I’m missing New Ramblers Nos. 21-23. If you have any of them, could you please e-mail them to me? lauracrossett @ hailmail.net (don’t forget to remove the spaces). Thanks!
Awhile ago my friend gave me a copy of an essay from The Georgia Review (summer 1994, by Mark A.R. Facknitz, if you want to look it up), which begins like this: “I am an elitist and I accept this condition.”
This particular line, which my friend had quoted to us on the way to the School of the Americas protest in Georgia became the motto of our car (full of three loud women writers) for the trip, because we spent a fair amount of time discussing how much better the whole caravan would have gone if we had been in charge of planning it (none of this stopping every two hours for thirty minutes and eating at Cheddars business, nosiree). I am an elitist and I accept this condition: it is a satisfying line. But some more of the beginning of this essay is worth quoting here.
I am an elitist and I accept this condition. The origin of the process that led to my superiority was my accidental escape from Cucamonga, California, and its intellectual geography. That elitism isolates me, of course, as surely as does what I have seen, done, and read. I draw no satisfaction from this, and indeed I belong to no elite for which there is a diploma, certificate, title, or icon such as a Jaguar or an air-conditioned mansion in Potomac or New Canaan. I’m merely an associate professor of English with a tiny but private office. I work at a state university where the children of unspeakable prosperity have the ignorance and audacity to assume I am merely doing a routine for their amusement when I suggest that they are lazy, complacent, naÃ¯ve, and as politically competent as cockroaches. I am to them what an English professor ought to be: flaky, intense, given to tirade–in short, one scene in the show they’re paying for.
Possibly this is not the best essay to be rereading the night before I go back to teaching–I don’t even have a private office. I have a former AV storage closet with no windows which now serves as an office for four T.A.s. One of them never uses it because he is in the Writer’s Workshop and is far too cool to hold office hours in a dingy room in a mausoleum constructed in 1970 in which they only open the vents that let in fresh air twice a year. Instead he holds office hours at the overpriced coffee shop, downing $3 lattes, which is maybe something I should bring up the next time I try to get him to join the union, which he says he supports but cannot afford (dues are $12.70/month, conveniently deducted by payroll, and you get free beer once a month, and at least some feeling that you might be helping to preserve things like health insurance and cost-of-living pay increases and so on).
I digress. (“Digression! Digression!” I can hear some kid yelling from Pencey Prep, circa 1945).
The Facknitz essay is actually mostly about the author’s childhood, split between southern California and India, and about class, and about the intransmutability of experience or understanding, though none of these are what I set out to write about at all. We all write about the intransmutability of understanding, though, in that we all fail to find words that are as exact as the experience or idea that we want to transmit–or we find them, but of course they don’t mean to another exactly what they meant to us. It’s all very distressing. (I am aware, incidentally, that I am using “we” quite liberally, especially given that I’m only twenty-six years old. Some of my colleagues would say that one should never use the term at all; that it smacks of pretension, of knowing the unknowable, of believing in some mystical universal truth to which only we writers have access, which we then stoop to sharing with the rest of the world. But I still believe in that; I still believe that that is part of why we write: to discover things and share them with the rest of the world. That the rest of the world may not care, or may have figured this all out long since, should not really be of concern. I am an elitist. . . .).
I actually sat down tonight to write about Martin Luther King Jr., whose birthday we celebrated today. (This is a different, more indiscriminate we I speak of here: the post office was closed, the President made a proclamation. It was that sort of a we.) Classes were also not held here at the U of I: I signed one of the petitions which asked, back in the early ’90s, that this be made into a University holiday, and I went to some of the wonderful programs that the Black Student Union used to put on in the student union in honor of the day, and in protest that it was not recognized by the UI. Now there is an entire Martin Luther King Jr. Human Rights Week here, with speakers and performances and panels and big posters everywhere with the scehdule and a picture of Dr. King and some salient words of his picked out for the occasion. Last year Angela Davis spoke about the election (remember that one?) and past elections and the state of civil death, about the “possible felons” whose names were removed from voting rolls, and about racial disparity in incarcerations in the US (a pertinent topic in Iowa, which I believe ranks first, or close to first, in the nation in the percentage of its Black people we lock up–particularly appalling since African-Americans make up only 2% of the population here to begin with). This year Felix Justice and Danny Glover, who spoke here when I was in high school, will be back, and Dennis Halliday, who used to work high up in the UN until he got too distressed about the numbers of Iraqi children who were dying as a result of UN sanctions, will speak, and a bunch of other stuff. And the lecture halls will be filled, and there will be some celebration, and the children of unspeakable wealth and privilege who attend this school will attend the lectures that their professors and T.A.s require of them, and they will hear well-meaning and earnest people speaking with great passion about topics of grave importance, and mostly they will yawn and think, guilt guilt guilt, who needs it?
I am perhaps being a little cynical.
