Action can be kinda fun!

A group of pleasant, like-minded Berkeleyites gathered at an office in south Berkeley to write postcards last night as part of the national #IdesofTrump movement to let 45 know how we’re feeling.

Indivisible Berkeley supplied lots of pre-addressed postcards, which made it go much faster. The first few hundred were pre-stamped as well. We kept writing as someone went out to buy more stamps, and volunteers were at the ready to apply postage to all the unstamped ones, so they would all be mailed today, the Ides of March.

Some folks brought their own cards, so there was a true variety represented, including photos of people forming the word “RESIST!!” on the beach to kittens telling off Donald in their own cute way.

Some people wrote a little, and some wrote a lot. Artistic types drew pictures. At first, some seemed hesitant, unsure of what exactly they were supposed to write and whether they were supposed to sign their names or not. But once the ink got flowing, it was hard to stop. Mostly, we wrote in silence until someone new would show up and we welcomed them, or someone left and we wished them well in their future resistance efforts. Occasionally people shared the contents of their postcards and snapped photos for their Facebook pages.

I started out thinking I would just come up with something pithy and stick to it–that probably being the most efficient method. But writing became cathartic, and I found myself using words to express my frustration, despite the knowledge that 45 would never actually see my words.

Sometimes I was to the point.

“Resign already!”

Sometimes I just wrote what was in my head.

“If I said ‘pretty, pretty please,’ would you go away?”

Sometimes I even got personal.

“You are mean, and I don’t like you, even a little bit.”

And occasionally I put on my educator hat.

“You make bad choices, Donald. If you were a schoolyard bully, I could talk to you. But unfortunately you’re president, so you just need to resign.

signed, a teacher”

I’m willing to admit that I was starting to have fun. One of the last ones I wrote was kind of mean.

“I know you don’t know how to read, but please find someone to read this to you: It’s time to go home now.”

It’s not too late–send your postcard today. It feels really good. To see others, go to IB’s Facebook page.

 

A day of resistance and lessons

SEED logoThe SEED (Seeking Educational Equity & Diversity) Showcase: Tools of Resistance is the first educational conference I’ve been to in many years, and I was excited. Since it was held just 20 minutes away at the First Congregational Church in Oakland (affectionately called First Congo by its parishioners), I didn’t have to get up at the crack of dawn to drive there. I found parking right away—because, for once, I was early!—and entered through the blue door as specifically instructed on our pre-conference materials.

Loud rap music was coming over the loudspeakers in the main hall, setting a distinctly different atmosphere from any educational conferences I’d ever been to. I gathered various free materials (a mainstay of any teachers’ workshop), made my way over to get a bagel and coffee (also an important component of any teachers’ workshop), and grabbed a seat in the front row for the whole-group event.

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My paper haul from the conference. I resisted buying the got privilege? T-shirt.

After a brief mindfulness exercise to get us all centered, Dr. Eddie Moore, founder of the White Privilege Conference, took the stage. He began by telling us he was an emotional mess and has been since November. (Nobody in our progressive Bay Area crowd had to ask what he was referring to.) I listened eagerly, expecting to agree with everything he said, and I appreciated his energy and passion. He compared our struggle with racism to the relationship between the dominant lion and the innocent lamb. While I didn’t entirely understand his metaphor, it made for a striking visual.

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The slide Dr. Moore used to illustrate his Theory of Incapability.

He stirred us up with a rousing call to action, and I found myself nodding a lot. Yes, it is scary knowing that white supremacists have the presidents’ ear. No, we can’t be complacent and accept this as normal. Yes, we must do what we can to resist!

Then he mentioned that even well-meaning white teachers did not see future doctors and lawyers when they saw black boys in their classrooms, and he bemoaned the fact that he had to send his son—a black boy—to kindergarten where his teacher was a white woman.

It was as if a fully saturated roll of paper towels had hit me in the chest. I’m a white woman who has taught black boys, and I sincerely hoped that none of their parents felt that way about me. I know in my heart I never expected less of any of my students based on their race. Don’t I?

