[act-ma] 4/02 Viral Solidarity: on online concert with David Rovics

Charlie Welch cwelch at tecschange.org
Fri Mar 27 04:01:08 PDT 2020

Join the National Union of Public and General Employees on Facebook next 
Thursday, April 2 at 8:00 pm EDT for Viral Solidarity: an online concert 
with David Rovics!

For more information: 


Sample songs


David's latest Newsletter

First of all, here's the Song For Today episode about the windmill that 
I only sent the graphic for the other day, but not the actual podcast...

Below you'll find my latest essay, which you can also find on my blog, 
and soon on Dissident Voice.  You'll also find it in podcast form, as 
the latest episode of This Week with David Rovics.

The Forms of Isolation

     As we hunker down wherever we are, we are collectively having 
radically differing experiences of isolation.

Humanity, on any given day, is experiencing reality in very different 
ways. As a writer writing about the world around me and about things 
that have happened in the past, I spend a lot of time imagining what 
it's like to be someone else. There are key moments in my own life that 
caused this innate tendency to become more obsessive later. Chief among 
those moments are those times when I lost close friends to an early 
death, and when close friends went off to prison, for carrying out 
politically-motivated actions of the sort that I only sing about. Almost 
every day since I first lost a friend to an early death, almost three 
decades ago now, I have felt privileged to be alive. And every day since 
I first had friends who one way or another ended up being sentenced to 
decades of confinement in a small box, I have very consciously cherished 
each morning I wake up once again in the free world.

As much as I, like other writers of whatever sort, spend much of my time 
trying to get into the heads of other people, or trying to imagine what 
it was like to live through a certain historical period, or to be a 
certain person at a certain time or place, I find the prospect of trying 
to do that now much more overwhelming than usual. Because as vastly 
different as life was for different people in different situations 
around the world last month, this month it's a whole other story.

Without even thinking about trying to do anything about the situation, 
just imagining it is so challenging. Picture being a passionate lover of 
life, nature and humanity who finds yourself living in a box with a lock 
on it that you don't have any control over, 23 hours a day, with one 
hour a day to spend on a small patch of monocropped grass, surrounded by 
a tall fence with barbed wire on top of it. Now imagine being in that 
same situation, while waiting for a pandemic to infect most of the 
population of the prison, knowing that there's also a severe shortage of 
ventilators and other necessary equipment to keep patients alive and 
medical practitioners safe.

At least in that situation, you'll be fed something three times a day, 
even if it's barely palatable. For so many people in India right now, 
not allowed to leave the crowded one-room shacks so many people live in 
with their extended families, people are going hungry. So many people 
who don't eat enough on a normal day, earning money for food from day to 
day, who have no capacity to prepare for an eventuality like a lockdown 
-- and no ability to conduct themselves according to the strictures of 
social isolation, which only works if you have somewhere to isolate 
yourself, and you're not sharing a compost toilet with a hundred other 
people, or just squatting in the street, as so many still do, from New 
Delhi to Los Angeles.

As the quarantine continues for so much of the world, including in 
almost all of the countries I've ever traveled to or where I know 
anyone, most people in my social circles would fall into the category of 
people who live within an industrialized country with some kind of 
functioning state, who have been to one degree or another financially 
impacted by the locking down of their societies, but who, with some 
assistance from those functioning states and other resources, will 
probably pull through OK when the pandemic is over, at least if they 
don't die of COVID-19, or from the lack of ventilators or face masks. To 
the surprise of many, there's even bipartisan consensus within the US 
government that gig economy workers like myself should qualify for 
unemployment compensation, something I've never qualified for in my 
life. They're even going to send us all checks, separate from that 
prospect. Universal Basic Income, suddenly instituted in the least 
likely of countries, for a month or two, anyway. It's not nearly enough, 
but it seems they're intent on keeping us from starving, or rebelling. 
They've even banned evictions for a few months in some states, such as 

All else aside, though, even if you're not fearing imminent eviction, 
even if you have money for stockpiling groceries, even if you live 
somewhere with hot running water, electricity, and all the sorts of 
things in life that so many of us tend to take for granted to one degree 
or another, the social isolation measures that most of society seem to 
have undertaken -- certainly here in the Southeast collection of 
neighborhoods of Portland, Oregon -- are very difficult for a lot of 
people, as well as radically different for different people.

