[ Wednesday, March 24, 2004 ]
Civil Rights Spring Break, Part 3: The Ugly
Actually, I pretty much covered the "ugly" yesterday. I had planned to use this space to tell a more detailed version of the "Yankee whore"/"Confederate bitch" story, but my energy just ain't in it right now.
I'm listening to Fleetwood Mac's RUMOURS right now, and I am just astounded as to how great it is. Not that I haven't heard it before, but something about tonight's listening is really hitting me hard. Every song on the album is great, and there are at least six - "Second Hand News," "Don't Stop," "Go Your Own Way," "Songbird," "Silver Springs" and "You Make Lovin' Fun" - that are absolute classics. As a major fan of punk rock both past and present, I defy any objective listener to spin this album and say it sucks. Go for it; I dare you. Chances are, by the time Lindsay Buckingham spits out the lyrics to "Go Your Own Way" with a fire and energy that would shame most punks, you'll be silenced. (Not to mention that, while we're on the subject, "Go Your Own Way" is also one of the best-produced pop singles ever made.)
Songcraft at its highest, three distinct voices (both vocally and as writers), tight arrangements...damn, when they were good they were good
. I just wish that Christine McVie - who fights it out with Lindsay for my favorite Mac writer - was still touring with them. Never been that big a Stevie fan, and Lindsay alone can't get me to shell out the 50 bucks to see them at the arena across the street. Oh well.
On the box right now: Well, DUH...
Dove With Claws [8:28 PM]
[ Tuesday, March 23, 2004 ]
Civil Rights Spring Break, Part 2: The Bad
Okay, so here we go...
In the middle of an otherwise wonderful experience, a small group of students (around six or seven) began to voice objections to the very nature of what the trip was about and what we were trying to accomplish. These objections basically grouped themselves into two complimentary threads: 1)the people who, despite the well-known fullness of the itinerary, were aiming to have more "fun," both during free time (which they claimed there was way too little of) and at night (as in stay out all night and party, only to complain all day about how tired they were), and 2)the people who were extremely pissed that they weren't given more authority as to how the trip was organized, such as input towards activities and flexibility regarding expectations. These objections had been rearing their heads occassionally throughout the beginning of the trip (including on the very first night, when one of the party people uttered the immortal phrase "This trip better get a lot more funner than this"), but it was on Thursday night, our last night in Selma, that it all came to a head.
It had been a great night, with morale at an all-time high and a real sense of accomplishment and celebration in the air. Just before we broke for the evening, one of the faculty members said a few words in relation to our next day's journey to Atlanta. Since our schedule that day was going to be busy enough to make any such words impossible, and since he knew that people were gearing up to go wild in Atlanta that night, he thought it wise to remind us that we were all responsible to take care of each other, for the sake of ourselves and the larger community. He told us a story about an incident in New Orleans where he had lost a student for a few hours one night, and urgently cautioned us against letting something like that happen again. The next night in Atlanta, that is.
Well, it happened that night in Selma. 3:30 AM, knock on his door, one student (a white woman) had refused to leave a black club with the rest of a group (of about 10 or so). Nobody knew where she was, but they did know that she was really drunk and pretty beligerent. They also knew that this was a student who, two nights previous, had been thrown out of another bar for arguing with a local; this argument included the words "Yankee whore" and "Confederate bitch." In addition, even though a local had taken them to the club, where they had been greeted warmly, they had been told at about 2 AM that they might want to think about leaving. Just as the faculty members were about to go back to the club, to see if she was anywhere around, the student walked in the door.
The next morning, the hammer came down. Understandably tired and shaken by the near-disappearance of a student in their charge, the faculty in charge of the trip decided to cancel the trip to Atlanta. This decision was greeted with a response that was the culmination of all the hostilities percolating throughout the week. Not only were some on the trip basically offended that their fun had been "ruined" by the journey (the same students who wanted to forego planned activities in order to go to the mall and the beach), but others were convinced that the faculty were merely on a power trip that was indicative of the lack of responsibility with which they felt the students had been allowed. Never mind, of course, that the responsibility the students had been granted had been betrayed by a few members of the group (some of whom were also the most vocal in their objections to the trip's official purposes).
