Interview, Our City, Our World

In conversation with Hassle Music Editor/Associate Editor Chris Hues about our Covid Times

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Photo by Omari Spears

Hassle founder and publisher Dan Shea emails with Hassle Music/ Associate Editor Chris Hues about the COVID-19 pandemic and how journalism and art need to do their small part to help society be more prepared in the future.

Please note that this interview was conducted over a week or two via an email conversation so not everything is timely; but that this interview accurately reflects the thoughts and emotions of the interviewer and interviewee.

Dan Shea:
Who are you and where are you?

Chris Hues:
I am Chris Hues, a queer, non-binary, jewish writer, artist, and activist. I daylight as a barista but also am a poet, musician, and associate editor of Bostonhassle.com.

I am currently in my apartment in Dorchester Center.

DS:
And the inevitable question, how has the Covid 19 situation affected art, community, and work life?

CH:
To speak personally, through all the positivity and strength I have been trying to cultivate for my 11 days of social distancing, I finally broke down and cried listening to Democracy Now! this morning. I couldn’t help it. Nurses in NYC are re-using masks, NY state lacks the 30k respirators that they need to save lives, while their governor cuts medicaid spending and the POTUS’ primary concern is having the country go to Church on Easter Sunday in a few weeks.

It is sheer madness. The evils and real death tendencies of capitalism, if you weren’t paying attention before, are being unraveled in front of our eyes, daily. Make no mistake, this is a complete abortion and failure of our state and global system.

My work life as a barista has been put on hold. I got laid off last week and am currently appealing the decision of the Ma Unemployment office to grant me $0 in benefits. I am unable to pay rent, bills, or my student loans, and am still baffled as to why we have to wait on hold for hours for bill and debt collectors to explain to them that I am unemployed due to the Corona Virus. I have to do this at the same time that American senators, lawmakers, and business owners commit high level graft and give billions of dollars to airline executives to fatten their bonuses and destroy the planet flying empty planes through the sky.

My community has been hit hard. More appalling than all of the my friends and family out of work, are my friends and family still in work. My roommate, Ryan, and my partner, Kelie, work at a grocery store and are being forced to work, unprotected (for the same rate they were making before the pandemic) in a public health emergency. My partner currently lives on the Cape with their elderly grandmother. Both of their well-being’s are obviously foremost in my mind 99% of the time. My father, who is over 60 and works at the power plant in Charlestown/ Everett, is essential personal. This means he has to go to work everyday. But before he steps into work, he has to get screened for any signs of sickness or virus. If there was an outbreak at the plant, there would be virtually no one to replace these workers. My father and his union coworkers are some of the only people in Mass who can do their jobs. They are highly trained and specialized laborers.

My mother is a triage nurse at a pediatrics office. Yesterday was her birthday, and while she is still in work, the majority of her coworkers had to be laid off. I am currently cooped up with my roommates trying to maintain a semblance of normalcy and routine. I am putting self-care first. I do yoga with my partner for close to an hour a day and am drinking all the Polar seltzer I can get my hands on.

As for my art, I am finally nearing the quiet I need to approach my endeavors with clarity and courage. Daily, I am taking over two hours to write poetry, over an hour to play guitar, and spending much more time than that making sure the Hassle runs smoothly and has relevant content for our readers.

I, like everyone, cannot wait for this to be over. I never realized I would miss my job and being a social person this much. At the same time, I believe we need to remain in solidarity and isolation to stop the spread and the inevitable death COVID-19 can cause.

DS:
Wait, why are you getting $0 in unemployment?!

CH:
Long story. I got a new job in the first quarter and my wages aren’t on file til the quarter completes. Until I get a magical call from the unemployment gods, I am almost penniless. Shout out to my credit cards though.

DS:
That is fucked up re: unemployment. I really hope you can find a way around that.

As you know I’m interviewing several different people about what’s happening during these times. There’s some optimism about the effect that the covid situation will have on opening people’s eyes to the general, regular malfeasance being perpetrated in our society by those who are supposed to be looking out for people. I think that will happen to some degree, but I don’t think the folks who need to open their eyes are getting the message unfortunately. I think they are getting different messages, from the media, from officials and thus the changes the optimists are hoping for just aren’t happening. Thoughts?

CH:
Capitalism sucks. I saw a tweet where Jeep said that they can help the USA by lowering their APR rate. I saw on the TV today bath fitters saying now is a good time to put a bath in your house and that their employee’s are taking steps to be sanitary. Is that what anyone needs to worry about right now? I understand the importance of keeping your job through this and that everyone is struggling, but, is a new bath essential? Why not focus energy elsewhere, into more supportive mutual aid efforts? I am of the persuasion that if we take strict measures now, as a state and country, then there will be a shorter time period of this crisis. Vague, anti-scientific leaders are putting more and more lives at risk every day.

Though I’m knotted over your argument about the optimists, and I’m not saying nothing will change, there will be massive change from this crisis, I am growing more cynical by the day. Let us not forget we do live in America, a country whose health infrastructure is wholly privatized and vastly unprepared for what any epidemiologist would have said was inevitable. We are caught with our pants down and people are dying because of it.

In my experience, bosses and politicians do not have your best interests in mind. Every liberal is fawning over Cuomo right now. According to Democracy Now!, NY doctors or nurses can tell you, he has been on the front lines of cutting Medicaid in the state, cutting over 20,000 beds in the past 10-20 years of his ‘service’. And what is he doing now: boosting his time in the limelight to accrue political power and begging for his beds back. It’s truly despicable that the news media on TV is profiteering off hysteria, that the Boston Globe is profiteering off hysteria. Why are they doing this you ask? Because they are BILLION dollar corporations who run on fear and conspiracy.

