Monday, August 24, 2020

Angry Pandemic Prof - F20 - Day one


Two days before Tech closed in March, I ran into a well-meaning administrator who speculated that we would never close, nor ever see a Covid case on campus.

Several databases have documented the entirety of U.S. higher education, entering the Fall 2020 semester, such as “mostly in-person” or “all online” & a few hybrid options in-between. To be clear, my institution is in the “mostly in-person” category on purpose. This decision was made in late April, as the spring-term wound down, & the administration has stayed its course, surging virus numbers be damned. It seems the upper administration is making its most important decisions without regard for the virus; now we will see in the coming days, how much regard this mysteriously pernicious virus has for our motives, much less our lives. 

After much pressure from faculty & community pressure, Tech has opened its “Covid dashboard” on the university webpage. From first glance, we have noticed several inadequacies with the dashboard. To be clear, it is a glance of current active cases, not a researcher’s-friendly archive of covid survivors in our campus community. Similar dashboards by other institutions are much more inclusive & exhaustive. Rather than providing numbers that can easily be seen & digested, the display is only a graph, so get out your good glasses & take the extra time to study “what-the-what-it-is-actually saying.” Finally, the dashboard by its own admission only covers self-disclosed campus cases, by students to Health Services & faculty or staff to Human Resources. So these dashboard numbers, either by careless construction or careful exclusion, will be much lower than they actually are.

While some universities have suggested or required or advised frequent testing for everyone, I have seen no such encouragement provided for us. Nor are there any suggestions about the comings-and-goings from campus by students, staff, or faculty, such as going to and from their home communities or off-campus jobs, not mention their campus communities in group houses, apartment complexes, religious clubs, or Greek organizations. To say nothing of the parties, which we are at least now talking about, now promising discipline & penalties for students who willfully put community health at high risk. But as the conversation goes across the land, we are also asking what responsibility administration should bear in constructing the community context for such pandemic parties to take place. 

The overarching message we are receiving from our administration on the cusp of the semester is this: give grace. Now this is a message humans all need all the time. But this particular cocktail of grace is not easy to swallow. Rather what we have is sunny shots of “toxic positivity” from people who are not putting safety first, no matter what they say to the contrary. Where was the grace for all the employees whose jobs were terminated over the summer? How much grace is there for the student that moved to campus just seven days ago, contracted Covid, got tested, and is now trapped in their campus residence for 14 days or more? What about some grace for the staff who have requested to work-remotely & have had their requests turned down by HR? How about some grace for them?

Our Cookeville community is a Covid hotspot without a mask mandate or any stay-home-orders. Everything is open. Bars. Restaurants. There are concerts in the parks & games in the stadiums. Some businesses require masks, grateful that the university is one of them. Yet even yesterday, a student posted a video with one of the “Tech Strong” masks that were distributed. They did the “blow test” with a flame. These branded masks are worthless, just like our university’s brand has been in freefall for years, thanks to its partisan president & his callous business sense wrapped in the phony gause of southern kindness. These handful of mask-requiring places here in this town are tiny band-aids for a gaping bleeding gash of executive arrogance & cowardice, as we watch our local death-toll climb .


Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Welcome to the Occupation (TOTR 385)

Return to Live Radio - aired Monday, June 29, 2020
Special Interview Guest was Cookeville City Council member Mark Miller

Link to songs included in this broadcast:

R.E.M. - Welcome To The Occupation
U2 - The Blackout
Rev. Sekou - Resist
Michael Franti & Spearhead - Yell Fire!
Gary Clark Jr. - What About Us
Rhiannon Giddens - Following The North Star
Rhiannon Giddens - Freedom Highway
Sly & The Family Stone - Stand!
The Brothers And Sisters - The Times They Are A Changing
Nahko And Medicine For The People - Honor The Earth
Fugees - No Woman, No Cry
Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit - White Man’s World
The White Stripes - Icky Thump
The Decemberists - Everything Is Awful
Arcade Fire - Windowsill
The Clash - Clampdown
Chumbawamba - Jacob’s Ladder
Dawes - Living In The Future
Grateful Dead - We Can Run
The Avett Brothers - We Americans
The Lone Bellow - For What It’s Worth
My Morning Jacket - Wonderful (The Way I Feel)
Bruce Cockburn - Dust and Diesel
Billy Bragg - The World Turned Upside Down
David Rovics - We Are Everywhere

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Hector, the Black Revolution, & Me

My friend Hector Black has been in the struggle since the 1940s. A 95-year-old queer and Quaker activist, he has been an organic blueberry farmer and commune creator, but more so an activist against the death penalty, for peace, and for civil rights.  

