Scenes From a Pandemic: 22

31 08 2020

by Kristin R. Pak/ 이영숙

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

Government–supplied provisions for any person in quarantine in South Korea because of Covid-19. (photo: Joey Weinman / Courtesy)

Letter From Seoul


Masks have always been common in Korea. People wear loose ones to avoid tanning their faces or to cover makeup-less mugs. Instead of calling in sick with a cold, they are expected to work with a mask to protect their coworkers. Terrible air pollution prompts about half the people to wear masks, and since antiquity, masks have come out every spring, when the Gobi Desert blankets east Asia with fine sand during Yellow Dust Season. Since the onset of the pandemic, masks have been mandated on all public transportation, including taxis, in Seoul and its suburbs. Nearly everyone complies, with drivers and other riders reminding maskless passengers of the requirement. No one takes violent offense; people are always in your business in Korea. Until late August, following a right-wing rally that caused a spike in infections, masks weren’t mandated here in most other settings. It was largely unnecessary, since almost everyone already wears them, although some establishments had posted signs requiring them.

This past spring, after returning to Seoul from a visit to New York, I’d sit with friends in restaurants and parks discussing reports from the United States about mask fury and toilet paper hoarding and fights over hand sanitizer. Although Korea was “on pause,” we never locked down like US cities. After the crisis began in Daegu, with a member of a secretive Christian church who was a “super spreader,” the government response here and the public’s trust in that response made the difference.

Masks are commonplace. Test results within 24 hours are the only acceptable standard. Everyone in quarantine receives government provisions, including non-citizens. People accept contact tracing because it’s in everyone’s interest — and, we love drinking and socializing with friends.

Besides long-established mask wearing, other aspects of Korean culture and history helped contain Covid-19. The 2015 MERS outbreak had put disaster plans in place, and also activated a sense of solidarity among Koreans. As during the 1997 IMF crisis, when faced with existential threats, Koreans shift from competitiveness to a “together we can overcome” approach. Furthermore, as the national and local governments’ policies proved effective, public trust in the official response soared. In April elections, the incumbent party won by a landslide.

In May, Korea fell out of the top 10 countries worst hit by the virus. By the end of July, we were ranked number 74, with six deaths per million. In contrast, the United States was number one, with 465 deaths per million. While the US had about 70,000 new cases per day, here we’d get panicky if 60 arose. By August, US fatalities exceeded 170,000; in Korea the dead number just over 300. Even with the great difference in population, there’s no comparison.

South Korea, historically in a highly paternalistic relationship with the United States, is not looking to the US to show the way anymore. In some scenarios, like the run-up to the November elections, the US should take cues from the ROK. Here, elections were held with an extended early voting period to curtail waiting and crowding. At polling stations, floor markings made social distancing easy, and both temperature monitoring and disposable gloves were provided. As a Korean American, I know that differences in cultural norms and values would make some of the other ways Koreans have stemmed the pandemic much harder to transfer to the US.

In addition to the two-week pause, involving intense social distancing, the government has tackled the pandemic aggressively with public education campaigns and extensive contact tracing. Text messages inform people about the routes newly diagnosed patients took for several days leading up to diagnosis. Anyone who had been in the same places as a confirmed patient can get tested for free. Testing centers have been set up across the country. True to the cliché of South Korea’s “hurry-up” culture, results within 24 hours by text message are the only acceptable standard.

South Korea isn’t looking to the US to show the way anymore.

People who test positive, or who have been in close contact with someone positive, are quarantined at home with provisions delivered to their door by the government: rice, ramen, Spam, masks, garbage bags for biohazard, water, vegetables, disinfectant, toilet paper. Those under quarantine are also assigned a case worker who checks in on them several times a day to monitor their mental health during isolation. This occurs regardless of the patient’s immigration or citizenship status. The government understands that the virus also disregards these legal distinctions. Such measures help residents who are threatened by disease feel that they haven’t been abandoned, plus it’s in everyone’s interest to contain the virus, even if it means extensive contact tracing.

Contact tracing uses smartphone GPS, security cameras, credit and bank card purchases, and transit card usage. (When a Covid cluster in a foreigner- and gay-friendly neighborhood was sensationalized by a right-wing Christian media outlet, some identifying information was not sent out anymore, like people’s age and citizenship, which could stigmatize foreigners.) Recently, people have been compelled to scan QR codes with their phones, thus sharing their contact information (name, phone number, address) when they enter an establishment that has been known to be the source of outbreak clusters like nightclubs, hostess bars, karaoke rooms, and churches.

