Democracy: Trigger Warning.

DISCLAIMER: TRIGGER WARNING. References to domestic violence.

Democracy is rusting sea-foam green in New York harbor—a French colossus given as a gift to remind us of the yoke we fled from and the prize we are reaching for. She was once bright as a penny, but the arranged marriage was loveless and has taken its toll. She welcomed for centuries the refuse from a thousand teeming shores until they grew jealous of the shelter of her skirt folds and decided her spacious skies were growing too full. The Mother of Exiles birthed the Fathers of Walls.  They surrounded her with guards and guns and barbed wire fences. They equipped prison buses with child seats and lost the babies they strapped into them.

They grew industry and amassed wealth on the backs of humans they treated as property and Democracy grew too tired to fight. When she cried, she couldn’t be heard over the rattling of chains and the screams of the whipped. When she looked to Justice for help, she found they had blindfolded her sister’s eyes. Democracy now stands alone in the night, afraid to lift her lamp because the roaches don’t run from the light anymore.

Democracy is the trophy wife of capitalism. Abused, molested and debased, she covers her bruises with red, white and blue makeup so she can go out in public on her fourth of July anniversary. Rockefeller and Carnegie, J.P Morgan and Ford all kicked her nearly to death but brought her roses and apologies after. Now she waits for Bezos and Zuckerberg to come home drunk, secure in the fact that she is well-stocked in bandages and concealer. She believes that because she was born of flawed men that she herself is flawed and deserves her lot. She has forgotten that the sacred can be birthed from the profane, that the wingless can dream of flight, and the sinner can aspire to grace.

Democracy is a lonely mother in a nursing home whose children fiercely defend their freedom, but ignore the responsibilities needed to keep those liberties alive. Half of them show up to visit her every four years, promising to keep in touch. She smiles selflessly, knowing she will die waiting for their call.

Democracy is a latch-key kid walking home from school, stepping on crack vials and spent shells because her parents are too busy grinding to see how much the neighborhood has changed  She walks with her head down, avoiding eye contact with Wall Street wolves ready to pimp her to the highest bidder. She tries not to notice the real estate developers street sweeping a hundred cultures into the dustbin of fetishism and gentrification. She can barely see over the piled bodies of black men and boys who made the mistake of selling cigarettes, or wearing hoodies, or simply possessing too much melanin on a sun-shiney day.

Democracy is a frail but tough cancer survivor, all headscarves and brave smiles, whose body is ravaged by the tumors of racism, fear, greed, and apathy. She has gotten in good trouble with Harriet Tubman and John Brown, and the slaves of the Amistad. Arm and arm with Martin and Malcolm and John Lewis she has marched for a cure a thousand times and been beaten, and fire-hosed, and pepper-sprayed and tear-gassed. She has been under the knife, under the gun and under the bus. She has had two-hundred and forty-four years of chemotherapy but no remissions. If you inquire of her health, she will tell you, “today is a good day.”

Democracy is a woman who named her unborn baby, “freedom.” It died of neglect and rots inside her womb, but she is in Alabama and can’t get an abortion.

Democracy is Twain’s violet that sheds its fragrance on the heel that crushes it. She is a face on a milk carton who disappeared without an Amber alert.

Democracy has learned to bob and weave.  She milks her Johns for all she can and gets in the wind. She bides her time, because all that matters are the children: The little brown girl that sees a vice president that looks like her. The Muslim woman that sees a fierce advocate in Minnesota, who fled Somalia to find her spiritual mother. Democracy is an eighty-year-old woman getting her master’s in Political Science and stepping up to a mic to speak out. She is the Easter bunny and Santa Claus. Only the innocent are gullible enough to believe in her, but only the wise know that she is each one of us at our best, when we are not thinking what can be done for us, but what we can do for others.

Democracy is the face in the mirror when you are brave.

Fierce Advocates for Equity and Emotional Exhaustion.

I wish that the “Making Education More Equitable” talk was longer.  I could listen to those two brilliant women for days on end. Though I consider myself a fairly well-read and progressive individual who is informed and aware of the injustices and inequities facing today’s students, I still learned so much. Professors Shedd and Cottom were informative and fierce and funny, and the subject of the talk spoke partially toward my project subject. While I feeling the overarching theme and concerns of the talk were speaking more toward the amount of funding different schools receive—which invariably translates to the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer—I also feel there is room for curriculum change that reflects the diversity of the population.

