Prisons are “the epicenter” of COVID-19

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The term “social justice” is everywhere these days, but its meaning is often obscured or made entirely unclear—and that is often by design. When the concept of “social justice” is so diluted that it can be co-opted by the same establishment forces that perpetuate social injustice, when it becomes little more than a hollow marketing term that even corporations like Amazon can deploy unironically, it’s on us to fight to reclaim its meaning. Now is the time to engage in this fight. After all, COVID-19 has given us horrifying example after horrifying example of how socially unjust our political and economic systems really are, in the U.S. and around the world. It is not a coincidence, for example, that the wealthier nations that have benefited from centuries of imperialist domination and exploitation of the Global South are currently hoarding COVID-19 vaccines while poorer countries scramble to survive. This global, socially unjust power arrangement has a long history; to unravel that arrangement and erect in its place a more just order that works for everybody is a vital, collective, and ongoing struggle. This is the cause of social justice; it is not a matter of “charity” or “philanthropy”—it is a matter of saving ourselves, of reorganizing the social order our bloody histories created for the good of all humanity and the planet.

And yet, the dream of social justice remains so difficult to attain, because we have been so thoroughly conditioned to not see how a socially unjust system hurts all of us. Nowhere is this more obvious, perhaps, than in our failure to address the ongoing horror of COVID-19 in prisons and jails. As Eddie Conway and Dr. Lauren Brinkley-Rubenstein discuss on this week’s Rattling the Bars, prisons and jails are “the epicenter” of COVID-19 contagion for incarcerated people and staff—but also for the wider community. In more ways than one, our socially unjust system of mass incarceration is actively hurting all of us, yet few in the U.S. will even consider prioritizing prisons for vaccinations.

This is why it’s so important for all of us involved in independent media to understand the stakes of working together to not only bring social injustices to light, but to build a collective vision of what justice can and should look like. It is for that very reason that I am honored to announce that, for the next couple of months, The Real News will be teaming up with the Tight Rope podcast with intellectual giants Dr. Cornel West and professor Tricia Rose! Every week, the Tight Rope provides brilliant and passionate discussions between Dr. West, Dr. Rose, and their guests—discussions that provide context, feedback, and guidance, and that help us adjust our moral compasses and find equilibrium in this tumultuous world. Over the course of our partnership, the Tight Rope will be publishing new video episodes of their podcast exclusively on the TRNN YouTube channel and website. Don’t miss this week’s episode of the Tight Rope with Frederick Joseph, an award-winning marketing professional, media representation advocate, New York Times bestselling author, and creator of the #BlackPantherChallenge. And be sure to check out this special episode of the Tight Rope in which I talk to Dr. West and Dr. Rose about the importance of this partnership and what role independent media must play in the never-ending struggle for a better, more just world.

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