is, strangely, in Thornhill, Ontario, a place which holds no special connection to the man’s life) and while Pierre may be remembered for his groundbreaking statement that “There’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation,” he’s also a man who declared martial law on his home province in the FLQ crisis, turning the might of the state and the police on its own citizens. His statue has been vandalized many times as well, to far less outrage in the media than Sir John A or Egerton Ryerson, another recent removal after weeks of defacement.
Another particularly curious statue defacement happened last year, and if you blinked, you may have missed the coverage of it. In July, police began investigating a hate crime. The crime in question? A defacement of a statue commemorating SS Troops from World War II. In layman’s terms: Someone defaced a memorial to Nazis. A memorial that has been standing proudly in the middle of Oakville for decades.
Oakville is a city in Canada. Canada was not a site of World War II.
In the country which was a primary battleground of the war, you are legally barred from commemorating Nazis in any way, let alone erecting a statue to them. And yet here, for some reason, the police investigated the defacement of this statue, which should not exist, as a hate crime.
How did Oakville, Ontario come to be the site of a statue commemorating Nazis anyway? Oakville is the home to many Ukrainian immigrants. The cemetery which hosts the monument is a predominantly Ukrainian one, connected to St. Volodymyr Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral. But the story of the division commemorated is unequivocal: They were Ukrainian nationalists, who joined forces with the Nazis, and they are accused of not only slaughtering Polish people but Jewish women and children. It is not currently known who opted to erect the memorial in the first place. Strangely enough, no one from the church is in a rush to come forward and explain it.
What’s worse is it’s hardly the only monument to Nazis or Nazi collaborators in Canada.
In Edmonton, Alberta, a city which is no stranger to racist controversy (it recently changed the name of its CFL team due to it being a racial slur against Inuit people), there sits a bust of Roman Shukhevych. There is no equivocation about the history of Shukhevych. He lead a bloody battalion, which, as part of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), is estimated to have massacred up to 100,000 Polish people. (St. Volodymyr also has a monument to the UPA.)
These statues are not aberrations: they are a holdover from a time when Canada was very welcoming to Nazi Collaborators. While people are mostly familiar with America’s Operation Paperclip, a system designed to brain drain Germany of its best Nazi scientific minds, Canada similarly looked the other way at Germans immigrating after the war despite their records as concentration camp guards, elite Nazi operatives, and the aforementioned collaborators from Ukraine. There are two reasons for this the government has admitted to: to ‘aid in the Cold War’ and to break labor movements at home. There is another one that looms over that remains unsaid, however: Anti-Semitism. Canada is the country after all which uttered the famous phrase “None Is Too Many” when it was debated how many Jewish refugees from the war to take in.
“Surely these monuments are isolated incidents, and are ‘blips in the system’ which give us a window into a far darker time in Canada’s history,” you might be thinking. “Surely nobody today would be looking to fund, let alone build a monument to Nazis in Canada now.” You would be wrong. Since 2008, there have been efforts to build a Victims of Communism Memorial in Canada. The name is a veil under which lies its true goal: it is an attempt to re-write history by minimizing the role of fascism in World War II, and highlight Communism as the larger evil, mourning the deaths of Nazi collaborators in the process. In the most direct reading of this: it is holocaust denial couched in anti-Communism, funded largely by groups with close affiliation to ex-Nazi collaborators, similar to those depicted in the Nazi monuments. It also just received 4 million dollars in federal government funding (adding to the 3 million pledged by the previous hardcore conservative administration) announced by Canada’s Deputy Prime Minister, herself a PROUD (as she will tell you in her own words) granddaughter of a Ukrainian Nazi, Mykhailo Khomiak who ran an anti-semitic, pro-Nazi newspaper during the war, and who described Poland as being ‘infected by Jews.’ It should be noted that Chrystia Freeland’s party’s slogan is “Sunny Ways”, a shorthand for their ‘egalitarian’ and ‘progressive’ approach to Canada.
Canada is now actively participating in the erasure of an important part of World War II history: that it was the Communists, not the Allies who liberated the concentration camps. This is holocaust denial. Erasure of this point sets a dangerous precedent. It sets the stage for a complete re-writing of the events of the war to demonize Communists and burnish the reputations of fascists and collaborators. It is an echo of the rewriting of history that led Canada to its brutal reckoning with the 215 children’s bodies in Kamloops. Governments working with institutions and churches can help demonize the defenceless and venerate the diabolical to such a point where they will have you showing reverence to the villains in monuments, under threat of legal repercussions. This is what David Frum, known primarily for his war criminal role in re-writing the threat of WMDs as a pretext for the Iraq war, resulting in a million deaths, would have you celebrate: a drunk Prime Minister who set up the conditions to “kill the Indian in the child,” a policy that never truly ended in Canada, and which is on display now on the world stage.
Canada has always been a brutal settler colonial nation, no stranger to genocide and white supremacy -- it supported Apartheid for decades, and Pierre Trudeau sympathized with the oppressors, not the oppressed -- and one which really doesn’t have much of a problem with fascism, or antisemitism. The proof is sitting in cemeteries and parks across the nation, in the names of schools and streets, and in the continued approach we take politically at home toward our First Nations people, as well as abroad, as we gleefully confirm fascist coups in South America. It’s time for the world to realize that Canada is just as corrupt and bloodthirsty as what Canada’s idea is of America.
Karen Geier is a writer and content strategist living in Toronto with her dog Pee Wee. Find her on Twitter.