For many people, quarantining themselves means being alone. It's 
temporary and more or less self-imposed, but it is a form of solitary 
confinement. People are naturally spending inordinate amounts of time 
online, or otherwise engaged with distracting themselves through 
screen-related activities, which may often involve some form of 
interaction with other real people through the internet. As anyone knows 
who has been in this kind of isolation for one reason or another for an 
extended period, or even for a couple days, all the plans you might have 
had to accomplish great things during your extended time alone are often 
subsumed by the depression that sets in from the lack of the kind of 
social interaction that feels real, and fulfilling, like touching other 
people -- what the Japanese call "skinship." I personally have long 
realized that after four hours of solitude for activities like writing 
or reading, I want human contact for at least a little while before the 
next round of solitude, or I might not even be able to do anything 
constructive with it. I need to be recharged by human contact. That 
currently feels like a very distant memory, as in recent weeks solitude 
is probably what I miss the most.

Through the din of my new reality, I hear the distant voices of these 
truly isolated people out there, and it makes me also want to spend 
hours a day exploring the potential of the internet, to have meaningful 
interaction with the quarantined masses, maybe host a livestreamed open 
mic using Streamyard, the way I used to host open mics in cafes with 
physical people. But for me and my family, that kind of isolation is not 
how it is. Isolation from society, yes -- but being alone in a room or 
an apartment, no.

The experience of society shutting down like it has has reminded me of a 
certain Star Trek episode, when the doctor finds herself alone on the 
ship, after everybody else on the ship disappears, one by one. Of all my 
family members, I think it's probably hardest for my wife, Reiko. I have 
an active social life when I'm on tour, and my spring tour plans all 
appear to have been canceled, so I'm spending much more time at home 
than I normally would in a typical spring. But I'm also fairly 
accustomed to a certain form of social isolation. During the seven or so 
months of a typical year that I'm home, I rarely have substantial 
interaction with people other than my wife and kids, except in emails or 
on social media or the very occasional phone call. Though I do generally 
have blocks of time free for reading, writing, and playing music -- what 
I generally refer to as "working" for the purposes of household 
operations -- this time actually exists because of the social engagement 
of everybody else in the family. Even the baby.

But that's all gone, or on hold. It began in weird fits and starts. At 
first it seemed it would only really be relevant for pop stars and 
politicians. "No gatherings of more than a thousand people" was being 
thrown around as a virus-limiting concept. OK, so I won't be singing for 
any protests, then, but the tour can go on. Then it was no gatherings of 
more than fifty, suddenly. Most of my gigs are still safe, 
theoretically, but would anyone come to them, me and so many other 
touring musicians wondered simultaneously. Then it was twenty -- tour 
canceled. Then they closed the schools. Then they closed everything 
else, and told us all to stay home.

As the world began closing, and society began physically distancing, and 
mostly just disappearing from sight -- people here evidently believe in 
community and solidarity and are taking this thing extremely seriously 
-- Reiko's instinct was, as always, a community-driven one. It's not 
rational, perhaps, under the circumstances, but it's very human -- and 
so touching for me to experience, from my vantage point. Society is 
closing -- then what are people doing? I could hear her silently wondering.

The parks are closed, we can't go to the playgrounds. The play equipment 
might have the virus on it, so it's better to do things like run on the 
sidewalk or the grass, staying away from other people while you do it, 
if the adults and the kids need exercise. The schools are closed, but 
people were gathering, socially distanced, on the high school sports 
field nearby. Now this is what people are doing, so we'll join in, I 
could almost hear Reiko thinking -- ever the community-builder, raised 
in community as she was, with the neighborhood Nishigaoka Community 
Center just down the road from the house she was raised in in Japan, 
where she and the other children from the neighborhood went most every 
morning of every summer to exercise together, and greet each day.

Intellectually, I of course didn't need to explain the concept of social 
isolation to her. She's highly intelligent, and reads the news, too. She 
could see that her community instincts, or the aspect of them that 
desires a sense of community, were not in keeping with what was being 
asked of us, and of so many people around the world -- to isolate. Reiko 
would suggest we take the kids to the sports field, and I then propose 
that perhaps it's best if we just go play on the field near our 
apartment complex, where there are currently no people. My heart burns a 
little each time I see the pain of the recognition on her face that this 
is probably the more community-spirited thing to do, that would keep us 
more isolated.