I was feeling resistance, but it was not in the way I’d expected. I let that sit with me for a while and consciously worked against my gut reaction. Somewhere in the back of my head I heard my daughter telling me that this was tough work and in order to make progress, I was going to be uncomfortable sometimes.

Then it was time for small-group work. Our name tags were color coded to divide us into groups of ten to twelve. (Go Team Red!) Our leaders went over the procedures for SEED meetings and gave us a question as a writing prompt, after which, we took turns in triads sharing our responses in precisely timed three-minute segments. I went last and finished in under sixty seconds. Although the SEED way is to embrace any silence that occurs before the timer goes off, it is not in my nature to sit quietly. So I just kept adding thoughts until it was time for crosstalk, which is SEED’s term for discussion among the triad members. Then it was time for popcorn (which, as it turns out, did not mean it was snack break.) Apparently popcorn is the term used for the discussion that happens in the small group (bigger than the triad, smaller than the whole group). People shared thoughts and feelings that had come up for them during Dr. Moore’s talk.

And out of nowhere I shared something I had not ever planned to talk about, all in the spirit of being open, I guess. Even as I was blathering, I began to worry that I shouldn’t have mentioned it at all. What would my Team Red colleagues think? Immediately afterward, a kind soul reminded us that this was a safe space and thanked us for being willing to share feelings that might make us uncomfortable. I knew she was thanking me because, as far as I could tell, nobody else had said anything they wouldn’t be perfectly fine announcing to a crowd of strangers. I appreciated that and no longer worried about consequent judgments.

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Dr. Flyswithhawks presents Dr. Moore with a Tsalagi blanket, which he proudly wears.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After a break, we reassembled in the main hall to hear Santa Rosa Junior College psych professor and former co-director of SEED, Dr. Brenda Flyswithhawks. A member of the Tsalagi (Cherokee) tribe, she started her presentation with a mini-lesson on the recent events at Standing Rock. A warm, funny woman who credits her grandmother as being her greatest teacher, Dr. Flyswithhawks shared several personal anecdotes about her experiences with and reactions to racism.

The most incredible story dated back to an incident that happened when she was a child. She remembers her grandmother hurrying all the children to the back of her house one day to hide. And when they emerged, little Brenda went out to the front yard, where she found her uncle hanging dead from a tree, the victim of hooded Klan members, who wanted to show Native people just what they thought of them. Years later, when she working toward her doctorate, she persistently made efforts to sit down with the grand dragon of the KKK. When she finally got a meeting with him, she told him she forgave him and told him about that traumatic day from her childhood. I have no idea what that meant to him, but she explained that the forgiveness was for her, not for him.

I could not relate. I don’t possess that kind of forgiveness, and I was floored to hear of someone who did.

We wrote our evaluations and jotted down questions on cards that were not quite 3 x 5 to submit to our speakers for an end-of-the-day conversation. Although the schedule claimed that the conference closed with a mindfulness exercise, I think that got skipped in favor of letting the Q&A time go longer. Even so, they got around to only a fraction of the questions, so I felt fortunate that both of mine were answered.

boy-cryingI’d asked Dr. Moore how he reconciled leaving his boy in the hands of a white woman every day, knowing he preferred not to. He replied honestly that it wasn’t a matter of reconciling it, that he still has a hard time with it. And I could hear the pain in his voice as he picked up a piece of paper and replied, “Every day, I hand my boy over whole.” Then he ripped the paper into strips, letting them fall to the floor as he said, “And every day, this is what I get back.” He proceeded to piece the strips back together on the ground and added that even after this process, his son was never as whole, that creases remained.

That is when I understood his side of the story. I may do the best job I can do as a white woman, but I could never be the perfect teacher for his son. Of course, there’s no such thing as a perfect teacher, but a parent always wants the best for his or her child. And he was speaking as a parent.

My question for Dr. Flyswithhawks was “How were you able to get to a place where you could forgive the grand dragon of the KKK for the death of your uncle, even understanding that the forgiveness was for you?” Her answer: grace–the grace she has as a spiritual woman, the grace she learned from her grandmother. She was a great believer in prayer, even as she conceded that some of us in that room would be uncomfortable with the concept of prayer.

