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 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.


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.

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 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

Being Brave & Remembering Pleasure

7 10 2019

Please Join Us on Sunday, October 13, 2019 at 2 pm
for Kopkind’s Annual Harvest Late Brunch Benefit, featuring
Verandah Porche and John Scagliotti in conversation
on Being Brave & Remembering Pleasure:

Thoughts from 50 years, for the next 100 

With earthy fare, and the music of Patty Carpenter

John Scagliotti successfully challenged one form of police entrapment in Massachusetts in the 1970s and became a pioneer in gay radio, television and documentary film. 

Verandah Porche was a pioneer in the commune movement in 1968 and invented “told poetry,” a collaborative form of literature she has been practicing for the past 30 years in nursing homes and mental hospitals, on street corners, and with those recently settled into permanent housing.

In this season dominated by presidential crimes and ambitions, Kopkind is celebrating individual bravery, collective action and the radical power of art. As always, the great questions involve accommodation or rebellion, silence or finding voice, humanity or barbarism. As always, they are personal and political, historical and contemporary. The past lives in the present, and challenges us all to fight for the future — and enlarge the space for joy. Are we up for it?

The Organ Barn at Guilford, 158 Kopkind Rd., Guilford, Vt. 05301

$25, Adults; $10, Students

Reservations or directions:, 802.254.4859

Kopkind and the Center for Independent Documentary present a film on the meaning of community

31 07 2019

Kopkind and the Center for Independent Documentary present a film on the meaning of community

East LA Interchange

“Not just a story about one neighborhood, a funny, insightful and poignant documentary that will transform how you think about living in the United States today.” (Huffington Post)

With filmmaker Betsy Kalin, Kopkind/CID Film Camp Alumna

Saturday, August 3, 7:30 pm — The Organ Barn, Guilford, Vt.

Why do we build community? Can we make a difference together? And can we protect our communities and cultural tapestry in the face of tremendous obstacles? These are questions at the heart of Betsy Kalin’s fascinating documentary East LA Interchange. Telling the story of Boyle Heights—a multicultural, immigrant and working-class neighborhood of Los Angeles that has fought to survive despite highway construction, dispossession and other social and economic changes—the film explores the values of home (housing, health, human solidarity) that transcend geography. A provocative, hopeful film, originally workshopped at Kopkind/CID Film Camp, it has sparked discussion wherever it has been shown, in communities large and small. This is its first Vermont showing. The screening is free, open to the public and will be followed by discussion.

When:  Saturday, August 3, 7:30 pm

Where:  158 Kopkind Road, Guilford, VT

Information: or 802.254.4859

Kopkind presents Potluck and Movie: “James Baldwin: The Price of the Ticket” Organ Barn 5:30pm July 14th

7 07 2019

Please join us for Kopkind’s Potluck & Movie Night, a free public event, featuring James Baldwin: The Price of the Ticket with special guest Kenyon Farrow, followed by discussion.

Janes Baldwin

In this our 20th anniversary summer we salute two other birthdays, Stonewall 50 and the 95th anniversary of James Baldwin’s birth, with the screening of this wonderful documentary. It is told mostly in the words of one of America’s greatest writers, whose exquisite voice, whether in fiction, essays, speeches or video and audio recordings, continues to call us to conscience on the price of history and the promise in the effort for love and human liberation. 

Joining us will be Kenyon Farrow, writer and activist, currently senior editor at, former executive director of Queers for Economic Justice, named by Black Entertainment TV as a Modern Black History Hero.

When:  Sunday, July 14; potluck cook-out begins 5:30 pm (bring a dish), with screening to follow

Where:  The Organ Barn, 158 Kopkind Road, Guilford, Vt.

Information or directions: or

Kopkind Presents Peter Linebaugh at Everyone’s Books, Friday July 19 6PM

7 07 2019

With Everyone’s Books, Kopkind is thrilled to bring Peter Linebaugh, “the best, most creative, most original historian living today,” to Downtown Brattleboro on Friday, July 19 at 6 pm for a celebration of, and free public talk on, his new book

In 1803 an Irish renegade, Ned Despard, stood on the gallows in London to be hanged for revolutionary conspiracy. His final speech, written with his Caribbean-born wife, Kate, expressed the hope that “the principles of freedom, of humanity, and of justice will triumph over falsehood, tyranny, and delusion.” The radical love between Kate and Ned serves as a cornerstone for this monumental history of the origins of capitalism (and simultaneously the UK and USA) as well as resistance to it, told through the lives and deeds of people whose No to war, privatization, capitalism and inequality resonates into the present. It is a story of dispossession and defeat, but also of common dreams and of the lessons that interlaced struggles for freedom hold for today. Kopkind was pleased to have Peter Linebaugh—a wondrous speaker and writer, praised in the quote above by Robin D.G. Kelley—as a mentor in residence five years ago. We are so happy Everyone’s Books will host this event this year for Red Round Globe Hot Burning, which, as Noam Chomsky says, “provides fascinating insights into the origins of our society” and is a work of beauty and genius.
Please join us!