When I was first quarantined after being exposed to a COVID positive patient I felt lost and helpless. I also felt angry and frustrated by a system that had failed to keep that patient, their roommate, and every nurse who came into contact with them safe. I wanted to find a way to contribute to my community without being constrained by the system that had let them (and me) down in a massive way. I never understood health autonomy and mutual aid in the way I have come to understand it after connecting with this group.
The Masketeers and the community care planning group are the most caring, compassionate, determined and focused people I have ever had the privilege to work with. As our government struggled to even provide us clear guidelines, we made and distributed hundreds (and now thousands!) of masks that continue to exceed the CDC and WHO recommendations every time a new study is published. Everyone constantly strives to improve every aspect of the operation, from the safety and comfort of our masks to the transparency and effectiveness of communication to ensuring that the masks get to those who need them the most.
As this team and the entire world transition from a healthcare crisis into a social justice crisis, the same institutions continue to fail us; the same government whose systemic inadequacies were laid bare by the novel coronavirus are once again being overwhelmed by a community who realizes that no one is coming to protect us, we have to protect each other. We are brave, we are angry, and we are powerful when we are one.
Last week the social justice group, Justice for Dahmeek, reached out to us to provide protection for the thousands they expected at the Troy Rally for Black Lives. They asked us for 300 masks on Wednesday, and we told them we would do the best we could. Well, the best we could turned out to be OVER 300 masks, and when they arrived on my doorstep on Sunday morning I was overcome with gratitude for what our community can accomplish. And after 11 hours the voices of nearly 11,000 people, those we helped to protect, were heard-- with righteous rage, with anguish, with strength, and without violence or destruction. When a system fails, you step up and create a new one. THIS is what community looks like.
-Eileen, New Lebanon, Masketeer
I have been thinking about how restorative it has been for me to feel that I am "being of use" as I make masks, and collaborate with the members of the Mighty Masketeers of Columbia County who have become friends.
The phrase "To be of Use" was in my head and sounded familiar. My internet search brought me immediately to this poem by the wonderful poet and novelist Marge Piercy. I'll let her say it for me.
To be of Use
BY MARGE PIERCY
The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half-submerged balls.
I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.
I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.
The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.
Marge Piercy, "To be of use" from Circles on the Water. Copyright © 1982 by Marge Piercy. Used by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved
-Carol, Mighty Masketeer
"Yes, of course. I don’t have a sewing machine, but I can certainly cut fabric." With those two words--“I can”--the chaos recedes ever so slightly. And with the activity, the fabric pieces stacking in piles on the floor, you feel a bit calmer. Against all that is sad and scary, a thin plumb line of purpose has been established.
“We can get you a machine,” Isa said. “If you can sew, we can get you a machine.” And she did. What I’ve most appreciated about my experience making masks is how regularly I have heard those words—"we can”—we can figure it out…we can find someone to pick it up…we can reach out to them…or we can find a way to make it work—and how powerful those words are against feelings of overwhelm and powerlessness.
I have also loved the connections formed. Even the street I live on in Chatham now seems different—a string of lights--of Maskmakers, with Deborah on one end and Erin on another, and then there are our youngest members, who are hand-sewing masks to give away to other children in need.
In the face of tremendous uncertainty—what can one person do?—"I can” has been, for me, a welcome first step. The power of hope grows through connection, even in quarantine. I have felt that sense of hope grow, thanks to this group, step by step, mask by mask, connecting with people close to home, and with those we may never meet, who are wearing the masks we made.
Thank you, Maskmakers!
--Lisa Ross, Mighty Masketeer
It was as if it came from a distance, and became clearer the closer it came. At first it was nothing to worry about, it was far away, and it was under control. Then it was bigger and closer, but don’t worry, you don’t have to do anything, then it was well, it’s a problem, but we’re taking care of it, and sure, they wear masks in Asia, but that’s not us; then it was save the masks for the medical workers, don’t wear a mask yourself. And one of my expert sewist friends started making masks, and posting them online, and I thought, but why? Then Italy became a nightmare, and the sirens started sounding in NYC, and I thought of the sewing machine I had bought last year and not used yet.
I played the DVD that came with the sewing machine--even the idea that it came with a DVD had seemed daunting when it arrived--the basics were covered in the first ten minutes, and the rest of it were frippery, frillery which I would never do, anyway. I sent an email to the local shop which carries fabric and asked them to put together a package of fabric, their choice, bright colors. I picked it up the next day, and ordered more supplies online.
