Scenes From a Pandemic: 8

25 05 2020

by Jennifer C. Berkshire

A continuing series of dispatches from Kopkind participants, advisers, guests and friends on life in coronavirus time as they observe it.

Gloucester Harbor (photo: Hallie Baker)

A Fishy Story

Gloucester, Massachusetts 

On a recent locked-down day, cars snaked nose-to-tail through downtown. The destination: a seafood “shop,” popped up on a local commercial fishing wharf. For those who made it in time, $15 bought a pound of scallops, or two pounds of haddock, fresh caught, and delivered in vacuum-sealed bags to the car window, exact change please. For the city’s hard-hit fisher folk, here was a rare bit of good news. The pandemic’s shuttering of restaurants has left those who fish, scallop, clam, and lobster for a living without a major market. Boats are docked, crewmembers let go, pain rippling through a web of marine-related businesses. 

“A whole big system is falling apart. It’s not just the fishermen but the people who support them,” says Donna Marshall. Marshall heads up Cape Ann Fresh Catch, like a community-supported agriculture program, or CSA, but for local seafood. These days her group is dropping off locally caught haddock, hake, cusk, and lobster to customers’ doorsteps. The work of turning whole fish into neat fillets is being done by laid-off workers from area restaurants, the only paying work they have right now. 

Home-grown efforts to keep people in local fish can’t match the collapse of an industry; direct-to-consumer sales are a small fraction of what fishermen sell to restaurants. Still, the seaside solidarity that the crisis has brought to Gloucester matters. “You’re paying your neighbor’s mortgage,” Marshall says. “This person has a family. It’s not some faceless conglomerate.”

*          *          *

On the same day that the WHO deemed Covid-19 a global pandemic, a bill was introduced in the US Senate to expand industrial fish farming. Known as the AQUAA Act, the measure has strong support among US farmers, eager to offload a glut of soybeans, rebranded as aquafeed, into fledgling salmon and tilapia bred in pens. Think of it as the industrial seafood supply chain: complex, convoluted, and best not viewed up close. “It’s all driving toward a high-volume, low-value global commodities market,” says Brett Tolley, a fourth-generation fisherman turned community organizer for the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance, a Gloucester-based group that advocates for fishers across the country.

Like all global supply chains right now, this one feels unstable and unsustainable. Most of the seafood we eat in America, even in Gloucester, the country’s oldest seaport, comes from overseas. Most of what local fishermen catch is sent elsewhere. “The models aren’t designed to feed local and regional markets,” Tolley says. Those famous fish sticks bearing the logo of a Gloucester fisherman? By the time they reach your frozen foods section, they’ve made an exhausting global journey, exported for processing, then reimported. 

Gloucester Fisherman’s Memorial, with bird (photo: Jeri Williams, Yankee magazine)

Nearly 500 commercial boats fished out of Gloucester a decade ago. Today, there are two dozen. This reflects both the decades-long collapse in groundfish stocks—the cod and haddock that once abounded in the cold waters off of Cape Ann—and ever-more aggressive federal measures limiting who can fish and for how much. Privatizing a natural resource has been the governing principle of fisheries management for a decade, the idea being that privatization gives people a greater stake in preservation. Fisheries have thus been carved into slices that can be bought, sold, or traded, pricing out small fishermen and rewarding deep-pocketed investors—“slipper skippers,” who don’t fish but own the boats and the rights to the catch. 

*          *          *

“The price went to hell” even before Covid-19, says lobsterman Larry Stepanuk, who fishes between 200 and 300 lobster traps in the waters off of Rockport, Mass. Tariffs imposed by Europe and China made lobsters prohibitively expensive. Then came the collapse of the Chinese market, where lobsters are—or were—a coveted luxury among the burgeoning middle class. Lobstermen, who had a bumper fall season, now have nowhere to sell their catch. No restaurant diners tying on lobster bibs; no cruise ships, the largest purchaser of processed tails, the ‘surf’ in surf and turf.

“To go and get ‘bugs,’” the local endearment for lobsters, “and sell them for what they can be sold for right now would net you enough to buy a six-pack or two,” Stepanuk says. He spends his days painting buoys and waiting to see if he gets what he calls “a gift” from the president.

