Saturday, May 31, 2014

Harvest Hope

I seemed to have lost some writing Mojo lately.  I have writing projects lined up for the blog, but let them pass without taking the time to get them down.  Sure, I have been busy.  But one finds time for the important things.  

This school year my 3rd students and I have looked seriously into hunger and homelessness.  For the next couple posts I'll share newsletters I sent home sort of outlining our field study to Harvest Hope Food Bank in Columbia, SC.  

The letters home had lots of cool pictures of the kids on the bus, in the food bank, waiting patiently to get checked in.  For obvious reasons I have to leave those out.

Never doubt a small group of committed people can change the world.  Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Meade, American anthropologist
Hi folks, 

        I wrote this on the bus on the way to what was one of the most important field studies ever for me.  I know that I often speak in superlatives.  This was the greatest thing, that was the most awesome event.  I know, I know, I'm trying not to do that so often...  But today, as the children sang their sweet songs (like they were on stage) they moved people.  Tammy Huddle, who was our guest speaker months ago from Harvest Hope, was in tears.  Here is what I managed to write on the bus on the way there.  More later as I get a chance to reflect on the day.

       What a great feeling to celebrate our learning and social justice work by taking this late spring field trip to Harvest Hope Food Bank, the benefactors of our fund raising and social justice project for the better part of the year.  Our school bus is loaded with bags and boxes of food; we have a check for $1,240.01 (which does not include the checks already sent).  I brought my old Seagull classroom guitar and we have songs in our hearts for the people who work at Harvest Hope.

       Today is the dessert for all of the days we spent reading and learning about homelessness, for all of the money donated from kids' piggybanks, earned from parents for extra chores, from allowance never spent on treats and toys.  Our money also came from the sales of CDs of our original songs - many of which were sold at the teacher conference where the kids sang like angels in a choir and brought many of the audience members to tears.

       Each time children dropped coins into our "jug of generosity" I asked them to tell the stories of  how they came to get the money.  Birthday money from a loved one, tooth fairy money from, "this tooth right here," one child said as she pulled back her cheek revealing a bloody socket where a molar used to be just the day before.  "This is from my allowance, but we are expected to give some to charity."  My eyes filled with tears several times at their sweet stories of generosity.  "This is all the money I have in the world," one said yesterday as she put in 31 cents from her pencil box.

       There is an end-of-the-year-craziness as the bus cruises down Highway 77 with the windows open.  A wild, joyful spirit fills the bus as the cool wind whips our hair around and kids shout to be heard and we play word games and Hangman and Nim.  "Hey!  My dad used to work there!" as we pass a an office building.  "This is the way we go to church!" yells another.

       To these children, a field study is an experience in fun.  Today we get the bonus of performing again - which most dearly love to do (the little hams!).  But today as I reflect on their generous spirit of this gang of best friends, it takes my breath away.  After today we'll never be together on a bus again.  We'll never all be in the same room with our school t-shirts and our nametags.

       Because our days together are numbered.  And it hurts my heart.  You would think that after 35 years in this biz I would get used to it; saying good bye to a class of young people who become like my own family.  But it only seems to be getting harder.  I do enjoy the kickback days of summer, where I can read fiction, play guitar on the back porch, where I can put in my hours of university work and plan ahead for the next school year in an unhurried fashion.  

       But as long as I live, I'll remember this playful group of BFFs who can tease and laugh and cry at the end of a book - just recently Grandfather's Dance.  I'll remember the games of dodge ball and kickball, and watering the garden boxes.  I'll remember digging up bones and reconstructing skeletons and feeding lizards and snakes.  I'll remember jokes and classroom jobs and singing and writing songs.

       But what makes this year different from all other years is this study of hunger and homelessness.  The books, the visitors, writing the song, recording the CD, the feeling that we are just a small group of like-minded people but that we can make a difference...

       TO BE CONTINUED...                      Tim

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Quivering Rage Heap

When I first watched The Daily Show and saw that Jon Stewart was going to talk about the kidnapped Nigerian girls and Boka Haram, I thought he was skating on thin ice.  It is a comedy show.  OK, it's a news show as well, but... kidnapped girls?  How could he simultaneously inform and make us laugh, make us care for these desperate people and chuckle?  

