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)

Something’s Happening Here

Gloucester, Mass. 

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 thenation.com 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)

Something’s Happening Here

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 joseorduna.com. He was a Kopkind camper in 2013.

Scenes From a Pandemic is a Kopkind/Nation magazine collaboration. This piece originally appeared on thenation.com 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)

Something’s Happening Here

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 www.jtatewalker.com. Scenes From a Pandemic is a Kopkind/Nation magazine collaboration. This piece originally appeared on thenation.com 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)

Something’s Happening Here

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.

Signed,

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 thenation.com 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




Scenes From a Pandemic: 4

27 04 2020

by Cynthia Greenlee

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.

Gabrielle Eitienne with mint (photo: Derrick Beasley)

Something’s Happening Here

Hurdle Mills, North Carolina 

Linda Leach wears a mask as much for the pollen that’s whipping through the air as coronavirus. Sticking her head out her pickup-truck window, she checks the progress in the shed on the farm she owns with husband Stanley Hughes.

Gloved and intent, Gabrielle Eitienne and Gerald Harris pull apart tangles of herbs. They sort them into piles, determining what’s what by smell and sight: cilantro, oregano, sage, mint. Soon, the scent in the Pine Knot Farms shed is an olfactory cocktail, as Hughes peels an orange and the wind picks up, blowing empty boxes off the truck bed a few steps away. Those boxes will soon each hold a dozen fresh eggs and Pine Knot’s trademark sweet potatoes, then gradually fill up with the vegetables of this in-between season: kale, mustard greens, bundles of collards, leaves as broad as fans—the bounty from five farms, ready for pick-up. 

What’s happening here is a new community-supported agriculture (CSA) service, the Tall Grass Food Box, featuring the produce of black farmers around the state’s Triangle region. It was an idea among friends, who hustled to organize the CSA in about a week and a half as the coronavirus crisis hit: Eitienne, a cook and cultural preservationist; Harris, a university administrator interested in food sovereignty; and Derrick Beasley, an artist and co-founder of Black August, a showcase for black food producers, business, and creativity held annually in Durham. “We were asking ourselves, Who’s taking care of black farmers? How can we support them?” says Harris. 

Leach and Hughes didn’t blink when asked to participate. Sitting in the couple’s gleaming kitchen, Hughes estimates that 50 percent of their sales comes from farmers markets, now disallowed under North Carolina’s stay-at-home order. 

But Pine Knot specializes in survival. It’s a rare “century farm,” acreage bought in 1912 by Hughes’s grandfather. As Hughes puts it, “I’ve been farming as long as I’ve been black”—all of his 71 years. Pine Knot is among the best-known small farms in North Carolina, and the first black-owned one in the state to be certified organic, in 1996 — when few farmers of any race earned the designation. Hughes became one of the country’s pioneers of organic tobacco. Gourmet proclaimed his collards a national treasure in 2003, and his sweet potatoes draw competitors’ envy. 

“Everybody wants to know how he cures his sweet potatoes,” says Leach with an emphatic nod, speaking of the process that makes the vegetables storable for months. “He won’t tell it to anybody—except for me.”

Pine Knot’s longevity is also unusual in a state where black land dispossession is a century-long and ongoing tale. Hurdle Mills was once dotted with African-American homesteads. Driving the verdant route there, about 30 minutes from Durham, I saw more than a few rural-gentrifying McMansions. “You can hardly find a black full-time farmer here for the next 10 miles,” says Hughes.

As we speak on a sunny day, rain has delayed spring planting by two weeks. That’s not an insurmountable problem, and workers are now “cutting the land,” prepping the fields. 

Hughes epitomizes the farmer as working-class scientist. He reels off the soil sugar levels tobacco needs to thrive, the names of sweet potato varieties beyond the orange Beauregards in a supermarket near you, and the price a 40-pound box of his favorite tubers is fetching (about $30). Leach handles paying the bills and other business matters. Together, they’re always looking for new revenue streams. 