After a brief Google search, I found one or two or thirty thousand mask tutorials and YouTube videos, and I dutifully printed out templates, and tried out a few of the simplest. Then Basilica Hudson advertised a live mask-making Zoom tutorial with the Masketeers, and I watched as the sewist zipped through the work, she made it look so easy, so fast. The rhythm of the machine seemed almost soothing. I could do this, I thought.
At that moment a video popped up on my phone of my faraway baby grandson, taking his first steps. He toddled unsteadily a few feet from one parent to the other, and back again, squealing with joy, half-walking, half-falling into their arms.
And I started making masks like that, one step, then the next. Cut the fabric, thread the machine, pin, fold, press. One step, fall, get up, do it again. The second one was so much faster than the first, and so on. The first batch went into envelopes, to friends and family. I couldn’t hug them, but I could help keep them safe.
-Julie DeLisle: "Accidental" Masketeer
"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." ~ Margaret Mead
Tonight I watched the video tutorial that Eileen Raab created for the webinar she did on The Sanctuary For Independent Media’s show. In the webinar Eileen, a nurse exposed to Covid-19, described how this entire mask-making project began and grew, and how she got involved. The project is an amazing reminder of the power of the Human Heart. Eileen, who had to self-quarantine, wanted to do something to help and found her way into the week-old beginnings of the Community Care Planning Group, and into mask making.
In so many different ways, all those volunteering for The Mighty Masketeers have a similar story. Some were already making masks on their own and then heard of this group. Others heard about it because the businesses where they work were gifted masks, and that inspired them to want to help. Somewhere out there is a woman who works for Joann Fabrics, which has donated hundreds of yards of fabric here in Columbia County, and she decided to join. Yet another, who “knows nothing about sewing,” yet is amazing at internet research, heard about what we are doing and wanted to support us. He has spent hours scouring the internet finding elastic, thread, and the often elusive interfacing. Last week he found a source for the filtration material used in masks BEFORE it is made into furnace filters. This may seem insignificant, but there is a team of volunteers who have spent countless hours disassembling new furnace filters so those who cut and sew can have what they need.
Not only is no one getting paid, almost everyone has reached into their own pockets and offered… gas money to drivers who everyday have used their own money to fill their tanks, or others who found a bolt of interfacing or elastic somewhere and bought on the spot before it disappeared.
Children are sewing masks by hand, unbending paperclips, helped to design our gorgeous logo and are drawing beautiful Thank-You notes for first responders getting masks. The children are making sure that every delivery of masks has a love note attached.
Buried underneath all of our jobs, legislation, regulations, economy, politics and laws … the Human Heart beats, deeply nourished by these moments.
This is who we really are.
This is what we love to do.
We create Beauty at the most difficult times by helping, by being a part of the solution, by letting our hearts… the finest, most generous, loving Intelligence of Humanity… be our guides.
May we all learn to appreciate that the Human Heart is truly the Highest that humanity has to offer the Earth.
~~Deborah Doyle, Central Supply Station, Chatham, NY
I know that we’re working towards a healthier, safer world with all the efforts we are taking to maintain social distancing. But the distance gets to me. It can feel really -- well -- isolated, sometimes even when my four noisy kiddos are surrounding me.
But I sense a slow healing just under the surface of my routines that has nothing to do with viruses. Now when I pass a neighbor on the street, the polite wave or nod has changed to a genuine smile of happiness and companionship, even as we cross the street to avoid getting close.
Rainbows have popped up in windows in so many houses, silent but beautiful expressions of solidarity. My children seek them out every time we walk - and never miss a new one.
When I sew a mask, my hands busy and my heart full, it’s another form of connection. To the person who I imagine will wear the mask, who’s maybe packing lunches for school children, or caring for someone who’s at risk, or working in a hospital, or living in a shelter.
And it’s opened up a new connection with my family. My teenage daughter sits next to me while I sew, mining old fitted sheets for their elastic - a newly precious commodity. My three boys gravitate toward the table as well -- maybe to draw or work on another project. And I realize that I never used to sit still. Now when I sit down to the sewing machine, I feel like there’s a bubble around me and my children, and I can infuse the masks I make with that feeling of community and connection and love.
We’re all a family under one sky. And social distancing may bring us even closer.
--Anonymous Masketeer, Chatham, NY