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  • Writer's pictureThe Low Down

A Thanksgiving reflection

Blissfully riding my bicycle in June, I skittered along the railroad track behind the General Store [in Wakefield] and down I went. Unfortunately, my rib cage collided with a bit of protruding track and there I lay writhing in pain (yup: four broken ribs).

There are no strangers here, only friends you haven't met. People from out of town came to my rescue and called 911.

During my confinement, I often sat on my veranda watching a gloriously diverse parade of people sauntering toward the Covered Bridge. People from all over: Africa, the Balkans, Asia and South America. I waved and called out “Welcome!” The universal response was: “It's so beautiful here! What a wonderful place!” I couldn't agree more, but complacency is not warranted. As Adrian Kiva wrote in the Sept. 2 edition of The Low Down [“Open letter to the community in support of MH and anti-racism”], “We must keep addressing racism and embrace a vision of vivid, inclusive, mutual appreciation and respect.”

What keeps us safe? The young police officer who responded to the 911 call knelt by my side, gently removed my helmet and cradled my head in his hands. “Don't worry, you're safe, I'm here.” He treated me with such respect and tenderness, I could have been his own grandmother.

Every grandmother – every person – deserves to be treated like this, but we know that this is not the case. Community-led, life-affirming police protection in a context of redistributed, adequate, stable funding for social and mental health services — now that's what I call public safety.

What is essential? I didn't have to worry, as I lay on the tracks, about how to pay for it all. Publicly-funded healthcare, equally accessible to everyone, is the cornerstone of a just society. The ambulance arrived and the saintly paramedics conveyed my broken body to the Wakefield Memorial Hospital. I was competently seen by nurses and doctors, but it was a member of the cleaning staff who noticed, while mopping the corridor, that I was sitting forlornly unattended to after the diagnosis and prescriptions had been dispensed. “My son has no way of knowing where I am right now,” I whispered. She conveyed the message to the waiting room.

Is she properly honoured for her essential work? COVID-19 has revealed how many workers, including nurses and care workers, are under-acknowledged and underpaid. We need them! They all deserve dignified status, a living wage, safe working conditions and an affordable place to live.

It takes a village to heal us and keep us whole: beloved family, friends and colleagues brought gifts of food and healing. In spite of COVID-19, community services and all the brave frontline workers in our fields and villages supported me. Local farms, businesses, associations, neighbours and friends are a treasure in our midst. Mutual care keeps our community heartbeat strong. Let us continue to support one another and forge creative solutions during this strange and difficult time.

Lest we forget — as my mobility returned, I would enter the little forest near my home and breathe with the trees. We are connected. Natural systems sustain life: our hills, our rivers and lakes, our wetlands, our forests, our farmlands and one another — this is what sustains us; an economy based on extraction and exploitation cannot.

Recovery, reparation and repair: my ribs have healed! But we are still facing a pandemic, a climate crisis and a fractured society. My experience and the Green New Deal-lens provide a perspective for finding solutions from the ground-up in the context of courageous leadership. The crisis is extreme. The work will be profoundly challenging, but profits siphoned off the top can instead be reinvested where they belong: in thriving, flourishing communities committed to climate justice, social justice, racial justice and mutual caring. Therein lies inclusive, genuine economic resilience.

My Thanksgiving vision is that we can and will do this work together with no one left behind.

Ilse Turnsen is a member of La Pêche Coalition for a Green New Deal and lives in Wakefield.

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