Wednesday, February 2, 2011


In case you haven't noticed - this blog has pretty much been abandoned. If you like my writing, I have two blogs I currently keep up with: Kate Austin-Avon and Advokate. Love to see you there!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2008

I got out of work and jetted home. It occurred to me that I wore this particular flowered hat, and my AmeriCorps hoodie, and my green army jacket when we did the peace march on Martin Luther King Day back when I organized the event with Spectrum. There was a picture in the Rutland Herald of me in this silly outfit, along with Sean, Mimi, Dad, and Erika's giving the camera the eye. I dug through a box and found the article and remembered that I still had the posters I had made for the march. So I hopped in my car and ran to the studio to grab them. Cory had run to pick up the programs for the event and then he picked me up at the studio and we went, folding programs in the car.

We got into the church and set up what food we had, rushing around, and I left to go to City Hall. Betty Little, Teresa Sayward, and Mayor Akins all said a few polite words. There were TV cameras. Then we went outside and I talked to Alyson Martin, who was reporting for The Post Star. And marched with a police escort to the church, holding the signs. We were on the front page of the paper! While we were marching, a murmur started, and then an outright song - "We Shall Overcome". I didn't know the words, but it got me teary. We weren't just walking down Bay Street - this meant a lot to the people who showed up. I felt like an imposter, knowing I'd never come close to what those marching with me had gone through, that I only knew about prejudice and oppression from books and movies, and here were real people who lived through it every day. I fought back more tears than fell.

We got there and put the signs up near the altar. People sat down and listened to the "I have a dream" speech. Looking around me, I was surprised. In Glens Falls, where I've encountered maybe one or two Black people socially, I was sitting in a room that was about 50/50. The importance of the celebration really got me. It was meaningful. It drew these people out of their homes and into a church Glens Falls. Something I helped organize was actually drawing people together, people who wouldn't show up here normally.

Bruce Reese did the opening prayer and then we sang the African American National Anthem. (He slipped up and first called it the Negro National Anthem - which got to me too, because it tied it back to history, made me think about how long people have been singing this, before political correctness, before I ever came along.) I didn't know the words, but was glad to be singing it along with everyone, albeit badly.

Then a choir got up and sang some songs - really really catchy stuff, and the whole church was clapping along. It had so much soul, not like the flat church choirs you usually hear. It was fun, and made me wonder why all church songs aren't like that. Then a preacher, Rev. Leonard Oates, took the stage. He delivered a very powerful message - I was actually a little uncomfortable with the amount of emotion he was showing - it was a lot like the "I have a dream" speech, and people started saying "Amen" and "YES!" and getting riled up, and it was like I was in a Southern Baptist Church or something. I don't know what I was scared of, there was just so much emotion in the room and it made me nervous somehow. Like I shouldn't be there, or something. This had ceased to be something the people I knew had organized, it had taken on its own power. No TV cameras here. One thing I really liked was that he said sure, Martin Luther King was an extremist. He was EXTREMELY for peace, he was EXTREMELY for justice, he was EXTREMELY for freedom, and so on. That label of "extremist" isn't a bad thing. That made me feel a little more reassured about when people call me an extremist.

A woman Cory knew got up and sang a song I knew from Mission Farm Church, "There is a balm in Gilead". Then Neal Herr, who had played at Seven Straight Nights, got up and sang Blackbird, which Lennon had written about Dr. King after his death. It was so gentle and sad after all that fired-up talk. Matt Funiciello got up after that and kind of did a commentary on the whole thing, about the state of our country, about how MLK was a reverend and God spoke through him, and maybe we heard some of that through Reverend Oates. That gave me chills. Then he introduced Dr. Alice Green, a tiny and very very educated Black woman who had been arrested at protests and was an activist in Albany. She spoke so eloquently and engagingly. She covered how far we've come since 1962, but also how far we have to go still. The war in Iraq is something MLK wouldn't stand for. The incarceration rates, the money spend on building prisons and starting wars that could be used for education and fixing the domestic problems we have now, it's all things that need to change. And that things don't just change, you have to MAKE them change.

Cory got up after and played Bob Dylan's song "When the ship comes in" - which Dylan played after the "I have a dream speech" on the steps of Washington. I took lots of pictures. I was so proud of him, proud to be his girlfriend. He did a really good job. Then whomever was invited to get up on stage and sing with the choir. Cory and I got up and sang "Let peace begin with me" and "America the Beautiful" at the top of our lungs. Afterward, the preacher blessed the refreshments and a woman grabbed my hand as I was walking by so we could hold hands and pray. Then the food! It ended up being enough. The people I knew - Mark DeVit, Tanya and her kids, Cory and I, we stayed and cleaned everything up along with a few others I didn't really know. We locked up and drove Mark home and that was that.