No one has to trick Rush Limbaugh into making a complete fool of himself.  Just put a microphone in front of him and he'll do it on his own.  Day after day.  To millions of people.  Shamelessly.  

Quivering rage heap.  Ha!

What spooks me most about Rush Limbaugh isn't his words per se.  Our media is full of dim bulbs who find it their job to "defend American values" no matter the lack of intellect, disregard for truth, absence of forethought - no matter the consequences.  Take FOX ""News"".  No, Rush is the mean spirited buffoon he is paid so highly to be.  

What frightens me is that he has followers who feed on his every word, without regard to truth or depth or even morality.    He has disciples (ditto-heads) who seem to turn away from their own notions of right and wrong because if Rush said it, it must be right.  And it must be right.  

How could anyone disagree with the notion that we should stand by those innocents in Nigeria?  What kind of person could find fault with bringing awareness to the plight of these abducted children who risked their lives to better themselves by getting an education?  Even if you hated the President (and his wife) on a very personal level (which Rush proves again and again that he does), how can  you disagree with those who stand by these fearless Nigerian girls who now face being sold into slavery or even worse?  

If this foolish mocking outrage doesn't shake up the ditto-heads, doesn't at least turn some of them away from this self-serving, self-righteous fool, then nothing will.  

I'm not holding my breath.

I'm not saying that if Rush were cruising down the highway that he would swerve out of his way to hit a box turtle crossing the road.  I'm not suggesting that he would put a metal slug into the cup of a blind person begging, or pee into the pitcher of a neighbor kids' lemonade stand if he could get away with it.  But come to think about it...

No one has to trap Rush Limbaugh into saying imbecilic things.  He doesn't allow anyone on his "show' but supporters and worshippers who lob softball questions and set him up to spew his irrational, hate-filled monologues.  No one has to trap him with the proverbial "gotcha" questions.  All he needs is a powered up microphone and millions of listeners.

We've arrived at a point where the President of the United States is going to lead a war on traditional marriage.  (5/9/12)  His first, second, third and fourth wife could not be reached for comment.

How can I be anti-woman?  I even judged the Miss America pageant.  (3/14/12)  Whose brainchild was that?!

If Obama wasn't Black, he'd be a tour guide in Honolulu or he'd be teaching Saul Alinsky constitutional law or lecturing on it in Chicago.  (7/6/10)  Wouldn't it be interesting to hear Rush Limbaugh in a real debate with someone with half of Obama's intellect?

When do we ask the Sierra Club to pick up the tab for this leak?  RL blaming the oil spill in the Gulf on the conservation group claiming they had driven the oil producers off the land and into off shore waters.    If you tell lies long enough and loud enough and SHRILL enough - surely someone will believe you.

Obama's got a health care logo that's right out of Adolf Hitler's playbook...  Adolf Hitler, like Barrack Obama, also ruled by dictate.  (8/6/09)  Rush Limbaugh makes 'mean and stupid" seem "kind and brilliant".

Holocaust? Ninety million Indians? Only four million left? They all have casinos — what’s to complain about? (9/25/09)  I got nothing.  How can you respond to that?

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Get a Grip

It was so wrong on so many levels that I hardly know where to begin.

We were at Home Depot picking up a few things we needed for the house.  It was an otherwise brilliant Saturday.  After what seemed like weeks without  a real break, we were running  a few errands before heading out to listen to some friends make music.  It was as laid back as a Saturday could get.

There were two Hispanic guys, employees of the Depot, restocking the shelves with a machine that lifted one of the men high into the air so he could place things on the very top shelves.  They were cutting up and having fun, laughing and poking fun of each other.  At least I think that's what they were doing.  They were speaking in Spanish.  Two young guys, thirty-somethings I would guess, making the best of their work time.  

"Cuidada!  Parada!" called one to the other as they almost hit some of the merchandise with the little crane they were operating.  They were laughing and I could tell that they were good friends.  Their laughter was contagious and I found myself smiling as well, watching the amigos work and play and enjoy each other's company.

Then this young woman brushed past me with two young men.  Probably mid-twenties.  She had short red greasy hair with black roots.  She was pale and soft looking.  She was wearing super tight jeans and had a dragon tattoo on her neck.  Her appearance meant nothing to me and I wouldn't have registered her at all except for her words.

