Falling By The Wayside

Estelle Ellison
13 min readDec 14, 2023

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Cognitive dissonance has long been a concept used to explain how liberals and conservatives reconcile inconsistencies in their logic to justify the status quo to themselves. It is uncomfortable to hold contradictory beliefs, and reframing or ignoring that source of mental discomfort brings fast and easy relief. Living now with the ubiquitous myth of a post-covid world, the term comes to mind when looking at what anarchists, leftists, and reformists believe does and does not constitute genocide. The trend of covid denialism persists today within Palestine solidarity protests around the world repeatedly asking their respective governments to call for a ceasefire as israel relentlessly continues its ethnic cleansing campaign.

As israel bombs and murders Palestinians into inescapable shrinking corners within apartheid borders, the lethal threat of covid is greatly amplified. This intended consequence of the crusade to level Gaza to the ground and extend the territory of israel’s settler colony is a grave reminder that covid has gone nowhere. Yet, in the name of “urgency,” organizers rush to convene superspreader events that compromise their calls for extended protracted resistance against genocide, imperialism, and settler colonialism. As large portions of americans are learning what it means to get covid a fourth, fifth, sixth, or, indeed, an indefinite amount of times, the subsequent deaths and newly disabled people simply confirm what have always been known risks of covid transmission.

Americans have internalized the needs of a violently enforced economy and this has created a tension with reality, also known as the world in which an ongoing pandemic does exist. In this precise context, the logic of eugenics offers a readily available source of relief from the mental discomfort of trying to survive a plague. Through the lens of covid denialism, over 6.7 million dead from this pandemic represent a distant past with no bearing on our present situation. These seemingly random and sudden deaths from just a “common cold” or “allergies” have no scientific explanation, but they are most certainly not the result of a pandemic that has definitively ended.

These beliefs and rationalizations the state makes out to be innocuous all justify great violence. A pandemic that has taken the lives of people estimated to exceed the total civilian deaths of World War I is still active, claiming as many lives as the world will allow. Additionally, the civilian proportion of deaths in Palestine is higher than the averages of all 20th-century world conflicts. So by what logic do solidarity protests get to exempt themselves from the fight to stop the spread of covid? What makes millions of preventable deaths out to be of negligible consequence in the face of the Gaza genocide? Covid denialism, which includes going out in public unmasked, supplies israel with a very real material weapon with a capacity to murder at a scale that greatly exceeds that of bombs, missiles, tanks, and rifles.

Genocide cannot be fought by making peace with other concurrent genocides. In seeking to provide the greatest degree of material aid to Palestinians fighting to survive a genocide being inflicted by a settler colony with the backing of multiple imperialist nations, we must not merely limit ourselves to announcing our wishes to the public and the state. We must also seek to limit the capacity for imperialist state violence. To do so is to go beyond ceasefire demands. Protesting the likes of Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Boeing, and other military weapon suppliers is almost totally invalidated by organizing events that spread covid further into marginalized communities. There is a romanticism of militant resistance and self-defense in the face of state arsenals that rings hollow when people refuse to wear an effective mask.

In seeking to end fascism in our lifetimes, we can only hope to build off of our skills and abilities through multiple acts of resistance that change and grow in strength through successive iterations that improve upon the last. Talking about the end of imperialism and settler colonialism is to discuss a liberatory capacity that simply does not exist right now. But it is not brought into existence by playing make-believe, ignoring the tasks of the day so that we can declare our mere hopes for tomorrow. Our goal is to make good on our greatest ambitions. There is real tangible violence being enacted at a global scale, all informed by imperialism and settler-colonialism. Yet there is an obsession with empty coalitions and parades treated with the seriousness you might otherwise expect from genuine insurrection and actions that may legitimately upend the state’s monopoly on violence.