Lobstermen at the Inner Harbor (photo: Hallie Baker)

The entire US fishing industry was promised only $300 million in the $2 trillion stimulus package. Massachusetts, which harvests more lobsters than any state besides Maine, is set to receive just over $28 million. The size of the state’s haul—the third-largest allocation behind Alaska and Washington—is partly due to the strength of the lobster industry here. But lobsterers are just one contingent in a vast workforce that depends upon the sea. “It could always just end up being a money grab,” says Mark Ring of the Massachusetts Lobstermen’s Association.

If any of that money makes its way to Stepanuk he plans to invest in maintenance—his wooden boat, the Aimee, could use a scrape and a paint. After lobstering for 50 years, Stepanuk is practiced at weathering crises; so is his extended community. 

“There’s this whole thing with mutual aid in a place like Gloucester. You get a bucket of lobsters, I get cheaper rent. A grocery store gives out a gift card, basically saying ‘Here’s some money for a couple of weeks.’ It doesn’t seem like much, but it’s a huge thing, helping each other out.”

Jennifer C. Berkshire lives in Gloucester and hosts the education podcast “Have You Heard.” Her book, with co-author Jack Schneider, A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door, will be published by New Press in December. She was one of Kopkind’s inaugural campers, in 1999, and has been an adviser and occasional guest to the project ever since.

Scenes From a Pandemic is a Kopkind/Nation magazine collaboration. This piece originally appeared on on May 20, 2020. We thank Katrina vanden Heuvel, D.D. Guttenplan and The Nation crew.

Bonus: A Radio Short From New Zealand

Maria Margaronis writes from London:

Here’s another radio piece in the series I made about women sewing masks around the world for BBC Woman’s Hour. I wish I could meet Sara Fitzell—tattooist, make-up artist, youth facilitator, mother. She’s Maori, from Lake Rotoiti (full name Te Roto-whaiti-i-kite-ai-a-Ihenga-i-Ariki-ai-a Kahumatamomoe), and she lives in the town of Rotorua, in a volcanic caldera on New Zealand’s North Island. She’s made more than 500 free masks for carers and others who need them, and she also sells them from a basket by her front gate. She chose the music track that accompanies her voice: Maggie Lindemann’s “Pretty Girl.” 

Scenes From a Pandemic: 7

18 05 2020

by José Orduña

A continuing series of dispatches from Kopkind participants, advisers, guests and friends on life in coronavirus time as they observe it.

Baby Joaquín, at night, with his father, and his grandfather’s photograph. (photo: José Orduña)

My Father Is an Essential Worker; Every Day He Makes a Wager With Fate

Las Vegas/Chicago

My dad works at a grocery store in Chicago. He’s 57 years old. He was born in Acapulco, Guerrero. He likes to play the guitar for his 10-month-old grandson, Joaquín, and me, his 35-year-old son, over FaceTime. When my son smiles at the screen, it soothes the hurt caused by the 2,000 miles between us. My dad is quite fit, but he takes a pill every day to lower his blood pressure—a gift inscribed in his genes by his biological father, who abandoned him as a child. When the pandemic hit full stride, he and my mom began gaming out a series of bad “choices,” likely catastrophic “choices,” amid a moment of world-historic crisis that’s been 40-plus years in the making. 

They’ve been trying to “figure things out,” he says. My mom works at a rehabilitation hospital as an interpreter, but her hours have been drastically reduced. My dad can’t work from home, and they’re “on his insurance.” Whenever we video chat, I can see that he’s scared but trying to look, for me, as if he’s not. When he showers, puts on his uniform, and goes to work, he’s forced to make a wager with fate: Today I won’t contract the virus. I won’t die alone, intubated, in an overburdened hospital. I’ll watch Joaquín grow into the toddler clothes I sent him on his 6-month birthday. 

