How to Stop a Flood
It was a long day at work, a long week. You were so tired this morning you left your phone at home, too, so there was nothing to help distract you from how much you hate your job.
But it’s Friday, and you’re done for the week. You can breathe a little, maybe even go have a drink with friends.
You arrive home. You climb the steps to your apartment building. Some days, those two flights to your apartment seem daunting. Today’s one of those days.
You hear the old couple on the first floor fighting about something through their door. They’re always fighting, sometimes so much you have to crank your music up really loud to drown them out. It’s gonna be one of those days, too.
When you get to your apartment though, you see the door’s been left partially open. “Dammit,” you mutter. You’ve asked your roommates repeatedly to not do that—it makes you feel unsafe. They should respect that. You don’t want to yell at them, but... fuck.
When you push the door open you see the flood. Water’s everywhere, literally pouring in streams from the ceiling over everything.
You moan as you look at your bedroom: Your mattress is soaked, your computer is sitting in a lake on your desk, all your favorite books on their shelves are bloated with wet pages. And then you remember—you left your phone plugged in by your bed, and there it is, sitting in a puddle of water.
You grab it, pick it up, and water spills out from its case.
Now you’re shouting profanities. You survey the rest of the damage and start crying. You can’t help yourself—it’s all so much. You run to the living room to look at the painting your friend did for you last year. It’s warped, destroyed. You cry again… they committed suicide a few months ago, that was the last thing you had from them.
You search the rest of the apartment quickly—the same damage in the other rooms, your roommates’ bedrooms just as flooded.
It’s all so much, too much.
You want to sit down, hold your head in your hands and weep. But there’s nowhere dry to sit—your couch is sopping wet and water is still pouring from the ceiling above it.
Coming to your senses, staring at the ceiling, you realise the water’s probably still running upstairs. You bolt out your door, tear up the stairwell with rage and pound on your upstairs’ neighbour’s door.
He opens it as you stand there, water flowing over your feet.
“Your apartment’s flooding” you shout at him.
He nods, then hands you a wet dishtowel. “Yeah. Want to help us mop it up?”
One of your roommates is already inside with him. She looks at you, exasperated, holding a sponge and a bucket. “It’s so awful!” she says, her voice shaking, tears streaming from her eyes. “Everything’s ruined.”
You look at the sponge in her hand, and the thin dishtowel in his hand and shake your head. “Don’t you have a mop?” you ask, exasperated.
He shakes his head. “Couldn’t be bothered. Those are expensive.”
You resist the urge to punch him for being so dense, and then run back downstairs to your own apartment. You try not to look at all the damage, try to resist the urge to scream again. You grab your mop, a bucket, and a few already-soaked towels from the bathroom, and just as you are about to go back upstairs, your other roommate arrives home.
“It’s coming from upstairs,” you tell her. You hand her a towel, and start to walk past her before she stops you.
“We need to clean this first,” she says.
“What? No—we have to stop the water from coming in.”
“This is more urgent,” she says. “My girlfriend’s coming over tonight. We can clean this first and then stop the water coming in later.”
“Are you serious?” you say, and then see her face. She’s in shock, just as you were. She’s not thinking clearly. And she’s already gone into her bedroom and is trying to sop up water with the wet towels.
You try again. “We need to stop the water coming in first.”
She acts like she didn’t hear you. You say it one more time.
“We can’t just ignore all this water,” she finally says. “And I’m not helping that guy upstairs—he’s an asshole” and then shuts her door, leaving you in the hallway with the mop bucket.
She’s right. The guy’s awful. But you shake your head and run back upstairs anyway. The door’s open, and you enter to find both your roommate and your neighbor arguing and not cleaning up the water. She’s decided now is the time to talk about how loud he is when he has sex; he counters that she’s too sensitive and then starts complaining about the noise from her birthday party last month.
For a moment, you want to knock both of their heads together until you notice—there’s water pouring from the ceiling in this apartment, too.
“Shut up, you two” you shout. “The water’s coming from upstairs!”
“Stop changing the subject,” your neighbor says. “Your parties really get out of hand. I’m not racist, but I think it’s because of your loud Asian friend.”
You don’t even bother trying to calm your roommate’s reaction. In fact, you kinda hope she kicks him in the balls. But still—
“Look,” you say. “You’re a shithead. But we have to stop the water upstairs.”
“What—you’re on his side now?” your roommate says, throwing her sponge at you.
“Fuck!” you scream at them both, and run out.
You climb the stairs more slowly this time—the adrenaline has left your system, you feel exhausted. And you really don’t want to deal with this anymore.
You knock on the door anyway.
No one answers, so you knock again. You can hear running water, but no other sounds, no sloshing footsteps across carpet, nothing.
“There’s… there’s a flood,” you stutter, knocking again.