Why do people tolerate such surveillance? In so densely populated a country, it’s impossible to do much without someone watching you, even more so in the Seoul metro area, where half of the country’s population lives. South Korea is the most cashless country in the world, and we aren’t going to start using cash again anytime soon. Some purchases are even done through contactless transactions using our phones, whose user agreements allow collection of data. Virtually everyone has a smartphone, and Koreans love convenience. The only thing Koreans love more is drinking and socializing with coworkers and friends, so the high-tech tracing is accepted. Finally, there is the necessary relationship between effective, trustworthy leadership and public commitment to the idea of a shared fight and a shared fate.

Kristin R. Pak/이영숙 has returned to live in Korea after immigrating to the United States. She co-founded and served as the policy director of Solidarity and Political Engagement of Adoptees in Korea (SPEAK), which educates society about the adoption industry to foster critical analysis with the aim of ending intercountry adoption. She is an English professor at Seokyeong University in Seoul. In the US, she had taught English to adult immigrants in New York. She was a Kopkind participant in 2013.

Scenes From a Pandemic is a Kopkind/Nation magazine collaboration. This piece appeared on on August 26, 2020. We thank Katrina vanden Heuvel, D.D. Guttenplan and The Nation crew.

Bonus: A Poster From Vietnam

Ở nhà là yêu nước! (‘To stay at home is to love your country!’), Vietnam, 2020. (graphic: Hiep Le Duc)

“Vietnam, with a population of 100 million, has had no fatalities from COVID-19 as of early July,” write the authors of “CoronaShock and Socialism,” the third in a multi-part series of studies on international responses to the pandemic from Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research, directed by our friend Vijay Prashad. The whole report is fascinating and handsomely illustrated. An excerpt:

On March 30, … the [Vietnamese] government announced a national pandemic. The Ministry of Health posted a music video to explain the concept of physical distancing and hand washing; this video went viral on Tik Tok, where young people created a dance to go with it. The message was broadcast within days. Telecommunications firms – including private companies – sent three billion messages about COVID-19 to those with mobile phones. Masks were mandated in public and alcohol-based hand sanitisers were distributed and made available for sale everywhere. Schools and religious sites were all immediately closed.

The government directed public sector units to produce necessary equipment, including Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and ventilators, as well as hand sanitizer and medicines. There was enough industrial capacity that could be directed to produce these goods without any concerns about price gouging, since these are public sector enterprises. On 8 April, the government of Vietnam sent 450,000 units of PPE to the United States in an act of solidarity.

Vietnam recorded its first Covid deaths on July 31. In total, 34 people have died there. The US death toll is 183,000.

Scenes From a Pandemic: 21

24 08 2020

by Aaron Talley

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

The author’s new middle school classroom (photo: Aaron Talley)

This Is What Dystopia Looks Like

Jamila had never officially been my student.

I’ll call her Jamila. In September 2017, she had marched into my classroom because she wanted to meet “the new black English teacher,” a rarity at my school, where the staff is predominately white, despite being on the South Side of Chicago in one of its “toughest” neighborhoods.

In my mind, she was ready for college. At the age of 16, she was already adept at making jokes about “toxic masculinity,” and already had a catalogue of her favorite black feminist poets. Over the course of the next three years, she and I held several discussions about family, her future, race, gender, and writing.

She was intentional about performing her existence as an act of defiance. She opted for bold short haircuts, wore oversize thrift store clothes, and was popular in school for her slam poetry. She was the type of student who gave you hope for the future. She was charming and bombastic, with a voice that you could hear long before you saw her.

And it’s beautiful to see a child grow via her relationship to art. In the 10th grade, she just wanted to share her poetry. Now in her senior year, she talked about the intention of her poems. These intentions began to bleed into her own decision making. Decisions like choosing to stay at home for college rather than going away. Or choosing whether to accept her mom’s discomfort with her gender performance. Once an angsty teenager full of complaints, she was growing into an assertive adult who made adult decisions. Like many teachers, I wanted to see her growth as a reflection of my own energy and attention as well. I felt that seeing her walk across the stage would be a culminating moment.

I didn’t imagine my last time seeing her would be as it was in June of 2020—she, riding alongside her mom in a small, bare brown car; me, masked, distant on the sidewalk alongside other teachers cheering at the car-parade graduation. Covid had led to Chicago Public Schools officially closing in mid-March, so it had been approximately three months since I had last heard from her, and in a rush of excitement I ran toward the car, thinking to myself that an “air high five” would be the best I could offer at that moment.