Eitienne is thrilled that the Tall Grass Food Box will contain Pine Knot’s Murasaki white sweet potatoes. If people talked about sweet potatoes like they talk about wine, the Murasakis would be described as having “notes of brown sugar.”

Partially filled Tall Grass Food Box (photo: Derrick Beasley)

Food can comfort and connect in hard times. Eitienne shares her favorite sweet potato soup recipe: “I’ll soften up some leeks with butter, maybe some carrots. Then I put in the boiled sweet potatoes, or I’ll roast them depending on how much time I have. I’ll puree and thin it out with beef stock. And then I’ll finish it with a little good olive oil or chive oil. Maybe I’ll use wild yard chives or some fresh thyme.” 

Leach shares her tip for sweet potato pie: Use the Murasakis and a packet of instant vanilla pudding to hold it together. Imparting that knowledge, she smiles at Beasley, Etienne, and Harris, lined up in front of her. “I appreciate what you’re doing,” Leach says. “I’m looking at millionaires now, and you’re going to do it with black farmers.” 

The CSA sold 30-odd boxes in its inaugural week, and there’s room to expand. Beasley defines success in material and community terms, and the current crisis as an opportunity beyond accumulation: making sure black farmers are visible, paying them fair retail prices upfront, getting fresh produce to people, helping consumers think outside grocery stores, creating new markets that are friendly and beneficial to both producers and customers of color. “There’s enough for all of us,” he says. 

“Oh, there’s enough for all,” agrees Leach. And shouldn’t black farmers and small businesses have a bigger share? The Lord wants us to speak success, she says. “Everybody can get a slice of the pie. The sweet potato pie.”

Cynthia Greenlee is an independent historian, writer, and editor based in Durham. She was a participant in Kopkind’s 2007 camp for political journalists and activists. This piece appeared on thenation.com on April 22, 2020. We thank Katrina vanden Heuvel, D.D. Guttenplan and all our collaborators in The Nation crew.

Bonus: A Photo From the Bay Area

San Francisco, April 24. I took a bike ride last Saturday up to Hill 88, a former Nike missile site in the Marin Headlands, just over the Golden Gate Bridge from here. It’s one of the highest and westernmost peaks in the Headlands, at the edge of the Pacific Ocean. The military installation up top, a series of stripped-out bunkers and truck-sized concrete brackets and platforms, once part of the US nuclear-capable Cold War air-defense network, is surreally abandoned. It’s been heavily tagged and painted by graffiti writers. The art is often gorgeous, and totally present tense.Josh Wilson

(photo: Josh Wilson)

Josh Wilson is a journalist and a founding member of the Northern California Media Co-op, a collective of local, regional and advocacy news organizations from San Francisco to Mendocino, including a number of Bay Area neighborhood newspapers, as well as leading publications representing the lgbtq and black communities. Josh was a participant in Kopkind’s 2019 camp.





Scenes From a Pandemic: 3

20 04 2020

by Tristan Call

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.

(photo: Tristan Call)

Somethings Happening Here

Nashville

It rained all day yesterday. My neighbor down the street called to ask if I’d help him move some boxes once the rain stopped; his roof caved in during the tornado that hit weeks ago, and now the tarps had failed, dumping deep piles of loose, wet insulation throughout the house. All along the half-mile-wide scar that the tornado had left through North Nashville (and then for 60 continuous miles across three counties), yesterday’s rain trickled through puddling and straining tarps, echoing on the floors of abandoned homes and soaking into the mattresses and drywall of those still occupied. The mayor has issued a “safer at home” order requiring us to stay in to prevent the catastrophic spread of coronavirus. “What home?” my neighbor grunted, as we lifted the boxes into my truck. The tornado scattered us, and the virus bottles us back in.

