A Bag of Dicks Won't End a Pandemic

A Bag of Dicks Won't End a Pandemic

Where do we go from here?

As we push forward into year 5 of the Covid-19 pandemic, it seems like everyone is asking this question right now. Those of us who still give a damn and are trying our best to resist the ‘live with it’ approach are exhausted.  It's a fucking mess out there right now. A mess we can’t fix with one-way masking, begging for accommodations each time risky situations arise at work and school and in healthcare settings, and relentlessly pleading with our friends, families, and colleagues to take precautions. These actions can offer us some protections as individuals, but they have their limitations. They'll never be enough to fix what’s happening at a societal level.

We’re in this situation because of poor policy. When faced with a novel public health crisis, our leaders gambled on a vaccine-only strategy.

They lost.

It’s pretty obvious by now that this experiment was a colossal fucking failure and a course correction is needed. I’ve attended elementary school science fairs in which children were smart enough to recognize their hypothesis was incorrect after putting it to the test, and were insightful enough to tell the story with data and qualitative observations on a nice, neat tri-fold display board. I have a hard time believing our elected leaders and health officials aren’t smarter than 5th graders. They’re well aware that they’ve beefed it pretty fucking hard with this pandemic. They just don’t want to admit they were wrong. It would cost them a lot to do so under any circumstances, but especially during an election year.

They’d rather stay the course and let us pay for their mistakes with our health and our lives.  

Many people are focusing on upcoming elections and are speaking out about how they intend to vote. Most of us in the Covid-Conscious community are deeply troubled by the proliferation of genocide around the world, in every form it takes. We’re equally troubled by the gaping lack of political candidates we can trust to actually do something about it. I won’t insult your intelligence by telling you how I think you should vote.

I’ll only say that we can’t count on an election to save us, and we damn sure can’t wait till it’s time to stand in line at the polls. Some of us may not be around when that time comes.

Our current leaders are failing us. We have a duty to hold them accountable and demand action now.

There’s a cautionary tale straight out of the heartland of America that can offer some perspective on what that means. This story involves an experiment – yes, literally an experiment – that was meant to make Kansas a model state for economic growth. It involves tax cuts that led to devastating results. It involves leadership that was so shitty, a bipartisan effort came together to oust it.

And the best part of all?

It involves dildos.

You read that right. Dildos. Toy dicks and other adult novelties.

In 2012, Kansas governor Sam Brownback signed some rather extreme tax cuts into law, with the intent of making Kansas a magnet for businesses and a model state for economic growth. Policy experts raised concern and voiced criticisms of the approach, but Brownback tuned them out and moved forward with the cuts. It didn’t work out so well.  Revenue fell by more than $700 million in the first year and never recovered during Brownback’s term. To balance the budget, the state had to cut funds from infrastructure and education - to the point that the Kansas Supreme Court declared it a matter of ‘unconstitutional underfunding.’ Adding insult to injury, Brownback raised taxes on low-income families.

Throughout the state of Kansas, families were feeling the pain of the cuts. So were the defaulting businesses that had set up shop there in the hopes that they’d be reaping the rewards of relocating to the economic promised land. Kansans from all walks of life were feeling the impacts of poor policy and they were pissed.

They spoke up. They organized. They protested. They blew up their state legislators’ phones and showed up at their offices. They demanded action.

To appease them, Brownback endorsed raising taxes on cigarettes and alcohol sales. It was a drop in the bucket compared to the increases needed to bring schools back to ‘constitutional’ funding levels.

Kansans got even more pissed. They organized grassroots campaigns. They went to the media. They raised their voices to anyone and everyone who would listen.

In his next attempt to appease them, Brownback came up with the bright idea of seizing assets from businesses with unpaid tax debts that predated his tax-cutting policies. Perhaps the most notorious example is the seizure of merchandise from a Kansas-based sex toy distributor that owed $163,000 and some change in back taxes, with the intent of auctioning it off to cover the debt.

So let’s unpack that. By 2016, failed economic policy led to a budget shortfall of nearly a quarter of a million with devastating consequences for Kansas families. When the governor stared out over the Grand Canyon-sized budget deficit, he decided the best course of action was to throw a bag of dicks at it.

The fallout was not pretty. Conservatives were outraged that their Republican governor was not only cool with continuing down a path to economic ruin, but was also fine with compromising the party’s traditional family values by selling sin to recover a few bucks. Democrats were pissed over crumbling roads, highways, and a school system that had been thoroughly screwed out of the capacity to prepare future generations of Kansans to succeed as adults.  