The door finally opens, and the rich dude who lives there looks at you. You look at him and see he’s dry, and there’s no water on his floors.
“Our apartments are flooding” you tell him.
He nods, gives you a condescending look. “That’s what you’re all shouting about, huh?”
“It’s coming from your apartment.”
He shrugs his shoulders. “Oh, yeah. A pipe burst in my bathroom last night. But it’s only flooding into the wall, so it’s no big deal.” He actually smiles at you when he says this.
“You have to turn off the water” you shout. “You’re flooding the entire building.”
“No I don’t. But I’ll sell you my mop if you need it.”
“What?” You scream, starting to push past him.
He pushed you back, hard. “You poor people think you can just get stuff for free.”
“I said turn off the water now, or I’ll make you.”
He looks behind you and smiles. You can hear what he hears echoing up from the other apartments—the sounds of your roommate and neighbor fighting. Beyond them you hear your other roommate crying, wringing out a wet towel, and you can even hear the old people on the first floor shouting.
“You and what army?” he laughs, pushing you out the door, slamming it in your face.
The world is flooding.
Literally: Oceans are rising, land is disappearing, islands, villages, towns and cities are drowning. Climate change caused by human economic activity is killing people, causing wars, and slaughtering species. Governments and the rich have begun investing in special security measures for the coming chaos capitalism has caused, while international climate change agreements still pretend minor changes to the way we distribute resources and pollute the earth will fix things.
We humans—the only ones who can actually stop what’s happening—are staring at a nightmare scenario. Everything is going to shit: food shortages, resource wars, increasing poverty, heat waves, super storms. Cities choked with toxic fumes, massive deforestation, spreading deserts.
But we humans can’t stop it until the tap is turned off, and no one can do that alone.
Just as in the flooded apartment, stopping the source of water won’t replace the ruined books or furniture or anything else it destroyed—ending capitalism alone won’t fix the world. Turning off that tap—stopping capitalism’s relentless destruction—isn’t going to undo any of that damage, just as overthrowing capitalism won’t magically stop racism, sexism, colonialism, or any other oppression under which we suffer.
Every single one of those things is a problem. Every single oppression, every single injustice, every single crisis—these things certainly matter. But none of these things can be resolved until the arrogant assholes above us, the rich, the politicians, all those who make sure the destruction continues, are dealt with first.
Sometimes when we talk about fighting capitalism, people ask how we intend to stop racism and misogyny, transphobia and oppression of the disabled. Sometimes they even suggest those things are more important because they are more urgent. Sometimes people insist that any revolutionary movement must do all of those things at once, or it isn’t revolutionary.
We can do all of those things. We should do all of those things. We must do all of those things.
But only one of those things has the power to affect every single person, destroy every life and make every person suffer. White and Black, First Nation and Asian, European and African, male and female, trans and cis, abled and disabled—each suffers under this thing.
It also affects the rest of the living world, the non-human beings upon which we rely for our very ability to survive. Mass extinction events, poisoned streams and lakes and oceans, soil that can no longer sustain life let alone food production, all the damage done by this one thing.
That thing is Capitalism.
By Capitalism though I don’t mean a nebulous, undefined system. I mean the Capitalists, the living humans with names and addresses who make sure this damage happens because that’s how they make their money. I mean the corporations who rip apart the earth to get at coal and petroleum to sell back to us, who tear down forests and poison rivers because it makes them money. And I mean the politicians who make sure no one challenges them, and the police and military paid to shoot anyone who wants this to stop.
That’s not a lot of people, actually. But they have all the wealth and all the guns and all the media at their disposal. We only have us, our bodies, our creativity, our desire. And there are billions of us.
We are myriad, and they are few. But we forget this, forget the power we have. We forget this when we believe what they tell us, when we accept their narrative, when we let them terrify us.
We also forget this when we decide they are not the primary problem. We forget this when we decide people in the middle of the chain between us and them are actually the problem instead. We forget this when we insist fighting one group in the same situation is more important because they don’t have it as bad as we do. We forget this when we decide the imperfect people around us are too imperfect to fight alongside.
Revolution will not save the world. The overthrow of capitalism won’t solve every problem in front of us. There will still be idiots and oppressive jerks, there will still be violence against women and disabled people, there will still be racists and transphobes.
But what there won’t be is Capitalism.
There won’t be a system that lets some people have everything and forces the rest of us to fight amongst ourselves for what’s left. There won’t be a system making sure the earth is destroyed so a small handful of people can live like kings and queens.
We can have this, but never will if we insist that other problems are more important. We can have this, but never will if we wait for perfect allies who never oppress anyone. And we can have this, but never will if we don’t do something soon.
The world is flooding, and we know why.
Let’s stop it.
(In memory of Seb Barnett)