Tag Archive for protest

AN OPEN LETTER TO BETSY DEVOS

By Linda Morrow 

Dear Ms. DeVos,

Of all the appointments your President – not mine – made to his cabinet, yours was the one I resisted and feared the most. He-who-shall-not-be-named recently said, “Who knew health insurance could be so complicated?” As a retired public school educator, with a thirty-five year career as a middle school classroom teacher, building principal and school librarian, I would submit that providing ALL children with a free, quality education is equally complex.

My first teaching experience took place in an inner city elementary school in Syracuse, NY where 99% of the students were African-American, and most of their teachers, like myself, were Caucasian. In 1963 Syracuse Public Schools did not provide a lunch program. Have you ever tried to teach kids who arrive at school every morning hungry and then go home to a lunch which often consisted of soda and potato chips? I have.

In the early 1990’s I became the Associate Principal of a K-8 school in Vermont’s “Northeast Kingdom,” historically the most impoverished section of the Green Mountain State. Our school population hovered close to 800 students and we offered both breakfast and lunch to our children. But filling empty stomachs doesn’t solve all problems. Have you ever made a home visit to inquire why two sisters were missing so much school, and found them living in an unheated shed with their single mother, sleeping on mattresses on a concrete floor? I have.

As a school librarian in an interstate high school, part of a district that was established in 2000 to serve students from four small towns in Vermont and New Hampshire, I quickly discovered that students did not come to the library just to look for books. No, I had my “lunch-time regulars.” Teens who could not bear one more day of sitting alone in the cafeteria. Teens who sought the comforting refuge of a couch in the library. Have you ever purchased a book such as Make Lemonade by Virginia Euwer Wolff and then placed it in the hands of a depressed seventeen-year-old girl, in hopes that the groundbreaking novel would help her find a way out of a dysfunctional family situation? I have.

But all the experiences I had as a public school educator pale in comparison to those I faced as the mother of my first-born child born with Down syndrome in 1966. Imagine my dismay when my son Steven turned five and I discovered that the local public school could and did refuse to enroll him in their Kindergarten program. For the next several years Steve rode the “short bus” to his segregated Special Education classroom, away from from his younger brothers, away from the neighborhood kids with whom he played, away from his hometown. Only the passage of PL94-142 in 1975 guaranteed Steve and other children with disabilities the right to a free and appropriate education including placement in an educational environment that allowed the maximum possible opportunity to interact with typical students. By the way Ms. DeVos, PL94-142 served as the forerunner to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) passed in 1990. IDEA is the Federal legislation you initially said in your confirmation hearing would be “…best left to the states.”

Our public school educational system is not perfect, and probably never will be. But public schools remain the best chance many children have to realize their full potential. As a parent I fought to ensure that all three of my sons received the education to which they were entitled. As an educator I know that many children cannot count on their parents to advocate for their needs. Author Paul Daugherty states in his book An Uncomplicated Life, that parents need to “expect, not accept.” I could not agree more. Since you yourself have no experience with public school education, how do you intend to provide continuous improvement and growth for these institutions, who in the fall of 2016 enrolled over 50 million students? You can be certain I will continue to carefully monitor all action coming out of the office of the Department of Education. I won’t accept decisions which I feel will weaken our public schools. I will expect you to educate yourself and appreciate the complexities of a system which serves all children regardless of income, parental involvement, race, immigration status, disability, gender or sexual orientation. For the sake of these children, I WILL PERSIST.

Author’s Bio: Linda Morrow moved to the big city of Bellingham after living for twenty-five years on a dirt road in Vermont’s rural “northeast Kingdom.” She is grateful for the warm welcome she has received the area’s writing community. A special shout-out to the Talespinners whose unflinching support has carried her though the long process of her still-in-revision memoir about raising her oldest son, born with Down syndrome in 1966.