There was that idea again—being uncomfortable. Here I was, a devout atheist since the age of 11, looking up to a woman of faith and appreciating her for all that she was. This by no means changed my thoughts on God, but I didn’t have that automatic reaction to discount what else she said, as–I admit–I might have before.

So the day was full of lessons: I learned that I could be vulnerable without negative consequences. I learned that I could listen and hold onto ideas that were contrary to my own without having to argue against them. I learned that I could accept wisdom from someone whom I truly admired but wasn’t completely aligned with ideologically.

And I needed to work on being comfortable with silence. That one might be tough.

The Best Way Out–

A political dramedy in Seussian verse

Here’s an excerpt from my ten-minute play that depicts the Cheetoh-in-chief’s first day as president.

DONALD TRUMP:
I’m huge with the good people in this great nation. paul-noth-trump-oath-cartoon

You could see them all at my inauguration. 

Millions were there to see me take the oath. 

And I used two Bibles--I needed them both. 

My hands are not tiny like some people say. 

In fact no part of me is, by the way.

If you enjoyed this snippet, here is a link to the whole play: best-way-out

And I couldn’t resist including this Paul Noth cartoon from the New Yorker.

Depression is not the muse I asked for:

A make-it-up-as-I-go-along survival guide to the Trump era

I used to call myself a writer.

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Not that I made a living from it, but I have spent a significant portion of time in various writing pursuits over the last eight years, at least enough to justify my business card, I think.

 

I still make grocery lists–does that count?

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I didn’t post anything on my blog for a whole month. I did have a fully composed piece ready to send out; but for some reason, I hadn’t published it. So, it was late, but luckily, it wasn’t one of those pieces that is time sensitive. Not like news.

Ah, news. In the last few months, I’ve desperately subscribed to more news sources to try to keep on top of what’s happening to our country. I want to be informed. It strikes me as masochistic, but I crave news more than ever, now that the news is nearly always bad and I feel as if we’re losing ground on a daily basis. One only has to hop onto Facebook or turn on the TV to glimpse basic liberties crumbling beneath our feet.

So despite the increase in reading about current events, I had not heretofore felt compelled to write about them. In fact, I rarely thought about blogging at all, depressed as I was about impending fascism. Like many other like-minded people since the recent presidential election, I’ve felt distraught, overwhelmed, and rather joyless at our immediate prospects in the good old U.S. of A.

But I’ve decided that wallowing in self-pity would mean that they win–they being the cabinet from hell, the Republican wusses who are too cowardly to rein in their party leader, the evil Steve Bannon, and of course, the Cheetoh-in-chief himself.

Last year my goal was to walk all the paths of Berkeley, and I had thought, once upon a time, that I might branch out to Oakland, Albany, and El Cerrito this year on a similar quest. But in January, when I was considering my annual resolution, I didn’t have the heart or energy to embark on such an expedition. I put off setting any goals and kept myself otherwise occupied.

fetal-positionNow I see what I must do to stay sane. Instead of throwing my hands up when I read about immigration bans, I can do a little research and write to my congressperson. Rather than ranting to the dog about how fascism starts with gagging the media, I will write my thoughts on Facebook to provoke conversation. As a more productive alternative to curling into a fetal position over our doomed education system with Betsy DeVos at the head, I can write a short play condemning 45’s cabinet picks. I might as well use my anger to fuel my writing. It’s more productive than sitting behind my desk and seething, right?

I recently happened upon a Robert Frost quote that struck me as a propos at this point in history:

“The best way out is always through.”

Rather than fleeing to Canada or staying in bed until this administration passes, I plan to make it through this presidency. And since I’m non-violent, I will go through it not with fists flying but with fingers flying over my keyboard.

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Now I have a new path to follow. Won’t you join me?

Mission accomplished–Paths wandered

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I did it. I walked all of Berkeley’s paths in a little over a year.

