Reclaiming Health for Ourselves and Each Other

We're trying to make really big changes to really big institutions and systems that we've never existed without (in our memories). We need something that can help us in transition.

Transcribed from the 4 August 2020 episode of This is Hell! Radio (Chicago) and printed with permission. Edited for space and readability. Listen to the whole interview:

It’s the perfect time to imagine new ways to approach long term healthcare, especially new ways that consider prevention and the longer game rather than just fixing what’s broken at the moment that it breaks—especially when everything is breaking.

Chuck Mertz: If there’s one thing the pandemic has revealed to the world it’s that capitalist healthcare does not provide the medical services we need in a time of crisis. Greece learned the same thing years earlier when their economy collapsed, but they reacted with a new way of approaching their relationship with healthcare, through mutual aid.

Here to introduce us to new ways of considering ourselves and our relationship with medicine, feminist economist, artist, and activist Cassie Thornton is author of The Hologram: Feminist Peer-to-Peer Health for a Post-Pandemic Future.

Cassie was on back in June 2016 with Max Haiven, her co-director at the Reimagining Value lab, and Brianne Bolin, as part of the Undercommoning Collective who had recently published the letter “Undercommoning Within, Against, and Beyond the University-As-Such.”

Welcome back to This is Hell!, Cassie.

Cassie Thornton: Thank you so much for having me.

CM: A feminist economist is, according to your bio for your book, “a title that frames your work as that of a social scientist, actively preparing for the economics of a future society that produces health and life without the tools that reproduce oppression.”

How do you see that oppression reproduced in healthcare?

CT: In so many ways. I’ve been really focused on our ability, or maybe our inability—our sense that we need medical care that comes from authorities and experts when often those authorities and experts are wrong or are conditioned by pharmaceutical companies, and there is a sense that our medical system should work for everyone. When I say “our” medical system, I am now living in Canada although I am American. Our medical systems, whether they are socialized or whether they are run on a market the way it is in the US—they’re all still predicated on profit, and they reproduce all forms of oppression including racism (obviously), ageism, and sexism.

It’s the perfect time to imagine new ways to approach long term healthcare, especially new ways that consider prevention and the longer game rather than just fixing what’s broken at the moment that it breaks—especially when everything is breaking.

CM: You write, “When healthcare is taken out of the exclusive clutches of jealous experts, medicine can become cooperatively creative and can actually produce multiple forms of mutually reinforcing health: physical, emotional, social, communal, and relational.”

In case anyone is jumping to drastic conclusions here, and I know you can imagine the conclusions they are jumping to: do you mean doctors are not assisting in their patients’ medical decisions? That doctors are no longer doctors? That anyone can pursue any healthcare choice without any concern for public health or anyone’s public safety? Just in case people are jumping to massive conclusions about what you’re trying to do here.

CT: No, not at all. This project called the Hologram is a peer-to-peer support network and it exists underneath other forms of care. The hope is that if you have support from your peers you can navigate the really complicated and hierarchical medical system to get what you need from it. In no way do we try to replace that. But we also believe that a better form of long-term care is necessary and possible.

A part of the project is really about navigating what we have to navigate now within the medical system as we demand something much better in the future.

CM: Max Haiven, the co-director where you are at Lakehead University in Ontario, writes in the introduction to your book that “the Hologram’s deceptive simplicity is a delivery vehicle for a radical vision of a different world, teaching its participants to become post-capitalist animals and helping them grow the strengths, skills, and solidarity for the revolutionary struggles Cassie Thornton hopes will soon transform the world.”

How would the Hologram contribute to us becoming, as Max calls it, post-capitalist animals?

CT: A little summary of how it works and what it is: it’s a peer-to-peer health model that works in a way where there is one person receiving attention and care from three people. That person we call the Hologram, and the three people are called the Triangle. Those people set up a situation where they make a commitment to meet, say, every season, for about two hours, and those three people ask questions of the Hologram that focus on physical, mental-emotional, and social health. Over time, they get to know the Hologram. They become a kind of living medical record for that person.

The idea is that over time each of those people in the triangle who are giving the care end up setting up their own Holograms so they are also receiving the same care that they’re giving, but receiving it from different people. That is the different social practice that Max is mentioning.

But of course it’s not simple. It’s pretty hard to imagine asking for the commitment of three people to attend to your needs for a year or however long you decide to commit. That’s very overwhelming in itself. Being immersed in a capitalist society for generations now, we have learned not to trust each other. And a lot of times when we need help most—especially in the United States—we’re tricked. When we’re offered help often it comes with a really high interest rate or it comes as a way to make profit and not really to offer care.

