The three of us–Dave (my husband), our friend Peggy, and I–headed to Justin Herman Plaza via BART and arrived just as the speeches were starting. I don’t know how many people were there, but it felt pretty full. We looked in vain for the rest of our group, Indivisible Berkeley, but settled on a spot on the steps where we could sit. We figured we could join up with them later.
There were scientists, teachers, engineers, and just a lot of people who appreciate science cheering on the speakers. It’s crazy that in this day and age we have to march to show our support of science, but it was encouraging to see that plenty of folks still value it in the Bay Area.
And the Clif Bars company had people handing out free Clif Bars to everyone. Thank you, Clif Bars!
As the speeches were ending, Peggy, Dave, and I moved to the back of the plaza where we found our group with the Indivisible Berkeley banner unfurled and ready to go. About a dozen of us positioned ourselves behind or alongside the banner ready to march. And we waited. Because we were at the back, it took quite a while before we actually got to move, but we had fun taking selfies and pointing out all the great signs.
In fact, I think the signs were my favorite part of the march. So much creativity, thought, and humor went into them, and many were handmade and unique. Several used scientific language and symbols to bring home their points.
I loved one that read “You know it’s important when even introverts march.” A girl of about five years had a sandwich board-style sign on her front that read “Be part of the solution” and one on her back that read “Don’t just be a precipitate.” But I hadn’t seen the one in front and couldn’t actually remember what a precipitate was, so I was puzzled until Dave explained it to me.
I saw a sign that was just a cut-out of the Lorax, one that featured two stranded penguins, a few that read “I’m with her” and pointed to Earth, and lots that just pointed out the ways that science is a good thing. I liked the simplicity of the one that said “Hug a science teacher,” held presumably by a science teacher.
Some people, like me, were there as part of a group and proudly held banners or wore matching t-shirts. Others came with friends and/or family. A group of elementary-school children chanted jubilantly WE LOVE SCIENCE!
There were atheists and religious people there with different views of god but who marched together for science.
Of course, as at any protest, a few people used the opportunity to spout their particular beliefs. Hence the sign held by a guy sitting on the side of the march route that claimed “9/11 was an inside job.” To which my husband, Dave, replied, “Well, the planning probably did take place indoors…”
But most of the signs were on point and even spelled correctly. And everyone was in a pretty good mood, despite looming climate change and the impending decimation of the EPA.
I saw one person in a polar bear suit and another in a brown bear suit. Luckily it was a cloudy day, and the temperature stayed in the low 60s. Otherwise, those would have been some hot bears…
Alongside the marching route was a trio portraying some of Trump’s cabinet picks, some people selling homemade baked goods to hungry marchers, and some people who preferred to watch as the parade went by rather than march in it.
We landed at the Civic Center where there were tents set up and a Brazilian dance group was just starting to perform. But we were tired, and we’d done what we’d come to do. So we found the closest BART station and headed home.
It’s tiring having to march for something that should just be a given. But if it makes any difference at all, it was worth it.
Al Letson is the Peabody Award-winning host of the insightful radio show and podcast Reveal, but his show, “Summer in Sanctuary,” is not investigative journalism. Currently at the Marsh in Berkeley, Letson’s one-man show is an autobiographical account of his summer teaching creative writing to at-risk teens.
He takes us on his journey, one he began somewhat reluctantly but in the end was life changing. It could not strictly be referred to as a monologue because although he was the only one on stage, he embodied several people in addition to himself. He begins his show with a short video to introduce some of the kids he will be talking about, but he doesn’t really need to because he does a fine job playing each one distinctively, sometimes even when they’re all talking in quick succession.
The language Letson uses is often poetic, and he repeats lines to emphasize, clarify, and bring home certain points but never in a gimmicky or overdone manner.
Humor is mixed in with heartbreak, and he expresses both with raw honesty. I admit that I did not remain dry-eyed, and neither did Letson. But his tears were not those of an actor eliciting an emotional response from his audience; they erupted naturally from the memories he was sharing with us.
This was not a passive sit-back-and-enjoy-the-show kind of theater experience–I was engaged from the beginning and hung on each of his words until it ended with a well-deserved standing ovation. I highly recommend this show.
On Tuesday, March 21, the second day of spring, I undertook a 21-day challenge, inspired by Eddie Moore’s 21-day challenge to create habits for myself (see post from 3/26). I enthusiastically created a social justice action log, giving space for the day/date; four columns for Read, Watch, Connect/Engage, and Act; and a space to note what I had done specifically.