Over the last few years, I have taken groups of students to meet him in his home in Jackson County, to ask questions, to listen to stories. 

Before he donated most of his personal papers to the Tennessee Tech archives, on each visit, we would somewhat randomly rummage through his filing cabinet for photographs, press clippings, and yes, his quite interesting FBI file. He never was 100% clear about what was what was where. That filing cabinet on his farm was just a charmed chamber of social change in the South.

World-War-2 “veteran for peace” and Harvard-educated Hector is just an aging hippy farmer with a big smile and a bigger heart. You can see in the students faces the combination of shock and goose-bump shivers. A man that looks like their great Paw Paw, talking truth about the civil rights movement and its costs. 

One time he was supported by a black activist with the last name White. So the black activist named White, marched with the white activist named Black. This just made both of them smile. For all of his rabble rousing in Georgia, he found himself in the same jail cells, shared by other activists. The Blacks were friends with the King family, so yes at one point MLK and Coretta picketed to get Hector out of the pokey.

Sometime around 1966, Hector got involved in the Vine City neighborhood of Atlanta. Vine City was like the Mississippi Delta shacks with an outhouse in the back, except in the middle of a big city, the yet-to-be born capital of the new South. Residents really suffered and struggled with poverty, with practical issues including lack of heat in the winter, lack of proper plumbing, rodents running everywhere. 

When Atlanta’s homegrown hero MLK, then a hated preacher by many, visited Vine City, he said he saw what he described as the “worst” living conditions he had ever seen, anywhere. King described Vine city as an “appalling shame.” 

According to the website Atlantastudies-dot-org: “By the 1960s, Atlanta’s poor had grown tired of the city’s careless disregard. Buoyed by the black freedom movement and building on civic league traditions in Atlanta neighborhoods, many of Atlanta’s poor – and advocates for the poor – organized to counter the worst effects of poverty and urban redevelopment. In 1963, for example, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) augmented the work of the South Atlanta Civic League, and residents demanded more streetlights and better city services. In 1965, Vine City residents formed the Vine City Improvement Association, and shortly thereafter the Vine City Council, which organized to face down exploitative slumlords and garner more parks and improved infrastructure.”

An archival SNCC document notes, “If we don’t take ourselves seriously, nothing is going to change. Neither God nor President Johnson will change things. No one’s going to free us unless we get on the move.” SNCC also broadcast, that as a result of all this, “there is a war being fought” and “Atlanta is about to explode.” 

But the community was coming to identify their real problem: parasitic landlords and the systemic evil that enables them. Their movement against this pernicious poverty and oppression included picketing, sit-ins, rent strikes, and boycotts. 

Hector was right there, as part of the Vine City Council, as one of a small number of white activists who wanted to work in the community. He was not condescending with charity or handouts, he was part of the struggle, doing solidarity work as best as he could. 

By this time in history, King’s presence and that of SCLC, was considered far too conservative and churchy. Based on archival SNCC documents, the folks in Vine City seemed entirely done with the righteous preachers; they were ready for revolutionary practice. SNCC was providing that leadership. They were suspicious of Hector.

With a van with a giant megaphone, they would harass Hector daily, trying to shame him with the nickname: “White Jesus.” This is decades before the terms like “performative wokeness” or “white savior complex” became regular parlance in the Black Lives Matter movement, directed both at public white accomplices, and with the former, celebrity activists of all races. 

When asked about all this, Hector just smiled. He laughed. He really seemed amused about all the White Jesus stuff, but he didn’t seem to care at all about how it portrayed him. If there were an iota of white fragility or defensive mansplaining to be done about it, I did not discern it. 