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Claremont Path

The final leg of my journey was Claremont Path (#130), which is a shortcut between the end of Hillcrest Road and El Camino Real. This path was the one that was furthest from my house and was the shortest as well, basically the length of one house. It has seven steps accompanied by a railing, then smooths out to become an even sidewalk bordered by manicured bushes, a few agapanthus, and a clean white wooden fence. Walking both directions–at a leisurely pace and even stopping to take a few photos–took me about four minutes in all.img_2705

 

The sign that proclaims that Hillcrest Road has ended seemed like a fitting photo for my last post as a Berkeley path wanderer. A festive vestige from December made for a lovely halo.

And now for a rundown of the numbers: Although the paths’ numbers range from 1 to 140, there aren’t actually that many paths. On the official list on the Berkeley Path Wanderers Association website, 25 are listed but labeled as “unbuilt,” such as Keeler Walk (#32), which is supposed to go from Grizzly Peak Blvd. to Creston Road, but it isn’t yet open. Interestingly enough, Rose Glen Alley is one such path, but it’s mostly built; you just can’t reach the very end.

But oddly, a few numbers just don’t show up at all. For instance, listed just below Rock Walk (#33) is Vistamont Trail (#35). There’s no mention of Path #34 at all. Nor is there any evidence of paths numbered 49, 69, 113, 124, 137, 138, or 139. But there are two paths that claim the number 134: Encina Walk and Park Path.

So subtracting out the unbuilt ones and the non-existent ones, and then adding back in the extra #134, plus the mostly built Rose Glen Alley, my calculations tell me that mission-accomplishedBerkeley is home to only 108.75 numbered paths, not 140.

But I still walked them all.

 

A different kind of urban hike

 

img_2698The night before the march we got out the poster board and broad-tipped Sharpies in five different colors. I spent way too much time looking for catchy phrases to put on my sign. We’d heard that in New York no rulers–or anything that could be used as a weapon–were allowed to hold signs. So I punched tiny holes in mine, inserted string, and planned on wearing mine sandwich-board style. In the time it took me to make one sign, Dave had made six–enough to make three two-sided signs so that he’d have some to give away to people who didn’t have any. Dave’s two-sided ones were “Ally/No Bully,” “Resist/Fight,” and “Free Melania/No Country for Old, White Men.” Mine was “No Hate. No Fear. Everyone Is Welcome Here.”

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The day began with scattered showers, so we wore our raincoats and put clear packing tape on our protest signs to protect them from the rain. I’d looked online for what to pack for a protest march, but it wasn’t actually that helpful. I already wear sunscreen every day, and I generally carry a water bottle. I honestly didn’t expect to get pepper-sprayed, so the suggestion for vinyl gloves (so you won’t spread the pepper spray via your hands) didn’t seem relevant to me. And writing your emergency contact number on your arm in Sharpie (because they take your phone away from you in the slammer) seemed like overkill. Besides, I know Dave’s number, and if I got carted off to the hoosegow, he probably would be too.

I packed some Band-aids, a portable container of hand sanitizer, an ear-warmer, and a kazoo. Dave was really smart and brought cashews. We picked up our friends at their house and headed for the North Berkeley BART station. By the time we were halfway there (near Monterey Market), we were already seeing people walking with their signs toward the station. So we parked and walked the last half-mile to the station. It was early in the day, and we had energy to spare, so why not?

We saw the lines around the BART station from the moment we turned the corner onto Virginia Street around 10:20 a.m. I wish I’d thought to take a picture, but I was focused on getting to the march. Luckily, Berkeleyside did it for me. The pic below was taken just a few minutes before we arrived there. We were so glad that we had clipper cards and got to bypass the lines buying tickets. Apparently there were still lines to board BART an hour later.

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North Berkeley BART station @10:05 a.m. Photo courtesy of Daniel Cardozo

Once inside, the atmosphere was festive–people reading each other’s posters and discovering friends among the crowds on the stairs and platforms. I heard my name called from above the escalator and turned to see a friend who’d moved to Connecticut years ago!