Falling asleep that night in Cory's arms, I thought about how proud I was of him, how glad I was to be a part of something, to help my community, to help make this event happen that drew all these people out of their homes to sing America the Beautiful, to get up with Cory and sing on stage about peace. That feeling of pride, of belonging, and to share it with the man I love, that's a wonderful wonderful thing.

Photo credit Erin R. Coker -

Photo credit: Erin Reid Coker

Alyson Martin of the Post Star's front-page article on the event.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Why I like Martin Luther King Day

Martin Luther King day is more than a day off of school or work. It's more than just some boring fairy tale from history class. The man existed. He was a revolutionary. He spoke out against injustice, discrimination against the impoverished, against inequality, against the Vietnam War... When he spoke, people listened. Things started to change. And he was murdered for it.

Celebrating his birthday is a way to say, "Hey, this guy had a good message and we still believe in it. You can kill him, but you can't kill what he stood for, and we aren't forgetting, we aren't going back to our TV sets and ipods to veg out and plug in, we aren't going to swallow the lies you feed us, we're still fighting for justice and equality and freedom... and you can't kill ALL of us!"

So come out to this event if you're in Glens Falls, or find one in your town if you're not. Community is what this is all about.

Stand up and make a difference.
Let's join together to fight the good fight.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Hell and spankings.

I came to this class (Social Change) I took last semester with a strong desire to change the world. I assumed that I would learn about topics on which I already held a working awareness and that social change meant change for the future, not analysis of the past. I did not, however, have definitions in hand of what change meant, any idea of how to affect change, an idea of what world I was trying to change, and knowledge of what exactly needed changing in the first place. The literature and discussion throughout the course has demanded that I create definitions, that I defend my positions, that I make use of history, and that I develop a broader understanding of the system that is in place before I go trying to shake it up. One cannot affect social change single-handedly, without reference to how things came to be the way they are or without knowledge of alternative ways to live. It is not the world that needs changing, only a certain culture. It is rash to charge headlong into tipping something upside down without first researching why it is that way in the first place.

Alan Ehrenhalt's The Lost City (1995) provided me with a background on how we came to be this way, at least the last fifty years of how we came to be this way. I had a vague notion of the way that community has changed from then until to now, but hadn't mulled it over in such detail. The knowledge I gleaned from this book was reinforced in the class discussion and even more so in dialogue with people in my life. I spoke with my grandparents, my bosses, and my friends from other generations than mine. I learned that what Ehrenhalt spoke about was not simply textbook material, but a real and tangible memory of American life. My grandfather's family used to be so poor that they would have to steal coal from the trains to heat their house – of course, their parents would send the children to take the coal that fell from the trains, not to actually steal coal. When a patrolman caught his brother in the train throwing coal on the ground to claim, he whipped him and sent him home to his mother to be punished for stealing. This is just one of many examples of what Ehrenhalt describes – a community raising (and disciplining) the neighborhood's children communally.

My mother reminisces that her brother who had developmental disabilities would be able to go into any store in town and take what he liked, and that the store owners would let it go due to his illness. She said that some of them came to my grandfather to complain and my grandfather said, "Well, then don't let him take it!" Ehrenhalt describes this same phenomena – "It was a tacit assumption in the alleys and on all the streets of the neighborhood that one child's parent was every child's parent, equally responsible for the behavior of the children on the block, and equally authorized to mete out small doses of justice" (p. 95). These days, a child would never be permitted to wander around unattended by parents, never mind permitted to take what they wanted from the local store without being disciplined, and neighborhood figures would never dream of disciplining another parent's child!

I am still confused about why things changed so drastically from the community-minded neighborhoods of Chicago in the 1950's to the individualism of today. I put the largest blame on television and the ever-increasing influence of the media. We are much more likely to trust the commercials and talk radio and magazine ads than we are to trust our own neighbors. Psychology is being used against us to get our money and we have fallen for it, head over heels. In the past fifty years we have become frightened, run inside, locked our doors to our communities and cupped our ears to the TV set for answers to our fears. I certainly won't pretend that I'm a saint and don't glue my brain to the set every time I'm in the same room as one – however, I do my fair share of yelling at the television when they try to sell me a hamburger by showing me a busty woman. I don't think we'll ever throw our televisions out the window beating our chests and screaming for freedom, but I think that if we can relearn to think critically, then we will be able to resist what we're constantly being sold.