In a way, King’s birthday was better here before it was officially celebrated: it was a cause, it was something to get behind, it was something people understood. Only racists were not celebrating King’s birthday: did we want to be in the same class as that idiot governor of Arizona? Now the holiday is a smorgasbord of causes, the kind of act everyone wants to be in on. It’s like a human rights feeding frenzy: who can get the best slots in the best spaces on the best nights. Who can get the biggest audience, the most new recruits. Who can give the most wrenching presentation about political prisoners or starving children or AIDS in Africa or sweatshop labor (not that SAS is doing anything; we’re too dysfunctional/nonexistent) or what have you.
Again, my cynicism seems to be winning. I was going to talk at some length about how it upsets me that every year I see King celebrated for civil rights, and every year I hear the last, famous part of “I have a dream” quoted, and every year the celebration never seems to include his Poor Peoples’ Campaign, or his support of labor, or his opposition to the war in Vietnam. The summer after this one–August 2003–will mark the 40th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and
JusticeFreedom, which is kind of sad when you think about how little of either have been meted out in the past decades.
And yet. . . and yet. I very much want to celebrate King’s birthday. I want to be glad that enough people signed enough petitions and wrote enough letters and held enough sit-ins and generally raised enough of a hullabaloo that this country does stop–as much as it ever stops–to remember someone I truly want to remember, someone who probably makes me gladder for the invention of recorded sound than any music in the world, someone whose vision from the mountaintop still keeps me going. I want to celebrate, but I also don’t want to forget that there is still, as the reds would say, a world to win.
Civilian casualties in the U.S. air war on Afghanistan: 3767 (est). More info at http://www.cursor.org/stories/civilian_deaths.htm
We must fight in America not to make the world safe for democracy but to make democracy safe for the world. –Chuck McDew, circa 1964
Recently I had workshopped a draft of an essay about being a radical, an essay in which I attempted, at one point, to describe something of the world my friends and I live in:
In this world. . . black men get shot on the streets every day, and other black men are put in prison for crimes they did not commit, and the white police officers who fired the bullets are sent out again with a slap on the wrist and a bigger gun.
(It is probably worth noting that I wrote these words several weeks before the acquittal of a white police officer in Cincinnati, who shot a young, unarmed black man to death. The workshop took place a few days after the decision.) The overwhelming reaction of the workshop members to this particular passage was that this was not a radical position and that, in fact, “most Americans believed this” and “prominent people spoke about it.” I was rather stunned. Of course, I remembered, it was true that a hundred or so upper middle class white students at my high school walked out of school on the day of the Rodney King verdict (I did not, nor, interestingly, did any of the other people in Ruth Greenwald’s Geometry Honors class which met that afternoon. We asked Miss Greenwald to tell us about student protests from back when; but I think we all felt, oddly, that protest on that day was futile, and knew, somehow, that Miss Greenwald had something left to teach us–and I think that she did). And it is true that hundreds of people marched in New York after the shooting of Amadou Diallou, and Susan Sarandon and some other “prominent people” got arrested. All this is true, and would seem to indicate that my colleagues were right, that the majority of people share this view of the world that I’d presented. And I think that it is true; I think that a lot of people out there feel that racial profiling exists, that police brutality exists, that the legal systems set up to deal with this are inadequate. But I maintain that there is a difference–not a difference, necessarily, in commitment, or even in effectiveness (for who knows what is truly effective?), but a difference in view.
When I fed the poor they called me a saint. When I asked why they were poor, they called me a communist. –Archbishop
Hedler Chamoa HÃ¨lder CÃ¢mara I saw that in someone’s signature recently; I don’t know who Archbishop Chamoa CÃ¢mara is or when this was said, but it represents, albeit somewhat blatantly, at least part of the difference I’m trying to get at. [There’s no way to talk about this without creating an us/them dichotomy. I apologize–the limits of our language are the limits of our world (I think Wittgenstein said something along those lines, but never actually having read him, I’m a little out of line in attributing–or using–the exact quotation. But the idea is one I’ve had myself.)]
The world I live in is one in which these things happen every day and no one notices. We all know that the majority of rapes go unreported and that many crimes go uncaught. Yet many seem to believe that these undetected, unpunished crimes are only those of the vandals–the petty thieves, the minor arsonists. The idea that undetected, unpunished crimes could be carried out by those in uniforms–whether they be military, police, judicial, Wall Street, G-8, what have you–is one that, for many, is harder to accept. And when they do accept it, it is seen as an aberration, one which will be rectified by witness, by spontaneous demonstration, perhaps by a few celebrity arrests. That these crimes are committed daily, routinely, and that they must be questioned and stopped from their roots, and that that questioning and stopping may well have to take the form of “radical” action, is something this supposed majority seems unable or unwilling to admit.
There was something hopeful in the fact that, after all, four of the twelve members of the silent majority believed us. But four of twelve in the Gallup polls believed in unilateral withdrawal from Vietnam as well. They are willing enough to register their opinions but too defeated to live them. Fascism will come to America by compromise: not through the strength of reaction but through the weakness of the good people.