Events organized and peace-enforced by covid deniers all echo the squandered moments of possibility we glimpsed before the bribes of eugenicist normalcy won over the majority of anarchists, leftists, and liberals. The ongoing pandemic is most certainly a product of the limitations of care and precaution under capitalism. In truth, plenty of cruelty and callousness can be found in nearly all state responses to the pandemic. But the continued present tense of this pandemic is also a result of the willful actions of everyone who just got tired of wearing a mask, in turn becoming conscious participants in genocide at home. The compulsion to skip steps in the name of urgency in exchange for visibility is a trend that has persisted for decades among organizations that incessantly rebrand and disguise their commitment to defending reactionary attitudes, behaviors, and actions. Now, during a foul and palpably fascist period, these tendencies all reveal themselves for what they really are: fascist capitulation.

In america, considering the prospect of large-scale upheavals that concretely hinder imperialism’s efficacy, some anarchists, leftists, and liberals rationalize this restriction of their agency by overemphasizing the importance of their impact on the geopolitical stage. This rationalization makes doing anything at all to stop genocides abroad, however incomplete, contradictory, or downright counter-productive, feel like doing every conceivable effective thing. During these times of crisis, coalitions for the sake of coalitions become common between organizations that have yet to answer for their persistent transgressions against the very marginalized communities they claim to be fighting for.

Ableism has never been a prioritized sphere of struggle in the majority of “liberatory” movements for years now, but the urgency of the Gaza genocide is simply the latest cover for anarchist, leftist, and liberal neglect and resentment of disabled people. Even as there has arguably never been a greater availability of information that demonstrates the intersection of disability justice with liberation from imperialism and settler colonialism, the need to take covid precautions is waived off as a nuisance. This is as surviving Palestinians are becoming increasingly disabled, are having their hospitals destroyed, and are contracting more diseases at a sharp and alarming rate.

Liberals in particular have laid bare the truth of their politics in recent years. First in their willing collaboration with the state in criminalizing state-unsanctioned protests, functioning as stewards of the police surveillance state. Then in their protection of capitalism’s bottom line as covid precautions that helped mitigate the damage and spread of an ongoing pandemic were lifted. Now, even as support for the somewhat impactful calls for a ceasefire becomes more popular, liberals still apologize on behalf of israel’s ethnic cleansing, rationalizing genocide. This is most evident in liberal academics taking cues from congress, doing the cultural legwork of generating fascist capitulating think pieces designed to invalidate Palestinian struggles and isolate those of us who strive to stand in meaningful solidarity.

Make no mistake, anarchists and leftists have also proven themselves very susceptible to this trend. There are just orders of magnitudes more mental gymnastic hoops to jump through when seeking to understand how they rationalize willful participation in genocide at home in the name of stopping genocide abroad. Ultimately, the only conclusion that can be made from these patterns is that many, perhaps most, anarchists and leftists lack a serviceable analysis of ableism and the result is their inability to recognize the genocide in front of their faces.

To understand the widespread ableism commonly found among both radicals and liberals, we have to also understand how the state shares power with its subjects. Economic incentives, that is the state’s violent enforcement of money’s value, certainly play a part in compelling people to submit to exploitation and condemn those who threaten the unimpeded functioning of everyday life under capitalism. It is in that submission that we negotiate the terms of our survival by using money, and this fact is what ultimately gives value to what would otherwise be truly arbitrary and valueless paper and plastic.

However, the state also rewards people for participating in the maintenance of the prison industrial complex. “Peace police,” as they are colloquially known by anarchists, are a visible example of this dynamic. Still, particularly in the internet age, there is a far larger cultural civilian arm of the state that parrots media curated by capitalist companies and governments while also assisting in state surveillance. In recent years, this dynamic found its most extreme expression when liberals quite gleefully collaborated with the FBI to help capture participants in the January 6th so-called “insurrection”.

To be clear, this is not a defense of the fascists under Trump’s thrall. Instead, this observation is meant to underscore the fact that the state oftentimes grants greater authority to its subjects for the purpose of incarceration and counter-insurgence, and liberals often happily oblige. We saw this around the time of the 2020 election following the summer of large hard-to-quell uprisings when many non-profit organizations who participated in some street demonstrations actively tried to suppress and co-opt the insurrectionary character of those demonstrations. The condemnation of property destruction and characterization of damaged bank windows as “violence” is another example. The slogan “If you see something say something” is another remnant of power the state openly shared with citizens to help criminalize and incarcerate SWANA (Southwest Asia and North Africa) people.