As I got midway to the car, her mother’s smiling face dissolved into a frown, and sense swarmed back into my brain. Why would you run toward the car during Covid? Of course, Mom doesn’t know you were just gonna give an air high five. I halted and threw my palms in the air, in a gesture that was now equal parts high five and surrender. Jamila threw hers up as well and smiled. I retreated to the sidewalk to continue cheering on the other graduating students. The brown car moved on.

This is what dystopia looks like. Nothing is clear-cut. No one has the answers. There are no real endings or beginnings, just a procession of limbos… It’s back-to-school, and remote learning.

It was gorgeous outside. It was the type of sunny that makes you aware of the silhouettes of the trees against the concrete. Despite being prepared to be sad, I found the car graduation to be a beautiful moment of innovation. Cars in procession, most accented with maroon and gold balloons and paint, or Class of 2020, or my students’ names spiraling along the windows. Amid the noise of celebration, my students looked out from the car windows, popped up through sunroofs, rode on the back of pickup trucks. What I had thought would be a bland substitute was a rather regal event. My students had turned their cars into chariots. Some soaked the moment in fully, with their shoulders erect, their hair flapping in the wind.

I left the graduation early. My car was parked on a crowded street, and I didn’t want to be trapped when the procession finished. Inwardly I was embarrassed for my earlier impulse, since there’s no room to be impulsive during a pandemic. When everything stops rather than finishes, you have no choice but to be intentional.

This month, Chicago Public Schools rolled back its idea of a “hybrid” model of schooling, a concept that had been initially announced with a tone of certainty that anyone actually working within CPS knew not to trust. In that model, students would’ve spent part of their time in remote learning and part of their time at school, with parents able to opt out of in-person learning altogether. I wonder about what exactly would have been hybridized, since this model would’ve had my time split between a computer screen and an ill-ventilated building, with students split six feet apart, with split resources, and split investment. And despite CPS’s deciding to go fully remote beginning September 8, because of the lack of clear direction I still feel split, like I’m still alone midway in that street between a frowning face and cheering.

I start every year teaching a unit on dystopia, where the joy is meant to be found in realizing how dystopic our society really is. The irony is palpable in this moment. In fictional dystopias, however, clarity is abundant. There is a clear social ill that plagues society, a clear sense of past and present, a clear enemy; and it’s clear when the revolution needs to happen. There is a beginning and an end. In a real-life dystopia, no one really has the answers, so there are no real endings or beginnings. Just a procession of limbos. In a real-life dystopia, apocalypse still hits, and sometimes it comes in a familiar form: an explosion, a natural disaster, or a revolution. Sometimes, the apocalypse is just an air high five instead of a hug. Nevertheless, you have to keep going.

I set up my new makeshift workspace in the corner of my living room. It consists of a small circular table sitting by the largest windows in the house. I prepare for the year. I think of my students. I reflect on what I want to do differently. I flirt with the idea of starting a YouTube channel. I brainstorm how to teach a novel over the computer. I groan at work e-mails. I worry, and then I don’t. And when I remember, I take a deep breath.

Aaron Talley, a writer, activist, facilitator, and educator, teaches middle school on Chicago’s South Side. His writing has been featured in various news outlets, including Colorlines, the Feminist Wire, The Advocate, Education Post, and Chicago South Side Weekly. An alumni of the Voices of Our Nations Arts Fellowship (VONA), he is currently pitching a speculative fiction novel for young adults. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram: @Talley_Marked and read more of his work on his blog Newer Negroes. Aaron was a participant in Kopkind’s 2015 political camp.

Scenes From a Pandemic is a Kopkind/Nation magazine collaboration. This piece originally appeared on August 19, 2020, on The Nation‘s website. We thank Katrina vanden Heuvel, D.D. Guttenplan and The Nation crew.

Bonus: Remembering Andy & His Birthday

Andy and John Scagliotti, his life partner and the administrator of Kopkind (photo: Gregg DeChirico)

Andy Kopkind would have been 85 today, August 24. Andy contained multitudes: an extraordinary writer and thinker, with a radical politics, a gay sensibility, a perfect style, a seemingly boundless store of knowledge (and curiosity about what wasn’t known), he was also a consummate cook and gardener, a source of puns and fun. To anyone who experienced the joy of Andy’s birthday at Tree Frog Farm, the occasion is unforgettable—the convergence of people who came to celebrate, stayed for days, cooked great food (or just ate it), swam and danced, and talked about all things under the sun and stars.