The night after the March 3 tornado, we mobilized, thousands of us, cutting apart the hundreds of mammoth hackberry trees whose roots had given way to the wind, crushing roofs and cars and knocking out every electric line in nine ZIP codes. We rented or borrowed every chainsaw in the county, as the tireless young people from the Sunrise Movement set up a mutual aid hub across from the corner market. Neighbors pulled out ladders and hammers to tarp one another’s roofs; the racial justice crew Gideon’s Army mobilized volunteers to provide humanitarian supplies and clear roads. The same day that the governor announced the first confirmed Covid-19 case in Middle Tennessee, city officials opened up the downtown farmers’ market and neighborhood community centers as emergency shelters for hundreds of homeless families. Over the following days we didn’t talk much about the virus except as an explanation for why we couldn’t find gloves or masks for work crews starting to gut houses. 


“A friend from Brooklyn calls, concerned, knowing that I’ve been in the street for weeks. ‘The virus isn’t a tornado, she says; ‘your neighbors don’t carry the tornado in their lungs. But the tornado is still here, and the gentrifiers and the landlords aren’t taking a break.” 


The tornado hit on Super Tuesday and I took a half hour out to vote for Bernie, but there was no line at the gymnasium that day. We didn’t get power back for eight days. Some homes are still without it. As temperatures dipped toward freezing, rumors spread that house flippers were prowling the block offering black homeowners cash for a fraction of their property’s worth. We made agreements with strangers on the street that if we caught house flippers, we’d slash their tires and run them out of the neighborhood. We gathered generators to keep peoples’ space heaters going; even now, you can hear generators running at night. 

After the first grim days, the streets started filling with people, great floods of volunteers, now with pale skin and sunglasses and joking about “taking lumberjack selfies.” The crowd disappeared as coronavirus moved into the headlines: dozens were dead in Seattle; Italy’s medical system was overwhelmed; African nations were denying entrance to their northern neighbors. Now I walk through North Nashville and the streets are empty. The bartenders and housekeepers and restaurant workers who had brought the volunteers work gloves and hot meals in early March are home now, researching unemployment programs, trying to figure out how they’re going to make the rent. The city is bipolar: the Honky-Tonks on Second Avenue are closed by decree, but construction sites are still bustling. The house flippers managed to get some properties in North Nashville after all, and a friend who is organizing with construction day laborers agitates on Facebook: “Gentrification is NOT an essential industry.” 

But none of us knows how to pivot between crises, and online agitation doesn’t feel like enough. When I do run into a neighbor, we talk about a citywide rent strike. He thinks it might just work; he stays on the sidewalk with his dog while I talk from the porch, 20 feet away. A friend from Brooklyn calls, concerned, knowing that I’ve been in the street for weeks. “The virus isn’t a tornado,” she says; “your neighbors don’t carry the tornado in their lungs.” But the tornado is still here, and the gentrifiers and the landlords aren’t taking a break. Church pews and family photos still litter the street on 21st and Formosa, fading in the rain as city workers set up the new Covid-19 treatment tents outside General Hospital a few blocks away. As I drive home at dusk after dropping off the last load of my neighbor’s boxes at a storage unit, the flashing blue-and-red marquee in front of the neighborhood church is the only visible activity. The words march past in three-foot-tall letters, announcing to no one at all that GOD IS STILL IN CONTROL. God or the virus or the tornado or the landlords, or all four, because it damn sure isn’t us yet.

Tristan Call, based out of the Nashville Greenlands urban farming community, is an organizer with working-class groups in Tennessee and Mississippi. Tristan participated in Kopkind in 2013. This piece appeared on thenation.com on April 15, 2020. We thank Katrina vanden Heuvel, D.D. Guttenplan and all our collaborators in The Nation crew.

Bonus: A Garden Tour From Palestine

In 2003, Mazin Qumsiyeh and his wife, Jessie, were dinner guests during Kopkind’s collaborative session with the Eqbal Ahmad Initiative at Hampshire College. Mazin, who describes himself as “a bedouin in cyberspace, a villager at home,” is the co-founder (with Jessie) and (volunteer) director of the Palestine Museum of Natural History at the Palestine Institute of Biodiversity and Sustainability, Bethlehem University, Occupied Palestine. The other day he sent this:

In these days of staying at home we offer you a tour of our gardens, museum exhibits and much more. This first part is the garden, which is in its peak now. Enjoy. https://youtu.be/7cBil5ahC6o

April 17, Mazin noted, was Prisoners Day: When complaining about being stuck at home for six weeks, we should think of them. Over 5,000 Palestinians are in Apartheid Israeli prisons in crowded and unsanitary conditions. Hundreds are in administrative detention not even allowed to see a lawyer or go to court and most are denied proper medical care in time of coronavirus. As both a Palestinian and US citizen and fellow human being, I also think about the 2.3 million people crowded in US prisons. Here is something I wrote on the occasion nine years ago (still valid).