—Tom Hayden, Trial, 1970
A week or so ago I heard a politician–probably Rudy Giuliani, but it might
have been someone else–giving a speech at some sort of memorial service for victims of S11. (We activist types write all dates that way since A16, the
first major protests against the IMF/World Bank in DC on 16 April 2000).
“When were kids,” the speaker said, “and people asked what we wanted to be when we grew up, what did we say? ‘A policeman.’ ‘A fireman.’ Well, we
grew up and we didn’t do that. But today I tell you, when we are asked what
we want to be, we say again, ‘A policeman! A fireman!'”
It was a damn good speech, one you could tell was bringing tears and shivers to the eyes and spines of everyone in the audience. Geo. Bush ought to hire that speech writer, though he might have to work a little on his delivery. But it got me thinking again of something that occurred to me some time ago.
Think back, if you can, to a Fischer-Price village. I had one (actually,
two, I think) as a kid, and they sometimes had them at preschools and
doctor’s offices, at least in my white upper middle class existence.
Fischer-Price villages are little miniature cities, complete with houses and
stores and hospitals and police stations and fire stations, and little
people who work and live and shop in all these places. And the amazing
thing about all these little people (aside from the fact that they all smile
all the time) is that they are all absolutely equal in stature–equally
clean, equally well-equipped, equally important in the functioning of this
little city. And when you’re a kid, especially a kid young enough to be
playing with these things still, that’s the way you think the world is.
Being a policeman or a garbage collector or a window washer is no different
from being a doctor or a lawyer or a banker in the world of Fischer-Price,
in the world we are taught to believe in as children.
And not only is everyone’s job equally important, but everyone’s job is also
equally real. There are no systems analysts or customer (guest, if you work
at Target) service assistants or departmental executive officers. The
worldview of children may be the closest thing to Marxism ever to have
existed–no one is alienated from the product or meaning of her work,
everyone works according to his abilities and receives according to his
needs. (For those of you who may have difficulties with Marx, you could
also think of this as Christianity in its purest form–there a number of
passages in the Bible Marx could well have been cribbing from.)
But of course that’s not the world we grow up and live in, and it’s not the
world most of us think of every day. After the age of twelve or so, nobody
I knew was saying they wanted to be a policeman or a fireman or even a
pilot, at least not in front of grownups. We were going to become
journalists, mathematicians, scientists, diplomats, doctors, lawyers,
bankers, architects, professors. A few people said they were going to
become musicians (classical) or artists (but they would teach, too). The
world, it seemed, could function with just those professions filled. That
there were people who mopped the floors, drove the buses, built the
buildings, we knew, but somehow these people were not us. We were not
responsible for their livelihood or well-being. Obviously, if they really
wanted to, they could become doctors and lawyers and bankers, too. Wasn’t
that the story of every biography we read?
The world is disturbing to me these days, as it is to many people. But the
world has been disturbing to me for a long, long time, and I suspect it will
continue to be so long after we’ve forgotten that we want to be volunteers,
that we want to help out, that we want to be heroes, long after we’ve
returned the illusion of peace, which, as another famous Marxist noted, is
“nothing but a period of truce between wars.”
Martin Luther King defined true peace as not merely the absence of tension
but also the presence of justice. I used to believe that, too–but that was
back before the acquittal of a police officer in Cincinnati, before the
deletion of the names of “possible felons” from the voting rolls in Florida,
before Madeleine Albright ever said the price was worth it, before I stopped
wanting to play with my Fischer-Price village, even–back when I believed in
that piece of graffiti some ruffian carved above the Supreme Court: Equal
Justice Under Law.
The pieces I’m sending out now were written in the last couple of days, based on thoughts I’d been having now for weeks, or months, or years. As I write this preface now, I’m listening to NPR tell me that military strikes have begun against Afghanistan. I’m listening to a White House correspondent report that George Bush has noted, again, that these attacks are only one aspect of a multifaceted military strategy, and that some aspects of this strategy will, by necessity, be covert, and we will never know about them. I would like you, for a moment–particularly those of you who are older than I am, who have memories more direct than the accounts I have received from books–about the covert, secret military actions you know about. (Sometimes, I believe, these were called “police actions.”) I would like you to think about wars in the past, in which, theoretically, strikes were made only against military targets, and I would like you to think about collateral damage. I would like you to think about how you wage a war against an enemy you cannot see, whose whereabouts you do not know, and whom you have represented consistently not as a person or even a group of people but as a concept, an -ism. I would like you, if you can, to think of the number of American casualties in any recent war, and then I would like you to think if you can remember, or even find, the number of casualties on the other side. I have noted to many of you on many occasions that I do not really believe in moral progress. It seems to me that the aggregate level of human suffering has remained the same across the centuries. I still believe that. But I also believe that we are obliged to try, and I believe, more now than ever, that peace can never be achieved or kept through strength. Einstein, whom I believe said that first, concluded by noting that this peace “can only be achieved through understanding.” I think grass roots organizing promotes understanding, that reading promotes understanding, that singing promotes understanding, that loving–family and friend and neighbor and stranger alike–promotes understanding. I encourage you to continue with it all, and to preserve, for yourselves and those around you, those things which are good about civilization.
