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