He does this for $14 an hour and the health insurance. The wager he makes every day is a version of one he’s been making his whole working life, which began before he was 10. When he left Mexico, during what historians now call the lost decade—an economic crisis fueled by unscrupulous lending by US commercial banks, World Bank- and IMF-imposed austerity, and the liberalization of the Mexican economy—he lost. He paid in the form of estrangement from everything and everyone he knew, but especially his mother, and the man who helped raise him, whom he called his father. He was able to see my grandmother only a handful of times before her death, and he never saw his dad again, not even when he was laid to rest. When I was a toddler, and he worked 12-hour shifts as a dishwasher at a stadium, he lost again. This time, the price was the permanent disfigurement of his right hand, which was left with thickened, dead skin that comes off in scales. When I was in my 20s, he worked at an industrial food packaging facility about an hour’s commute from where we lived. He worked the night shift. My mother talked to him on the phone for the duration of his drive to make sure he didn’t fall asleep. His blood pressure was the worst it’s ever been then. When he came home at dawn, he looked dazed, like he was sedated or sick, and although it was never diagnosed, he sunk into a slow-burning depression that made him prone to bouts of anger and despair.

With the pandemic raging, my father was “allowed” to take his two weeks of personal time. The other day he decided he’ll stay home without pay, and without the ability to collect unemployment benefits. For the time being, he’s “allowed” to keep his medical insurance, but he and my mother can’t absorb the cost of lost wages for long.

At night, when my wife and I are trying to get our baby to sleep, I take him on little walks through our darkened house. We call these whisper safaris, because I point to things with a dim headlamp and whisper stories to Joaquín as he swivels his head from the objects to my moving lips and back to the objects. One of our stops is a photo of my father and me laughing and embracing at my wedding. Joaquín stares at the photo and then at me. I can see him working out that what he’s seeing is some version of me. He looks at his grandfather’s face, then at mine, and I imagine that he somehow knows the three of us contain one another, that we’re bound by more than blood. When I look at the photo I try to hide what I feel, but sometimes I can’t, and I see Joaquín sensing that something is terribly wrong. This pandemic has laid bare a system that is casual in its cruelty—one that would rather pay workers to die than pay them to live; that absorbs certain kinds of people’s deaths in its cost-benefit analysis; that would think nothing of making my son’s grandfather a memory he never had.

José Orduña is the author of The Weight of Shadows: A Memoir of Immigration and Displacement (Beacon Press). Information about his writing can be found at He was a Kopkind camper in 2013.

Scenes From a Pandemic is a Kopkind/Nation magazine collaboration. This piece originally appeared on on May 13, 2020. We thank Katrina vanden Heuvel, D.D. Guttenplan and The Nation crew.

Bonus: A Song for Kids. Plus… Another Story Behind Your Dinner

Our dear friends and supporters Patty Carpenter and Verandah Porche in Guilford, Vermont, have sent a song they wrote to make hand-washing more fun. It’s called “Every Which Way,” and was produced as an animated music video by Kim Murton and our neighbors Charles Light and Michael Hanish.

Click here to play the music video (drawing: Kim Murton)

A second version of the song–with more animals!–can be found here.

Patty Carpenter, a singer/songwriter, is lead vocalist and pianist of The Dysfunctional Family Jazz Band. Verandah Porche is a poet, a pioneer in the commune movement, an inventor of “told poetry,” a collaborative form of literature she has been practicing with people far and wide. Patty and Verandah have been writing songs together for the past few years.

This week’s top dispatch, about José’s father, a grocery store worker, is also a story about what lies invisible behind our dinner. There are many such stories. An unforgettable one is told by Frank Bardacke, a Kopkind mentor in 2008, in his magnificent book Trampling Out the Vintage: Cesar Chavez and the Two Souls of the United Farm Workers (Verso, 2012). Here are three excerpts from Chapter 2, “The Work Itself.”

Behind every fruit and vegetable for sale in the supermarket lies an unknown world of toil and skill. Broccoli is one of the easiest vegetables to harvest because it grows on plants that are about waist-high, so workers don’t have to bend over completely to cut the unopened, densely compacted flower buds that people eat. The plants grow two rows to a bed in lush fields that extend for hundreds of acres. From a distance, workers, organized into crews of a few dozen, clad in bright yellow rain slickers to ward off the morning dew, seem to be plodding through the plants, hunched over, tiny specks of gold too few to make an impact on so much green. Up close, any illusion of sluggishness dissolves before the athletic spectacle of the cut.