On March 22, I supported my local librarian whistle-blowers by showing up at the library and holding a sign asking to recall the library trustees. And then on the 28th I spoke during the public comment portion of Berkeley’s City Council meeting. And I’m not saying that I influenced anyone, but the council did unseat two of the trustees soon after that…
At first, I was either able to check more than one box or do two or three actions each day. I bemoaned the lack of space I had to write down all that I had read, signed, watched, or accomplished. But after a week, I was usually just checking one box, and there was plenty of space to take notes.
On April 2 as I was in bed ready to go to sleep, I realized I hadn’t done anything, so I got out my cell, hit 50409 and typed in “Resist.” ResistBot sent eleven o’clock fax to Dianne Feinstein to implore her to join her colleagues in a filibuster against Neil Gorsuch becoming our next Supreme Court justice. It was so easy–ResistBot already had my info because it had already sent my senators faxes on my behalf asking them to do what they could keep Trump from axing Planned Parenthood, the NEA, and Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
And I have to say I felt genuinely proud of Dianne when she committed to filibuster along with many of her Democratic colleagues. I’m sure it was my urging that pushed her to do it.
But it didn’t work. Sigh.
I called TIAA-CREF to move my tiny bundle of retirement money to their Social Change option, but now I think I should do some more research on what they consider socially conscious investments.
Then I forgot to do anything on April 3.
But I tried to make up for it on April 4 by going to a special screening of Mirrors of Privilege at Redwood Day School, which was amazing, by the way.
On April 5, I kind of cheated. I was proofreading a Noam Chomsky book for work, so I counted that as my action for the day because of course I was reading it
On Sunday, April 9, I have a check in the Act box, but there isn’t a note by it. So I don’t know what I did, or if I actually did anything.
So Monday, April 10, should have been the last day of the 21 days, but I’d missed two days, so I kept going an extra two days to make up for it.
Today is April 12, and I have spent 21 out of the last 23 days reading articles, attending an Indivisible Berkeley meeting, watching documentaries, holding up a sign at a protest rally, speaking at a city council meeting, and signing lots of online petitions. I learned a lot.
Then I remembered that this was supposed to be a habit-building project, and I hadn’t done it for 21 continuous days. So the question is whether I start over or not. Did it count? I figure if I could forget, then it isn’t really a habit yet. And I admit that I relied heavily on the online petitions toward the end of the challenge. Which are too easy to feel like I’m really doing something, even when I share them on Facebook in an effort to spread the news.
So I’m going to keep going on my action log for the time being, and see how I feel about it after a full month. Maybe I just need to continue keeping a log indefinitely…
Eddie Moore shared with participants at the March 11 SEED Showcase his 21-Day Racial Equity Habit-Building Challenge as a way for us to keep track of our efforts in fighting for racial equity. (The Interdependence Project adapted it and based a Facebook event on it earlier this year.)
I put my own spin on it and created what I’m calling a social justice action log. It definitely includes fighting for racial equity but is more inclusive.
I began on March 21. Each day I write down at least one way that I promoted social justice, even if it’s just reading an article that will help me be more aware of the struggles that I don’t face as a white cisgender person. Because activism starts with oneself, right? Prompted by Dr. Moore, I’ve tried to vary the types of actions, which so far have included attending a rally to support whistle-blowers (subject for a future blog post); watching 13th, Ava DuVernay’s Oscar-nominated documentary on race in America since the 13th Amendment; reading articles, (e.g., Jenn Jackson’s “Square Peg at a Round Table: On Jessica Williams and Why Black Women Are Not There to Save You”); and signed several online petitions.
As part of my campaign to stay “woke,” I’d already signed up to receive alternative news sources, which made finding material to read easy. I get the Root, “The Daily WTF,” Bitch Media’s “On Our Radar,” Daily Kos, and a list of “Weekly Acts” from Wall-of-Us. Plus, now that I’ve written to so many of my legislators, I’m on their mailing lists—from my district’s representative on Berkeley City Council to my state senators.
Tonight (Day 6 of my challenge) I attend my second Indivisible Berkeley event, “Welcome to Activism,” a two-hour introduction to organized resistance.
I hope that if I can continue to write something down in my social justice action log through Day 21 that I’ll have formed a habit of promoting social justice in my daily life. Then I’ll just need to keep it up until the day I die…
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.
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.
The 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.
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.
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.
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.
I’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.
Here’s an excerpt from my ten-minute play that depicts the Cheetoh-in-chief’s first day as president.
I’m huge with the good people in this great nation.
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.