The olive and citrus trees were blooming all over Palestine on Prisoners’ day. Pink irises, red puppies, and yellow flowers weave interesting patterns among the endless green carpet underneath the fruiting almonds, fig, and loquet trees. Green almonds are eaten with a pinch of salt and are addictive. There are already some ripening loquots. We harvest new green grape leaves (waraq dawali) to make a most amazing dish. Amid this beauty and abundance of nature, there is also beauty and abundance among those of us humans who are still connected to nature and partially free. But we remember the nearly 7,000 political prisoners.





Scenes From a Pandemic: 2

13 04 2020

by Kate Savage

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, where each dispatch initially appears online.

(photos: Kate Savage)

Something’s Happening Here

Salt Lake City

When the earth starts shaking, you’re not supposed to run to a doorframe. The doorframe is no safer than anywhere else, and rushing there is dangerous. 

It doesn’t matter. When the largest earthquake in Salt Lake City’s recorded history hits—as it happens, early on Wednesday morning, March 18—and at every heavy aftershock, we still run to the doorframe. Education doesn’t help; the allure of the wood of the doorframe is inescapable. Gripping it is a plan. A goal. Something to do amid the uncontrollable.

From the doorframe I learn that the first stage of an earthquake is chaos-shaking; the second stage is rocking, forward and back, as if the earth finally finds its rhythm. I learn the noise of it, a low raspy hum right at the lowest frequency my ear can detect. 

Our city sprawls at the foot of the Wasatch Range. These are absurdly beautiful mountains, ready-made for brochures. Only now do we remember the Wasatch Range was built by catastrophe, bit by bit.


It confuses me, all the small kindnesses of this place, and all the big cruelties. All the catastrophes past, present, and future.


The day of the quake, our city is at the foot of another slope, the exponential rise of Covid-19 cases. We refresh websites all day. One tab shows the latest aftershocks, so we can determine whether the earth moved underneath us or we just imagined the tremor. Another tab shows the latest case count for the virus in Utah. 

The numbers don’t help us. They are doorframes, a useless handhold amid the uncontrollable.

* * *

I live in a small community house. There are just four of us, all climate justice and immigration rights organizers. All introverts. Here we call this the Crone Virus, and embrace the life we hope to have when we are old. We tend to our hens and our sprouting garlic. We make big batches of soup and herbal tea. We feel a secret relief that we are ethically obligated to stay home.

But we’re still stumbling over this new moral calculus, trying to sustain a network of families facing deportation and detention, using phone calls and texts and awkward porch drop-offs. I cherish my time with two kids during a food delivery as they describe their favorite TikTok videos and tease each other about their crushes. They are so lively and normal. But we all grow silent when their mom asks what will happen to her husband in immigration detention. 

Throughout the day I remember; I forget; I remember. The cold chill of it. The people we know in detention, the people we don’t know. Even in non-pandemic times, diseases hit detention centers hard. Last year mumps and chickenpox roared through Colorado’s Aurora Detention Center. In expensive phone calls to their families living here, detainees described the nightmare: whole wings locked down in quarantine, the aches and fevers and fainting. They said it felt like they had been left to die.

* * *

When my ancestors first settled this place, they brought all their dreams and all their diseases. Both their dreams and diseases eradicated whole peoples. The part of Utah Mormon culture that feels so safe and stable to me was, like the mountains, built by catastrophes.

Today, a woman from the suburbs left boxes of fancy food-storage meals on our porch for us to redistribute to immigrant families. The food comes from her Mormon neighbor, part of his two-year End Times supply that he wants to share with those who need it more. 