The heads of green compacted buds, three to six inches in diameter, shoot off the main stalk of the plant, sheltered by the broad leaves at the top and hidden among the long leaves that surround the buds before they flower. Not all the heads mature at the same time, and only through keenness of sight can the harvesters—most of them are men—quickly find the ones that are ready to cut. The harvester grabs the head with one hand while with the other he thrusts the short, broad knife downward, cutting the leaves away from the stalk. Then with a sideways stroke of the knife he cuts the head off the plant, leaving just the right length of stalk below the wide unopened flower. He stretches his fingers to grab another head with the first still in his grip and cuts a second stalk. Depending on his quick judgement of the size of the heads and the proximity of the next one ready to cut, he may even grab and cut a third head while holding the other two in his extended hand. Finally he throws the heads onto a conveyer belt moving through the fields, or onto a small platform pulled by a tractor, or into a metal-framed basket on his back, as he looks ahead for the next bud mature enough to be harvested. Each cut takes about three seconds; in an average eight-hour day he might cut 11,000 head of broccoli.

Early days in the life of food, El Centro, California (photo: Gretchen Laue)

Physical labor has received bad reviews since people began to write. It is Adam’s curse in the Old Testament. Aristotle contended that “occupations are … the most servile in which there is greatest use of the body.” The dynamic relationship between the brain and the hand was ripped asunder by early philosophers, leaving two separate activities: valued intellectual labor (suitable for free men) and devalued manual labor (suitable for women and slaves). The philosophical predisposition against the work of the body had its greatest worldly triumph in the development of capitalism and the factory system. As Marx so passionately chronicled, English factories destroyed English handicrafts. What he called “modern industry”—machines built by other machines strung together in a continuous process of production where laborers are “mere appendages” to the machinery—replaced the earlier system of production that “owed its existence to personal strength and personal skill, and depended on the muscular development, the keenness of sight, and the cunning of the hand.”

The cunning of the hand, what farmworkers call maña, remains the basis of California’s farmwork as surely as it is the basis of a major league pitcher’s job or a skilled craftsman’s. Many farmworker jobs are not only hard to do but hard to learn, often requiring years to master, and skills typically are passed from one generation to the next. Farmworkers use hand tools: knives, hoes, clippers, pruners.

Apieros, aka celery workers, harvesting (photo: Nick Oza, The Arizona Republic)

Apieros talk a lot about their knives. They discuss the differing qualities of the steel, the feel of the handle, and the correct angle of the lift at the end of the knife. When a new man is learning how to cut, people come over to help him out, to teach him how to do it right…. New men might buy more than a few different celery knives (some from the very pros who are giving them instructions), trying to get the perfect one that will make them good cutters. “Es el cuchillo,” those trying to learn jokingly tell each other. “It’s all in the knife.”

Celery is planted only inches apart, and unlike lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower, and many other vegetables, the worker cuts every piece. Usually the celery is cut with three strokes. For the first cut the apiero grabs the celery with his non-knife hand at about midstalk. He bends the plant back slightly and, with a short thrust of the knife, cuts the piece of celery at the root, using the angled, fan end of the knife. Just where to cut it, and the exact angle of the first thrust, is part of the skill. Every piece of celery is a little different, so where the first cut lands varies. Cut it too high, and all the individual stalks will separate; it will no longer be a whole piece of celery. Cut it too low, and the next stroke will be more difficult. Cut it at the wrong angle, and some of the outside stalks will be lost.

If the first cut is made correctly, the worker lifts the celery to a horizontal position parallel to the ground and makes the second cut, a sharp downward thrust with the straight edge of the knife, squaring off the first cut at the root. As he finishes this cut he loosens his hold of the knife to make a circular motion with his hand at the just squared-off root, trimming away the remaining loose strands and tendrils. While trimming these “suckers” he turns the piece of celery over with his other hand and then makes the third cut, which trims the top edge of the piece of celery and leaves it about fourteen inches long. Then he drops the celery on top of all the trimmed stalks that protect it from the dirt. When a worker is learning, he masters the strokes, develops his own style, and takes his time. An experienced apiero does the whole operation in one fluid motion, at a rate of about one piece of celery every three to five seconds.