And To the Republic For Which She Sits

by Laura Kalpakian

I was part of the Hell No We Won’t Go generation, 1968 when our resistance was focused on forcing the government to end the Vietnam War. We certainly did not invent mass protest, the proverbial petition in boots, but with television, our mass protests spilled into tidy American homes. That was new. In the decades since then, my generation has often been portrayed as comic, tie-dyes, feathers, flowers, stony smiles and peace signs, and our serious efforts antic undertakings. One era’s hard-won conviction is another era’s easy assumption.

And then in January 2017, the notion of a “petition in boots” (as someone smarter than I coined it) took on new meaning. In the weeks since the Women’s March, the impetus—the need, the obligation—for mass protest has become an unrelenting, an almost daily urgency.   I thought such social unrest, such a sense of political emergency as I experienced in my youth would not happen again in my lifetime. But fifty years later, here we are. And by we, I mean not just the graybeards and the grandmothers of 1968, but to quote Elwood of the Blues Brothers: “You. Me. Them.”

As a young person in DC for the 1969 Moratorium March a phalanx of my amigos and I all crashed at a friend’s apartment the night before. With us was the sister of a German friend who was visiting her brother. The morning of the March I was surprised to see her applying foundation makeup, heavily, as if for a party. She must have sensed my prissy disapproval because she tossed me the bottle and said, “Here. You’ll need it. When they gas you, the makeup helps to protect your skin.”

The prospect of gas was never far off. We knew that. As we made our way to the March we walked by government buildings sandbagged against us, prepared for an assault, and National Guardsmen behind those sandbags with rifles and bayonets. A sobering sight. And yet most of the Guardsmen were young people, like us, and several surreptitiously flashed the peace sign.

We were 250,000 strong that day. More than anyone had reckoned on. Certainly more than that pig Nixon had reckoned on, though in calling out the sandbags and the National Guard he knew we were dead serious.   Six months later four protesters were dead. Killed in May, 1970 by the Guard at Kent State and more at Jackson State. Four months later Bobby Seale, a defendant in the Chicago Seven trial, was bound and gagged in the courtroom. At the order of the judge. The Republic stood imperiled, and the rights Americans relied on eroding.

I remember being deep in the crowd the day of the ‘69 Moratorium March, looking up to a platform. Joan Baez sang. Inspiring speakers rallied us. “If Nixon wants to know how to move soldiers peacefully out of ‘Nam,” one guy memorably called out to rousing cheers, “he should ask us!” In fact, aside from brief skirmishes, 250,000 of us did move peacefully into and later out of the city.

However, the image I remember best was wordless. Not far from my cadre of friends a woman had spread a blanket on the grass. She had a couple of little kids with her, a preschooler and a five year old. Other than her children, she was alone, no other adult family members. I was astonished that a mother would bring her little children to a march where there was a threat of violence, of gas, where protesters were surrounded by guys with guns. And yet, she sat there, amid the restless crowd, calmly slathering peanut butter on white bread, handing out sandwiches. The kids sat, cross-legged in front of her, munching, listening. She was an ordinary looking woman, perhaps thirty-five, no outlandish clothes, no feathers or flowers in her hair, no love beads. At odds with the rousing rhetoric, she exuded serenity. Her image seared into memory.

Last month my daughter-in-law took my little grand-daughter to the Women’s March. I was proud of them; I was also glad there was no threat of gas, no armed National Guard. This is not to say there won’t be. Perils lie ahead, of that I am certain. Even so I take heart from the remembered image of that mother at the 1969 Moratorium March. The simplicity of her sitting on the blanket—amid the raucous, impassioned outcry, while the crowd surged and shouted and the National Guard stood armed—calmly handing out sandwiches to her children seemed like an emblem. To me she represented confidence, not simply in the justice of our cause, but confidence in the Republic itself.   That confidence in the republic spurs us now, 2017 to put our boots back on, our petitions into our feet, marching now. You. Me. Them.   In fact, with Elwood and Jake of the Blues Brothers, we might all say, “We’re putting the band back together.”