So, a treat! A memento of Andy from a long-ago summer in Guilford, Vermont, when he played the Duchess in a community performance of Alice in Wonderland. Also featured in clips from this rough vintage home movie are John as the Brown Mouse, Verandah Porche (our neighbor and a Kopkind advisor) as the Caterpillar, our longtime friend Will Wilkins, and other members of the Monteverdi Players. (With thanks to our friend and Kopkind alum Christopher Dawes for editing this little montage.)

Please click on image above to watch video.

The convergences that marked Andy’s birthday inspired the Kopkind Colony. Covid-19 has prevented us from holding what would have been our 21st year of seminar/retreats, weeklong sessions in which political journalists and activists or documentary filmmakers share ideas and insights, eat well, revel in nature—think and breathe and recharge for the work ahead. For 21 weeks now, members of the extended Kopkind family have, instead, been sharing stories of this long suspended season. Scroll down through the Scenes and the Bonuses. Share this site with your friends. And, brother, sister, if you can spare a dime, please click on DONATE at the top of the page or click here. Thank you!

Scenes From a Pandemic: 20

17 08 2020

by Gregg DeChirico

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

Kayaker facing the storm (photos: Gregg DeChirico)

Grief in Florida

’Tis the times’ plague, when madmen lead the blind…

—William Shakespeare

Fort Myers, Florida

The term 2020 is associated with visual acuity, but chronologically 2020 has been a year of blindsiding trauma. I have witnessed and survived a plague before, that one ignored by Reagan’s White House when I lived in Greenwich Village from 1977 to ’88. AIDS took 34 friends, lovers, and colleagues before I stopped counting and fled the city in grief.

Now the plague’s name has changed, but the circus of obfuscation for political gain remains the same. That and death, as the US toll from Covid-19 exceeds 170,000.

With death comes grief, and its stages of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance—a cycle I see distorted in the chaos around me.

This time, I live in the great state of denial… Florida. Denial offered a sublime state of bliss in March, when the kids came down for Spring Break, and Governor DeSantis held off shutting down beaches and bars until it was almost over, conceding to community leaders and medical experts as Covid cases were starting to multiply. And so the kids went home—to Connecticut, Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, New York… The rest is history.

Except, Florida didn’t let go of denial; it reopened for business on May 4. When the filter of rose-colored glasses finally fell away to the harsh light of reality, blissful ignorance turned to anger.

Anger takes various irrational forms. I live in a working-class neighborhood in Lee County. Here the roads and strip mall lots are dominated by pickup trucks. Some are shiny, though rarely new. Others are battered, rusted, their beds littered with McDonald’s packaging, crushed cans, tools, everything pushed to a corner and held in place by a tire. Virtually all bear insignia—the flag, the Christian fish, Trump/Pence 2020, the badge of some branch of the armed services, an AK47 decal, if not a fully stocked gun rack mounted inside across the rear window. Subtlety having taken a back seat to bold statement in recent months, Confederate symbols, also common, have graduated from four-by-six-inch decals to four-by-six-foot flags, snapping crisply in the wind.

Grief in Florida: Doctors Without Borders sent a triage unit to Immokalee to treat migrant farm workers and track the viral spread. This was not widely publicized. The governor, like the president, blames the workers for spiking infections. In the great state of denial, blissful ignorance turned to anger.

This is still an agricultural region. Tomatoes are a prime commodity, with other warm-weather crops. Harvesting depends on migrant workers, the majority of them Mexican. Despite their intimate connection to Ag profit and the state’s economy, DeSantis publicly echoes Trump in blaming farm workers for Florida’s spiking infections.

Most of the estimated 150,000 to 200,000 migrants converge in or near Immokalee, in neighboring Collier County, surrounded by cypress swamps. They live in tight quarters, often in complex multigenerational families, and ride to work in groups. Hand sanitizer and masks were not made available to them. Maligned as “illegals,” they were denied testing and treatment. It is no wonder the virus spiked here. More surprising is that Doctors Without Borders (MSF) sent a triage unit to Immokalee to help treat patients and track the viral spread. This was not widely publicized. I learned of it while inquiring about volunteer opportunities. Had I volunteered with MSF, I would likely have been recruited to accompany the triage unit on to the Democratic Republic of Congo to assist with ongoing Ebola outbreaks. If I were 20 years younger, I’d have gone.

