HIEA 114 Medium Post #2
Prompt: Reread Cooke’s “Letter on a Plague Year” with one of the Japan-related readings assigned in this course (of your choice). Has your reading of Cooke’s piece changed now that you are re-reading it in week 10? How has thinking with your classmates about mutual aid and solidarity in Japan, in the middle of a pandemic, been like? What additional conversations would have been helpful in this moment?
Returning to Cooke’s “Letter on a Plague Year” with the topics and information learned from this class now, I can return to this idea with slightly more clarity and understanding, and connect it to other historic events. This letter was written towards the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, March 19, 2020, around two years ago. When information surrounding the virus was far more scarce, and where we would go from there was far more uncertain. People were in a panic, what was considered normal was all changing rapidly, and politics were changing along with it. Cooke goes on to describe what will happen as the pandemic progresses, the negatives along with the positives, and what they had described was mostly correct. General social unrest began to build up in communities, with tensions rising, but at the same time communities begin to build each other up. Encapsulating the idea of mutual aid, where immediate communities began to help each other, filling in the gaps where the government and larger powers couldn’t help. Another aspect is that the pandemic was not just medical, and many other social problems become amplified from the global disaster, an example with COVID-19 was the scapegoating and increasing racism against Asian citizens in the West.
Relating this piece and the ideas found in it to another piece read in class is Simon Avenell’s, “From Fearsome Pollution to Fukushima: Environmental Activism and the Nuclear Blind Spot in Contemporary Japan,” where the discussion of the extreme environmental pollution in Japan in the 1960’s affected many citizens and were in dire health conditions and was brushed aside and ignored until the media and activism took place to highlight and advocate for change for these incredibly important issues. Print media was incredibly important to get the ball rolling, pressuring corporations and state officials since it provided a public space for environmental activists. This huge pollution disaster wasn’t even highlighted until 2011, where protesters advocated for change in radiation pollution. This idea that these huge concerns were just swept under the rug can be related to the current Covid-19 pandemic as a lot of issues surrounding the virus, health and social, were delayed and brushed aside by large corporation and government officials, as it would have negatively affected economics. Media also played an important role in spreading information, both positively and negatively, while proper information and advocation for proper measures to be put in place to protect vulnerable citizens was definitely distributed by media, a great deal of false rumors and information spread throughout the country depending on where people had sourced their information.
Thinking about mutual aid and solidarity in the middle of a pandemic feels incredibly relevant, as we are living through a historic event. Discussing and reading what my peers had to say on the many topics we have explored, I felt the idea of unity was an important theme, as it came up in many instances where communities had to deal with a shared issue and they did so by coming together. Like in the previous example with the environmental pollution, or the Zainichi Koreans in Japan, people had come together as a group to work to overcome their struggles. In terms of conversations that would have been helpful during this pandemic, is probably just more understanding of each other, not specific to this class but the general public. As tensions grew between people politically and socially, discrimination and distrust increased. Trying to find a middle ground and understand each other without bringing each other down would have been important conversations to have.