Regretting having left my bandana at home, I wiped the sweat off of my face with the back of my sweaty hand, although it did not alleviate any of the sweat dripping into my eyes. The sun beat down through the clouds for the first time that morning which failed to dry out the humidity of the morning rain. I leaned on my stirrup hoe and stared out at the small plot of land my friends and I were working at Flanner House Farm. I started volunteering at Flanner House in the middle of the growing season last year. Since then, I have began to notice how meditative and self-reflective gardening can be. In the last few months, the lessons that it has taught me have been invaluable. I sighed, stretched my soar arms, and drew back my hoe then dragging it through the dirt to pull up more dead purple nettle and cover crop which populated the planting rows.
As I reflect on the last year of the COVID-19 pandemic, I can not help but notice the similarities between the events of the past year and the back-breaking work of prepping the beds for planting. Some people in this country have been working for decades, digging deep into the soil of America to unearth the weeds that suffocate what we try to cultivate for each other and for ourselves. Other people make their livelihoods off of stifling the growth of others. The pandemic has only exacerbated these deep-seated systemic issues that plague this country. We have seen that with unemployment skyrocketing in the US, “America’s 614 billionaires grew their net worth by a collective $931 billion.” In their autoethnography, “On the Edge: Living with Unemployment during a Pandemic,” author Jamila Jahangir asked “What’s going to happen in the months to come? So many jobs aren’t coming back but rent still has to be paid.”
A garden this size needs people laboring together to cultivate and harvest our fruits. This sentiment is reflected most in the commercials and advertisements that have been released since the beginning of this pandemic. Francesca Sobande of Cardiff University notes that “True to form, since the COVID-19 pandemic emerged, brands have been quick to invoke ambiguous yet arguably commodified notions of connectivity, care, and community, in the service of capitalism.” As someone who has moved houses, lost jobs and hours, been refused employment, housing, and rental assistance, and seen people in my community work through the same or in many cases worse, these commercials letting me know that Lexus stands with me are eerie to say the least. I can not help but think that these “We’re all in this together” sentiments are not as inclusive as they claim to be.
And yet, I believe that if we are to make it through the work we have to do, it will be together. But this sort of togetherness is not going to come from car commercials, celebrities, or billionaires. This togetherness can not be bought and sold. In their article “Activism in the time of COVID-19,” Peter R. Grant and Heather J. Smith say of the 2020 protests and public demonstrations, “These protests illustrate the extent to which COVID-19 has revealed and amplified shared grievances and sharpened group boundaries.” During the last year, I have seen the community activism in Indianapolis blossom. People have found common ground and started to teach each other how to share our knowledge and our resources. I have worked with a group fighting for food justice for years prior to the pandemic but, nowadays, folks are starting successful street clinics to get health care and prescriptions to houseless people, organizations and individuals are interested in the common good of their entire community. It is not as though this was not a reality before the pandemic, but with all this idle time, it seems almost as if people are finally realizing the uses of tools we have had all along.
When this pandemic started I was in the process of closing on a house, the first big purchase that I would have made on my own. It felt like a true accomplishment. After that fell through, I stumbled into a duplex with six other friends of mine in need of housing too. At $2400 a month to rent both sides of the house, this pandemic has truly tested our collective living skills. We have been able to lean on each other if the bills were late, rent was due, or a pet cat got sick, knowing that if you give a little, it will eventually come back to you. This is how I feel my city has changed too. Times got hard for everyone, and so we learned to lean on each other. When we saw our community getting beaten on the streets we used our voices to say no more. When the city council closed their ears to the houseless people of our city we built up our mutual aid networks, cooked and delivered meals, and passed out harm reduction supplies. When our elected officials would not step up, we all did together. It’s like a garden, each of the components work together to make the plants flourish. There will always be weeds that need to be pulled and long summers without and shade or rain but we will come out of it as we always have, and there is magic and power in that. We are stronger together.
Grant, Peter R., and Heather J. Smith. “Activism in the Time of COVID-19.” Group Processes & Intergroup Relations, vol. 24, no. 2, 2021, pp. 297–305., doi:10.1177/1368430220985208.
Rutledge, Emerald. “On the Edge: Living with Unemployment during a Pandemic.” AAIHS, 17 Oct. 2020, www.aaihs.org/on-the-edge-living-with-unemployment-during-a-pandemic/.
Sobande, Francesca. “‘We’Re All in This Together’: Commodified Notions of Connection, Care and Community in Brand Responses to COVID-19.” European Journal of Cultural Studies, vol. 23, no. 6, 2020, pp. 1033–1037., doi:10.1177/1367549420932294.
Stebbins, Samuel, and Grant Suneson. “Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk among US Billionaires Getting Richer during Coronavirus Pandemic.” USA Today, Gannett Satellite Information Network, 1 Dec. 2020,www.usatoday.com/story/money/2020/12/01/american-billionaires-that-got-richer-during-covid/43205617/