Out of economic and psychological necessity, I took a job with one of the Big Box Essential Businesses, but I am a naturalist at heart, most content when immersed in a wild setting, captivated by most anything that crosses my path. I love snakes, even the venomous species, among the most highly evolved of all reptiles. However, most people react to snakes with a compulsion to kill. Case in point, my co-worker, Joe Z., ordinarily humble, helpful, affable beyond measure. Joe and I were talking casually about local wildlife when he declared that he will drive his truck onto the sidewalk if necessary to kill any snake he sees.

I tried reasoning, most snakes are benign unless provoked…, but a sentence scarcely passed my lips when his face contorted and he flew into a rant. “They” are… “snakes! They are evil.” Something about Adam and Eve, and how “we” lost everything. “Remember the apple, she got it from the snake!” Faced with his conviction, all I could manage to say was, “Oh, Joe, I used to like you.” To which he laughed agreeably, because he thought I was joking.

It struck me later that Joe is deeply mad. Spiritually, he feels he has been robbed. He blames snakes and seeks retribution through their wanton execution, but the enemy could be anything: face masks, BLM, Democrats, Republicans, Confederate flags, libtards, Muslims, migrants, vote by mail. Everywhere across the country, fear and uncertainty opens a Pandora’s box of festering vitriol, with causes both real and imagined, crossing all communities, in all directions, and becoming amplified as we approach November’s elections.

Anger having failed to resolve grief, elections—our flawed collective bargaining session where winner takes all—is unlikely to, either.

Bargaining of this sort is more likely to prime the losing side to retaliate. At work, I have overheard several break-room conversations about how many guns and what types people have, and where they buy ammunition—prices skyrocket weekly—specifically in preparation for the election. I told a co-worker that I don’t own a gun. Shocked, he later texted me an ad for a $359 Smith & Wesson .38: “Good deal!” The text wasn’t as unsettling as his apparent certainty that armed resistance is imminent. How can we bargain for fairness in a democratic process when civility is off the table, each side bludgeoning the other with demands and threats? It is depressing to think about.

Depression is something most of us know in this grief-struck time. My neighbor burst into tears the other day, standing 10 feet from me, both of us masked. “I can’t take it anymore,” she kept saying, before disappearing behind her door. Who isn’t depressed about a total disruption of life, many unemployed, facing economic ruin, others shut off from ailing relatives and friends? We have become a housebound, home-shopping, home-schooling, Door-Dashing, day-drinking society, castaways from the past, without a clear plan for the future.

Acceptance is the final stage of grief. But is it in this case? Especially when there is a constant flux of people experiencing different stages in different ways, with varying frequencies. When the mere idea of having to accept this as “the new normal” sets the cycle anew.

It is no longer a cycle but a perpetual state of social grief.

As a counter to its weight, I retreat to the natural wild, a world I understand, where the laws are fixed, cyclical, seeking balance. Through the eye of nature, I look for renewal, for calm, and hope to be spared from another hurricane. Speaking of denial…

Gregg DeChirico is a specialist in exotic plants. He is a member of Kopkind’s board of directors, a longtime dear friend, who once lived at Tree Frog Farm.

Scenes From a Pandemic is a Kopkind/Nation magazine collaboration. This piece originally appeared on August 12, 2020 on The Nation‘s website. We thank Katrina vanden Heuvel, D.D. Guttenplan and The Nation crew.

Bonus: A Photo From a Teacher

(photo: Aaron Talley)

Back to school? Aaron Talley, who participated in Kopkind’s political camp in 2015, sent this photograph of his old middle-school classroom in Chicago. In the next installment of the Kopkind/Nation pandemic series, he will have a dispatch from the limbo state of remote learning. Watch for it! August 19 on August 24 here, plus a very special bonus.

Scenes From a Pandemic: 19

10 08 2020

by Judith Levine

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

Unconstrained by mask requirements, customers may pick up a handgun or a case of Covid-19. (photo: Judith Levine)

‘History Makes Us, Not Age’

Hardwick, Vermont

Like a lot of people my age—pushing 68—I don’t usually feel old. Now it turns out I am. Among the ways my body is aging is its decreased production of “fresh naïve T cells” (or, probably, fresh naive anything). This makes me more susceptible to contracting Covid-19, and if I do, to dying.

