An Anarchist Response to Ebola | Part One: What Went Wrong?

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by Carwil Bjork-James with Chuck Munson
Anarchist Agency
November 29, 2014
Anarchists have been leading critics of colonialism and its aftermaths, of militarism, capitalism, and economic policies made by and for corporations. Anarchists have built power in various bottom-up combinations ranging from labor unions in Spain (where anarcho-syndicalists ran the trolleys and the telephone system after the 1936 revolution) to the D-I-Y ethic of anarchists in punk rock communities since the 1980s, who stress that anyone can learn how to play a guitar or build a greywater system. Over the past two decades, we have been active and vocal parts of movements saying “no” to the worst aspects of state and corporate power, wars, police brutality, the WTO and IMF, clearcutting forests, and mountaintop removal.

Yet our voices have been less clear on issues that require collective recognition, large-scale organization, or widely shared services, like universal health care, ending second-class status for undocumented immigrants, or recovering from the 2008 economic meltdown. Too many anarchists offer critique and deconstruction under the banner of anarchism, but don’t speak as anarchists when they put forward large-scale alternatives. Whether by silence or speech, anarchists have contributed to the idea that our solutions are only local, low-tech, and limited.

Part One: Where are we, and how did we get here?

Ebola Virus (budding from green monkey cell) cc-by-NIAID:NIHThe Ebola virus disease has been known for nearly four decades. Its devastating medical consequences (at least in the absence of prompt, high-level hospital care) have led to virulent, yet brief episodes that affected anywhere from a half-dozen to 500 people, killing most of them. Remote locations and the virus’s origins outside of human society have kept previous outbreaks small, but no one doubted the risk of a widely circulating outbreak like the current epidemic in West Africa. The virus was characterized and necessary isolation procedures recorded, enough knowledge to slow down and contain future outbreaks, if sufficient resources are available. Researchers prepared a vaccine, and confirmed its effectiveness on monkeys—who also suffer from the disease.

That is where preparation stalled a decade ago. Capitalist biotechnology, the current system for funding large-scale public health research like clinical trials for vaccines in the West, saw too small of a market for an Ebola vaccine. Like many critical parts of our lives, protection from infectious disease is subjected to a test of profitability. Measured in dollar terms, African lives didn’t matter.
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