Over the years, Hector has come to see MLK as a true radical, but then like his friends in SNCC and the Black Power movement generally, in 1966, most were done with MLK. As a Quaker, Hector was still a pacifist, but he obviously understood why the militant blacks, in the immortal words of Malcolm X, were ready to “stop singing” and “start swinging.” I wonder if any of this sounds familiar to our times?

Because of my two-decades friendship with Hector,  we have met up in many different places: from picking blueberries in the summer sun on his gorgeous property; to hanging out with Tennessee’s rural LGBT community; to co-chairing the Interfaith Peace Project, where we support youth in our community, who do writing and art for peace; to having him speak to students about abolishing the death penalty, by sharing his story of forgiveness concerning his adopted daughter’s murderer getting life-in-prison instead of electrocution; to hiking to the waterfalls on his land, which he did in his 90s, in his Crocs, on a January King-holiday morning. 

Fast forward to today. In the last two weeks, almost overnight, a Black Lives Matter movement has emerged in my small southern conservative community, it seems out of thin air, mostly led by youth. Almost immediately and intuitively, I drew a deep breath from my inner resources of 35-years-as-an-activist and got involved, at first as an “adviser” to a youth led group of young black and white activists, to my current intuitive role as an independent agitator, with years of experience in multiple-lanes from indy media to commissioned ministry, from nonviolent resistance to radical pedagogy, and so on. 

This reflection is not the time to document all the cyber-bullying, trolling, and doxxing that our community has seen online, with multiple community Facebook groups coming unhinged with conspiracy theories, threats of violence, and racist rants. But some explanation of the context is needed. 

In an impromptu demo on Tuesday, June 2, we saw physical violence, as a heckler claiming KKK affiliation assaulted a protester after an intense verbal exchange. Add to this police intimidation and misinformation, we went to our first large Black Lives Matter rally on Saturday, June 6, feeling a little rattled.

Before and since our beautiful and successful seven-hour rally, at which Hector showed up with a friend as escort, with his walker, with his Covid 19 mask, I have been called on Facebook and Twitter: a pro-looting race-baiter, a narcissistic egotistical white savior complex slacktivist. 

The FBI joint terrorism taskforce has also visited my house uninvited, and for the trouble of their time, I provide them a bit of a sermon, captured on video, with their permission. This video’s very existence, plus my remarks, has apparently outraged some members of my community. 

All this is to say how much I love and admire Hector walking this road before us. His “white Jesus” story is ours today for white activists in this current civil rights revolution. Like Hector, we need to keep listening to our youth, queer, and black leaders, listen to the victims of police brutality and the criminal industrial complex, amplifying all their voice. 
When we are attacked from whatever side, we need no defensiveness, no fragile whitesplaining, just heavy doses of that Quaker spirit, that MLK spirit, the Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer spirit. Like Hector, we need to laugh, to smile, to keep fighting for this overdue overcoming of the sin of White Supremacy. 

They used to sing, “we shall overcome someday.” Reverend Otis Moss III recently preached, “when is someday.” Maybe someday is today. But only if we, in the words of that old freedom song, keep our eyes on the prize. See you in the streets.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Chill Hipster Apocalypse 2020 - Pandemic Playlist Project

(image: medieval art - the apocalypse tapestry)

When listening to this playlist, it seems formed by the times themselves. Like every song picked itself to be placed here. Certain songs by The National, Decemberists, Mountain Goats, Avett Brothers, and more have existed in the cosmic music airspace, waiting to be drawn down into this grounded grappling with anxiety and reality. Due to its sheer size, it took me a while to ease into Joseph’s playlist, kind of like reading the Old Testament. But once he had me, the gifts of these gifts kept giving. 

The more we pay attention, the more we realize how many conversation partners we have, fellow listening partners in this case, in larger cultural conversations that we are currently having from a distance. Give Joseph’s epic collection a spin, in order or on shuffle, in pieces or all at once, and feel some more of the feels that we have all been feeling. AWS

Chill Hipster Apocalypse 2020

I created this playlist after moving back to Nashville just after the city was hit by at least one tornado in early March and as the COVID-19 pandemic was beginning to make itself felt. I had been on a trip when the tornado hit and had been playing a lot of Neko Case and was falling in love with her song “This Tornado Loves You.” 