Some of you have been complaining that there hasn’t been a New Rambler in awhile. Honestly. One would think you were, I don’t know, paying subscribers or something. (An explanation of why I write this and why it’s free and how this is supposed to prevent that dread thing known as selling out will follow at a later date, probably). Anyway, as they say, you pays your money and you takes your choice, except that of course in this case, you don’t pay money, so I get to make the choice. Hey, I may be poor, but at least I’m satisified.
So. En garde.
Earlier this afternoon I was sitting in lovely downtown Iowa City with my oldest friend, just about, and her baby, being lazy and having occasional brief conversations with passersby. (Another old friend of mine used to refer to downtown as the Zoo Parade, but I’ll refrain from comment).
One such guy that we talked to was strolling back and forth, tapping his way along with what appeared to be the handle of a toilet plunger, with a bedroll and a small bag strapped to his back and held in place by a skateboard. He was explaining that he had a job now but was otherwise still homeless. “But that’s okay with me,” he said, “because there’s no way I would pay rent in this town in the summer. I slept up on top of Prairie Lights last night, and it was great.” Then he strolled on.
Although I rarely lived here for any length of time during college, I was usually in town during August, and I would usually spend at least part of my day downtown, holding conversations much like the one above with the smattering of people I know down there. Then I’d go back to Vassar and listen to people talking about their yatchs. I am still somewhat astounded that I did not completely lose it while at college, but going to that school (and, I would imagine, a number of others) trained one very well in living with numerous contradictions. The guy doing coke down the hall from you was probably going to be ignored or, at the very worst, put on housing probation if discovered. The guy half a mile away, though, doing exactly the same thing, was going to get busted and thrown in jail, or shot. It was really Ecclesiastical (supposing that’s an adjective), actually–all that to everything a time and season business. Some people are meant to be investment bankers and some people are meant to be derelicts. And some of us, of course, are meant to flee back to Iowa (methamphetamine capital of the world!)
But this was not actually intended to be about crime or drug addiction or even skateboarding (for the record, still not a crime), or about the homeless, or at least not exactly. I myself am sort of homeless at the moment, in that I am between leases and currently housesitting and all my stuff is packed up in boxes and I have no idea where anything is except for my computer (thank God for laptops). This is, of course, in no way shape or form like sleeping on benches or train-hopping or even camping and moving your tent 20 feet every two weeks or whatever it is that the national park system requires these days. It’s just mildly inconvenient–except that I find it enormously disconcerting.
I’ve lived in something like nine different houses and apartments (plus an assortment of dorm rooms and cabins), and I can only imagine that, if the paperwork ever actually reaches a human being at the Student Loan Corporation, that person is just sitting there sighing and thinking, My God, is this girl ever going to settle down (and start paying her bills on time, for that matter)? and I am about to move into the tenth. But after that, if everything goes according to plan (and yes, I can hear God laughing even as I write), I’m going to buy a house.
And I am going to buy that house here in Iowa.
A number of you, I know, wonder why I would choose to live here. I sometimes wonder myself. The Midwest is not really a nice place. The weather is mostly terrible (cold in winter, hot and muggy in summer, prone to rain the rest of the time). There is no ocean (unless, of course, some enterprising soul finally carries out Donald Kaul’s plan to turn Des Moines into a seaport, which I would heavily endorse). You can really only get fresh produce in the summer. Farms are failing daily; what development there is is haphazard and profoundly ugly; the demographics are, to the minds of many, unutterably depressing (lots of old white people, not much of anything else). Outside of a few select cities, there is not much of what is called culture. And, I have recently learned, Iowa ranks pretty low in air quality (and don’t even get me started on the water). But almost nobody wants to live here.
I have been to New York and I have been to California, and I love both, but I don’t like what I would have to do, or who I would have to become, in order to live there.
Most of the homeless people (though by no means all) I’ve met are homeless by choice, homeless because the idea of a house, an apartment, even a mattress on a floor in a basement and a place to hang their hat is, for whatever reason, unappealing to them. I don’t really understand that–I am one of the most materialistic people I know, and I am passionately attached to my stuff (though its value to anyone but me is questionable). But I think in a way I am like those street kids that I know, because I too live where I do out of choice. I wasn’t always sure of that–there have been times in the last two years when I have doubted greatly the wisdom of moving back here, when I have felt trapped because I was broke and seemed unemployable and felt doomed to live in my mother’s house or do temp work for the rest of my life. And I would panic, and go on a trip, or at least an imaginary trip, to some alabaster city where I imagined my life would be better. Yet even in the midst of this, there has always been something to catch me up–something I haven’t yet found a way to describe and never will–but something that makes me come back, turn back, “choosing,” as Wendell Berry writes, “again what I chose before.”