When she heard through another local parent of small children that the 
local elementary school was giving away food for kids, although we had 
no need for such handouts, Reiko was curious what they were giving away, 
and who was going to be there. I was, too, but not enough to bother 
actually going to find out. But she was going, so I went with her, and 
witnessed the sad, empty scene, with a handful of spaced-apart people 
giving out big bags of processed food. The giving out of food was going 
to end from that day, too, they told us. They gave us extra bags for us 
to share with our neighbors, they had too many bags, and too few people 
taking them.

The bubble fully enclosed, this was the last time we attempted any kind 
of semi-social activity, beyond trips to the supermarket, where you can 
see the abundant quantities of fresh vegetables, the complete lack of 
toilet paper, and the intensely stressed, harried faces of the 
underpaid, overexposed workers there, who are now supposed to be feeling 
lucky that they're employed, according to some among their customers.

Reiko does engage in various sorts of solitary endeavors -- reading 
books, writing different sorts of things -- but much of her life 
involves society, pretty directly. For me, being a parent involves a 
certain amount of social interaction with other kids and other parents, 
at school and elsewhere. For Reiko, there is the vast added dimension 
that the school our toddler goes to is also a center of life for the 
local Japanese-speaking community, which Reiko is actively involved with 
in many ways. Then there's tennis, which Reiko normally plays almost 
daily, usually with other people, usually in community centers owned by 
Parks & Rec. Then there are two weekly Japanese-language play groups 
that also involve Reiko, our toddler, and our baby. Our teenager, Leila, 
if she weren't in school, would usually climbing the walls of the rock gym.

I never fully realized how much time I used to spend alone in this 
apartment, when I was home from touring. Now, to have any time alone to 
write or to think, I get up at 5:30 in the morning. The rest of the day 
will be fully occupied with keeping a toddler and a baby happy and well 
cared for, physically and emotionally. In our small apartment, there is 
no rec room in which to set up a TV studio, like at Joe Biden's place. 
And if there were one, how would you keep the toddler from coming in? 
Lock him out?

The reason, I assume, why all the websites have warnings on them that 
everything is taking longer than usual, is not just that more people are 
on the web than ever before, but also because working from home while 
your kids are not at school and you have no one to take care of them 
just doesn't work. In our case, the combination of a three-year-old and 
a one-year-old, a toddler and a baby, is basically just plain dangerous. 
If you don't have a well-planned structure for a day of isolation with a 
toddler and a baby, you're going to have a very unhappy family. Toddlers 
with babies are just like canaries and coal mines -- if there's tension 
in the air, that toddler is going to knock that baby to the ground 
again, you can be sure. You prevent that scenario not by strapping the 
toddler down to a chair and drugging him, but by making his life 
fulfilling and interesting and interactive. If he has no other children 
to interact with, guess what? It's all on you, and there is no division 
of labor in a two-bedroom apartment with three children -- it's all for 
one and one for all, and if you want any time alone, your options are 
very early in the morning, or very late at night.

As hard as it might be to try to imagine what it's like for adults in 
different situations to experience the quarantine scene, it's really 
hard to imagine what my toddler is going through. Suddenly there is no 
school, no playmates. Suddenly, other kids and parents never come to 
visit anymore, and he never visits them. Suddenly, when we go outside, 
there's almost no one else around. We do live in a pretty sleepy 
residential neighborhood, but usually there are other people within view 
when you go outside, especially when it's not raining. And when on the 
rare occasion we do see people he knows, who would normally give him a 
high-five or a hug -- both of which he usually enjoys, depending on the 
person -- now they stand awkwardly distant, self-consciously trying not 
to accidentally spit as they talk. Just as he's opening up to the world 
and becoming very social in the way that three-year-olds often do, 
everything shifts like this.

I may continue to fantasize about being one of the lonely ones, for a 
while longer. And I'll certainly keep imagine what it's like for 
different people in different circumstances at this incredibly trying 
time for so many around the world. But as far as daily life goes for the 
foreseeable future, I'll be here, fully inundated in a quarantined form 
of parenthood that I never imagined existing, until now. And I'll be 
looking forward to the re-emergence of society, with all its flaws, 
because I miss it like I never knew I could.
Copyright © 2020 David Rovics -- Songs of Social Significance, All 
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