Anyway, a lot of heat came out that day, with faculty being accused of being everything from racists to authoritarians, and with certain students being firmly pitted on one side or the other. Sometimes, as in my case, I was happy to be planted on the side of the faculty (and the responsible students who had plenty of fun without jeopardizing the trip or the people on it). Other times, though, students were unfairly singled out as "sell-outs" for being concerned with actually LEARNING something. It should be noted, perhaps, that the students who were whining about how they were being treated like children were, apart from being drunk all night, regularly falling asleep and disrespecting the speakers who had taken time out of their busy schedules to speak with us.
The morale got better over the next day or so, but it all came out again on the bus ride back to Madison, when the same old shit about students not being given enough authority (whatever that means) and the faculty - who were repeatedly referred to as "the adults" and "the authority" - started up again. Most people on the trip were fantastic, but there were about five or six whom I doubt I'll be able to ever work with in any capacity again. Not that I'll have the chance...
On the box right now: N.E.R.D., FLY OR DIE
Dove With Claws [3:32 PM]
[ Monday, March 22, 2004 ]
Civil Rights Spring Break, Part 1: The Good
Since there's so much to say about my previous week's experiences, and since I don't have the time right now to even begin to sufficiently explain all of it in any detail, I've decided to do three entries. And, since I'm such a cheery ray of sunshine, I'll begin with the good...
It's not often that you can have experiences which re-orient your consciousness, even in the slightest or most benign way. One experience which re-oriented my consciousness in perhaps the most significantly positive way possible was a class/trip I took in the summer of 2001, when a group of us went across the South studying African-American history. We met with movement veterans, visited famous sights, and immersed ourselves (as much as we could) in the culture of struggle and celebration that fueled the history that we all are so fascinated with. It went beyond any of our wildest dreams, both in terms of the educational experience, and in the way it helped us understand the nature of what the pivotal organizer Ella Baker called "beloved community." Many of us returned with new purpose and desires to help create connections - and community - both within our own environment and across regional/racial lines. The place where we most realized the potential of such connections, as well as the urgent need for them, was in Selma Alabama, where the criminally underappreciated National Voting Rights Museum
stands as a compelling reminder of just what the movement meant and what it continues to mean. Underfunded, grassroots, radical and righteously funky, the museum became the central focus for what we wished to do. Every year since then, we've sent a group of students back there (as well as occasionally bringing activists from there up to Madison). This is the first time I've been able to return.
Apart from the work we did at the museum, which was badly needed, we got a chance to meet with an amazingly high-powered line-up of movement veterans. In Birmingham, we heard Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth (perhaps the single most important figure in the B-ham movement) preach and met Colonel Stone Johnson, a black labor organizer who became one of Shuttlesworth's guards, and James Armstrong, whose children desegregated the Birmingham public schools. Montgomery saw our chance to speak with the last living organizers of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Mrs. Johnnie Carr (whose children desegregated Montgomery's schools) and Fred Gray (the lawyer for Rosa Parks and the boycott). Finally, in Louisville, Anne Braden fed us and talked with us in her office. Mrs. Braden is one of the most amazing stories in American political history, a white woman whose connections run from early labor and pre-civil rights movement activism, through the Black Panthers and gay rights, and everything in between. She is as sharp as ever, and challenged us all to make good on the promise of what we'd been able to take part in.
But, as with the first trip, the most important and instructive elements of the journey were not the organized events, nor even the wisdom of our speakers. Rather, it was in the museum grunt-work, the joyful noise of our more-than-occasional singing on the bus, evenings eating great barbecue et cetera. The community was, for the most part, well-begun by the time we pulled back into Madison. I look forward to maintaining personal and professional relationships with MOST of the people on the trip.
I say "MOST" because there were exceptions...Of that, more later.
On the box: David Byrne, GROWN BACKWARDS
Dove With Claws [12:36 PM]