Scenes From a Pandemic: 25

21 09 2020

by Aja Beech

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

In the distance, La Bella Taína mural by Tameartz; painted by the TNS Krew—Tameartz, Desil, Imse, Busta, and Bark—at Sunflower Philly Community Park. (photo: Aja Beech)

Thinking About Life, Art, the Water’s Edge, and Paul Robeson


Philadelphia has always been my home. “Born and raised” is what we say.

I’d like to imagine that there is something about this area that has always acted as a magnet for cultural and social revolution. Our nation was partly born here. Over hundreds of years, there have been many moments of explosive clarity and solace in this city.

We are no strangers to armed revolt and violent government oppression. We also have more art and natural open space than most cities. Thousands of murals adorn walls, more than any city in the world, and two rivers run through it, the Schuylkill and the Delaware.

The area around the Delaware River is one of the largest estuaries in the United States, where many waters meet and funnel out into the sea—an environmental transition zone where, even now, there is sailing and shipbuilding along the waters.

The life of the city has changed during the pandemic. There are more murders; there are more overdoses; there is more death. There is also somehow more hope, more brotherly love, and sisterly affection.

It is dangerous to be near one another.

Yet still, we comfort those in need, we feed one another, we rely on one another. The importance of the connections we make every day anchor us to this place and to each other.

Philadelphia has always had its confines and places of refuge. Mine is the New Jersey shore. I know I’m luckier than most. Though we all live less than an hour’s drive from the beckoning shore of the Atlantic Ocean, some of my fellow Philadelphians will go their entire lives without setting foot on the beach.

In good years, I’ve gone to the ocean more than once. Floating in the saltwater, I am adrift, but at peace.

Once there was a time when boatloads of people came to our ports, looking upon this land after being out to sea for so long. That port became a destination of restaurants and newly designed piers. Now, some places are nearly abandoned while others thrive.

The same is true for the people. We must remake connection before any more get caught up in the currents and swept out to sea.

(photo: Aja Beech)

In the 1960s, Paul Robeson moved to Philadelphia. He was ill and came to live here in the care of his sister, Marian Forsythe, with whom he stayed in relative seclusion for the remainder of his life.

“Artists are the gatekeepers of truth.” Robeson once said. “We are civilization’s anchor. We are the compass for humanity and conscience.”

Last week, I was asked: What are you connected to? My answer was water, and the peace I feel floating.

Then I was asked: What is your anchor? I was not sure. Being held down with too much weight has never been enticing.

But I thought of Robeson’s meditation on art, and the words I use to set my place. And I thought of this city, the volatile fragility, the intense beauty. The place I have called home my entire life.

Stability has so often escaped me. Yet there is something that makes me feel as if, even in the depths, I have an anchor within me; as if I was always being prepared for where we all are right now, alone at sea, lighting up signals in the dark.

Aja Beech is an author and organizer. Her poetry, journalism, commentary, short stories, and other works can be found internationally. A mother of two, she currently works as the campaign coordinator for the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO Labor 2020 program. Beech attended the Kopkind Colony in 2011. Her current work featuring labor organizing can be found at

Scenes From a Pandemic is a Kopkind/Nation magazine collaboration. This piece originally appeared on on September 16, 2020. We thank Katrina vanden Heuvel, D.D. Guttenplan and The Nation crew.

Bonus: Portraits of Fire

Salmon-colored sun and smoke, Beaver Creek, Oregon (photo: Jeffrey St. Clair)

Our friend Jeffrey St. Clair, editor of CounterPunch, wrote a striking diary from Oregon last week of life in a time of fires, illustrated with many more haunting photos. An extract of it is below.

We awoke to choking smoke on Thursday. I visited the evacuation center at the local community college a couple of miles from us, bringing coffee and pastries, and was surprised to see more than 500 people camped out, along with their animals: dogs, cats, horses, llamas, alpaca, two cows, ducks, chickens and several pigs. I returned home with the news that we needed to be ready to leave at any moment. Kimberly, Zen and the enfant terrible, packed a week’s worth of clothes, diapers, food and left for Astoria on the Oregon coast at the mouth of the Columbia River, about 110 miles away. My mission was to find the missing half-feral cat, Graymalkin, capture her and drug her or drug her and capture her or entice her into the house. And to find some way to edit and post weekend edition using my one bar of cell coverage as a hotspot and write my column. I spent most of the night working, under a glowing sky, with bonewhite ashes drifting on the porch, like the fatal snows of Judgment Day. Around three in the morning, I heard the imploring pleas of the cat at the backdoor.

Smoke on the water, Tongue Point (photo: Jeffrey St. Clair)

For the full CounterPunch column, click here.

The World Turns at Kopkind Harvest Festival

17 09 2010

October 9-10, 2010
Najla Said in “Palestine”
13th Annual Harvest Late Brunch Benefit, featuring
Vijay Prashad on “Trembles in the Tropics”

The theme will be internationalist at the Kopkind Colony’s Harvest Festival this year, on the weekend of October 9 and 10.

On Saturday (Oct 9)  evening, Najla Said will perform at the Hooker Dunham Theater in her acclaimed one-woman show, “Palestine.”

On Sunday, events move to The Organ Barn at Guilford, where Vijay Prashad, the award-winning author of The Darker Nations: A People’s History of the Third World, will be the featured speaker, following a “late brunch” tapas feast.