Participating in the Hologram just creates opportunities to practice different social relations than we’re really trained to have in capitalism. It means trusting people, trusting that you can ask for help and that’s okay, that all people need support, and that’s not a shameful thing and it doesn’t mean that you’re weak. And then participating in a process that takes time and doesn’t have any specific results in mind. There’s no goal, it’s just a process that never ends. That is something that we’re not really encouraged to do, nor do we have a chance to practice that.

You’re receiving care from someone who is not just a friend anymore, because of the formal relationship, but they’re also not a doctor, and not a therapist, so it’s creating an opportunity to have a different type of relationship. Maybe it’s with your friends or family members, but now there’s a formal agreement that at a certain time and place we’re going to act differently, and we’re going to care for each other, and we’re not acting as experts or advisers, but we’re doing this other thing.

We can try to imagine the Hologram as a worldwide network of people who are rhythmically listening to each other and taking care of each other, and that work is all virally distributed and giving people opportunities to have different anticapitalist experiences—it represents, for a lot of people, a pure possibility.

The last thing I would say is that there’s a chance within the project to experience a different form of reciprocity. We’re super trained to want care from people who we can pay or from people with whom there is a really clean one-to-one arrangement with, so you know that they’re going to be compensated. If you see a therapist, you’re going to pay them for their hour of time (or your insurance is going to pay them) and you know they’re “getting something back” for their time listening to you. But in the Hologram that’s not how it works. It’s not a one-to-one thing, and you don’t get to pay back the people who care for you in the same way—there’s not a tit-for-tat one-to-one exchange where you receive care from somebody and then you turn around and give that to someone else.

There are all these opportunities within the project to expand our experience with each other outside of what is generally allowed within capitalist relations. The biggest thing, though, within all of it: there’s a way we’re really limited in our thinking about the future, and obviously there are a million emergencies that face us in every direction, but honestly because of the precarity of our jobs and lives and our housing and our healthcare, it’s been really hard to imagine a future for a long time—and for some people more than others. But within the project it gives you the opportunity to make a commitment to a group of people for as long as you want. What if you made a plan for five years, or for ten years, and you knew you’d be meeting every three months until then?

It’s not a big commitment, but it does mean there is something that you can know about the future, and it can be good and generative and something that you want. A lot of the things we can predict are going to be happening, related to climate change and the growth of different corporations and what’s happening to many of our governments with the right—there’s a lot we can predict that’s pretty negative, but within the project we have the opportunity to make a plan that outlasts some of those other things. And it is a social plan, and it uses stuff we already have, so it doesn’t participate in a lot of the structures of time that we are managed by at the moment.

CM: In your writing, you point out that this is a “global healthcare crisis facing a global pandemic.” The Hologram seems small in response in that: four people make up a Hologram—the triangle and the hologram who will be treated. How can such a small, local response address a global healthcare crisis with austerity programs cutting healthcare budgets as they are?

CT: The project works in two ways. One way is that it’s an idea. It’s a representation of a different way of organizing labor and organizing care that moves virally and teaches as it grows. For one thing it works as a story, and I like to call the project fifty percent parafiction. Parafiction is a fiction that you tell until you make it real. You pretend it is real until it is real. We can try to imagine the Hologram as a worldwide network of people who are rhythmically listening to each other and taking care of each other, and that work is all virally distributed and giving people opportunities to have different anticapitalist experiences—it represents, for a lot of people, a pure possibility. And it’s actually something that we can imagine, using stuff we have: that the future could be not as bad, or not as mysterious as it seems. For a lot of people it can just be that. It can just be an idea and a representation of something that is possible.

In a much more pragmatic way, the project can “scale” and be useful for a lot of people in a lot of different situations. What if, when we decide that incarceration is not working for our society, or even now because of COVID we are releasing a lot of people from prison—what if those people had three people who they chose who could focus on them and help them as they try to reclaim their lives? And those three people who are giving support also have three people supporting them? This way of distributing care and labor means that a lot of what we do when we make changes can be much more sustainable.

A lot of what we’re asking for right now is about making really big changes to really big institutions and systems that we’ve never existed without (in our memories). We need something that can help us in transition. This practice creates a lot of stability within individuals and within groups. It teaches as it grows, so it has the capacity to bring new people in who are not necessarily comfortable doing long term care work. It is one possible solution for how to institute change that happens on an individual level and then on a group level, and potentially on a collective level.

