Charlottesville, Protest, Ongoing Work and Symbolic Nazi Punches

Today wasn’t my first protest, but it wasn’t far from it – and it was my first protest of this type; something formed quickly in direct response to a particular incident. I posted a while back about how my focus has been on volunteering/education rather than protest and direct action, and I’m fine with that, everyone finds their own work – but I said that I wanted to stay open to opportunities for protest, and this wasn’t something I would’ve been okay with sitting out.

It was a great gathering and an excellent group of speakers – the Knoxville News Sentinel livestreamed the whole thing. I was particularly impressed with Representative Rick Staples; his message about refusing to turn away from difficult situations and choosing to become dangerous was powerful.

I participated in my first Black Lives Matter chant. It felt significant, and it felt overdue.

There was a police presence but it was small – and I wonder how that same event would’ve been different if had been organized by Black Lives Matter. There were folks there from BLM, but the event was organized and promoted by the Women’s March Coalition. I was so aware the whole time that I’m a middle class white woman and I was attending a rally organized primarily by white women – almost all of the speakers were people of color and they were the voices of the event, but when an organization that’s known to be run by middle class white women organizes an event in Market Square, the response is different than it would have been if it had been organized directly by Black Lives Matter. I’m not saying that this detracted from the event – in fact I think it was an example of using white privilege for good – it’s just something I wanted to be aware of.

I’m glad that Knoxville responded so quickly. It makes me proud of my city that I didn’t have to drive two hours to go to an event like this, I just had to walk two miles. I’m proud of the amazing and diverse collection of leaders and activists and educators and elected officials who spoke. I’m proud that our mayor was there via livestream even though she’s apparently traveling currently.

And it tears me up that we had to have this event in the first place. It tears me up that white supremacy is still a thing. That people – real people – can even believe such hideous things.

Not long ago, something like this would’ve happened and I would’ve just thrown my hands up and said I didn’t know what to do to help, and I would’ve retreated into my world of entertainment and not actually looked for ways to help. Going to a rally isn’t going to fix the world, but it’s something – it’s getting out there and standing up with people in my city who believe that our country can – and must – fight this crisis. And maybe I’m not out there on a front line literally punching Nazis in the face, but every time I go to Centro to help immigrants learn to speak English, I like to think I’m delivering a symbolic punch in the face to the white supremacists. And I’m just going to keep on doing that. A particular rally may be a one-time thing, but the message it sends to the city – and the country – is important, and so is the organization and motivation that comes as a result, and the energy that people take away. I came away ready to keep plugging away at my Spanish studies and to go into Centro next week and deliver some symbolic Nazi punches.

Watership Down and Activism – Bunnies and Borders?

I finished Watership Down today – after a few fairly intense books it was a nice change of pace; not that it doesn’t have an intensity of its own, and some particularly fierce parts, but it also had some good folk-tale-telling and charming British rabbit drama.

I had wondered if it would work for me or if it would be one of those books that just doesn’t resonate with you if you don’t first come to it at a younger age. I’m sure that if I’d read it or had it read to me when I was a kid or young adult it would’ve had that extra layer of potency that stories only have when you encounter them at a young age, but it was absolutely affecting.

I loved Hazel – there was something particularly moving about how he started the book without any ambition at all to become a chief rabbit – and in fact he never actually developed that ambition, he just stepped into the role when it became clear that it was needed. He was a rabbit who did what was needed, without fuss or fanfare. He just did it.

I also loved Hyzenthlay, though she didn’t have as much to do as I would’ve liked – I hadn’t really expected a strong, sensible female character to be in the mix, so I was pleasantly surprised when she entered the story.

The willingness of the rabbits to leave behind what they knew in order to find, build and fight for something better also resonated with me. It definitely isn’t a tidy parallel for immigration – the rabbits were forming their own, completely new, society, rather than joining an existing one. But it’s not hard lately to get me thinking about the journeys of people who leave their lives behind in order to find, build and fight for something better.

Listening to Pod Save the People teaches me so much with every episode – and makes me think so much. Recently he talked about how many families that include undocumented people face the need to establish plans for their children – what to do if they get deported. Which of course they would – it’s just one of the many things that hadn’t occurred to me. I can’t even imagine.