The same apparatus liberals helped refine and make more efficient to ostensibly go after trump supporters was almost immediately redirected towards the most radical elements of prison abolitionist uprisings and protests which had already long been under siege by the state before recent years. The practically exponential increase in police funding that followed has greatly disincentivized actions that are more capable of disrupting capitalism and imperialism. This development has emboldened companies to be bolder union-busters and more callous in administering layoffs.

Likewise, fascists are also emboldened by this trend, contrary to liberal belief, as they are far more frequently open collaborators with the police than they are the targets of incarceration. These dynamics are of course compounded by increasingly fascistic legislation rolling back pacifying reforms of a past where the state had less totalizing control over the population. Even outside of direct collaboration with the state, there is also collaboration with technofascist companies that have helped criminalize or de-facto criminalize SWers, abuse survivors, and most recently anyone who speaks out against israel’s ethnic cleansing of Palestine.

The liberal belief in a benevolent state that is fundamentally different from a state controlled by open fascists is ironically what has made them active participants in neoliberal fascism, willfully engaging in counter-insurgence while enforcing a eugenicist normalcy that primarily affects the targets of white supremacy. It is worth pointing out that the inherent ableism of these actions prevents many from even recognizing and addressing the intensifying degree of damage to their health they are incurring through repeated, successive, and cyclical covid infections.

Americans’ apparent abysmal comprehension of fascism leads them to believe it can only manifest itself through the state’s open murder and extermination of marginalized people. This is to say nothing of how the prison industrial complex does not factor into their appraisals of which state violences are benevolent or malevolent. But this inaccurate perception is part of why they don’t see themselves as vectors of mass death and disablement during this ongoing pandemic. Their cognitive dissonance exploits the fact that contact tracing is near impossible now, and there’s no way to know which person, symptomatic or asymptomatic, is responsible for someone else’s preventable death by covid. It is because liberals do not have a literal gun in their hands when they go outside unmasked that they exempt themselves from the reality that they may as well be shooting and killing many of the people they unwittingly expose to covid. This isn’t even taking into consideration the conservatives and open fascists who relish exposing the most vulnerable to covid, demonstrating they clearly grasp who faces the greatest risk of death.

This may seem like hyperbole to covid deniers and anti-maskers alike, but to deny the truth of millions dead and counting is to ignore the long history of pandemics used as a colonizing genocidal force. This is in the face of present-day evidence of this happening now in Palestine, with unprecedented access to information documenting the atrocities of israel’s ethnic cleansing campaign. It is this lethally hazardous ignorance that has introduced bills that criminalize masks, widespread pathologization of people who wear masks, and increased civilian harassment of mask-wearers. All of this happening alongside people of all ages dying, newly disabled people, and more severe and/or lethal consequences for people who were already disabled before this ongoing pandemic.

To clarify, this vast array of people participating in eugenics is directly orchestrated by the state. And as such, it is also intended to disproportionately imperil those with no choice but to work in-person jobs, Black, indigenous, queer, and trans people, people of color, and disabled people, all of whom were already valued as lesser prior to these concurrent genocides. We find yet more evidence of this pandemic made perpetual and indefinite in non-profit funding becoming increasingly tied to in-person events and return-to-office mandates from companies. But we also find indirect examples of these patterns in the planning of large unmasked protests that typically add insult to injury by also literally acting on behalf of the police.

In addition to clear material incentives to enshrine a global pandemic in everyday life, there are also cultural incentives that are a product of a white supremacist society. The drive to conform to the image of everyday life the capitalist state expects us to internalize is seemingly too tempting to resist, judging from the vast majority of americans, anarchist, leftist, or liberal. There is the fear of missing out on concerts and restaurants but there is also the base desire to just not stick out in a crowd. This fear seems to run far deeper into the american mind than many americans would like to admit.

These dynamics play a large part in most radicals’ inability to comprehend that the global pandemic is a labor issue as much as it is a health crisis. For many workers or people who are unable to work and are still expected to pay for rent and food, taking covid precautions has prohibitive costs. Without sufficient support and in the face of a new eugenicist normalcy, some take on a fatalistic attitude about mitigating the spread of covid. This is primarily the fault of the state. But disability justice circles lacking a meaningful analysis of race or class also have a part in this. It is also a failing of anarchists and leftists who claim to be building a better world yet refuse to take simple actions toward helping protect those of us who are most vulnerable to this present genocide. There simply are not enough mask blocs as there needs to be given that they provide life-saving care and protection during this cruelly fascist period.

