I woke up and started my morning on the couch, a hot mug of tea in front of me and my journal in my lap. I’ve always been a journaler, of course, but that’s taken on new importance in the last month, as I’ve felt some duty–as well as a desire–to chronicle what my life has looked like during this historic crisis. I will someday be a primary source, if for nobody more than myself and my people.
My parents arrived mid-morning. They’d driven an hour and a half down the valley to our place because Mom, ever the seamstress, had made 10 personal face masks for Rachel and me, as well as anyone else in our circles who wanted one. We stood in our breezeway, an appropriate six feet apart, as I admired her handiwork. They’re nice masks; reversible and machine-washable, with a layer of filter material inside, string ties, and wire nose bridges.
(I never thought I’d have reason to admire the craft quality of personal face masks.)
The sun shone, the birds, sang, and even though masks covered my parents’ faces and we couldn’t hug out of an abundance of caution, there was love and generosity in the air. “I’m gonna keep making these,” Mom said. I waved from my living room window as they drove away.
Later, I found a great deal on a used computer–perfect for my plan of making a homegrown social network for my friends. Mask on, I drove up north with the windows down, and made the trade on the seller’s porch, where we chatted from two car lengths away. He was friendly, proud of his work preparing the computer. He promised a 30-day warranty.
In the mid-afternoon sun, Rachel and I finally began work on our garden beds, a project we’ve been sitting on for a month as our sprouts get lankier and lankier inside our house. We hammered stakes into the earth, drove screws through fragrant cedar, and after a couple hours, we had beds. Admittedly, the first was a little wonky, with rough angles and zig-zag corners–but they’ll both hold soil, and that’s really all that matters.
We were putting the third wall up on Bed #2 when a car stopped across the street and the driver leaned out. It was our neighbor across the busier of our cross-streets! With warmth, she welcomed us to the neighborhood and introduced a couple other neighbors. The afternoon sun lazily sank toward the horizon, I sat on my haunches with my tools scattered about, and we got to know another member of our community.
And then, when the beds were finished and I was hauling tools to the garage, a couple neighbors from down the street walked up the sidewalk, a fluffy cat following at their heels. We’d made each other’s acquaintance online, after I had distributed an introduction letter around the block last month, but this was our first time meeting face-to-(several-yards-apart)-face. Their cat was named Marvin. They offered us a Turkish heirloom tomato start for our bed. They told us where to get good soil.
Dinner was ravioli, spinach and sausage, and homemade sauce–the classic family recipe. The kitchen smelled like family.
The world could be like this.
We could all have so many more days like this. Days of building and sharing. Days spent enjoying each other’s company and working on the things that bring us joy. We’ve been taught to only expect this as a reward for completing enough profitable labor–at the end of a workweek, for instance, or, more permanently, after decades of work.
But how many people in this world spend their living hours on bullshit jobs? Call center reps who ring our phones to sell us insurance. Door attendants who stand by the entries to fancy hotels. Middle-management. Lobbyists. Sign-twirlers. So much of our human potential is spent on pointless busy-work that only exists because of this ridiculous house of cards we’ve built.
We live in a time of unparalleled abundance. The U.S. has more empty homes than unhoused people. As this pandemic continues, more people will find themselves facing eviction, the loss of safe shelter. Will this be because their homes disappeared? Because COVID-19 swallowed their apartment buildings? No, the dwellings will still exist, same as ever, but they will no longer be allowed to live there, because we’ve collectively decided that your access to safe shelter should be revocable if you don’t earn enough Monopoly money.
Or take food. This week, dairy farmers dumped perfectly good milk because there was an “oversupply”–and yet, as more and more people find themselves unable to work due to COVID-19, there will no doubt be Americans who would gladly drink that milk, turn it into cheese, curdle it into yogurt. It’s not that there was no need for the milk, it’s that it was no longer profitable to distribute.
Nobody needs to starve. Nobody needs be without a roof. Nobody needs to waste their time on pointless jobs. And yet our abundances don’t serve the very people who make them possible.
‘Over-production’ this is called. But in truth it is not over-production at all. It is under-consumption, because there are many people who need new shoes, but they can’t afford to buy them.
The result? The warehouses are stocked with the shoes the people want but cannot buy, shops and factories close because of the ‘oversupply’. The same things happen in other industries. You are told that there is a ‘crisis’ and your wages must be reduced.
Your wages are cut; you are put on part time or you lose your work altogether. Thousands of men and women are thrown out of employment in that manner. Their wages stop and they cannot buy the food and other things they need. Are those things not to be had? No, on the contrary; the warehouses and stores are filled with them, there is too much of them there’s ‘over-production’.Alexander Berkman, “What Is Communist Anarchism?“
I don’t have a fully fleshed-out vision of the future. But we shouldn’t need one right now. The U.S. Constitution wasn’t written until 11 years after the Declaration of Independence was signed. Writes Rebecca L. Spang, Professor of History at Indiana University Bloomington, in The Atlantic:
People sometimes imagine yesterday’s revolutions as planned and carried out by self-conscious revolutionaries, but this has rarely, if ever, been the case. Instead, revolutions are periods in which social actors with different agendas (peasants stealing rabbits, city dwellers sacking tollbooths, lawmakers writing a constitution, anxious Parisians looking for weapons at the Bastille Fortress) become fused into a more or less stable constellation. The most timeless and emancipatory lesson of the French Revolution is that people make history. Likewise, the actions we take and the choices we make today will shape both what future we get and what we remember of the past.Rebecca L. Spang, “The Revolution Is Under Way Already“
We don’t need a blueprint; we need audacious imagination. Let’s imagine that a better world is possible. One that doesn’t require us to sacrifice our lives and bodies to that Mammon, capitalism. One where nobody needs to starve when there’s food being discarded, and nobody needs to sleep on the streets when there’s empty houses everywhere. One where no one dies due to a lack of accessible medical care. One where we don’t toil away for pennies all so a lucky few can get rich and lecture us on how we should be saving more.
It starts by imagining a world with more companionship, more time spent in the sun, more leisure.
It starts with recognizing our abundance.
Dream big. Fight hard.