Thanks for reading.
After the meeting Saturday, several of us went to a forum on urban sprawl at the public library, at which mostly nobody said much of anything except to repeat, again and again, “But we can’t let that area turn into student housing! We’ve got to keep the students away!” “Okay,” I finally said. “I got a question. There are 20,000 students at the U of I. That’s a third of the population of Iowa City. That’s a sizeable small town all on its own. Where exactly are you proposing that all the students live?” Nobody had an answer).
After that, I returned home to Jessup, where SAS members were in a meeting with the UI delegation which had attended the WRC (the organization we like) conference in NYC this weekend. Well, actually, it was only one member of the delegation and three adminstrative lackeys. Laraine Carmichael Nelson, said member, was a part of the Human Rights Commission appointed by President Coleman specifically to look into the issue of sweatshop monitoring, the commission which voted unanimously in favor of our demands, a vote which Coleman chose to ignore. At this meeting, though, it sounded like she had swalled the administration’s take on things hook line and sinker. I don’t know if you’ve ever talked to a blank wall before, but that’s sort of what it’s like talking to these people, except that talking to the wall can actually be kind of peaceful, at least. It reminds me of being on Student Senate in high school, when we couldn’t actually move to do anything, we could only make a motion “that somebody look into the possiblity of somebody looking into someone repainting the lines in the parking lot.”
After that dismal meeting, Doug and I went to finish up a flyer (now rather out of date) about the protests going on all across the country, from Yale to Purdue to Kentucky to Tulane to Oregon. And then I decided to stop by my mom’s house to take a shower (my second of the week–truly I was falling into decadence), pick up my mail, and pet the kitties. I got home and realized it was med students for dinner night, but not too many showed up, so there were lots of leftovers, including a whole pan of lasagna, which my mom kindly donated to our cause. I showered, picked up a few more clothes, packed up the lasagna and some Coke and such, and Mom drove me back to Jessup. We arrived around 11:15 pm to see Dean Jones (or Daddy Jones, as we like to call him, since he really does define the word “paternalism”) poking around the building again, as he’d been doing off and on all day. I should have been thinking, I suppose, but all I thought was “Does this man have a life?”
I went in, bearing the lasagna, and Mom drove off, and I settled down back home for a fairly relaxing evening–no teach-ins the next day, no work that had to be done right that minute, maybe even some time to catch up on sleep–at that point I’d had 16 hours in four days.
About five minutes later members of Public Safety entered the building, telling the guard on duty they were relieving him. They came in from all sides–I’ve heard numbers ranging from 8 to 20 in all, but I’m not sure. As soon as we realized what was going on, Josh ran for the cell phone to call our lawyer. Before he could even flip open the mouthpiece, he was told he’d have to hand over the cell phone or be arrested. Matt started running downstairs to use the phone down there and was stopped. By this time they’d swept all the floors of the building and chained the doors from the inside.
We were stuck in a hallway, we then realized, in the middle of the night, with a bunch of grown ups, police officers and administrators, and all our connections to the outside world had been severed. I kept my seat–I was by Heidi and Ned–and barely breathed. I cannot quite describe the sensation of the next few minutes–it was something like having half your brain be completely stalled, the way my car always used to stall in heavy traffic for no apparent reason–and the other half running, running, running, tripping, stumbling, trying to latch on to anything that would prepare you for this and coming up with some half framed notion of Miranda rights from too many half-watched late-night TV movies.
We were read statements explaining that we had willfully interfered with the carrying out of official business and that we had violated fire code. We were told to pack our stuff and leave. We were told that if we did not, we would face disciplinary action up to expulsion, that we would face criminal charges and arrest.
Somehow I got my computer into my backpack at this point. I guess at some point we were standing, milling around, everyone asking what to do, someone saying we’d all know this was a decision we all might have to walk, everyone looking to her neighbor for some sign.
Five of us were arrested. Four of us were taken down to Public Safety headquarters, seated in comfortable chairs, asked questions about what hand we used to write with (oddly, always phrased, “Are you right-handed?” not “Are you right handed or left handed?” I asked if they ever asked “Are you left-handed?” just for variety). We were charged with criminal trespass and signed and released. The fifth person, who had, in accordance with our civil disobedience training, gone limp, had been carried out and he was taken to the jail, charged with criminal trespass and interference. The other four of us, after we got out, went over to the jail, where 30 or more SAS members and friends had already assembled–word of mouth spreads like wildfire, or truth–and raised the $650 bail to get our fifth member out, after some confusion and some difficulty contacting our lawyer, who finally did make it.