Further, the romanticization of high-risk political actions and “bravery” in the face of fascism caries with it ableism, faintly veiled eugenicist beliefs, and inadequate appreciation of OpSec (operational security practices). The contradictions inherent to these notions are obvious. As we’ve already discussed, you can’t stop one genocide by ignoring the concurrent ones. At its core though, these attitudes and beliefs continue a pattern of creating divisions of labor where disabled people are left to worry about eugenics and the care work needed to survive.

It is telling that those community figures who foment this perspective make no acknowledgment of this mass disabling event and the increased amount of care that unmasked protestors will need after consciously exposing themselves to and spreading covid. The implication is that, like the other hegemonic beliefs americans hold, these anti-maskers are immune and don’t have to worry about getting covid, completely discarding those who are at greater risk of getting covid from asymptomatic and symptomatic people alike. In truth, being an anti-masker is no more revolutionary than rejecting medical care on the grounds that it is currently only available under capitalism. Their ableism shines through their incoherent beliefs about risks and eugenics. The unseriousness of this perspective is also apparent during this moment when court support is more important than ever, yet some organizers encourage people not to mask or protect their faces from the most technologically advanced surveillance state on the planet.

It is deeply unfortunate that responding with urgency in american leftist movements seems to always mean more ableism, both consciously and subconsciously, regardless of the severity of consequences. Even among liberals, there is a total failure to grasp how the most cruel of violences is always reserved for those people capitalism, white supremacy, imperialism, and settler-colonialism deem to be the least valuable. Likewise, americans continually grossly overestimate the efficacy of legal channels of communication with the state while also conceptualizing themselves as the only ones with meaningful agency at the global scale.

Recontextualizing these attributes reveals the fact that this is a sort of bargaining and rationalization of the ways they’ve helped produce a highly efficient and capable modern fascism. After helping criminalize and incarcerate those who are most appropriately outraged at the sheer scope of the genocidal violence currently being deployed, the remaining avenues of “making change” liberals have left for themselves must be effective. Again, irony can be found in this notion given that most liberals fail to wear a mask, which is objectively simpler than voting in a system designed to disenfranchise marginalized folks and calling representatives who have not suggested in the slightest that they care about intended targets of genocide.

The american state and israeli settler colony have found a dress rehearsal for more targeted genocides in their construction of today’s eugenicist normalcy wherein everyone is expected to sustain repeated covid infections indefinitely until death. This utility is not lost on fascism, which continues to broaden its scope of influence and push the envelope of acceptable violence. But it does seem to be lost on both reformists and radicals. American exceptionalism extends to a belief that americans are allowed to participate in this ongoing genocide at home and failure to recognize this fact exposes the farce of leftist action limited to mere performance.

All of this brings us back to coordinated actions that are widely accessible and do not require the convening of superspreader events. It comes back to the small crews of people who refuse to compromise with fascism. Those who do not value or respect capitalist property, who aim to disrupt rather than simply announce, who unanimously take covid precautions in blocs and help to make covid safety more accessible to those who are at the greatest risk of succumbing to covid.

Larger organizations and popular community figures may turn their nose up at these actions and crews determined to end fascism in our lifetimes, but it is their refusal to examine and change their ableist, pro-eugenics, anti-masking organizing practices that have driven those of us who wish to combat all present concurrent genocides into smaller crews and support networks. In truth, anti-maskers and covid-deniers both refuse to acknowledge or answer the question of who will care for them when repeated covid infections finally catch up with them. Who will grieve for the millions who are no longer here as they shut themselves off from the abject reality we find ourselves struggling and fighting through? The truth is, those too afraid to go against the conformist tide of eugenicist normalcy will never free any of us living under fascism at home or abroad.

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Estelle Ellison

Time dissuades us from getting free... Black Trans Disabled Writer (She/They)