            The vast difference in atmosphere and environment between the haves and have nots—read private and public education systems—begins even before kindergarten. In the households of affluent children, there is no question that the end goal of the academic journey is a graduate degree, whereas children of lower income parents do not, to paraphrase Dr. Cottom, necessarily think that college is meant for them.

            I was also struck by something that I, in perhaps a fit of white male oblivion, never noticed until I became a student myself. Most college students at public universities are not “unencumbered, slightly disembodied,” as Dr Cottom said.  They are women with children working jobs and studying when the kids are in bed.

For my part to close some inequity, I am trying to implement changes in curriculum. I have sent emails to some educators as well as my district’s Regent in Albany, (in truth, to the secretary because the position is currently vacant.), as well as my federal rep to find out how to affect those changes and who makes those decisions.

The concerns I have are both technical and personal. So far, I have not received any responses at all from the educators, and that is disheartening. Compounding that, I am battling many personal things on several fronts as well as a full course load.  At this point, I am wondering if I bit off more than I can chew with curriculum change and I’m wondering whether I should contemplate a different topic that would still affect change in the world but perhaps could be facilitated more easily.  Maybe it is just mid-term week, and I am exhausted, or maybe I am just exhausted with 2020. It is sometime hard to advocate for others when you spend a lot of time advocating for yourself.  I suppose that is partly the point that Professors Shedd and Cottom were trying to make.  

The Expectations and Challenges for the Semester.

Changes upon changes upon changes have happened to me this year. In January I had a solid plan for school, work, and moving toward my long-term goals. I am a junior at Lehman College, in both the English Honors Program and the Adult Degree Program. When I graduate I plan to join Teach For America and teach in public schools while I pursue my Master’s degree. Earlier this year, I had planned to leave my job dog-walking before the weather became cold, and obtain a position where I can use my writing and editing skills.  My girlfriend and I also knew we faced a change in finances coming up next July, so we were planning for that contingency. I was looking forward to all the changes, and then March happened, and the quarantine, and everything changed.

Now it is September, and my relationship is gone, my job is gone, my place to live is gone, and there is only school left. In some ways I am stronger than I have ever been, and more focused, and in other ways I am hanging by a thread.

Ironically, or perhaps for 2020, typically, the same things I see as challenges for the semester are the very things I am looking forward to.  I am enrolled in a humanities internship with Lehman’s literary magazine, Obscura.  As part of that internship, I am responsible for writing a weekly blog with a theme of my choice. Because I am a writer and I love the process of writing, I have decided to blog on the writing process itself, and what it is like to live in the mind of writer. I am two blogs in and so far, it is fun, but nerve-wracking until I discover a particular subject to focus on.   On top of that is of course the monthly blog you are reading right now. I am again looking forward to delving into the project and trying to make some changes in the world.  In addition, I am taking an advanced fiction course where the final paper is a 12-15-page story ready to submit to a professional magazine.  That seems to be a lot to have on my plate.  However, I like the structure and I like the deadlines, and I think it is going to be a satisfying feeling at the end of the semester when I have a portfolio of blog entries I can look back on.  As Dorothy Parker, perhaps facetiously, said, “I hate writing, but love having written.”

On a more humorous note, there is my favorite quote by Douglas Adams, who said, “I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.”  

I am excited about my project theme of introducing more inclusive curriculum into the educational system.  I recently saw a morning news segment with a teacher named Bashir Akinyele, who is teaching more Afrocentric curriculum in his New Jersey classes. I have reached out to him by email to see if I can pick his brain regarding the processes he used and obstacles he may have faced trying to get his curriculum implemented. Also, as Stephanie Sertich, Program Coordinator for the Humanities Department of LaGuardia College, mentioned to me, the present presidential administration is pushing the exact opposite curriculum under the guise of “Patriotic Education,” where teaching about slavery “promotes hatred of the country.”   I truly hope we are nearing the end of this anti-intellectual, racist, xenophobic era in our country, but regardless of the results of the next election, thinking and caring Americans are in for the fight of their lives.  Despite some personal concerns, I have never been more up for it. How about you?