I had a discussion with my coworker about Lipton Green Tea. He mentioned how he liked the commercial for it, but that didn't mean that he was following it around drooling, brainwashed by the company. However, he was drinking it – he had paid his hard-earned money to the Lipton Company so that he could drink their chemical-ridden sugar water that holds absolutely no health benefit whatsoever. We need to think critically and to recognize when we are being advertised to. If we can do that, someday we may again unlock our doors and venture out to our stoops to converse with our neighbors.

If you compare today's youth with the youth of the 1950's, you will see that children today are afraid of nothing. There is no consequence for poor behavior. My boyfriend is a teacher and his experiences reinforce this theory – he has tried every single form of discipline he can dream up and the children simply have no fear. Of course, this sounds nice, that our children are fearless, but it makes for a society in virtual anarchy! Ehrenhalt pointed out in his chapters on St. Nick's Cathedral that people were easier to control when they were afraid of something – in this case, and in many, that fear is implemented through religion. It was also implemented through corporal punishment. These days, we do not spank our children, and we do not believe in Hell. Without Hell and spankings, nothing is keeping us from doing exactly as we choose! This is a dilemma I am still up in the air about. I think that children without fear is a beautiful concept, but in practice it is a disaster. People without fear are people run amok, and that is not the way an ideal society is to be run. How is an ideal society to be run, though?

In Benjamin Barber's book Jihad vs. McWorld: Terrorism's Challenge to Democracy (1995), I found a lot of opinion and not a lot of fact. The opinions were actually so leftist and angry that I, a self-proclaimed bleeding heart liberal wanting to "change the world", felt myself playing devil's advocate to his tirades. Barber's rants sounded much like my own against this "world" I was trying to change, but the book read like propaganda to me, failing to present any solid argument based on fact. I questioned his sources and began to come to the conclusion that anybody can find anything to back up their own opinion if they look hard enough. I agree with Barber on his comparisons of McWorld to Jihad, concluding that they are both destructive forces that are similar in their goals for world domination on a planet that requires biodiversity to thrive. If we were all of the same mindset, our lives would be meaningless. The world requires diversity.

Bellah, et. al touch on "lifestyle enclaves" in their book Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life (1985). "Lifestyle enclaves" is a term for categories of people, whether it is "Italian-American New Yorkers" or "Upstate Rednecks" or "Southern Businessmen" or even "Americans" or "First World Citizens". There is nothing wrong with lifestyle enclaves themselves. However, the problem lies in that people within those enclaves identify as members only of that category, not members of the entire human race. Daniel Quinn points out in his Ishmael series (1995, 1997, 1998) that we tend to think of history as that which is taught to us in school. But the history that is taught to us in schools is not the entire story. It is the history of one culture. We say that the agricultural revolution, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, were significant points in the history of mankind, but these events are significant in the history of only one culture out of thousands. We don't even know the history of other cultures because we do not deem them important. And why is this? Because they are not us. We can look beyond our lifestyle enclave of being upper middle class. We can look beyond our lifestyle enclave of being educated. But we never know how limited our views really are until we research the history of all of mankind, not just the history of our culture.

I did some relevant reading on my own as well in my quest to learn about social change and my role in it. Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation (2001) enlightened me with supplemental history. I felt empowered with the newfound knowledge of the history of America's changing food habits, habits which tie in to Ehrenhalt's metaphor of the remote control. We are always thinking that there is something better out there, and we flip and flip and flip hoping to find that better thing, rather than settle with what's in front of us to enjoy it completely. With food, we always want what's faster and what's easier, rather than focusing on the quality of the food. We would rather have huge, genetically mutated, chemically coated and potentially unsafe tomatoes than normal sized, normal colored, chemical-free tomatoes "the way God made them". When you break it down, society really does function around the most basic animal need – food – and the fast food revolution has drastically changed our society. Seeing how things snowball like this actually gave me hope. It is a meme that spread through people, and if a meme can spread the way fast food has, then perhaps a meme to get us back to center can spread the same way.

The rapidly expanding "green" revolution fuels this optimism of mine. Technology such as compact fluorescent light bulbs and solar panels are becoming the mainstream. There is a real push here for social change, a revolution of environmental awareness, and I am proud to be a part of it. The weight of the pressure I had put on myself as a potential catalyst and martyr for social change has lifted. I don't have to start this reform myself – it's already begun.

Yes, things are desperately wrong right now. Yes, the oceans' temperatures are rising. Yes, we are exporting our garbage to Third World countries. Yes, eighty percent of the world's forests are gone. It's devastating and mind-boggling to really take in how much destruction we have done. But it isn't over yet. We can make a difference. The loudest way to make a difference in a capitalist society is with your wallet. I feel empowered every time I buy organic or vegan products. I see the impact I have made as a consumer in this consumer-driven society every time I walk into the chain grocery store and browse through the ever-expanding "natural foods" section. I feel proud that I am contributing to this social change, this movement that is under way right this very moment, because I have figured out the way to use the system against itself.