And people like Judith Deedy, a Kansas resident and mother of three, were arguably the most pissed of all.  After witnessing the school system failing their children in real time, they’d had enough. Through grassroots efforts, Kansans from all walks of life came together and campaigned against the tax cuts, calling for urgent action to reverse the state’s unprecedented economic decline. “We’d originally planned to stay out of elections and stick with policy work, but the more familiar we became with legislators we realized there were too many of them who weren’t listening to us or their constituents,” states Ms. Deedy in a post on the Public Voices for Public Schools website.

Eventually, Brownback’s own party turned on him. The Republican controlled legislation voted to increase taxes. Brownback resigned in disgrace in 2018 and left Kansas to do the Lord’s work as an ambassador for religious freedom, which carried an agenda of loosening gun rights and restricting abortion rights. It is unknown whether his new role involved dildos or not.

His ousting from the Governor’s seat would not have happened so swiftly and efficiently, had everyday Kansans not stepped up and started shouting their discontent to their elected officials. With Brownback out of the way, the state of Kansas made an economic recovery with a current budget surplus of over $2 billion. New leadership, sound economic policies, and legislators who had learned how important it was to show some humility and listen to their constituents turned the tide.

We’re living through a familiar scenario with the Covid-19 pandemic. The vaccine-only strategy as our sole lifeboat back to normalcy was an experiment. Experts raised alarms and warned leaders it could be disastrous; officials chose to forge ahead anyway in the name of preserving the economy. Five years into this experiment and it’s crystal fucking clear we’re on an unsustainable path to widespread death and disability, economic disaster, collapse of our healthcare system, and compromised national security. It’s not working. It’s getting worse every day. People are suffering. People are dying.

And every time we look to our leaders for guidance, they throw a bag of dicks at us.

The ‘you do you’ approach to public health? Bag of dicks.

Wash your hands to prevent infection by an airborne pathogen? Bag of dicks.

Four free expired rapid tests by mail?  Bag of dicks.

Pressure to attend work in-person and forced school attendance when people are sick and contagious in those settings? The loss of safe access to healthcare due to universal masking being dropped? No paid sick leave and no access to antivirals when you test positive? And when we complain about the toll it's taking on our lives, we're told that our government "doesn't get involved?" Huge fucking bag of dicks.

They’ve got an infinite supply and they’ll keep on throwing them at us for as long as we let them.

You may have heard the recording of a call between journalist Joshua Pribanic and Ken Reidy, Chief of Staff to U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin, a member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP).  If not, give it a listen. Mr. Reidy states that he received 600 emails over the previous weekend from people living with Long Covid from throughout the U.S. and as far away as Scotland. The message in the emails calls for an emergency declaration for the Long Covid crisis with a list of other demands, including a call for clean air and funding for research and treatment.

Mr. Pribanic is told by Mr. Reidy that if he continues to receive that many emails in his inbox on any one particular issue, he cannot do his job, and the approach is not helpful.

That, my friends, is a bag of dicks.

My advice to you is to hang it up and use it as a punching bag. Feel the insult. Feel the injury. Let it boil your blood as it rightly should. This is a life-or-death matter, whether you have Long Covid or not. Those who don’t yet have it will end up with it eventually if we stay this course of forced, repeat infections.

We don’t have a choice. We’ve got to get the fuck up and start punching.

It’s time to get angry. Really fucking angry.

It’s time to be disruptive and get in the way of those with power.

It’s time for us to shout from the rooftops until they’re so exhausted from hearing our criticisms, our demands, and our stories that they’re ready to work with us instead of against us.

We could turn the tide.

I know this sounds like a daunting task when we in the Covid-Conscious and Long Covid communities are already marginalized. It’s easy to lose sight of the fact that while we’re a minority, we’re a substantial minority. According to the 3.5% rule, all it takes is 3.5% of a population - in a concerted, sustained, effort of non-violent civil resistance - to change a government’s policies, agenda, or even leadership. This Ted Talk by Dr. Erica Chenoweth explains how it happens.

We don’t have to get bigger. We have to get louder. 

Although bigger wouldn't hurt. There might be more of us than we think. As of November 2023, 46% of adults expressed concern about getting Covid over the holidays in a KFF survey; the same percentage expressed concern about Covid cases and hospitalizations increasing this winter. When asked about precautions, 30% stated that they mask in crowded places, 35% avoid large gatherings, 25% avoid travel, 19% avoid indoor dining, and 18% test before visiting friends or family.  Interestingly enough, it’s 50% total of people surveyed who indicate they are continuing to take some form of precautions because of Covid-19 this winter. There is *some* level of concern and willingness to take protective measures among almost half of the Americans surveyed. That’s a lot more than what I expected when I went looking for current data.