Because of this, regrettably, I urge people not to rely on our governments and employers but to take care of yourself. Capitalists don’t help poor people or people from marginalized identities; if you are black or Hispanic or queer or disabled. Save your money, stay inside, look after those most important to you, and most importantly, organize. Organize and keep fighting.

Photo by Omari Spears

DS:
It goes without saying, but a new bath is not necessary right now. I’m working on lyrics for a song, perhaps for our band (yes Chris and I are in a band together), called “During These Uncertain Times” about this very notion. STOP TRYING TO SELL ME SHIT DURING A PANDEMIC YOU FUCKING CRETINS. Ahem.

My general pessimism is actually starting to fray regarding the “huge change” that will come or whatever. Not that I’m close to THERE yet, but I’m seeing the tide turning via social media ever so slightly and at least (left) commentators are heavily discussing the subject. But like you said, Cuomo is is no hero removed from what he may be doing in this moment. No leader who is working off of what capitalism gave them is. I’ll repeat what you astutely stated because it’s true and it needs to echo broadly: “Capitalists don’t help poor people or people from marginalized identities; if you are black or Hispanic. Save your money, stay inside, look after those most important to you, and most importantly, organize. Organize and keep fighting.”

CH:
Yeah. The unfortunate part is, someone will actually think now is the best time for a bath. Everyone is in some type of panic mode right now and that just makes you act more irrationality. Everyone also needs to chill the fuck out and weather this storm before it weathers them.

If the state and corporate leaders have shown us nothing else over the past few weeks, it is that we were grossly unprepared for this pandemic, despite calls from the pentagon two years ago about the dangers of a respiratory virus of this same type and magnitude. We are living the consequences of failure at the highest levels of all types of government and institutions.

DS:
I myself work at a women’s shelter, my mother at a hospital, my father is a postal worker. We’re all in the shit too. It’s a double edged sword. At least we have jobs, but are we going to die? Infect our loved ones? My 3 year old has asthma and I am incredibly worried about him.

CH:
You’re right. It is a double-edged sword. Everyone is taking risks right now.

If the story out of Springfield about the Soldiers Home deaths is any indicator, we as workers have obligations to hold management accountable for decisions, and that these decisions be transparent, science-based and people forward opposed to profit forward. Rifts are appearing in our society, but now is not the time to shy away from obligations. Instead, we need to prepare for the worst that may come.

DS:
Maybe, I’m biased, but I have to say you are crushing it here at the Hassle.

CH:
Ha thanks, boss.

I was recently reading about Ignacio Martin-Baro’s ‘Towards a Liberation Psychology’ and am truly moved by his story. Opposed to mercilessly rant about corporate media, I’ll take this time to highlight the independent media that has been killing it through this crisis, but is seriously struggling since their models are almost wholly based on advertising revenues from events and concert promoters.

Independent media from grassroots journalists is what our society needs more of right now. Young journalists out there need to know you don’t have to be paid by a major corporation (be that Conde Naste or John Henry) to be validated in your work. There are endless outlets in the GBA for you to pursue your craft in serious, respectful, and worthwhile mediums (I’m typing on one right now). So what if you have to work a day job. If you have a story you need to tell, nothing should stop you from telling that story.

This is why I pour all of my time into the Hassle. Because I know in my heart it is important and valuable. And maybe, run through some functions, my work is not as worthwhile and valuable as I imagine it to be; I don’t care about what some algorithm of productivity can tell me. I know in my heart this is the right work for me right now. Journalism and storytelling reveal more about the author than what the author was hoping to reveal about their subject. So in that way, it is constant therapy and becoming for me and I try to push my colleagues and the folks that right for us in that same direction.

DS:
Amen on the independent journalist front!!!!!!!!!!! Wanna share with folks why they should join us in writing about their world here @ the Hassle, or elsewhere, even if they’ve never written before??

CH:
They should join us in writing about their world at the Hassle or elsewhere because, I think above all else, someone can not only reclaim their narrative for themselves by practicing journalism, they also reclaim narrative away from the dominant cultural narrative of society. I’m sure you have heard the expression ‘history is written by the victors’ — this expression carries with it a lot of dire implications. And I’m not calling us losers, nor am I complicit with whatever ‘victory’ we may be living under.

I think, as it has always been, that our narrative is still and is always being formed and elaborated on. So in this way, I see journalism as direct action and activism against a capitalist narrative, against a colonialist narrative, against a neo-liberal narrative. Against a narrative of war, imperialism, patriarchy, racism, ecological death and so on. And while we don’t have the capabilities to say, provide you up to the minute coverage on the spread of coronavirus; we discover and promote music from musicians and artists who are providing up to minute coverage on their emotions, expression, fears, and feelings.

In this way, journalism (for smaller outlets) turns into a highly expressive act, an artistic gesture as well as a journalistic one.

DS:
What do you miss about your job and being social?

CH:
I miss laughter. I miss reading a book on the train. I miss my partner’s kiss. I miss biking across the city to have tea with friends. I miss shows. I miss smoking weed after a long day’s work. I miss my mom and family. And more.

DS:
Are you really out of weed? I owe you on that front, can I please drop off some nugs on your doorstep when I re-up like next week?

CH:
Not yet! I tend to buy in bulk so I luckily stocked up pretty good before our social structure as we know it went south. But hey, I’ll probably be out by next week, so by all means if you want to drop some bug off I won’t complain one bit.

DS:
I couldn’t have said it better myself. Seems a like a good stopping point. I’ll let you know if I leave anything on your doorstep! See you in the trenches Chris!

The thoughts and opinions expressed in this interview do not necessarily reflect the editorial mission of Bostonhassle.com.

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