This fact sensitizes me to the uneven, and politicized, state of mask wearing in my town. In the food co-op, the scoops for bulk foods—grains, granola, nuts—are used once and collected in a box. No such precautions at Rite Way Sports, where customers are free to pick up a container of night crawlers, a Beretta M9 semiautomatic handgun, or a case of Covid-19.

To many around here, the virus is an abstraction. Caledonia County, among the most rural in the state, has had 26 cases—less than one in 100,000—and no deaths. In all of Vermont, just over 1,450 people have sickened and 58 died. As elsewhere, the dying are old. Only four have been under 60.

Sidelined by rural isolation and elderly caution, I watch videos of the Black Lives Matter uprisings and police brutality and federal military invasions and feel my emotions swinging between radical hope and apocalyptic terror. Hope inspired by the diversity and militancy of the protesters; terror, by the flash-bangs and teargas and an awareness of the future these young folks face. I note they almost all wear masks, acknowledgement of their outsize vulnerability as black and brown people, but also, to my eyes, of concern for their elders. Tenderness overwhelms me.

Then I switch to videos of maskless twentysomethings crowding beaches and bars, and I seethe. The phrase Kids these days springs uninvited to mind.

We rarely list age among intersectional oppressions. But deep in the genocidal US pandemic, there it is. Age is a defining feature of Covid fatalities in prisons and jails. Senior workers are being slammed as hard as the youngest cohort in the economic shutdown. Age discrimination means most elders won’t work again. “People who are middle-class workers now will be poor or near-poor retirees for the rest of their lives.”

Such mixed feelings are not rare among my contemporaries; the rigidly disapproving oldster is a caricature. Yet how easily we can be caricatured. Here is the usually nuanced political analyst, labor and health care historian Gabriel Winant, in “Coronavirus and Chronopolitics,” in n+1:

There is a great contradiction embodied in the facts that the virus is fundamentally a threat to the old; that this threat has been magnified enormously by the incompetence and malice of the ruling regime; and that the old are the primary mass political constituency of that regime. The coincidence in time of the outbreak of coronavirus in the United States and the crushing of Bernie Sanders’s bid to democratize our health system and face the related crisis of climate change—a defeat inflicted through extreme generational polarization—intensifies this contradiction further. The young are trying to save the old, as well as themselves; the old are trying to kill the young, as well as themselves.

Emphasis mine, as in, WTF, Gabe?

Winant quotes sociologist Gøsta Esping-Andersen, coiner of chronopolitics: “As the necessity of financial cuts mounts, the need for trade-offs mounts.”

What “necessity” for cuts and trade-offs? You mean austerity?

Adds Winant: “The old have formed into battalions to mount a defense of the predatory and destructive capitalism we have known.”

What battalions? The AARP?

In fact, as older Americans drop dead from the coronavirus, the economic shutdown is slamming senior workers as hard as the youngest cohort. Age discrimination means most elders won’t work again. Drawing down savings or going into debt, “people who are middle-class workers now will be poor or near-poor retirees for the rest of their lives,” says economist Teresa Ghilareducci.

“Entitlements” don’t go far. In 2019, a third of Social Security recipients relied solely, or almost solely, on that benefit, which averaged $1,461 a month. Medicare, deducted from a person’s Social Security but increasingly privatized, costs more and covers less. Out-of-pocket bills consume, on average, 40 cents of each dollar of recipients’ income; by age 85, the portion rises to three-quarters. A 2013 analysis predicted that the ranks of the homeless old would swell by a third between 2010 and 2020. What now?

We rarely list age among intersectional oppressions. But deep in the genocidal US pandemic, there it is. Why are 48 of the top 50 Covid clusters prisons and jails? It’s not only racial health disparities and overcrowding, says the Marshall Project. Because of ever-longer sentences, inmates over 55 make up a larger share of state prison populations than those 24 and under. Chronic illnesses render them easy marks for Covid-19.

History makes us, not age.

“The young are not interested in reducing old-age benefits but rather increasing other ones,” says Winant. But who are ‘the young’? Paul Ryan, elected to Congress at 29, spent his career trying to feed the poor and the old into the jaws of Republican swamp creatures. Neil Gorsuch, corporate proxy on the Supreme Court, is a Gen-Xer.

Alicia Garza is the same age as Jared Kushner, 39. Angela Davis is two years older than Mitch McConnell. The young people crowding the beaches are not the young people being gassed in the streets.