People who can do it well are a sight to behold.

Scenes From a Pandemic: 6

11 05 2020

by Taté Walker

A continuing series of dispatches from Kopkind participants, advisers, guests and friends on life in coronavirus time as they observe it.

(photos and masks: Jana Schmieding)

Covid Is a Wildfire; Colonialism Has Fueled the Blaze

Indian Country

For Indigenous people there are two viruses. 

One has been killing us for centuries. The novel coronavirus is biological and blameless, while colonialism is a man-made cocktail of historical and political toxicity. For the sake of metaphor, work with me here, because you cannot discuss the wildfire that is Covid-19 and the disparities it uncovers without recognizing how colonialism has fueled the blaze.

Indian Country, the legal term for the 574 federally recognized sovereign tribal nations of the US mainland and Alaska, is disproportionately affected. Our communities tend to be in isolated rural areas with the least Internet access. Big extended families often live together in small homes. Basic medical care and social services are limited and always underfunded, if they exist at all. Poverty and chronic diseases are rampant. Some of our relatives have no running water—or contaminated water, the fallout of extractive industries—so washing hands can be a hardship.

This double virus explains why some headlines shout that Covid-19 could “wipe out” Natives. As of May 9, the Navajo Nation had 2,973 cases and 98 confirmed deaths, the highest infection rate after New York and New Jersey. With a total Native population of just over 5 million, Indian Country can’t sustain numbers like that.

Proud as I am our our resiliency, I await the day Natives are no longer applauded for surviving. Living in a constant state of “what kind of colonizer bullshit will we have to endure now?” is not OK.

Many tribes have instituted strict measures to limit contagion.

The Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe of South Dakota, where I’m enrolled and many of my relatives live, enforces curfew, requires travel permits, and has checkpoints to control traffic in and out of its 1.4 million-acre reservation. Gov. Kristi Noem—notorious for snubbing tribes before greenlighting pro-pipeline legislation—now complains that the tribe did not first consult the state, though it’s indisputable the safety measures work. Cheyenne River announced its first Covid-19 case on April 29, and our tribal chairman credited the checkpoint system for tracing the source of the virus to the victim’s travel outside the reservation. Across the state, communities of color aren’t faring as well. Noem disdained statewide collective protection as “herd mentality,” and Sioux Falls became a virus hot spot, the worst in the country from a single source. But that’s just a coincidence, right?

People with a history of surviving state-led genocide are intimately aware of the power of a well-aimed germ—ask Natives about smallpox. Government inaction is thus not surprising, nor is its boundless opportunism. With public attention focused on the biological virus, the Interior Department decided to rescind the reservation designation of the Mashpee Wampanoag (of Thanksgiving fame) and strip them of their lands. When the tribe’s chairman got the call from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, he’d expected the discussion to be about FEMA relief. A federal judge will hear the tribe’s case on May 20.

To say Indian Country distrusts the government is an understatement. We rely instead on culture and relationships—to one another, to our languages, to the land. The concept is foundational to Indigenous ways of being, passed down through ancestral knowledge—or what science calls epigenetics. Call it what you like; it has prepared Indigenous people to weather whatever the plural of apocalypse is. Surviving the very systems built without us in mind, or to destroy us, has forced us to expect and adapt to change. 

This capacity for creative thrivance gives me hope, and examples of it shine through in today’s bleak viral landscape—a reminder that medicine comes in many forms.

  • Social Distance Powwow emerged on Facebook after stay-at-home orders shuttered two of Indian Country’s largest powwows, Denver March and the Gathering of Nations. Now 170,000-strong and growing (not without some pains), this online space provides daily inspiration and prayer, and serves as a digital classroom and marketplace. This is especially meaningful to the artists, dancers, and revelers who depend on the powwow season both economically and culturally.
  • Native storytellers—especially journalists at Indian Country Today—have been vital fonts of news, resources, and data in the crisis. They include educators helping our people reclaim Indigenous food and other wellness knowledge.
  • Artists showcase innovation via tradition. A Mniconjou Lakota television writer and educator in Los Angeles, Jana Schmieding learned to bead as a girl from her elders. She calls the bold face mask pictured here “NDN Quarantine Couture.” For Schmieding and other artisans, beading is a near-ceremonial process; it steadies them in a chaotic world. 