There are projects that are not so different from this already happening, for example in London with a project called Talk for Health. Basically it’s a protocol for how to get together with strangers and do peer-to-peer counseling without experts. They got hired on by the NHS as a project that would not replace other care but would offer another place for people to go when they really needed help but couldn’t access different forms of therapy that they needed. That can be seen as a replacement for other forms of care that should be provided by the government, but it is also a move in a really interesting direction. I am not opposed to seeing this project become something that is brought into institutions and city governments, if it meant that it came with an acknowledgment that there is care that is needed before, during, and after crisis; before, during, and after surgery; and it needs to be a part of everyone’s life all the time.

I’m a believer that actually if a bunch of people have a methodology to work with, something could shift.

CM: I would hope so. In 2019, you began a collaboration with Furtherfield gallery in London, making your idea of the Hologram into an art installation. How is the Hologram displayed as a piece of interventionist artwork, as an art installation? What is the message of the Hologram? I think that would give an insight to what the Hologram means for people.

CT: We haven’t installed it as a visible installation yet. I’m a practicing artist and I have exhibitions in small galleries and museums all the time. I began to work with the Hologram as something that we could do in lieu of payment. I had been working on the project and needed people to try it out. So sometimes I would be in a show, and I would say, “You can’t really pay me very much, because you’re a nonprofit gallery and barely surviving, but maybe instead of paying me we could work on this project together, and maybe some of your workers, the director of your gallery or your curator, maybe we could try it together and do it for the duration of the exhibition. And nobody needs to necessarily see it, but it’s work that’s happening underneath the show.”

What we’re working towards now is a really big social sculpture, and we do lots of online workshops. We’re going to be running our second course in September where about thirty people learn and practice the Hologram and establish Holograms for themselves. It’s a performative, artistic—but also very serious—experiment in care.

There are cultures where art is not something you identify with as a job, but it’s just something that everyone does, and it’s a regular part of life that’s woven into everything you do. That’s much closer to what I would imagine we could have in a post-capitalist art world.

In the future when things open up, there probably will be exhibitions. One thing that we had proposed, which might not be appropriate anymore, was for next year in Finsbury Park (where Furtherfield gallery is located in London, a mixed working class area with a lot of migrant populations from a lot of different places; a really international, interesting place). We were planning to put a hospital bed in a park with a phone, and a nurse, and when you sat down, on the phone there would be three people on the other side and they would have a conversation with you about how you’re doing. One person would ask your questions about how you are physically, and one person would ask you questions about how you are mentally and emotionally, and one person would ask you questions about how you are socially. It would be this sort of small performance of what that type of conversation might be like, and it would happen in public.

There’s something really important about that, receiving care and being vulnerable—it’s okay to be like that in public. That’s a part of the world and it doesn’t need to be hidden or made too precious. It’s something that we all need.

There’s a lot to develop in terms of how it exists as an art project, but a really important aspect to it is that we’ve been working with many collaborators over the last four years. Right now my name is on it and I’m kind of the steward of the project, but all I really want is for it to become a decentralized practice where I can fade away and the project lives on. AA is very problematic, but there are a lot of projects like AA that move virally between people, that have a very clear protocol for how they can happen, and then people can take them and use them exactly how they want to, and they can transform them as they want.

The project could live on in that way without it necessarily being known as an art project, but becoming a practice that people use and know about.

CM: You write, “I believe that art should be democratized, and the art world and all its precariousness should be abolished.” What do you mean by the “art world” that you want to abolish? And does abolishing the art would mean the abolition of art? The end of art? I want to make sure people understand, from an artists’ perspective, the difference between what is art, and what is the “art world.”

CT: Being an artist is a title that is given to people or chosen by people who often don’t want to or can’t participate in the heteronormative, super-competitive capitalist working world. It’s a label for a certain type of malcontent who is also creative about it, who maybe doesn’t want to get a job and doesn’t want to participate in reality, and has other ideas about how to do things.

The “art world” is a place where, in a big way, art is commodified and bought and sold. And there are many, many art worlds—it’s important to say that. There are radical art worlds, and we love them and they are very important, and it’s one of the only places in society left where people can have identities that are outside of their work and outside of their image and money. But in a large way, the art world is dominated by big corporate money and sponsorships. It’s super hierarchical. It’s definitely still run by powerful white men. Even when it becomes popular to include people of color and queer people and people with disabilities, it has a long term commitment to power and money and to keeping those things.