I wasn’t sure whether to keep playing the song or not in the wake of the disaster. Meanwhile, Tim Heidecker’s (yes, the guy from Tim and Eric) “Work from Home” had long been a staple in the playlists Spotify’s algorithm would generate for me. When Dawes’s “When My Time Comes” came on, it occurred to me that this might be a (somewhat perverse) way of coping with what was happening: a multi-faceted apocalypse.

Sure, “apocalypse” is an overstatement. Or is it -- between tornadoes, pandemics, and the state of American politics, with the Democratic party determined to do as little as possible aside from return to whatever was happening in early 2016 and a Presidential administration determined to deny and diminish the seriousness of a pandemic that had wreaked havoc wherever it had gone. 

Plus, if you are me, you’re already down about the impact of American imperialism, the forceful grinding down effected by our increasingly unfettered capitalism, the violence (at times  insidious, at others explicit) against women, people of color, immigrants, queer folx, and on Sunday mornings, church that would rather be a sanctuary for oppressive thought or lukewarm nothingness followed by coffee than a witness to a gospel of mercy, acceptance, and justice. 

It’s the end of the goddamn world, ok? Ok. 2020 will be the year that kills us. Will 2020 be the year that kills us?

So naturally, I made a playlist. Later, I made it a collaborative playlist, inviting friends to make suggestions and contributions. Some of the songs suggested were good. Some weren’t. Some weren’t good fits for the feel or were meant to annoy me. Some of those remain in the playlist. I’m still deciding how I feel. Obvious and kitschy sometimes has a place, you know?

Monday, April 13, 2020

An Easter Monday Mixtape

An Easter Monday Mixtape, recorded from vinyl to audacity in real time on 13 April 2020

Stephen C. Rose performed by David Grover & Judy Lunseth - Rolled Away 
Friends - Sing Hallelujah 
Berkeley Divinity School - Glory Hallelu 
Father Tom Belt & the God Unlimited Choir - Joy
Monfort Singers - The Hour When You Must Begin
Street Christians - It’s Been A Long Time A’ Comin’ 
Kell Street Camp Meeting - I Shall Not Be Moved
Mylon - I’ll Fly Away
Mylon - I’m Flying #1 (For Free)
Bill Withers - Lean On Me
John Prine - That’s The Way That The World Goes Round
Jerry Garcia - The Wheel
The Electric Prunes - Kyrie Eleison
Pilgrim People - Long Live God

Notes: I love making playlists, yes, & I even love Spotify. 

But there is something special about an old-school mixtape, about moving to a different room, about resetting your multitasking modern mentality into a dusty old-discs devotion. This mix is mostly from old-school folkie -- not-on-streaming-services -- Jesus vinyl, an ongoing obsession of mine. So Easter hippy Jesus Freak, with a few tracks you will recognize thrown in for timely memorial truth. At about 44 minutes, it would fit on one side of a 90 minute cassette. Some pauses are too short; others too long. There is the real scratchy groove, in this an Easter gift.

Monday, April 6, 2020

Shamelessy Sappy: for lovers on lockdown everywhere - pandemic playlist project

Ali Gause and I have known each other since our Detroit days. Now she is out west, and I am down south. The social media revolution connected us across the years and miles. This ultimate love playlist defies the days of disconnection with powerful loving solidarity. This epic list works well on shuffle, from the beginning-to-end, or shared between a few different listens. Enjoy! - AWS

Recently I heard a Unitarian Minister, Rev. Leslie Takahashi, say, “May the love among us be greater than the distance between us.” Those words were the inspiration behind this playlist. Songs that trigger happy memories, sentimental moments, the inklings of romance, physical closeness, the untouchable bonds of unconditional love and steadfast friendship. Songs that promote love instead of fear. Maybe listening to them will offer some hope during this time of grave difficulty and uncertainty. Sending a special tribute out to all the emergency health care workers tirelessly working on the front lines serving those that are most ill. - Ali Gause

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Tunes in the Time of Covid-19

On the morning  of March 14, Tony Neely sent me a link to this playlist. Seventeen days ago seems like years ago in Pandemic Time. As soon as I saw the list, as soon as I started listening, I realized how perfect this was for imperfect times, how Pandemic Playlists would be a lifeline for these strange days. From now on, this comprehensive Covid 19 playlist is the defining self-isolation playlist.

