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…
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.
A make-it-up-as-I-go-along survival guide to the Trump era
I used to call myself a writer.
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?
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.
Now 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.
Now I have a new path to follow. Won’t you join me?
I did it. I walked all of Berkeley’s paths in a little over a year.
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.
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 Berkeley is home to only 108.75 numbered paths, not 140.
The 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.”
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, Berkeleysidedid 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.
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!
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.
It 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.
I 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.
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.
On 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.
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.
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’s 2017, and I guess I have the New Year blues. I have a lingering cough and low energy, and I’m not that excited about the future right now, despite my resolve back in December to use the disastrous presidential election as a motivating force to actively engage rather than fall into a passive blob of despair. Instead of feeling angry and ready to be a force for change, I want to crawl back into bed and play mindless computer games on my phone.
I feel even small burdens as heavy, and I have much to do. Yes, I’ve had some time off from my two jobs at school, which has been nice. But I’ve spent part of it catching up on my third job, part of it preparing for the big office-to-bedroom move, and the rest of it being sick.
No, that’s not entirely true; I had some wonderful periods in this two-week stretch as well. Opening stockings and eating crepes with my husband and daughter on Christmas morning was perfect. Having a lengthy long-distance conversation with my sister, Cherri, that same afternoon was wonderful. Spending Christmas evening with Dave’s sister, Caroline, and her family, playing games and drinking egg nog—that was nice. We had fun with friends on New Year’s Eve and the following night as well. And, of course, we have a foster puppy in the house that never allows us to get too down or serious, even though she’s not yet house-trained, which detracts from her cuteness only slightly.
But I’m tired. And there’s so much I’m supposed to get done now. I need to go grocery shopping, do the laundry, figure out which parents owe money to the extended care program that I direct, and plan a nice birthday dinner for my only child, who is turning 24 tomorrow.
Tomorrow I go back to subbing in 5th grade in the morning and directing the after-school program in the afternoon, while still needing to make progress on the copy-editing job I’ve taken on that’s due in two weeks.
And as silly as it may sound, I think what weighs heaviest on me at this moment is the fact that I did not succeed in my goal of walking all the paths of Berkeley in 2016. I have four to go and 2016 is over. Since I didn’t make my goal in time anyway, do I wait until I feel better? Or do I take advantage of the break in rain to go out and do it despite the multitude of projects still pending? And when will I make it to Pegasus’s annual calendar sale? That’s a tradition that I don’t want to ignore; it always refreshes me, gets me to create new goals, urges me to organize and plan in ways that only a new calendar can do.
I hate to approach 2017 with a whimper rather than a bang. I think going back to school will help. There’s no time there to feel sorry for myself, and being around kids forces me to be in the present. Besides, I got a Fitbit for Christmas, so I have to stay physically active, right?