All I mean when I say that I would like to abolish the art world is that everyone has the potential to be creative, everyone should have time and space to make what they want to see in their world, and to feel like their opinion and their creativity and their ideas matter. There are so many traditions throughout the world, especially where I live in Canada. Working with Anishinaabe artists, I realized that there are cultures where art is not something that you identify with as a job, but it’s actually just something that everyone does; it’s a regular part of life that’s woven into everything you do. That’s much closer to what I would imagine we could have in a post-capitalist art world.

But yes, the way that academia, auction houses like Sotheby’s, and big corporate galleries work; the way that museums interface with companies like BP; the way that art is used to gentrify cities; and the way that the art world still is a really racist, patriarchal place—I just think, you know, get rid of it.

CM: You write, “In January 2017 I visited several solidarity clinics in Greece that served not only Greeks who had been abandoned and punished by international debt markets but also refugees who had become trapped in the country thanks to the closing of Europe’s borders to them. The solidarity clinic movement rose to prominence during the anti-austerity Indignados uprisings of 2010-11. After spending years researching and organizing around personal debt and its effect on collective and individual psychological, behavioral, social, and emotional life, I began to become curious about the way that public debts, like the ones that encumbered Greece, work and how people internalize and live with those debts.”

What do you mean by public debts? And how do we internalize and learn to live with those debts?

CT: I spent a bit of time on one particular public debt local to you, which is the Chicago Public Schools. That’s one example of so many. In 2016, I was in Chicago and met with lots of people there who had some affiliation with the Chicago Public School system, as it was wavering on bankruptcy. For a long time now, in the Chicago Public Schools, ninety percent of the children who attend public schools are Black. Declaring the public schools bankrupt (or almost bankrupt) seemed overtly racist, but it was not able to be called that way.

So often, with collective debts—the school’s debt is a collective debt, because it doesn’t belong to one person, it belongs to a group of people—what’s happening behind the scenes is: even when we’re talking about supporting social goods like school and medical care, it’s organized by profit, by banks. With the Chicago Public Schools, I did a project where I interviewed people: the bankers who give loans to the Chicago Public Schools, the people who work there, the people who work in the union, kids who go to the schools, principals. I interviewed them, and I did visualizations with them where I’d have them imagine the debt of the public school as an image. I’d sort of hypnotize them and get them to talk to me about it while we were sitting somewhere in a school.

What most people saw was the schools crumbling, the buildings falling apart. There was a sense of collective mourning, but also powerlessness, because in a weird way when we talk about debts, it feels like something too complicated for regular people to understand or intervene in. And it creates a lot of guilt, or it creates a sense of collective impossibility. It really freezes things. The Chicago Public Schools and the labor union were amazing in how they responded and how they have recovered from the debt there at different times. But it takes collective action. Whereas when we talk about debt, often in the United States we’re talking about personal debt, where it belongs to one person and it’s one person’s responsibility or one person’s failure. I disagree with that; I think that most debts are odious debts and all financial debts are a part of a collective problem, a political problem.

All of a sudden there are a whole lot of people with a bunch of time and ability to pay attention to what’s happening in the media—revealing that what the media is doing sucks for the most part. In a very big way, people got to see how bad things are, and a lot of them showed up outside at the rallies for George Floyd.

I became much more interested in collective debt, sovereign debts, and municipal debts, because of the way that they reproduce power relationships. If the city of Chicago and Rahm Emanuel are really interested in money, and are quite racist, they can enact that through the debts they pass on to institutions that serve mostly racialized and poor people. Living mired in debt, both collective and personal debt—for most adults’ lives (and for many kids who have grown up since the 2008 financial crisis), who have families mired in debt following the housing crisis, it’s just a way of life. But it’s also a way of life that makes it really hard to trust people, to trust institutions, and it’s super individualizing. When you deal with a debt crisis on either level, it means that you don’t have what you need and life just keeps getting shittier as interest goes up and payments pile up.

The really interesting thing about playing with how we talk about debt and making that a part of a conversation about health is just that we begin to see that it’s a systemic problem that most of us are dealing with. Within the Hologram, we talk about the financial health underneath social health. When you’re a hologram with three people asking you questions about your health, the person who is asking you questions about social problems is also asking you about your relationship to larger systems, like how you get your healthcare—and also, how do you get your food? Who do you interact with at work? Where does your money come from? How do you relate to larger systems?