Seeing Tony’s list made me want to see everyone’s quarantine survival kit of sound. The playlist is the mixtape of this moment, articulating the feelings that everyone is feeling. Hopefully you will listen to this and all future installments of this “pandemic playlist project.” Send us your playlist, too. We have time to listen! A.W.S.

Tunes in the Time of Covid-19: An Annotated Playlist by Anthony D. Neely, Ph.D.

Music has always been my escape. More than an escape…music has offered a place of solace. For every moment of my life, whether joyful or morose, there has been an accompanying melody.

When my son was born, I played “Here Comes the Sun” (The Beatles) because that was the first song I wanted him to hear upon his triumphant entrance into this broken world. And I wept with pride.

My father abandoned our family, not once but twice, while I was in high school. We lost our home as a result. All memorialized to the tune of Jars of Clay’s Tea and Sympathy.

A song for every turn and every experience.

In March of this year, it became evident that Covid-19 was not merely the gone-tomorrow-flu that the media had led us to believe. As a school teacher, I saw the writing on the wall that I would likely not be returning to my classroom for quite a while…if at all during this school year. Again, music became a coping mechanism.

I decided to compile a playlist.

That playlist is titled aptly titled, Coronacation Playlist.

The obvious first song to add, as I’m sure will be a theme across most Covid-19 related playlists, was R.E.M.’s It’s The End of The World As We Know It. I chose this song as the opening track because it represents the cognitive dissonance that I, and so many others, are experiencing during this time as we simultaneously bask in a slower pace to life while watching the world’s social and economic structures crumble in front of us. It’s all just mumbled words in a major key.

As a Christian, however, I am not hopeless during this time. My faith helps me to believe that nothing happens without God’s foreknowledge. There is peace in knowing that I am not in control. Thematically, this aligned with the second track of the playlist, Sky Falls Down by Third Day.

After choosing the first two tracks, the playlist honestly became a form of mental exercise; a flexing of my music nerd muscles, if you will, to see how many songs I could pull from memory that fit within various themes related to Covid-19.

Illness: Down with Disease (Phish), Down with the Sickness (Disturbed), Sick as a Dog (Aerosmith)

Fever: Fever (Peggy Lee). Cold Sweat (James Brown), Feeling Hot Hot Hot (Bad Influence)

Contagiousness: And It Spread (The Avett Brothers), U Can’t Touch This (MC Hammer), Don’t Touch Me (Etta James)

Social Distancing: Don’t Stand So Close to Me (The Police), Keep Your Hands to Yourself (Georgia Satellites), Quarantined (At the Drive In)

Hospitals: In the Hospital (Friendly Fires), Hospital Beds (Cold War Kids), Hospital (The Lemonheads)

Death: Death with Dignity (Sufjan Stevens), Don’t Fear the Reaper (Blue Oyster Cult), Die Die Die (The Avett Brothers)

Breathing Issues: Lungs (Townes Van Zandt), Harder to Breathe (Maroon 5), Pneumonia Blues (Lightnin Hopkins)

Armageddon: End of the World Party (Medeski, Martin, and Wood), The End of The World (The Cure), The Earth Died Screaming (Tom Waits)

Hope: Hope in a Hopeless World (Widespread Panic), Always Look on the Bright Side of Life (Monty Python), Touch of Grey (The Grateful Dead)

More and more themes emerged as I worked on the playlist. Examples included hygiene, medicine, ambulances, healthcare professionals (e.g., doctors, nurses), school, and hysteria, to name a few.

Knowing the first cases of Covid-19 had emerged in November 2019, I was also curious if any songs had been published specifically about the virus. I found several that I decided to include such as The Coronavirus Cruise (Oscar Shorts).

The playlist, as it exists now, consists of 132 songs and lasts 8 hours 19 minutes.

An ever growing soundtrack to this catastrophically calm time of my life.