Teachers and Gathering

Ever since the start of the Seattle teacher strike last week, I've been wondering what I should be doing about it. That word: "should." It's a sure sign that I am not going to have a good time. Which I actually think is kind of important to the work getting done and keeping getting done

I run into this pretty often. I want to help, but the options before me all seem to be not only exhausting but futile. And boring. I don't feel good about saying this out loud. I don't feel that as a progressive activist I should be mentioning this at all.

But then I think about my friend KC, who has been a climate activist for at least 20 years and is one of the geniuses of the movement, and he told me about being at a meeting of hard-core volunteer activists a few years ago, the true base, the ones who are getting up and doing everything they can do. And one of these dedicated volunteers said to the roomful of leaders something like "I'm with you. I'm doing it all. I've reduced my own climate footprint, I’m doorbelling, I’m organizing. I'm totally on board. And if you tell me to call my senator one more time I'm going to…"

Can't remember what he threatened to do. Shoot someone? Shoot himself? Are these the options?

It feels that way, sometimes. Especially when I’m trying to act alone. It feels very difficult to know what to do in the context of giant challenges, like, for example, the total hijacking of our economy and the fucking up of all those formerly secure middle-class jobs. Like teaching. I swear! When there is more money in this country than ever before (true!), why haven’t the teachers had a cost of living adjustment in six years? And can I just say, I LOVE my son, but Bill Gates’ salary wouldn’t keep me in a classroom with 27 kids all day every day for nine months. Are you fucking kidding me?

Just thinking about this is stressing me out. I want to go bingewatch Once Upon A Time on Netflix. fairy tale problems are so much easier to solve. There's always a magic dagger somewhere.

Anyway, this morning I was sitting by the window, writing and trying to figure some of this out. It is cloudy in Seattle again, after a blistering summer. For this, I am thankful. The leaves on the daylilies are fading to brown, the rosehips are bright red, the coneflower is quite coned. Looking at these things, at the way nature is winding down the harvest season, can help me feel calm as I think about how to construct a to-do list for today that has anything to do with the giant challenges of our time. But still, today I felt overwhelmed. So, I decided to write about the things that I have faith in.

I started with faith that nature has the answers to our current problems, if we only will listen, but that didn’t help me feel better. That just marries me to the idea that humans are ignorant, violent assholes, and that way lies despair… or at least three back-to-back episodes.

Then I wrote that I have faith that gathering and cooperation is our nature and that isolation and individualism is only our training, and that was a little better.

And then I wrote that I have faith that we still have a choice. That we are at a crossroads. I sank into that and in that I noticed that before us stretches a choice of futures, but what I felt most was the strength of the past, the path behind us, and it is rich. It is not just the violent asshole story, not just the last 5 to 7000 years. I mean, okay, those years have contained some troubling trends: the long arc of domination over women and nature, the introduction of war as the prevailing social force… I know that we are told that war is our only history, that we have always been violent, that we have never known how to live in peace and cooperation, the wild has never been strong and beautiful and alive in us.

But, this is a lie.

I knew this as I look out the window at my wild, thriving cooperative garden and as I remember how it feels to gather with other change-makers. I remember the truth that the selective telling of history and the evening news hides from us… that the age of the Goddess, and the cooperative cultures based on Her worship… that those times lasted far, far longer than the domination culture that we know. That were tens of thousands of years of slow progressive cultivation of life and art, of leadership as responsibility akin to motherhood, of sex as sacred celebration instead of repressed impulse or violent domination.

This morning, I felt that past behind us. All of it. I felt this moment, where choice calls us. The future could be appalling. Or it could be a garden, where we are nurtured and nurturing.

And teachers are fucking paid.

How does this help me with my to-do list today? Honestly, a lot of days it doesn't. A lot of days I am thinking about these things and not writing and watching Netflix too much and trying to understand where my place is in this moment, and wanting to do good, and wanting to make a living also, and knowing only a few things: how to write, how to tell a story, and, at my best, how to gather with other changemakers and help us together find our faith in a different future.

But today, through all of this, I keep coming back to the word "gather."

So, of course, I look it up. The Oxford English Dictionary says of Gather: “The amount gathered, crop, harvest.” Yes! And also “The action of ‘gathering’ a ball.” Which I am totally into. A ball! Dancing! The opposite of boring! And then it throws in fashion, which as a thinking woman I am supposed to abhor, but fuck that and instead look at this: “that part of a dress which is gathered or drawn in.”

Could we please harvest and dance and wear things that are beautiful in whatever way we truly find beauty?

Could we please gather?

Because alone, it is very hard to see the way out of things. But when I'm gathered with other changemakers, with other seekers, it is easier… Well sometimes it is. Sometimes it's harder because humans have tantrums and funky habits and are impatient and undisciplined and pouty.

Like me.

But also, humans make music! When we gather, we can join hands, we can dance, we can fight or bore each other with stupid meetings or make love or have a potluck… we can do something. If it is true that gathering and cooperation IS our nature, and isolation only our training – and I believe this with all my heart and even with my big and patient brain – if this is true, then maybe gathering is the only first step we can take.

That makes the to-do list a lot simpler.

When I finished writing, I checked my email. I had one I from the president of my PTA. My son goes to a way progressive school, so we call it a PTSA, to include Students in it, but it's still a PTA. This email informs me that tomorrow morning, parents are gathering to confront the school board and the district in solidarity with the teachers. It says “bring musical instruments and chalk and bubbles.” It says to wear red. I am going to go. I am not going to ask about the goal, or to see a copy of the agenda first, as is my long habit. I am going to bring my new drum and my huge stockpile of bubbles…which, may I ask, where did they all come from? Seriously. I have seven bottles of bubbles!  I don’t have any red to wear except red lipstick, but you can bet I’ll wear that.

Here are the details. If you live in Seattle, maybe I’ll see you there. I’ll be the one drumming in the corner and blowing bubbles with lips as red as rosehips. I’ll be one of the ones believing that if we gather, if we speak, if we tolerate the messiness and the hassle of morning traffic and the horrible awkwardness of not knowing other people and the terrible vulnerability of hoping that we can make change… that if we gather and do all that, we can choose the garden.

And teachers can fucking get paid.

What:  SCHOOL-IN!

Where:  John Stanford Center for Excellence in Education

When:  Monday, September 14 8-12:00pm

Join us for this district wide time of community as we gather to show Dr. Nyland and the School Board that we will not be subject to their familiar tactics of divide and conquer. We are a team with our teachers and SEA. We demand nothing less from Dr. Nyland and the board. We want him at the table, negotiating as a professional, not threatening and game playing, no more bait and switch, come to the table and settle the issues from MAY. A fair and equitable contract, nothing else will do.

We will gather PEACEFULLY. Bring food, chalk, bubbles, musical instruments, crafts, books, paper, markers etc. School is IN. Wear your red! Come be in community and solidarity with other families as we send Dr. Nyland a message. Let's show him that we are fierce and that we will not back down. Our teachers have given us a huge gift. OPPORTUNITY. We can't let them down, we can't let our children down.

Stay all day, stay for an hour. But please come. Consider using Metro if you have transit friendly kiddos! Or light rail, or car pool. Otherwise give yourself time to park. There is a slight chance of rain. Bring rain gear, tarps, canopies, tents if you have them. Questions? Message me or email rsbookwriter@gmail.com.