Winant concludes with a call to solidarity: “Our survival depends upon resolving the antagonisms that have separated us and joining together against the regime of capital accumulation that has brought us to this precipice.” Yet having condemned his elders for starting the fight, he doesn’t absolve them.

Similarly, Vermont’s governor, amid paeans to protecting “our” elders, declares the state’s aging population a “crisis.” Voters are never told why an older populace—that is, increasingly, themselves—is the problem, especially given that in the coming de-pression their Social Security checks may be the one reliable source of state revenues.

I come not to praise, or plead for, my generation. But, younger comrades, don’t blame us for the policies that will bury us—or you. History makes us, not age. No generation holds greater claim to justice or greater responsibility for attaining it.

Judith Levine’s latest book, with Erica Meiners, is The Feminist and the Sex Offender: Confronting Sexual Harm, Ending State Violence (Verso). Judith was a special guest at Kopkind in 2006.

Scenes From a Pandemic is a Kopkind/Nation magazine collaboration. This piece originally appeared on August 5, 2020 on The Nation‘s website. We thank Katrina vanden Heuvel, D.D. Guttenplan and The Nation crew.

Bonus: With Love From Chicago/Cuba

From Chicago, Alex Halkin sent us another short film made with Cuban artists.

Alex and Ivette Avila, the film’s soundtrack editor (and, with Ramiro Zardoya, a central figure in the Cuban collaborative), write:

The Cuban animation series Creation Collective in Quarantine (Creación Colectiva en Cuarentena) arose, as its name suggests, amid isolation during the Covid-19 pandemic. The mostly Cuban artists who have collaborated—musicians, plastic artists, dancers, filmmakers, and children—aim to document the moods, the creativity in confinement, nightmares . . . in short, what people are feeling and experiencing in these times of pain, uncertainty, reimagining, and—why not?—hopes of change To date, the group has produced six animated shorts.

Once upon a time in Chicago/Erase una vez en Chicago starts with footage shot by Alexandra Halkin of the dysfunctional and half-empty city in quarantine. The animations fill the video with lyricism, poetry, new insights, and meanings. This is the second animated collaboration Alexandra has done with the group. The first one, Ojos/Eyes, released last April (and posted on Kopkind’s site on May 4), was about a dream Alexandra had about a four eyed dog:

Alexandra Halkin, a US documentary filmmaker, participated in the Kopkind/Center for Independent Documentary film camp in 2014. In 2010, she founded the Americas Media Initiative (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.

Scenes From a Pandemic: 18

3 08 2020

by Najla Said

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

Mural on the apartheid wall in Occupied Palestine. (photo: Abeer Salman)

Diary of a Never-Ending Crisis

New York City

March. I remember Beirut in 2005, after a car bomb went off, trying not to go near parked cars, and stopping, hyperventilating, catching my breath, and drilling into my brain: “Keep walking, keep going; you can’t control it; you have to keep going.” I need to do this now, here.

Having spent my childhood between Beirut during two wars and NYC in the 1970s–’80s, I have learned to be prepared. I tell myself, “I fear nothing and live for human solidarity.”

Half my Pilates clients are away, some are over 70 and canceled out of fear, and the rest just don’t think it’s a good idea right now. I am officially income-less. My production of Palestine in Chicago will be pushed back at least two to three weeks as of now. I have waited 10 years for a theater to want to do my play again. Now I’m pretty sure it ain’t happening.

I’m making a pink glittery unicorn T-shirt for my niece. I have no problem staying busy. I don’t feel like I have ADHD anymore, because without the confines of other people’s structure, I can do things at my own rhythm.

My shrink says that many traumas will be reactivated during this crisis and asks me how I am doing.

“This is kind of like Beirut, but easier.”

“Oh right. Well, for you it’ll be easier, then.”

I predict the return of telephone calls. I hope no one calls me. I’m an introvert; I hate the phone.

In the store the guy behind me has a cart filled with bottled water. “You must be Lebanese,” I say.

He laughs. “How can you tell?”

“The bottled water.”

There is no need to stock up on water in New York, but that is what Lebanese people do.

I tell people that niqabs (veils over the mouth and nose) were originally worn in the desert to keep sand out of people’s faces, just as masks now are supposed to keep the virus out of our mouth and nose. I explain that Arabs invented soap and the word “quarantine.” No one cares.

There were 6,000 911 calls in the city yesterday. In Beirut, I would hear bombs and artillery fire, and then the sirens. Here it is just sirens. Which is eerie, more unsettling.