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photo courtesy of Berkeleyside

Unbelievably we snatched some seats in the last car of a train that was heading toward San Francisco but stopping at Oakland’s 12th Street station. Many people had stayed on the platform to wait for a train that would head further east and drop them off at the Lake Merritt station, which was closer to the beginning of the march route. But it turns out that the train that followed us couldn’t even stop at its scheduled drop-off point because of overcrowding at the station; so I guess we were lucky we’d gotten on the car we were on. With each stop, protesters piled in until we were surely beyond any capacity that train had ever seen. But everyone was kind and cheerful.

We emerged from the 12th Street station and set out to join the march already in progress. Streets were closed to traffic to allow the hoards of protesters to march down the middle of Oak Street up to Grand Avenue and along Lake Merritt. The march’s destination point was Oscar Grant Plaza (officially Frank Ogawa Plaza), where a rally would feature speakers, music, and other performers at 12:30.

img_2685It was really less a march and more a shuffle as thousands of people came together as one to take to the streets and express our deep disappointment in the presidential election’s outcome. But rather than spouting rage, we were espousing peace in a hundred different ways. The variety of signage was a testament to our boundless creativity and was evidence of our various passions. There were humorous ones (e.g., We Shall Overcomb), and the ones children carried (e.g., Be Nice), were the sweetest. Some used Trump’s own words against him (This Pussy Grabs Back!), and some relied on wordplay (Truck Fump). Some stated what should be obvious but isn’t (Women’s Rights Are Human Rights), and more than a few depicted ovaries and vaginas. I personally liked the alliteration in Viva la Vulva! As an editor, I also appreciated that 99 percent of the ones I saw were spelled correctly. And as Dave pointed out, maybe “facism” is a thing.

img_2691I was impressed by the range of people represented–women and men; infants to senior citizens; humans of every ethnicity and religion; folks in wheelchairs; some with canine companions; some with musical instruments; and lots with pink pussy hats. We were chanting, laughing, even dancing. We were all in such a good mood, so happy to be surrounded with like-minded people who might not have identical political views but who all agreed on one thing: we were mortified that Donald Trump was our newly elected president. For some, it was their first march; for others, it was the latest of many.

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There were those who staked out a spots along the route and watched the parade go by rather than become part of the swarm, but we all waved to each other. Several people lined up along the Oakland Museum, and many cheered us on from the second and third stories of their apartment buildings along Oak Street. We passed the courthouse, the library, the Scottish Rite Temple, and hugged the north shore of Lake Merritt. As some marchers split off down other streets to take shortcuts to the rally, the crowds thinned enough that we were able to pick up the pace a bit.

Around 1:30, when we turned from Grand Avenue onto Broadway, I was ravenous, so we stopped at The Old Brooklyn Cafe and Bakery for sustenance. The little corner shop was filled with other similarly hungry protesters, and we all made room for each other. Dave and I got two of the last three bagels and gobbled them as we rested briefly.

img_2693On our way out of the bakery, we ran into friends who were coming from the rally. Was it over already? It was supposed to go until 3:00. They said they enjoyed the music and the dancers, but they couldn’t really hear the speeches from  where they stood. So they decided it was time to grab a late lunch and march back home.

It was 2:00, and we were four blocks away from our destination. We could definitely still make it before it was over. But if we weren’t going to be able to hear the speakers, did we still want to go? Of course, if getting to Oscar Grant Plaza was really our goal, we could have walked the one block from the 12th street station and arrived there long before the rally began. Dave’s back ached and my feet hurt from all the standing on pavement. What can I say? We’re getting old.

No, being part of the march was our true aim. We were among the thousands in Oakland and over a million nation-wide that marched on Saturday. I didn’t know it at the time, but people marched all over the globe in solidarity. We are part of a movement that is going to fight back. We didn’t need to stand at the rally to prove that.

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We passed the Paramount Theatre and entered the 19th Street station, where many marchers had propped up their signs in a row as a visual record that they had been there. We waited on the platform  with dozens of others who were done protesting for the day. When the train’s door slid open, and nobody in the packed car seemed to be exiting, I asked if anyone was getting off. A voice behind me urged me to get on, so I started to step inside the car. Just then a man emerged from the crowd and pushed me angrily back onto the platform. I wish I could say I channeled Gandhi and practiced passive resistance.