One of the things I’ve been thinking about lately is how, while my form of social action is volunteerism and education more than protest, I’m open to doing more protest as well – but I listen to someone like DeRay, who has engaged in so much protest and has gotten arrested for it multiple times, and I think, you know, for the most part, the kinds of protest opportunities that come up in my town are pretty unlikely to result in me getting arrested – a vaguely hipsterish white woman in her late 30s at some big “March for … ” event or even at a Planned Parenthood protest probably isn’t super likely to end up spending any time in jail. I’m not saying it couldn’t happen, but it’s not something I’ve particularly felt any trepidation about.

The kinds of protests where you know going in that getting arrested is a distinct possibility haven’t been a part of my experience as of yet, which has made me think, what would I be willing to get arrested for? What kind of protest would I go to even if I thought I could potentially end up in trouble for it?

The Hispanic center that I volunteer for serves a population that includes undocumented people. I don’t know, among my students, who is documented and who isn’t – one student has told me about the process he went through to become a citizen so I know his situation, and I’m always glad to learn more about their experiences when they want to talk but it’s certainly not something I ask them about. These are people I spend time with a couple times a week and who have become friends, and I know that some of them live with the possibility of being deported.

If ICE came to the center? If I were in a position where I could either stand up for my students or step aside? I hope that I’d be willing to get arrested for that. Mostly I hope that it never happens, but it could, and I hope that I’d be up to it. I’ve never even gotten a speeding ticket – the thought of getting arrested terrifies me. Sitting here writing a blog post it’s easy to say that yes, of course I’d stand up – and I hope that that’s true.

One a recent episode DeRay talked about how he doesn’t want to protest, he doesn’t want to get arrested, he’s done what was necessary – and, it’s a theme, I have so much admiration for people who just do what needs to be done. I hope I could do what was necessary, too.

(Did I just bring this full circle by comparing one of the things I admire about DeRay to what I admired about Hazel? I think I did.)

Thoughts of the Recently Woke

The blog I had previous to this one was focused specifically on geeky things. I’ll always be a geek and there will be times on this blog when I geek out about some ridiculously nerdy thing – but I trailed off on that blog and I think it was, at least in part, because I was too limiting in directing a topic for it. This one I’ve left purposely open. I wanted a place where I could talk about news, current events and politics if I wanted – but I didn’t want to limit it to that, either, because sometimes I want to talk about books or fitness or something completely random.

One of my friends tweeted something today that I identified with in a huge way:

2015 me: who are you?
2017 me: I’m you but now I livetweet congressional hearings instead of scifi tv shows

Yep, pretty much. I haven’t out-and-out gone off about politics yet on this blog and it’s partly because, to quote Jon Lovett, “there’s just so much going on” – one doesn’t even know where to start. I’m also relatively new to following politics and I’m very aware that there are a lot of areas where I just haven’t learned all the background and I try not to spout off too much about things if I don’t feel I really understand them.

But I’m learning and I’m doing. I’ve been thinking a lot about volunteerism vs. activism. I’m really into DeRay Mckesson’s Pod Save the People and of course he’s an extraordinary activist and talks a lot about activism, getting involved, what you can do, etc. And he talked on the newest one about starting where you are, and about not waiting for someone to give you permission, and not worrying that what you’re getting involved with isn’t the absolute most critical thing, because there’s so much to be done.

And that’s part of what I worry about, so hearing him say that was helpful. It’s not that I worry that what I’m getting involved with isn’t what should be at the top of the list – I’m helping people strengthen their English skills and I’ve got no doubts about how important that is, and there aren’t enough people doing it (there regularly aren’t enough volunteers, so myself and other teachers will end up teaching two units that are supposed to each have their own separate class).

The thing that sometimes pokes at me is that I’m focusing on volunteering and not as much on activism. I am calling elected officials (and various other offices – I get my ideas of who to call each week from 5 Calls) every week (I have a spreadsheet!) and I keep an eye out for activist opportunities that work for me; I’ve done one protest and one phone bank with Planned Parenthood and would gladly do either of those things again. But I haven’t gone to any of the big marches – being in a crowd of loud people can sound really draining at a time when I’m really ready for some rest.