Proud as I am of our resiliency, I await the day Natives are no longer applauded for surviving. Living in a constant state of “what kind of colonizer bullshit will we have to endure now?” is not OK. To overcome this, we need accomplices

Now that privileged populations are experiencing the bitter taste of being confined to homes, blocked from earning money or going to worship, facing police action if you gather in groups, feeling the pressure of not having enough, and fearing contagion, maybe you’ll support Indigenous and other marginalized communities and help us demand accountability. And when you learn, as we have always known, that the government is the problem, perhaps you’ll go a step farther and join us in dismantling this colonial sys-tem and rebuilding communities of holistic well-being.

Taté Walker (Mniconjou Lakota) is a Two Spirit storyteller and was a participant in Kopkind’s 2015 Freedom to Be camp. See Scenes From a Pandemic is a Kopkind/Nation magazine collaboration. This piece originally appeared on on May 6, 2020. We thank Katrina vanden Heuvel, D.D. Guttenplan and The Nation crew.


Bonus: A Radio Short From Liberia

Humpheretta Reid in her workroom in Freetown

Maria Margaronis sent us a radio short (click on photo below to listen), first broadcast April 30 on BBC 4’s Woman’s HourFrom London, Maria writes:

A few years ago I took my mother’s jammed electric Singer (made in 1949 at the company’s great Clydebank factory) to Tony’s Sewing Centre near where I live in London for repair. My visit to his Aladdin’s cave of old and new technology opened up a world of stories about women and sewing machines, which Gandhi called “one of the few useful things ever invented” and Marx saw as a means of extracting more labor from fewer workers. Intimate and industrial, creative and coercive, the sewing machine has been both a liberation and a curse. In these pandemic days, women across the world are using it to make masks—alone and in groups, for family and friends, for front-line workers, for refugees. Something like a movement has spontaneously sprung up, loosely linked by social media. I’ve been collecting some of their stories over dodgy Internet connections for broadcast on the BBC’s Woman’s Hour, with a piece of music chosen by each maker. Here’s community activist HumphEretta Reid of Freetown, Liberia, who’s adapted a pattern used to make reusable sanitary towels. 


Maria Margaronis, a writer and radio maker, is a longtime neighbor and member of the Kopkind family. She is part of Kopkind’s honorary board. Click here to listen to her documentary about the Singer sewing machine. 

Scenes From a Pandemic: 5

4 05 2020

by Anna Flores

This post continues a series of dispatches from Kopkind participants, advisers, guests and friends on life in coronavirus time as they observe it. The series is a collaboration between Kopkind and The Nation.

(illustration: Piersten Doctor)

A Letter to My Landlord

Phoenix. May Day

The days are screaming at the tops of their lungs, coming from the center of somewhere far away and deep inside. 

I have been trying to write this letter to you.

Dear Landlord, 

Due to Covid-19, our anxieties are constellating into clusters of moonlit shock and bracing splendor. Outside, a pair of shiny elevator doors hangs from a white crane, an abandoned pendulum in the sky. Under the swaying, many of us are able only to hallucinate the act of sending you a check on the 1st. I think of dates and time as the evening’s mountains in silhouette, a consecutive line. I imagine scaling the dips and peaks into a Morse-coded message but, today, the hiking trails are packed with people who all had the same idea, and every body becomes a hatch mark in a throbbing line graph. As a precaution to prevent further spread, and to cling to as much of our current health as we can, many of us have chosen, been strongly advised to stay, or been sent home. Are you home with your pets, with your family? I’m rationing my brothers’ faces indefinitely because they’re not on Facebook or a wifi plan, and the US-Mexican border, like many others, is closed to nonessential travel: a desperate expression of divine entry, an imagined, immunological edge, but border cities are not clean cut. Many of us have made a commute across that frontier—now a metal carcass with restless K9s and masked agents. Here, instead of ordering N95 masks, we are trying to ensure a roof over our heads. We have come together so we may represent our interests as people who give you money to claim a place to sleep.

