Thursday, April 21, 2011

This is what democracy looks like

"I'm NOT your average man! When I got a jammy in my hand!" I howled with L.L. Cool J, cruising my smokin' hot, just can't kill it '97 Mazda back to my house. Who's gonna knock you out? Well, I'm gonna knock you out. Pues, Momma said knock you out. Who's gonna do it? I'm gonna do it.

"Man, estoy bien" my little Bruce Springsteen kinder kid announced in his steel worker's voice "I got night vision goggles for my birthday, it was awesome".

I tossed and turned. It started during the last days of my vacation while sleeping in the warm mornings of the forbidden tropical wonderland. Work, money, disrespect, what do I care, why do I care. Work, money, disrespect. Images of fifth grade kids with with wintergreen mints sparking in the night in their mouths, something they told me about, something from their overnight field trip, you decorate the butterfly wing, Alec, you decorate butterfly wing, delirium, work, disrespect, MONEY. MONEY. MONEY. Disrespect.

"Buenas tardes. Buscamos firmas en contra de lay ley, saben, la ley como la que tienen en Arizona, la ley en contra de imigrantes..." I worked the crowd at Feria Latina. Folks feared me at first. Gringo lady, talking about immigration laws, asking for signatures. When the words started spilling from my mouth, they got the message. I had my best luck with young, cholo, tattooed men. No one else approached them. I knew they would get me. And they did. You just got to be nice.

"The Underground Railroad ran a registry, at this house in Maryland, you know, they took names, so people could call and find them....their relatives... they could ask if they passed through..." the fifth graders continued with their presentation, and my mind drifted, drifted to Casa del Migrante, the people that called, the registry we kept, so their relatives, you know, their relatives, would know if they passed through..."Sanctuary" the kids said, "they sought Sanctuary". Sanctuary. Such an important word. Sanctuary. I thought of the bad ass Presbyterians, yeah, never thought I'd say that, the bad ass Presbyterians that offered SANCTUARY, yes SANCTUARY, in their churches to Central Americans during the 1980s civil wars. In the United States. Driving, harboring, SANCTUARY. Felonies, jail time, SANCTUARY. You can't leave the state. Felony. SANCTUARY. It is morally correct. God or no God, morally correct. I am so lucky to know them. To know them. To look bad ass Presbyterian in the bad ass eye. It has been my pleasure. And my benefit.

So, they say the older kids don't like to sing, they like chants. What the fuck? I don't want to sing those stupid educational songs either, I just did it because it's elementary school. Fine. I tried to figure out a chant. For days. Finally, it hit me. "Show me what democracy looks like! - This is what democracy looks like!", "Arpaio, escucha, estamos en la lucha!" The rally chants filled my head and soon I was filling in the blanks with target grammar structures. They liked it. Actually, they loved it. Little activists at work. They just don't know it yet.

I hope so. And I'm leaving. But I wish them well. I do. I wish them well.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Hasta la victoria, siempre

I climbed through the boxes and piles of discarded teaching supplies that lined the hallway that leads to my classroom. They were the remnants of my former neighbor and friend's teaching career; the results of her "resignation". It looked like an eviction. The students that sometimes work at the table in the hallway cleared a space and worked in the middle of it all. Every student that entered my classroom had to walk through her discarded possessions in order to go to my class. I had to get out of there.

"The Senate can pass HB87, Georgia's copycat, Arizona-style bill Thursday or Friday, or after they return from vacation, anywhere from Monday the 11th through Thursday the 14th - day 40- the big day, the day when bills must pass or die" explained the lobbyist at my Tuesday night, stop Georgia from hating on immigrants meeting. "Who can be at the Capitol?" he asked, as hands rose in the air.

"Man, we heard EVERYTHING in Health class today" my thirteen year old niece commented, clicking past us in her new high heels and picking up her electric guitar. Open suitcases laid on the floor, bathing suits and sunblock, as the sound of the dryer echoing through the house.

"Either party may, without cause, terminate this Employment Agreement upon 30 days written notice" read our new contracts. "I'm not really comfortable with this" a teacher responded in our impromptu faculty meeting, the third of the week. People were getting agitated. It was the Friday before Spring Break. I had never seen so many teachers in a voluntary faculty meeting on such a day. I was agitated a year ago when I signed the same contract. If you can call it a contract. As a teacher, I'm just used to a little more protection, especially when administrators have been known to be partial, vindictive and petty. "Let's hold our contracts, tell them we won't sign until we get some written concessions" a teacher announced. "Yeah" many seconded. The hair on my arms started standing up. Was I seeing collective bargaining? Here, in the South, without any sort of official labor recognition? Grassroots collective bargaining? Hella better being seeing what I hoped to be seeing. "Okay, it's settled," an emerging leader announced, "we're holding our contracts, all of us".

And so I left. Off I went to the beautiful place that cannot be spoken of. Fly, fly, fly to let my feral self have a long-ass break.

Monday morning, I sat on the floor in a circle of kids, bleary eyed after a Sunday night return flight. "Okay, I have two questions: ¿Cómo estás? and one thing you might like to add about your Spring Break" I instructed the group of eight year olds. "Man, estoy bien. I played mini golf, rode a roller coaster and went to a place that smelled like a public bathroom" one commented. "Yeah, I went to an Albertson's that smelled like that once" another kid seconded as many others voiced their experiences. "I'm mal because I had to go to church and I did not want to" one of my favorite kinders voiced solemnly, later in the day, as I recycled the same question. I knew I liked that kid. "You cut your hair!" another exclaimed "You look like that lady on the Electric Company!". You know what? That is the nicest thing I've heard all day.

Day 40. I stood outside the Capitol, doing my best to chant though I am not a big chanter. A few hundred people had formed. I loved the idea, I had spoken up for it at the Tuesday night meeting. Last hours of the legislature, we will wait until you decide, this is important to us, it affects us. The warm spring air surrounded us in the dimming light. "Show me what democracy looks like! This is what democracy looks like!" the crowd answered. "Deal, escucha, estamos en la lucha!" the crowd continued. I ended up sitting down next to a solemn, totally indigenous looking Mexican boy and his abuela. And we waited. People started lighting their candles. It really was a beautiful night. A DJ had come, letting us use his sound system to speak to the crowd. But people wanted to hear music, so he relented, "one song". People started moving immediately with the opening beats of the song and soon, a full blown dance party was occurring on the Capitol steps. "Otra, otra!" the crowd called at the end of the first song. It was lovely and wonderful and made me smile and again appreciate the Latino capacity for joy, even in the worst situations, even when we were dancing on our own graves as the Georgia legislature debated OUR future. It was a beautiful night.

And, at 10pm, HB 87 passed. Georgia became a state of hate.