Najla Said star of "Palestine"

“Palestine” opened Off-Broadway earlier this year and had an extended run. The play is, by turns, funny and harrowing, a canny, deeply personal, disarmingly political coming-of-age story, written and performed by Najla Said. In “Palestine,” Said, daughter of the eminent scholar and human rights advocate Edward Said (also a member of Kopkind’s honorary board until his death in 2003), engages questions of identity, cultural fluidity, love and suffering from many angles, in many locales, from New York’s Upper West Side to Gaza to Beirut and back. As an actress, Najla Said brings a sense of the absurd even to deadly serious situations, and, in one reviewer’s words, as her “sweetness turns to incredulity … you begin to understand the madness endured in war-torn countries.”
The performance begins at 7 pm, at the Hooker Dunham, 139 Main Street in Brattleboro. Suggested donation is $15 adult, $10 student.

Vijay Prashad will cap the weekend events with a talk titled “Trembles in the Tropics (In which we will consider the projects to end all human pain, and then wonder for ourselves, seeking necessity in the North).” A spirited, original thinker, he is the author of eleven books, including Karma of Brown Folk, Everybody Was Kung Fu Fighting and Fat Cats and Running Dogs: The Enron Stage of Capitalism. His path-breaking Darker Nations tells the history of the cold war from the perspective of the world’s poor, and limns the life and death of the Third World as an ideological project that had people across the globe “fired up for freedom,” sovereignty and cooperation, and then collapsed under the weight of debt, globalized capital, internal conflict, corruption, militarism and cultural nationalism. His new project, The Poorer Nations: A Possible History of the Global South, will pick up the story from the 1980s to explore why we are in such a morass today, where is the motion, and what the currently amorphous movements for land, water and human rights in every country, on every continent might spell for the future. Prashad was born in Calcutta, educated in India and the US; he directs the International Studies Program at Trinity College in Hartford. He is a contributing editor of Himal South Asia (Kathmandu, Nepal), an editor of Bol (Lahore), a columnist for Frontline (India) and a frequent contributor to CounterPunch, ZNET and a host of others US publications. He lives in Northampton, Massachusetts.

Sunday’s events begin with the tapas feast at 2 pm, at 158 Kopkind Road in Guilford; the talk follows in the Organ Barn. Tickets are $35 adult, $25 student.

This will be the 13th annual Harvest Late Brunch benefit for Kopkind and is our only fundraising event of the year.

“Discussions at the retreats this summer revolved around  the interconnection of culture, history and politics, and the relationship between personal stories and larger political or historical currents,” Kopkind programming director JoAnn Wypijewski said. “In different registers, Vijay Prashad and Najla Said bring that all together, while drawing our attention in a new direction, to the wider world, on which our fates depend, whether we recognize it or not.”

Reservations for both events can be made by sending a check payable to the non-profit Kopkind, to 158 Kopkind Road, Guilford, VT 05301, or e mailing For directions, people can e mail that address or call 802.254.4859.

Vijay Prashad, speaker at Harvest

Kopkind’s Harvest Fundraising Events

18 09 2009

Orgasm, Inc to have Brattleboro premiere
Presented by The Kopkind Colony
Hooker-Dunham Theater and Gallery
Friday, October 9th, 7pm
139 Main Street, Brattleboro, VT

Patricia Williams, will speak at the Organ Barn
For Kopkind’s Harvest Late Brunch (Tapas Feast)
Sunday, October 11, 2pm
158 Kopkind Rd, Guilford, VT

“A sexy feature-length indictment of big pharma” that gives “a lot of great laughs.”
-The Toronto Star

The Kopkind Colony begins its Harvest Events for Columbus Day Weekend with this year’s film hit from Hot Docs in Toronto, Orgasm, Inc by Vermont filmmaker Liz Canner. The Brattleboro premiere will be screened Friday, October 9th at the Hooker-Dunham Theater at 7pm.

Orgasm, Inc delves into designer vaginas and other true-life tales of the commodification of women’s pleasure centers. This humorous, infuriating, informative documentary explores the corporate greed and outright quackery that women confront in a quest for beauty and sexual pleasure. Over the past decade, the media, in bed with the pharmaceutical industry, have been promoting the idea that 43 percent of US women suffer from “female sexual dysfunction.” Is this a real disease or a fiction in a marketing campaign created by money-hungry companies? With unique access to corporate hacks and flaks, Canner answers that question as she follows medical hucksters peddling dicey “treatments” and drug companies in their race to be the first to win FDA approval for their pill, cream, patch or nose spray intended to help women reach sexual nirvana. Reservations for the film ($10/tkt) can be made by calling 802-254-9276 at the Hooker-Dunham

Also that weekend on Sunday, October 11th at 2pm Kopkind will have its 12th annual Harvest Late Brunch, a Tapas Feast, followed by an important talk entitled “Alien Nation: The Peculiar Politics of Obamatime” by Nation columnist Patricia Williams. Williams, a professor of law at Columbia University, is the author of The Alchemy of Race and Rights and a recipient of a MacArthur Genius Grant. The Tapas feast and talk take place at the Organ Barn at Treefrog Farm in Guilford, Vermont. Reservations for this benefit event are suggested. The price for the Brunch/Talk is $35 but we have a student price of $25 as well as for those who haven’t yet felt the stimulus.

The screening and the brunch are benefits for The Kopkind Colony, which is a living memorial to the great journalist and Guilford resident Andrew Kopkind, who tracked politics and culture for thirty years for publications from Hard Times to The New York Times, The Nation to Esquire, until his death in 1994. The project, which held its first summer session in 1999, puts on seminars and workshops for its resident participants, and free events for the public. Please contact Kopkind Administrator John Scagliotti for reservations and directions at 802.254.4859, or