It’s really important to admit to the financial conditions around us. Whether we’re in a country with a ton of sovereign debt and we’re losing our access to healthcare because of it, or because we have personal debt because we have a student loan, or whatever it is, opening it up as a part of a conversation about what makes a healthy person’s life and a healthy society is really important.

CM: You write, “Our culture bases dignity on our ability to pay for services. It’s a culture that created Trump and that also created each of us, and that loads regular people with so much debt for housing, healthcare, education, transportation, and public services that it breeds numbness, obedience, isolation, and narcissism.”

I thought we were filled with numbness, obedience, isolation, and narcissism because of Twitter or video games, or whatever the mainstream establishment media says is the problem of the time. What does it say to you about the media, about conventional wisdom, about public debate, when we blame these kinds of problems that we have—numbness, obedience, isolation, narcissism—on things like social media or video games and not see that they are stemming from, as you point out, debt?

CT: Debt is one really good way to look at it. We can also talk about carceralism and all the different forms of oppression that are right there alongside debt, like racism and colonialism and patriarchy. The media industry wouldn’t be as powerful if we weren’t all so tired, so busy, and so scared trying to pay our bills. For so many of us, especially now—I’ve been saying “especially now” for my entire adult life—we are at a point where everyone is at a financial tipping point. We might be facing really scary health and environmental emergencies, but if we can’t pay rent and we can’t afford food and we can’t go to the doctor, how are we going to have the fortitude to stop giant corporations from controlling the media? How are we even going to know what to care about besides our own survival? So many of us are lost inside a ritual of bare survival where it’s really hard to have independent thoughts.

People have said to me that having ideas or doing critical thinking is a privilege. Honestly, in our society, because it is so unstable, and paying our bills and maintaining a livelihood is so precarious, having the brainspace to think critically and to feel like a part of your society and to feel like you have some agency is a privilege. Most people just don’t have the time and energy to do it.

It’s a really interesting moment: because of the pandemic, a bunch of people, whether they are surviving financially or not, all of a sudden have a lot of free time. They lost their jobs or they’re on furlough or they were laid off because they were too sick to go outside. All of a sudden there are a whole lot of people with a bunch of time and ability to pay attention to what’s happening in the media—revealing that what the media is doing sucks for the most part. In a very big way, people got to see how bad things are, and a lot of them showed up outside at the rallies for George Floyd.

I don’t know what else to say about it, but there’s a big underlying financial landscape that’s been creating a really unstable living ground for most of us, so when it comes to dismantling powerful media moguls, who can do that if they’re just not making it?

CM: You also mention the integrative model within the Greek mutual aid system, “based on a different idea of health, authority, care, and expertise. In this model the incomer (instead of patient) meets with three health practitioners at the same time on their first ninety-minute visit: a general physician, a psychotherapist, and a social worker (or if no social worker is available, a non-practitioner volunteer). The social worker / volunteer leads the incomer through a survey called the “Health Card” of optional questions covering their mental, physical, and emotional health, but also their broader situation, including their family life, living conditions, work, nutrition, sleep patterns. All are considered important aspects of health in a broad, holistic sense. They are trying to make a hologram of every person: a clear, three-dimensional image of health.”

If we do not see ourselves as a hologram, as a clear, three-dimensional image of health, why does capitalism make us see ourselves and the human body as something else, something in two dimensions? What are the mechanisms within capitalism that take away our understanding of our whole selves?

CT: There are just so many. But the thing that surprises me the most is not the separation between mind and body. It’s more the separation between people, and the sense that we are a part of a species, a society, a city—that information seems inaccessible. Most of my life and art practice has been trying to understand how that form of individualism came to be. It’s no surprise that if you feel disconnected from other people and you can’t actually see the other in all of their complexity (because of myriad reasons that we can go into), it makes it much harder to see yourself.

In a funny way, the attention economy being ruled by social media has exacerbated problems that have existed for a long time, wherein we are constantly trying to perfect ourselves so that we can compete to live, and compete in a market, and compete to prove our own value. In this situation, we’re so overburdened with information that we—in a move towards self-preservation—begin to see other people as obstacles to us surviving, obstacles to us getting what we need to live.

Different forms of education, different forms of care, have existed far before any of these carceral systems, and can come back again. A lot of what we are experiencing is actually quite temporary in the scheme of things, and there are ways to deal with things with a lot more collectivity and care, with a respect for the land.