We all went to someone’s apartment for awhile, all in some ways shaken. Our legal observer explained that he had made a list of every single item that security confiscated and that they had told us we’d be able to get it back on Monday (another good story which I should tell you all some time–I spent an hour and a half this morning talking to to administrators and lawyers and public safety, working out a scheme whereby we could get our stuff without filling out a whole lot of forms, in triplicate, with 27 eight-by-ten glossy color photographs with circles and arrows and all that rigamarole). Eventually we broke up, and, exhausted, made our ways home. Heidi, Holly, Susan, and I all crashed at Susan’s, and Holly and I got up early early, after about a two-hour nap, to go to David’s arraignment this morning. He plead absolutely not guilty. The judge informed us that the $650 bail would be returned and that he would be released on his own recognizance. Then we all went out to breakfast.
There’s much more to tell, of course, but that gives you the basics. We were arrested at 11:30 on a Saturday night for doing no more than we had been all week. The very same administrators and public safety officers who, all week, had commended us on how well we were conducting ourselves, the same ones who had been all smiles at our rallies–the ones, as it turned out, who were lying to us that whole time.
The fight goes on.
Yesterday afternoon we had a community video showing/discussion at the public library where we gained some more support. I spoke to a number of members of my church. We held a press conference today to explain that the arrests had only made us more determined, but that now was not the time to focus on them, now was the time to return our attention to the real issues at hand–to the UI’s continued affiliation with the (un)Fair Labor Association (FLA) and consequent complicity with corporate greed and human rights abuses. As I’ve told several reporters, yes, the experience of being arrested was somewhat terrifying. Yes, it was a shock to feel yourself robbed of your liberties in that way.
But at the end of the night I got to go home and sleep in a nice bed with a roof over my head, in a house with hot and cold running water. I ate a good breakfast in the morning. I lost none of my belongings. And when the time comes, I’ll have the best legal counsel that union money can buy. My experience, in short, pales and in fact disappears next to the kinds of human rights and civil liberties abuses which workers in sweatshops face every single day. I was patted down, it is true, but I was not locked into my place of work. I was not given mandatory pregnancy tests which I had to pay for from my own wages. To focus on our little arrests, in light of the seriousness of the problems we are trying to address, would seem nothing but the basest self-interest.
The sit-in is over, but the war is not over. Thanks again to all who wrote and all who thought of us. We will keep going. I will let you know what’s up, if you wish. And I will answer any questions you have. I urge you, though, if you wish to help, please do so, but know that the best way you can at the moment is to educate yourself. Sort through the alphabet soup until it makes sense to you, and then explain it to someone else. If you live in a place where protests are taking place, go talk to the protesters yourself, and maintain a healthy skepticism for what you read in the news. Question why the national media is not picking up this story.
As I have said, there is much more to tell. I welcome any and all questions.
Now, however, I must go to sleep. There is still much work to be done.
We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights. . . that to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed, that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the right of the People to alter or abolish it, and to institute a new Government. . . .
–Thomas Jefferson, 1776
The following is the last thing I had a chance to type up, Saturday afternoon.
Day 6, 3:15 pm
Ned’s been lying on the floor, listening to some sports type thing on the radio.
“Are you looking up my nostrils?” he queried Deb.
“Yeah. Do you feel violated?”
Apparently it’s baseball. The Cubs. Chicago folk are gathering round and Ned’s talking about games he remembers from 1977 when he was 6 years old (“10 years before Deb was even born,” he says, but he’s not right). Apparently Dean Jones is also from the South Side, and he and Ned were discussing this the other day. “He was analyzing my commitment to the Cubs in terms of this movement,” says Ned. “He said if I’m a Cubs fan I must be very committed, but I must be used to losing.”
We all laughed.
Meeting time soon. Much to discuss–but first we all have to eat some of this way yummy food from the Coop, where, thanks to local and state labor, we now have an account! Whoo-hoo! Now for the battle of the meat-eaters vs. the veggies.
Bob is still making nasty comments about the Cubs. I have just explained that although I don’t really follow baseball, I am a Cubs fan because my whole family’s from Chicago, and Bob’s saying, “Yeah, that’s typical of Cubs fans. They don’t know anything about baseball.”
“Oh yeah?” says Ned. “At least our slugger isn’t on steroids.”
“Yeah!” I say.
Now we’re debating Ned’s age, and whether or not he’s lied about it. I’m not sure just how this meeting is gonna work , but it’s time to get going.
[once again, if you’re getting duplicates or anything, just send me a note–I know a few of you have told me in person, but there are a lot of people I don’t fully associate with their e-mail addresses]
Day 6, around noon
It occurs to me that a few of you might like a little better idea of our physical surroundings. (It’s so easy to forget about the material world when you’re swept up by philosophy and action, you know–although I do think my back is starting to notice sleeping on the floor).