And it’s not like I feel like I have to do #allthethings – I’m just super inspired by people doing protest and activism and a part of me wants to do more of that. But I’m also really loving the volunteering I’m doing and putting a lot of energy into it, and I feel like it’s a great fit for my personality and skills. I do still want to keep open to doing more activism and look for ways to do that without burning myself out. But I’m in this for the long haul – the election was what woke me but I intend to stay woke, which means I don’t need to do EVERYTHING RIGHT NOW, I need to continue to do things in ways that are sustainable. So if I need to rest instead of marching, that’s okay – I’m not doing anyone any good if I exhaust myself.

Really I just feel, in a lot of ways, like I’m trying to make up for lost time – so many years of living in my bubble and not making any effort to get out and do something that helps someone. And you can’t make up for lost time, so there’s no point running yourself ragged trying – you start where you are and go from there.

Revelling/Reckoning has been one of my favorite Ani Difrano albums since it came out, and there’s a song on that album that I’ve always loved but that also has always terrified me – Tamburitza Lingua. This is the part that’s always gotten to me: “10 9 8 seven six 5 4 three 2 one / and kerplooey / you’re done. / you’re done for. / you’re done for good. / so tell me / did you? / did you do / did you do all you could?”

And the answer is no – the answer is always no, the answer always has to be no, unless you’re one of the rare and amazing people that gives up their entire life to activism/volunteerism – I know a person like that and he’s fucking incredible. But not everyone is that person, and that doesn’t mean your contributions aren’t crazy important – the important thing is making contributions.

DeRay frequently asks his guests what advice they’ve been given that has always stuck with them, and in the first episode he asks Andy Slavitt, who quotes his dad’s advice – “always contribute more than you cost in all that you do.” That’s a huge goal to work towards. I think I’ll be working towards it for the rest of my life. And I’ll never be able to say “I did all I could” – but that song doesn’t scare me like it used to.

There’s Just So Much Going On

Yesterday evening was really intense even before I knew anything newsworthy had happened.

My ESL class ended up getting a bit heavy – the curriculum for the night included a reading that was a story about an immigrant family that came to America because the parents wanted a better life for their children. It was a hopeful feel-good story, but it ended up leading to some pretty serious discussion about everyone’s own lives, situations, histories, reasons for coming here, and one woman sharing an incredibly painful story that broke my heart for her. It was hard to hear but I’m so glad they felt comfortable having that conversation with me. I have so much respect and affection for these folks.

I got home after class, told Matthew about the evening, and after we’d talked about it he said “So … with all of that going on, I guess you haven’t heard the news.”

0_o

Tomorrow we’re driving to New Orleans for a long weekend planned around Matthew’s cousin’s wedding. Neither of us has been to New Orleans before and we’re super excited to just do some wandering and exploring. Last road trip we went on was last month when we drove to PA to see my oldest friend Chris perform in In the Heights and on the way there the drama was unfolding surrounding and leading up to the first failed attempt at a vote on the AHCA. We followed it pretty obsessively during the drive – made for great road trip entertainment – and on the way home two days later we caught up on all the podcast reactions and dissections.

Looks like we’ll have no lack of podcast material to follow this trip either. As the man said, Lordy.

I Think I’ll Do

The passive voice is not easy to teach. There are times when I question whether I’m qualified to be teaching ESL at all – and then I find out that last Thursday, one of the nights I’m not there, the group I usually teach didn’t even have a teacher because not enough volunteers showed up. 

I’m doing fine, and I’ll get better as I go, and I’m showing up to do it. 

Yawn. 

So the volunteer adventure I’m on (at some point I’ll talk about how finding a place to volunteer regularly was harder than I would have expected) is teaching ESL classes two nights a week at our local Hispanic center. I’m also using Rosetta Stone along with a few other apps to work on learning Spanish. I’m still very much a beginner but I’m getting there. 

By the time I get home after a day at work and then teaching class I’m definitely zonked but while I’m teaching I’m so much in the moment – I’ve only been doing it for about two months so it’s yet another thing I’m very much a beginner at – I feel like a beginner in a lot of areas lately. It only just now occurred to me that that’s a big part of where I’m at right now – being a beginner on so many different levels. 

Okay, I’m sleepy and if I keep writing I’m going to get punchily philosophical. Best save the thought until I’m more rested.