It confuses me, all the small kindnesses of this place, and all the big cruelties. All the catastrophes past, present, and future.

Salt Lake City is built around a Mormon temple, with all the street numbers counted out from this ground zero. At the top spire stands a 12-foot-tall Angel Moroni, hammered out of copper and covered in 22-karat gold leaf. He faces east and holds a trumpet to his mouth. When I was a kid, my mom told me the statue would blow the trumpet to announce the End Times. 

In the earthquake, Moroni’s trumpet clattered out of his grip and fell to the ground, and now we have to wait here within time, unsure what’s beginning and what’s ending.

Kate Savage lives in a collective house in Salt Lake City. For money she writes about legal technology. For no money she works at local immigration rights organizing. Kate participated in Kopkind’s Occupy camp in 2012. This piece appeared on thenation.com on April 8, 2020. We thank Katrina vanden Heuvel, D.D. Guttenplan and all our collaborators in The Nation crew.

 

Bonus: A Note From Tariq Ali

London, April 11. For your Kopkind short reads? Cao Zhi, son of Cao Cao and one of the best-known poets of the late Han/Three Kingdoms period, wrote this piece, below, about a plague. Here in the UK, 1,000 deaths a day, and this is not counting care homes, where a holocaust of the elderly is in process all over Europe. The nuns near Valencia fled from a home, leaving people to agonising deaths… T.

The Plague Airs 
Cao Zhi (192-232 CE)

In 216, the 22nd year of Establishing Peace, the contagion spread, bringing sorrows over corpses in every family, tears of lament in each abode. They died behind shuttered doors or perished by the clan. Some said this was the work of ghosts or spirits. Yet the fallen were the rag-wearers and bark-eaters, in hovels of bramble and sedge. Among those who dwelt in great halls and supped from bronze cauldrons, cloaked in marten fur, on plush cushions… it was rare. The cosmic forces were out of balance; winter and summer had turned around: this was its cause. Some tried to drive it away with far-fetched spells. That was laughable too.

Pieter Brueghel the Elder, Triumph of Death. Circa 1562. Oil on panel. Prado Museum.

曹植,“说疫气”

建安二十二年,疠气流行。家家有僵尸之痛,室室有号泣之哀。 或阖门而殪, 或覆族而 丧。或以为疫者,鬼神所作。人罹此者,悉被褐茹藿之子,荆室蓬户之人耳!若夫殿处鼎 食之家,重貂累蓐之门,若是者鲜焉。此乃阴阳失位,寒暑错时,是故生疫。而愚民悬符 厌z之,亦可笑也。

(Translated by Chris Connery)

Tariq Ali’s latest book, co-edited with Margaret Kunstler, is In Defense of Julian Assange (O/R Books). Tariq was a guest speaker at Kopkind in 2003.





Scenes From a Pandemic: 1

6 04 2020

by Debbie Nathan

This post begins 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, where each dispatch initially appears online.

Display window of a photo shop in El Paso (photo: Debbie Nathan)

Something’s Happening Here

El Paso, Texas

Last Thursday morning an ICE plane flew from Phoenix to El Paso, then El Paso to Guatemala City. The flight held at least 40 people—far more than the maximum 10 that our new “social distancing” rule allows to be together. The passengers were undoubtedly shackled; that’s how deportees travel on ICE planes. On Sunday, March 29, three days after the trip, the Guatemalan government announced that a passenger had just tested positive for Covid-19. This was the first documented case on an ICE flight. The director of our airport told City Council it was no big deal for us locals. The infected person must have got on in Phoenix, she said.  

Here in El Paso and our Mexican sister city, Juarez, the numbers are still low—57 cases as of March 30, in a binational community of 2 million people—but coronavirus has created a special foreboding, caused by the area’s longtime and lately intensified use as a law-and-order punching bag. In the guard and punishment economy, social distancing is farcical where it’s not terrifying.