We are here on the main floor of Jessup Hall, one of the five buildings which make up the Pentacrest, which is more or less in the center of the UI campus and right by downtown Iowa City. In the center is the Old Capitol of Iowa, a beautiful limestone building with a tasteful gold dome and the most elegant spiral staircase you’ve ever seen. Spaced around it are the four other massive buildings–stone and columns and carved garlands and rotundas and all the rest–which make up the Pentacrest–Schaeffer Hall (history, Classics, College of Liberal Arts, and Actuarial Science, of all the random things), MacLean Hall (math and econ and stuff, I think), MacBride (home to Bird Hall and Mammal Hall and some departments I can’t remember) and of course Jessup, where the money is. Well, the top floors house Geography and the Office of Affirmative Action, but down here it’s all about cash flow. The bottom floor has the cashier’s office, the Registrar, and other such places where you have to stand in long lines and fill out lots of forms. Our hallway, directly above, is the real power base.
Seated at either end, behind locked glass-paned doors, are the Offices of the President at one end and of the Provost at the other. Finance and University Services, Student Services, and the General Counsel all have offices here in the central hallway. We think all these offices connect to each other, but we’re not exactly sure, since, as I said, we’ve been relegated to the hallway. It’s a pretty nice hallway, as these things go–terrazzo floors (which are pretty to look at but not great for sleeping), fairly wide–perhaps 8 or 10 feet across, so not quite as big as the halls in Main at Vassar, but getting there–and long enough do do some good pacing.
We have 2 tents pitched down at one end, a boombox and small TV/VCR (for video showing) and a borrowed cell phone (for emergencies) plugged in in the center. In the foyer outside the President’s stronghold, we’ve got a little display area with an old industrial-looking sewing machine (courtesy of Greta), lots of literature, and all the letters of support we’ve received, from Senator Tom Harkin to the UI Student Government to the Rhetoric TAs thanking us for talking to their classes to a card from Melissa, the girl from Ned’s class who brought us plates and utensils and cups and hand sanitizer the other day. Additionally, we’ve redecorated all the walls with our banners and posters and signs asking President Coleman to do the right thing and pictures from the paper and artwork people have done. Near the entrance, along with the ML King I put up yesterday, someone has made a sign that says “It was, for me, a Camelot house–where ideas were nourished into reality. –Elaine Brown” And there’s a checklist of our demands:
Join WRC (checked)
Code of Conduct
WE’RE STILL WAITING
Right now things are pretty mellow. The Hamburg Inn (voted No. 1 restaurant by Students Against Sweatshops!) sent over a fantastic breakfast–OJ and egg muffins, some with real bacon or sausage and some with soy stuff for the veggies, and animal crackers. They rock our world. Dean (aka Daddy) Jones stopped by to give us advice (he’s really fond of doing that) and said, “Gosh, I should bring the family over.” “Sure,” we said. “Come join us.” Oh, we are such masters of the double entendre.
We’ve got a meeting this afternoon to discuss various stuff, but basically today is a time to recuperate, catch up on sleep, and get in gear for next week. A bunch of people have gone over to check out the Pow-wow, going on all weekend at Carver Hawkeye Arena. My plan for the day is to do website stuff and maybe sleep some more at some point. I got up to 6 hours last night! Whoo hoo!
Well, I gotta get to work. More later.
Holding down the house,
Day 5, 1 am
Which would make it Day 6, of course, but I haven’t gone to bed yet, so it’s still Day 5. I did take a nap this afternoon, at long last.
Things have calmed considerably–perhaps the influence of the weekend. After the rally last night my friend gave me a ride back home so I could feed the cats, take a shower, and get some clean clothes. And then I came back here–the place that actually is home now–and chilled for awhile and wrote up the rally for y’all.
Today we had several more classes in the morning–the current estimate is that over 1000 students have been through. We are getting this teaching thing down. And from 11-12 on KRUI (the student-run station here) James Tracy and Matt Killmeier were on political discussion show called “Point Blank” with our dear friend Joel, the founding and perhaps only member of Students Against the Methods of Students Against Sweatshops. He’s a funny guy, but we’re grateful to him in a way because his existence got us our radio spot. And he does do some research–he’s just a little misinformed about how much work has already been done by SAS and perhaps a little inexperienced in just how bureaucracies work.
Anyway, Matt and Jim sounded _great_. They knew their stuff, and there’s an inherent confidence in them–they sounded relaxed, reasonable, well-informed–all the things that you want people speaking for you to be, and all the things that, increasingly, all of us are becoming. We all increasingly speak with the confidence that comes from deep questioning and good information combined with purpose and vision. (God, do I sound like I’m writing mission statement stuff yet? Blech.)