These numbers may not make sense when we try to reconcile them with what we observe among our own social networks, but it’s dawning on me just how profound the disconnect is between what many people know about Covid and the way they present themselves socially. A lot of us know people who won’t publicly ‘like’ or comment on one of our posts about Covid on social media, but will send us a DM when they have questions or need someone to talk to about their Covid-related concerns.  Some of us know folks who won’t wear a mask for fear of standing out in a crowd, but quietly applaud our bravery when they see us masking in public. These are the very people we should be inviting to engage in advocacy work that enables them to voice their concerns and needs privately through emails, petitions, phone calls, boycotts, and other forms of non-violent protest that are socially 'safe.' These actions can make a real impact, according to Dr. Chenoweth’s research.

I truly believe our Covid-conscious community is slowly, but surely growing. Some people are ready for a change. Maybe they’ve seen in the headlines that we’re currently in the second largest surge of a pandemic that they were repeatedly told is over. They’ve seen the graph of wastewater data with a near-vertical climb. They’ve noticed that tents are back up in front of their local hospitals.

Maybe it’s because influential voices like Chris Cuomo are talking about the reality of Long Covid and impressing upon us that every single Covid infection raises the risk. No one who has had an acute Covid infection is safe from it.

And maybe, just maybe, some of the people who threw themselves back into pre-pandemic life are now struggling with the loss of loved ones, their own good health, their careers, their relationships, their independence. Maybe they’re growing weary of the new lifestyle they’ve embraced – one that affords them freedom from social responsibility, but at a cost they can no longer afford.

Maybe they’re sick and tired of being sick and tired all the time. Maybe they’re just waiting for someone else to fix it. They’re waiting on someone to make it normal to care again.

Whether we're ready to embrace it or not, the simple act of masking at work, school, in healthcare settings, and even just the grocery store has made us spokespersons for Covid awareness and safety. We have a voice and we can use it to organize and advocate for change. For the advocacy leaders in our community who are several steps ahead of us, I applaud you for pioneering the way. Thank you for helping the rest of us figure it out as we fumble out of our comfort zones. I look forward to learning from you and I'm committing to spend more of my time and attention on advocacy this year.

We’ve got a fight ahead of us. We’ve got to start screaming. We’ve got to get louder. Wherever we are, wherever we can find an audience, we’ve got to be the noisiest 3.5% of everyone in the room.

We can achieve change through resistance. It won't happen overnight. It may not look exactly how we hope it will unfold. It sure as hell won't be easy. But it is possible.  

If anyone tries to tell you otherwise, you know what to do now.

Just throw a bag of dicks at them.

A quick list of resources which may be helpful for learning more about Covid-19 advocacy:

Long Covid Action Project: https://longcovidactionproject.com/

Actions you can take: https://longcovidactionproject.com/long-covid-actions/

Tips for a productive call with a legislator’s office: https://longcovidactionproject.com/call-in/

People’s CDC: https://peoplescdc.org/

Actions to keep healthcare safe: https://peoplescdc.org/keephealthcaresafe/

Covid safety for protests: https://peoplescdc.org/2023/02/12/covid-safety-for-protests/

Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund Covid-19 Advocacy Resources: https://dredf.org/covid-19-advocacy-and-resources/

Fighting for Safe Access in a Masks-Optional Healthcare Environment: https://dredf.org/2023/06/27/adainhealthcare/

Covid advocacy toolkit for older adults: https://justiceinaging.org/covid-19-advocacy-toolkit-for-older-adults/

Covid safe campus advocacy toolkit for students: https://www.covidsafecampus.org/advocacy

Telehealth policy champions by state: https://telehealthawareness.org/policy-champions/

American Telemedicine Association state activity: https://www.americantelemed.org/policy/state-activity/

American Telemedicine Association federal activity: https://www.americantelemed.org/policy/federal-activity/

Voter Voice – build a winning social media strategy for advocacy: https://info.votervoice.net/resources/build-social-media-advocacy-campaign

World Vision Advocacy social media guide for advocates: https://www.worldvisionadvocacy.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/Social-media-guide-for-advocates.pdf?pdf=Social_Media_Guide

Who is Guiness Pig?

You can support my work by signing up for a membership to The Guiness Pig Diaries or buying me a coffee.

In good humor and solidarity,

Guiness Pig