Diary of a crisis: nothing is happening; everything is happen-ing. Month after month. I am income-less. I keep busy. I fear nothing, and many things. I feel I am living in a Beckett play.

April. My birthday. My cousins organized a Zoom call for me, and people rang me on the phone. I made a cake. I sang “Miss Mary Mack” with my niece, talked to my nephew, and virtually jumped on a trampoline with my goddaughter. Expect nothing, do nothing, no pressure—perfection.

I’ve knit five scarves. I make pudding, even though I don’t eat pudding.

CNN keeps saying that other countries have more beds in ICU and better medical systems to respond to the virus: “Why? It’s a long story.”

I want to scream, “Socialized medicine! Duh!”

Easter is soon. Maybe Jesus will come back and fix this mess.

For many Americans feeling unsafe is too much. But the whole world lives this way all the time. American exceptionalism needs to die and stay dead.

Meanwhile, I am living in a Beckett play, making up things to do and say so that I exist. There is something satisfying about that.

May. George Floyd is dead.

“Mama, Mama…”

My heart shatters.

My nephew changes his Instagram profile pic to one of John Carlos with his fist in the air, and shares a photo of the George Floyd mural on the wall in Palestine. The kids are alright.

I think about the importance of breath, and breadth. I worry about all that gets left out in our politics. I seem to be out of place. I’m Palestinian and Lebanese; I’m a New Yorker. I tell myself, ‘Keep walking, keep going.’

June. Between the virus and George Floyd’s death, I think about the importance of breath.

I make connections with Palestine, explaining that the IDF trains our cops, that the move used to kill Mr. Floyd is from Krav Maga. I’ve been told that expressing Palestinian solidarity is “co-opting” the black struggle. I should be quiet.

Cornel West keeps mentioning Edward Said on TV. I’m grateful, because no one seems to know that my father’s work helped us get to this point.

I’m glad people are getting radicalized, but I worry about all that gets left out. I worry about the inability to make connections.

I wonder where I fit in this new BIPOC acronym. I just got chased down the street by a nutjob who screamed that I’m a stupid white bitch who doesn’t care about Black lives.

“I’m Palestinian!” I yell, for all the Upper West Side to hear.

“Yeah, bitch, and I’m Cherokee.”

What. The. Fuck.

I am not Black. Or Indigenous. Am I POC? I never seem to have a place here.

A nice gay boy asks if I’m OK.

Happy Pride.

July. Extroverts text and call too much; they need to call other extroverts.

Outside New York, no one wants to wear a mask. Almost everywhere else in the world, people value community. Here it’s the individual, who always seems to be complaining.

We have another family Zoom call—relatives in Beirut, New York, South Carolina, Connecticut, London, Dallas, San Francisco, Seattle—my mom’s generation, my generation, the kids.

My cousin, on his way to Beirut, stops at different ATMS to bring cash and medicine to family members. Lebanon is in free fall for other reasons, but still they test everyone on the plane before and after the flight; anyone who tests positive is sent to a hotel for two weeks. That seems like the proper way to do things.

I kind of loved lockdown at the beginning. Now some days the silence is too much and I just cry.

Nothing is happening; everything is happening.

I am invisible. I am exhausted.

“You must go on. I can’t go on. I’ll go on.”

Najla Said is an actor and playwright, and the author of Looking for Palestine: Growing Up Confused in an Arab-American Family (Riverhead Books). In 2010, Kopkind presented a staged reading of her one-woman play, Palestine.

Scenes From a Pandemic is a Kopkind/Nation magazine collaboration. This piece originally appeared on July 29, 2020, on The Nation‘s website. We thank Katrina vanden Heuvel, D.D. Guttenplan and The Nation crew.

Bonus: A Song by and for Nurses

A nurse on a Covid ward in Teheran. (photo: Mohammad Ghadamali/AP Photo)

In New York the 7 pm clapping for nurses and other health care workers stopped months ago. It was always more a ritual for the benefit of those in lock-down; it told us we weren’t alone. Nursing has become symbolic, but let’s honor the work. The WHO, the International Council of Nurses (INC), and Nursing Now recently reported that worldwide there is a shortage of six million nurses–especially affecting the Global South–and deep income disparities. The INC has made a music video in recognition of the work and the people everywhere who do it. In Kopkind’s immediate family, one of those people is Dave Hall, our longtime operations manager and cook, John Scagliotti’s partner, our brother, and a psychiatric nurse in Vermont. For Dave and all nurses of the world: “I Am a Nurse.”