Both sides of the border are nests of infection risk created by US laws and their enforcers. One bug house is the federal court downtown, where immigration cases are heard. Judges are still working. Most defendants are charged with petty smuggling (of drugs or people), trying to cross the border with false documents, or simply traversing the Rio Grande and getting caught.


3/26/20: an ICE plane flew from Phoenix to El Paso, then El Paso to Guatemala City. It marked the first recorded instance of an ICE flight deporting a person with the virus.


In one courtroom last week, three shackled inmates, wearing orange and blue uniforms of the county jail, waited on benches. Two sat a foot apart. They were guarded by two U.S. Marshals. One wore a mask and gloves. The other didn’t. 

At the prosecution table, an assistant US Attorney coughed explosively, then exited, a hand pushing open the half doors that separate the administrative side from the rest of the courtroom. Another prosecutor, with a Van Dyke-ish beard, approached the doors and put his hand on the place his coughing colleague had just touched. Van Dyke then leaned on one besuited hip and schmoozed for a few minutes with a public defender—all the while caressing the half door. With the same hand, Van Dyke then stroked his beard. The hand soon migrated from beard to mouth. 

Across the room, a court-appointed defense lawyer huddled with a middle-aged woman in jail clothes. The huddle left a few inches distance between the two. The woman would plead guilty for driving two undocumented immigrants to a Border Patrol checkpoint. The lawyer collated the papers, repeatedly licking his index finger. He picked up a pen with his licked hand and signed the papers. He gave the pen and papers to the client. She signed, and the lawyer walked over to Van Dyke’s table. Van Dyke took the papers, then patted his beard and mouth. The woman was sent back to jail to await sentencing.

A very young Honduran woman, charged with illegal entry, also pleaded guilty. The judge told her she could have got months in prison, but the public defender had made a deal with Van Dyke to lower the charges from felony to misdemeanor. The woman, who had been locked in jail for almost eight weeks already, got time served plus one day. “Be very grateful,” the judge said. “We hardly ever see this happen.” 

El Paso’s county jail holds hundreds of border crossers, there because of a lucrative contract with the feds. Four additional detention centers hold immigrants for ICE. Every few days there are ICE flights. For years those have earned airport-use commissions for the city.

Meanwhile, in Juarez, immigrants seeking asylum in the United States languish under the Orwellian-named Migrant Protection Protocols. Denied due process, they wait, stuffed by the thousands into crumbling apartments and crowded shelters. In one shelter I know, a family of six lives on a jungle of bunk beds in an 8’ by 10’ room. In another, people sleep on dirty mats, on and under church pews.

A person who’d been working in the court told me the feds are trying to empty the jail. That’s helter-skelter, but business goes on as usual in detention centers. At one, according to a declaration filed by a local immigration attorney, “A member of my team asked a guard…on 3/17/2020 about Covid protocols and he [said] that they had not received any special training on how to keep themselves or detained individuals safe during the pandemic, and then said ‘if it happens, it happens.’”

The Honduran woman was sent from the bug house courtroom back to jail for a day. From there, she would be remanded to a crowded ICE detention center, where she would wait for deportation on a crowded ICE plane, or for Covid-19, whichever comes first. 

Debbie Nathan lives in El Paso. She is the author of Women and Other Aliens: Essays from the US-Mexico Border. Debbie was a mentor at Kopkind in 2013 and 2016. This piece appeared on thenation.com on April 1, 2020. We thank Katrina vanden Heuvel, D.D. Guttenplan and others from The Nation crew who make this collaboration possible.





Cheers to 2020!

31 12 2019

From All of Us, to All of You

May “the principles of freedom, of humanity, and of justice … finally triumph over falsehood, tyranny and delusion, and every principle inimical to the interests of the human race”* 

Kopkind 2019

Wishing you love, peace and power in the new year.

                 —John Scagliotti, JoAnn Wypijewski and everyone involved in Kopkind

*from the final speech of Ned Despard, quoted in Peter Linebaugh’s Red Round Globe Hot Burning

Click to Watch the 2019 Kopkind Harvest Late Brunch Video