COVID culture pt. V: Time to get radical

Loud and potent reading and viewing in week five of quarantine PLUS old-fashioned letter-writing for a good cause.

Maybe this week you read Bill McKibbens’ account in The Guardian about oil companies using the COVID crisis to push through the Keystone XL pipeline, despite a decade of protest. Maybe you had to take breaks getting through the piece because of the sheer blinding rage and impotence you felt. 

Let your anger fuel something within you that’s not limited to our current predicament or even to Keystone. This week seek out people who are loud and potent and let that be a source of focus and empowerment. 


There are very few books made available for free by their authors themselves, but Stone Butch Blues is one of them. It’s a genre-defying work on gender and radicalism by trans activist and communist Leslie Feinberg. By Feinberg’s own account, the 1993 book is “a highly political polemic, rooted in its era and written by a white communist grass-roots organizer.” Now seems an important moment to delve into all stories whose radicalism can teach us something about rebuilding in the wake of our current crisis. 


If Stone Butch Blues left you with a radical glow, democratic-socialist Jacobin magazine has launched a YouTube show.

For more of a narrative mood, John Sayles’ Matewan (1987) is a pro-union oddity of a Hollywood blockbuster starring Chris Cooper and James Earl Jones. It’s an impassioned period piece whose central conceit is the value of labour. Sayles does have a certain propagandistic flair, but the performances and the struggle at hand still eerily resonate. 

The Chicago Film Archives have also made available American Revolution 2: Battle of Chicago, an astonishing documentary from 1969 that follows “Black Panther Bobby Lee as he attempts to find common cause with the poor Appalachian white community living in Chicago’s Uptown neighbourhood.” It’s an important historical portrait of an intersectional fight for common goals.


The Prisoner Correspondence Project is a Montreal-based “solidarity project for gay, lesbian, transsexual, transgender, gendervariant, two-spirit, intersex, bisexual and queer prisoners in Canada and the United States” that puts them in touch with penpals on the outside. While there are many prisoners who are searching for a penpal who identifies similarly to them, there are also many others who are in search of anyone to correspond with. The project only asks that straight allies do their utmost to put their penpal on the inside in touch with as many resources pertinent to their identity and situation as they are able. 

Don’t feel as though this has to be an overwhelming commitment, either. Just be clear with whomever you write to (and realistic with yourself) about how often you’ll be able to correspond. This is an incredible opportunity to get back into old-fashioned letter-writing and to connect with another human being. Don’t mistake this for charity — the project testimonials attest to how much parties on both sides of the prison wall get out of this exchange. ■

See previous recommendations for Coronavirus home-viewing/reading here.

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