The more estranged we are, the more alienated we are from other people, the harder it is to see ourselves as connected to those people, and the harder it is to see ourselves in other people. One of the ways that we learn about ourselves is by understanding other people’s stories, but if those people have been turned by our brains into obstacles in a race towards some idea of success or survival, we get really alienated from a sense of what it is to be a whole person.

The really interesting thing about the Hologram project that I’ve witnessed for myself—I do the Hologram as well—is that if you’re in a conversation and you’re talking about a health procedure…I had been in the hospital and I needed advice from my Hologram, and the first question was “What’s happening in your body?” The next question was “What happened in the moments immediately before the emergency? What stuff was going on in your life that led to the fact that you had a problem that manifested in your body?” And then I end up talking about having a phonecall with my mother. There’s a way that all these different parts of us are connected, maybe not necessarily in ways that are easy for us to understand, but there are ways to begin to see how our health is a complete product of the conditions that we live in, and those conditions are super multi-faceted.

CM: You write of the Greek mutual aid groups, “I learned that most of the care given didn’t need professional expertise. It was human connection, the provision of empathy and attention within what otherwise feels like an uncaring and alienating world where the crisis becomes lodged in the body. Ninety-nine percent of the time, people can help each other. They don’t need medical training to provide the preventative care and problem solving that most people need to persist. That means much of healthcare is just somebody to talk to.”

When discussing defunding police, many have said we do not need police as the first intervening force in every situation. And police say they are being asked to do too much anyway. There is a growing call for less police presence in every emergency situation, and for them not to fill roles formerly occupied by social workers. In your opinion, do we need to take current medical practices out of the healthcare relationship with patients, with incomers? Should the first person you interact with not necessarily be a doctor or a nurse?

CT: There are lots of different parts of the medical system that are very integrated into our larger carceral system. I was in the hospital last week in Thunder Bay, and there was a person who came in who was in so much pain, a young Indigenous man. He was having pancreatitis, and some paramedics brought him in. There were some police present. The paramedics literally dropped him on a bed, shook him off the gurney like a bug. And he was moaning, in so much pain, and he began to be seen by a nurse, and the nurse asked him what kind of pain he generally lives with, and he said he lived with all kinds of chronic pain. He was left alone in the bed for about forty-five minutes, crying, before anybody came to talk to him or even bring him a glass of water. There was an alarm going off because his vital signs were not okay, and I had to go find somebody to check on the alarm going off in his room, as two police sat outside and just checked their phones.

I don’t know what it’s like in hospitals generally. I know that it’s a special time, because here in Thunder Bay no doctors will see any patients, so everybody’s going to the ER. But I find that so many systems of care are so uncaring and are so, so carceral, and are so interwoven with structures of police and imprisonment. That kind of thing happened throughout the week that I was in the hospital, in and out of the ER. I saw that happen so many times.

So I do think that there is a lot of room for different types of interventions into medical care. I was just in the UK, so I did a bunch of research about what was happening in the NHS. The NHS still has a branch that does a bunch of speculative research, and they’ve been working for years on a project where they’re trying to do social care. They have a project where they bring someone in to do what they call “social prescribing,” and it’s a person who is not a doctor or a therapist, and who is not necessarily a specialist in anything other than helping people navigate systems and find what they need.

If you have a great amount of depression but don’t trust therapists, you could see this person and maybe they would be able to recommend you things that are a little bit more community-based, like going to join a group, joining a social movement, going swimming—helping you navigate outside of the medical system a little bit—and then when you need to get connected back to the medical system they can do that too. So there are some interesting experiments. But there is also a great amount of need.

This morning I was running back here to get this call after we had just done a protest outside the police station here in Thunder Bay—here we are in the racism and murder capital of Canada. In 2018 there was a young woman who was seventeen years old, Indigenous youth, who was put on a gurney and then slapped by a constable, and we just found out recently that the constable was never charged and was never held accountable, and that that process was completely kept from the public. So we went outside of the police station today to plant a tree, to say that every time the police create more death or more violence we will reappear to plant another tree until the police are replaced by a forest.

It’s been really interesting to work with Indigenous populations here in Thunder Bay on what it would mean to begin to take apart some of these carceral systems. The main idea is that different forms of education, different forms of care, have existed far before any of these carceral systems, and can come back again. A lot of what we are experiencing is actually quite temporary in the scheme of things, and there are ways to deal with things with a lot more collectivity and care, with a respect for the land.

I’m new to this, but this is what I’m learning.

CM: Thank you so much for being back on our show, Cassie.

CT: Thank you so much.

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