Author’s Bio: One of the original Founding Mothers of Red Wheelbarrow Writers, Laura Kalpakian was nominated for the prestigious International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award for American Cookery. She won a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, a Pushcart Prize, the Pacific Northwest Booksellers’ Award (twice), the Anahid Award for an American writer of Armenian descent, the PEN West Award, and the Stand International Short Fiction Competition. She has had residencies at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, Montalvo Center for the Arts, and Hawthornden Castle in Scotland. She is the author of thirteen novels and over a hundred stories published in collections, anthologies, literary journals and magazines in the USA and the UK.

 

Writers Resist, Blog One: Sean Dwyer Has a Dream

I have an advantage over you right now. I have battled a brain injury for two years, and at times I speculate that I am lying in a dark room in a long-term care facility. I’m in a coma. I have dreamt of a partial recovery, of the support of my friends, of personal growth and self-awareness.

I also have nightmares. I dream that I can’t read, that I can’t write effectively, that I can’t cry. I dream about the nation. Perhaps the last show I watched before my accident was Celebrity Apprentice, because I dream that its pompous, sadistic host has used his only talents, those of showmanship and façade-building, to jump into the presidential race and preach a false gospel of prosperity for the common white man, the sons of the men who upgraded America during the postwar boom and passed on to their children the ideal that hard work leads to a house, a car, and job security.

I dream . . . That these vulnerable people, whose factories and mines shut down over the course of four decades, clung to the desperate hope that a savior would appear and reopen the monoliths that extracted toil from their muscles and gave them money in return. Their desperation now leads them to ignore the many reasons not to embrace this flawed candidate, whose only words that are useful to them resemble “I’ll make life what it once was for you.”

. . . That these people, who once met their own needs but now depend on government assistance because there is no work, resent that the Other also receives assistance without working. Their resentment then grows if a portion of the Other goes off to college and lands a job, because these people hate that the Other received education funded by taxpayers.

. . . That our world’s most dangerous leader, who controls Russia and is scheming to bring the territory of the Soviet Union under his control again, has our candidate’s admiration–and the ability to ruin him if the candidate fails to do the Russian’s bidding.

. . . That the nation becomes so focused on the Russian connection that few notice when the puppets of the oligarchy in the Legislative Branch give a huge tax cut to the oligarchs who shut the factories and kept the profits, by taking away the only lifeline the common man has, health insurance. The people who voted for the candidate, who will sign into law the soul-crushing legislation, now feel betrayed, because the they wanted the jobs and the insurance. They will rack up medical bills they will never be able to pay.

Worst of all, I dream that citizens who claim to follow a philosophy of loving one’s neighbors, of caring for the poor, and of living without judging others have forgotten that mission. The words of Jesus mean less to them than the laws of Moses. This sect applies only the punishment, and not the love, without regard for the well-being of the poor, the homeless, and those who love differently. Far too often, it is those who disdain this sect who step up and do the work of Jesus. This sect accepts this mentally ill candidate and believes their Pharisee leaders, who call him a man of God for the sake of gaining power for themselves, and then the sect votes for him.

In my coma, I see America trembling as she stands at a crossroads, one path leading to the abyss of fascism, the other leading to a return to compassion, generosity of spirit, and responsible government.

I have a dream. Many dreams, in fact. I hope the dreams I’ve described are merely nightmares, that I am locked in my head, waiting to heal enough to wake up to a world where sanity has prevailed. I would prefer that reality to the one you face now.

My biggest fear on this anniversary of the birth of Martin Luther King Jr. is that I am not having nightmares, but witnessing with you a terrible reality that, even in my nightmares, I could not invent.

Author’s Bio: Seán Dwyer is celebrating his fifty-first year as a mostly unpublished writer. His completed novel manuscripts include the Chanticleer award-winning Chocolates on the Pillow, All That Distance, and Hijo de madera. He has also won a Chanticleer award for a nonfiction book, Love Is So Brief: A Journey through Neruda’s Poem 20. He expects to finish a memoir, A Year without Tears, in early 2017.