But really–there’s something in this. As I helped with the teach-ins today and as I listened to Matt and Jim, it struck me how very much this organization and this movement has been communal–how much we have all been the authors of the philosophy which guides it. Of course, I may be more inclined towards thinking in this pattern because I’m taking a class right now which focuses on just this question–on the differences and similiarities between authoring a book and authoring a movement and how it all works and what it all means. But listening to any of us talk these days, if you have heard the conversations that we have, you realize that you are listening to a human palimpsest, a book which we’ve all written. It’s like stone soup, really–we started out with nothing but stones, nothing really much at all, but as more and more people realized how great a movement, how great a world could be built with those stones, they each came bringing the other things that they had–the mortar to fill the cracks and the boards to make the floor and the pictures to hang on the walls. Wow, I realize I’ve just moved from soup to books to movements to houses, which may well make me nuts, but you take what you can get.
I have learned so much from the people here: I have learned facts and figures, I have learned history, I have learned current events, I have learned more rhetorical technique. I’ve even learned something about basketball. (Have I told you all the basketball metaphor? It’s so good! Matt came up with it originally, and now we all use it. Okay, here you go:
Imagine that the university here has a losing basketball team. I mean, they really suck. So what does the U. do? They hire a new coach, of course. This coach is called FLA. So FLA coaches for a year, but actually, he really doesn’t do anything. He barely even holds practices. After a year, the team is still terrible, hasn’t won a game. So the U. decides to hire another coach, and this one’s called WRC. He’s all gung ho, holds practice, kicks some people into shape, shows a lot of potential. But the U., instead of firing the old coach, FLA, decides to keep both of them on. When it comes to game time, FLA wants the team to use a zone defense, and WRC wants them to use a man-to-man defense, and when it’s time to play, the team can’t really do a thing.
We find this goes over really well around here–you get these guys saying, “You can’t play ball using zone and man-to-man at the same time!” It’s great. Then we try to get them to see how this won’t work when it comes to factory monitoring strategies, either. Anyway, the other day I finally got someone to explain the basketball end of it to me–I felt like kind of a dope for using this metaphor without really getting one end of it, although of course the end I don’t get is the one everyone else does. I myself have been using a health care analogy: the FLA is an HMO, and just as you don’t want your health decisions being made by insurance folks whose primary interest is profit over patient care, so we don’t want factory monitoring to be done by people who value profit over human rights.)
(I bet you forgot that was all paranthetical, didn’t you? I’m so snidely.)
But the movement’s philosophy is cohering, despite–or perhaps because of–the way we work, the way we all get to talk at meetings, the way we don’t have a president or a spokesman or a PR department. What Ned–who gets quoted most often, it is true, because he’s such a master of the well-turned phrase (“Physically, we may have been moved a few feet, but in our demands we have not budged a single inch”)–says is true: we’re all spokesmen. Even if we don’t all get quoted directly, we all speak because the things that we say have all be influenced so much by each other. Now while there could be some disturbing things going on here (silencing of authorship or disappearance of certain people–namely women, I suspect some of you might say), from the midst of it I still find it terribly exciting.
Well, the weekend looks like it will be pretty mellow. We all need a little break. I mean, I find just teaching my kids at Willowwind is tiring enough–talking to all these classes that have been pouring through here, plus other random people who just stop in, plus the occasional administrative type who deigns to address us, is positively draining. And yet I haven’t felt tired. My mom wrote me an e-mail all about the effects of adrenaline on the body long term, but I don’t remember what they were.
Right now we’ve got maybe 12 or 15 people spending the night–we’ve started signing up for shifts so that people who’ve been here all week can go home and take showers and check their mail and maybe even take a little nap. Ned finally went home to shower because he figured his students shouldn’t see him in the same clothes he taught on on Monday. And I think we even got Heidi to take a break for awhile. (That Heidi–she’s indefatigable).
Dave and the security guard who’s been assigned to us are chatting about guitar playing and music right now; someone else is strumming away. Jamie and Cara were just saying “Ooh, it’s a slumber party! We have to talk about boys now.” “Or play Truth or Dare,” I added.
Oh, one last note: Today I made a huge sign–two big pieces of posterboard–with the quotation that I’ve been reading from classes from time to time:
A second basic fact that characterizes nonviolence is that it does not seek to defeat or humiliate the opponent, but to win his friendship and understanding. The nonviolent resister must often express his protest through noncooperation or boycotts, but he realizes that these are not ends in themselves; they are merely means to awaken a sense of moral shame in the opponent. The end is redemption and reconciliation. The aftermath of nonviolence is the creation of the beloved community, while the aftermath of violence is tragic bitterness.
That’s Martin Luther King, Jr., of course, from his first book, Stride Toward Freedom, an account of the Montgomery bus boycott. Anyway, as i was putting this together, Ann Rhodes (VP for University Relations) stopped by and said, “Oh, you have such nice handwriting!” “Thanks,” I said. “Lincoln Elementary School.” A couple of other people (though none of them higher-ups) made similar comments, but none of them, I should add, bothered to read what it is I was writing. Anyway, I stuck it up right in the little alcove outside the Office of the President, which is the first stop for all our visitors. We’re not just a bunch of kids who wanted to take over a building, dammit–we’re creating the beloved community right in here. I guess some people just don’t want to join it.