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But I pushed back. And I may have said a bad word. Luckily, it ended with him grumbling under his breath that I was there for a stupid reason as he brushed past me and went on his way, apparently to accomplish something more important than defending women’s rights. In my head I had a few more choice words for him, but I ignored them and made my way onto the train to take us back to Berkeley, a little shaken and steamed but too tired to care about one dissenter in such a positive group.

Once on the train, a dad discovered that his toddler had lost a shoe and nicely asked if we could all look on the floor around us. Packed too tight for people to bend over, I assumed the shoe was gone-daddy-gone. But seconds later, an arm shot up holding a tiny sneaker, and everyone around us cheered. We were a team, a force to be reckoned with, a finder of shoes, and advocates for justice. We were a part of history, dammit!

If Saturday’s protest was any indication of the passion, resolve, and cooperation we are capable of, we have a good chance of making our voices heard.

It sure feels better than doing nothing.

So. Close.

 

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At the bottom of Willow Walk was a tiny pair of shoes.
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bottom section of Willow Walk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

img_2632I began on Alvarado Road and walked halfway up Willow Walk (135), which indeed featured a willow tree, as well as clover, ivy, and the bright green leaves of bulbs that promised flowers soon. It was quite a pleasant stroll that included some flat ground and a lovely set of stone steps surrounded by all sorts of greenery and even a few redwood trees.

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a tree house along Sunset Trail

 

 

 

 

I broke off from Willow Walk when I hit Sunset Trail (136), which I took to the end, crossing the Berkeley-Oakland border. (That makes it sound long, but the path itself is less than a quarter-mile.) Many of the houses on the west, or downhill, side of Sunset Trail have porches or little tree houses at the top of long staircases that allow their residents to access the highest point of their properties, presumably to get the best view. Houses on the east, or uphill, side had a variety of gates and steps that led from the path up to them, some elaborate and expensive, and some simple and utilitarian.

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top half of Eucalyptus Path

Sunset Trail ends right in the middle of Oakland’s Eucalyptus Path, which actually does have eucalyptus trees, but isn’t numbered because it’s not one of the Berkeley paths.

From there I had a steep climb up Eucalyptus to get to–surprise–Alvarado Road again. Alvarado is one of those twisty-turvy roads that begins in the only patch of Berkeley that’s actually south of Oakland. Then it heads north into Oakland, makes a sharp turn and crosses back into Berkeley, meanders to the south and east a bit until it turns around and heads north, re-crossing the border to return to Oakland.

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I only traveled the eastern half of Eucalyptus Path, but one day I shall return to walk the western half, as well as Evergreen Path and Short Cut, both of which are close by. At the top of Eucalyptus Path on Alvarado Road is a row of mailboxes for houses whose address is Sunset Trail.

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top half of Willow Walk

 

 

After walking down Alvarado Road a bit, I found the top half of Willow Walk and proceeded down to the bottom, passing Sunset Trail and continuing descending until I arrived back to the section of Alvarado Road where I’d parked. It was truly a case of all paths lead to Alvarado Road.

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Don’t try any funny stuff on Oak Ridge Road. They’re watching you.

 

 

I crossed Tunnel Road (or is it still Ashby at that point?) so I could mount the Oakridge Steps (133), which begin on El Camino Real and end on Oak Ridge Road. Which I did. And because I had limited time, I came right back down.

For those of you who are wondering about the sequence of paths, I’d already trekked Park Path (134), which is why I didn’t walk it between Oakridge Steps (133) and Willow Walk (135).

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a bit of greenery along Oakridge Steps

I drove to what should have been the last one on my list–one I’d skipped earlier–Claremont Path (130), but  El Camino Real was narrow with little street parking, and I couldn’t find it by driving. I will just have to go back some time and find it by foot.

So, I have only one more path to wander in order to fulfill my 2016 goal. It’s odd, but I almost feel like I can’t make any goals for 2017 until I’ve walked that last path. So I’m postponing any resolutions I may have for at least another week. Maybe longer, if it continues to rain…