"F*&%ing Mexicans," she drawled in a voice loud enough for anyone around to hear.  She stared at the two men with contempt.  They were oblivious to her.  "Why can't they just learn to speak English for Chrissake?"  

"Shhhh!" one of her comrades hissed, grabbing her soft arm and heading her toward the door.  

"I mean they are in America, the least they could do is learn to talk like us..."  The other young man grabbed her other pale arm and they walked her briskly outside.  

I looked over to the two young Hispanic men.  While I don't know Spanish (I wish I did remember more of what I learned from Hermana Margarita back in tenth grade), it was something like, "Debo ser estúpida o algo, he ido y se equivocó otra vez!" [I must be stupid or something, I've gone and got it wrong again!]  They kept cutting up and having a good time while they worked.

I met up with Heidi at the front of the store, fuming at the creepy woman who was just whisked out the door.  It was only then that my snappy comebacks came to me.  Too late to make a difference.  Too late to let her know that not all 'Mericans feel as she does that it is some kind of moral affront to hear a language other than English spoken in public.  


Maybe I should have said something about pitying her small mind but admiring her bra straps.  Or maybe I should have said that she is so blessed to have everything that she needs and much more than she needs to eat.  Here's a response I found on line.  I wish I thought of it at the time...  "Hey, could you repeat that while I record you on my phone? All my yankee friends back home have been asking me for examples of how Southerners talk & think, and that right there will REALLY make an impression."  

But not only would any of those comments probably gotten me thrashed, it wouldn't have made a difference in how that woman thinks.  But racist people have me puzzled.  WHAT IS their version of America?  Would she only be happy if everyone was white and spoke English?  

Remember the Coca Cola commercial that aired during the Superbowl?   

Remember the backlash?



So.  Folks like these better get a grip.  They are in for such a rude awakening.  Consider the following...

The latest census numbers show: 
  • The population younger than 5 stood at 49.9 percent minority in 2012. 
  • For the first time in more than a century, the number of deaths now exceeds births among white Americans. This "natural decrease" occurred several years before the government's original projection, a sign of the white population decline soon to arrive. For now, the white population is still increasing slightly, due to immigration from Europe. 
  • As a whole, the nonwhite population increased by 1.9 percent to 116 million, or 37 percent of the U.S. The fastest percentage growth is among multiracial Americans, followed by Asians and Hispanics. Non-Hispanic whites make up 63 percent of the U.S.; Hispanics, 17 percent; blacks, 12.3 percent; Asians, 5 percent; and multiracial Americans, 2.4 percent. 
  • About 353 of the nation's 3,143 counties, or 11 percent, are now "majority-minority." Six of those counties tipped to that status last year: Mecklenburg, N.C.; Cherokee, Okla.; Texas, Okla.; Bell, Texas; Hockley, Texas; and Terrell, Texas. 
  • In 2012, 13 states and the District of Columbia had an under-5 age population that was "majority-minority," up from five states in 2000. In 25 states and the District of Columbia, minorities now make up more than 40 percent of the under-5 group.
  • Among the under-5 age group, 22 percent live in poverty, typically in more rural states such as Mississippi, Arkansas and Louisiana. Black toddlers were most likely to be poor, at 41 percent, followed by Hispanics at 32 percent and whites at 13 percent. Asian toddlers had a poverty rate of 11 percent. 

 They will learn.  They will have to.  Their boat is sinking and it must hurt to learn that white supremacy is failing.  It's not gone, but it is definitely on the way out.  But it has occurred to me that white racists don't speak for our entire society.  What I should do is focus on the good and decent people I know.  I should hold the sweetness and inclusiveness of my third grade students in my heart.  I should try not to let the attitudes of the ignorant get under my skin.  America is not racist.  Some Americans are.  

Over the coming years, the racists will die out.  I see it happening more and more.  It may not be in my lifetime, but we are working toward a day when the color of someone's skin, their mother tongue, their religious beliefs, their sexual preference - all become less who that person is and more of the diverse, beautiful population we are and are becoming.  

Eventually the racists, the homophobic and religious zealots will become the oddballs.  Eventually they will have to change or will simply be left behind and will become eccentric outsiders.  Hopefully they already are.  Our society is moving quickly and decisively away from racial and cultural intolerance.  It would be easy to despise the racist idiot I ran into at Home Depot.  But after giving it a lot of thought, I pity her.  Her old road is rapidly fading.