We are writing to request three things:

1. That you refuse to evict tenants from any of your properties.

2. That you suspend rent in full for any tenants who are unable to pay.

3. That you turn toward a humming red regard for other human beings by denying a life contorted into stacks of possessions on your shelves.

On March 30, the State of Arizona issued a shelter-in-place order: an official, on-record gasp stamped with a golden seal and signed by a nervous politician. In an unprecedented statement, the same governor who had previously tried to cement a ban on sanctuary cites that help protect undocumented immigrants from being torn from their communities said this: “Nobody should be forced out of their home because of Covid-19.” A recent news article read, “The Discomfort You’re Feeling Is Grief.” Many of us are scared for our health, let alone our means of living. We hope you will do what is right, and this hope is a hope that does not rely on a virus to wake people up. No virus can sustain a revolution in anything other than a human body. We are prepared to know your true name, to stand six feet apart in solidarity, to stream together like an outburst of laughter in a new world’s throat.


Anna Flores

Anna Flores is a poet and graduate student researcher in Phoenix. Her debut collection, Pocha Theory, explores the experience of mixed-status families in the US. She was the Kopkind/Nation fellow for 2018. For more of illustrator Piersten Doctor’s work, see him on Instagram. This piece originally appeared on on April 29, 2020. We thank Katrina vanden Heuvel, D.D. Guttenplan and all our collaborators in The Nation crew.



Bonus: A Short Film From Cuba

still from Ojos/Eyes (animation: Ivette Avila and collaborators)

From Chicago, filmmaker Alexandra Halkin, who participated in the 2014 Kopkind/Center for Independent Documentary film camp, sent an update in late April about the Americas Media Initiative, which she directs:

Last month I had an unusually vivid dream about a four-eyed dog.  I told the dream to my friend the Cuban animator Ivette Avila, and sent her my rudimentary drawing of the dog’s head.  

A few days later Ivette got in touch with a number of talented Cuban artists and musicians to produce the animated film, Ojos/Eyes, which I wanted to share with you in hopes of brightening your day.

I wrote an article for OnCuba about my friendship with Ivette and how the animation came to life. We have agreed to create more video collaborations between Chicago and Cuba over the next month,  which you can follow by visiting AMI’s Facebook page.

In Cuba, the US trade embargo appears to be stopping much-needed shipments of medical supplies. Our colleague Peter Kornbluh wrote an article about the effects of the embargo now on Cuban citizens. Our on-the-ground work there has been put on hold because of the pandemic, but we continue to work remotely, staying in touch with Cuban filmmakers and continuing our collaboration with Cuban film critic Juan Antonio Garcia on the ENDAC (Cuban Digital Audiovisual Encyclopedia) website. I hope you are well and taking good care during this very stressful time.

Alexandra Halkin founded the Chiapas Media Project in 1998, a binational organization that has trained over 200 indigenous people in video production in Chiapas and Guerrero, Mexico. In 2010 she founded AMI, a nonprofit that produces, distributes and screens film and video made in the Americas by community media organizations and independent filmmakers, particularly Cubans living in Cuba. Her own films have been shown at film and video festivals worldwide. For more on AMI’s Cuban film catalogue, click here.


May Day Special

1 05 2020
(illustrations: Alessandra Moctezuma)

“Something is afoot,” our friends Peter Linebaugh (past Kopkind mentor) and David Roediger write today in CounterPunch. Let us “grasp the spirit of the time.” As workers continue to wildcat throughout the country and the world against systems of death and disposability, from meatpacking houses to hospitals, grocery stores to digital services, construction sites to warehouses, herewith: posters from our friend Alessandra Moctezuma in San Diego, and verse from the great Jamaican poet Claude McKay (1889-1948).

If We Must Die

If we must die—let it not be like hogs,
Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,
While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs,
Making their mock at our accursed lot.
If we must die—oh, let us nobly die,
So that our precious blood may not be shed 
In vain; then even the monsters we defy 
Shall be constrained to honor us though dead!
Oh, Kinsmen! We must meet the common foe;
Though far outnumbered, let us show us brave,
And for their thousand blows deal one deathblow!
What though before us lies the open grave?
Like [wo]/men we’ll face the murderous, cowardly pack,
Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!
                                                                         Claude McKay