Daniel Quinn, in his book Beyond Civilization (1999), explains that social change comes about through memes, self-replicating trends that spread like wildfire. Some memes are short-lived, fads that come and go within a generation. Some memes are long-lasting, and survive generation after generation with little to no infidelity to the original thought. In Malcolm Gladwell's book The Tipping Point: How little things can make a big difference (2000), he explores epidemics – and not physical epidemics like diseases, but societal epidemics like bellbottom pants or fast food. Humans are hardwired for synchrony – they mimic those around them without even knowing it. The next time you're talking to somebody intensely, try leaning in to the conversation. You will see that they will also lean in. If you cross your arms or tilt your head, they will follow your motions. It is in these subtle and built-in ways that memes reproduce, spreading like wildfire.

So it is by thinking critically to resist those undesirable memes – choosing NOT to cross one's arms at the suggestion of another, or NOT to buy a bigger car to keep up with the Joneses – and by gaining a broader knowledge of history that we can assess where we are and where we wish to go from here. My boss at work (with whom I've discussed social change extensively) holds that we will never stray too far from the middle, that society moves back and forth like a pendulum. I see that the pendulum is swinging back to center, and I am throwing all my weight into that natural re-centering. I have a newfound understanding for what social change is, and what my role in this revolution is. The re-centering is the natural way that the world corrects itself, but it is not with ease that the correcting occurs. It requires people who are willing to step back from their own singular lives to take a good hard look at the larger picture. It requires people like me enrolling in courses like this to be able to focus attention in either direction in time and realize, as Barber says, that History is not over. We are on the timeline; we are not the end point. We can look beyond civilization to something new, and we are always in control of our own destiny.

Friday, May 4, 2007

We only progress because of extremists

I sense people not wanting to talk to me sometimes because of my strong opinions. But what are you if you have no opinions? I can't stand talking to somebody who just agrees with everything that you like and dislike. How is anything going to change if people DON'T speak up to their friends and say "Actually, bears have canine teeth too, and they don't eat cows," or "Did you know that there was a perfectly-running electric car, and they were all taken back by the company and crushed," or "There used to be railways, before Standard Oil bought them all up and destroyed them in partnership with GM." How is anybody supposed to know anything unless they're told? The media isn't talking about this stuff, they're talking about Sanjaya and Britney and Tom Cruise.

Also, I'm willing to talk it out. If somebody can convince me of their opinion through debate, I'm willing to change that opinion. It's been known to happen- because of it, I can argue the conservative side as well as I can argue the liberal side, even though I agree with the liberals deep down. I admit to being stubborn, but I'm not irrational. The debate won't end with me kicking you in the shin and saying "WELL UH, YOUR MOM". It just seems that a lot of the time, people don't want to back their opinions up with anything or to hear the other side. I am glad to hear the other side. It might make me angry and I might argue against it, but that's the only way to find truth in anything--through challenge!

And like I said, I'm not the most informed person in the world, but I'm always willing to listen to new facts. I might challenge where those facts come from, but again, that's the only way to achieve any kind of truth. So while it makes me sad that some people censor what they say around me or are fed up with my opinions on everything, I'm not going to change. I'd prefer debating issues until it's all out in the open and we either reach some kind of common ground or we agree to disagree. Friends who challenge me make me glad. Because I most certainly DON'T know everything. And while I might get frustrated while we debate it out, I appreciate that I'm learning.

And friends, I hope these debates don't make you think I'm an asshole. If you don't agree with what I'm saying, please please challenge me. I'd rather be challenged than go around saying something that sounds moronic. And I'll challenge that back, likely, but the only way to truth is to whittle down huge sweeping opinions into hard and definite facts that nobody can deny.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

rally up the neighborhood

I wish rallies went like the one in An American Tail where somebody stood on a hat and slammed their fist in their hand and everyone cheered. This was still a good one though.

Photo credit Melissa Guay of the Post Star

We walked around - led by a big flag that said "PEACE". I held a sign that said "Bush Lost the War - Support Our Troops - Bring them Home" that somebody else had brought extra of. There were some younger people who brought a rattle made of nutshells and a djembe drum and those tubes that whistle when you spin them. We walked by a store owner who smiled at us and said his son had served a year in Iraq and I started tearing up. We ended up standing by the construction at an intersection (at the end of South Street). The drumming, rattling, and whistling made it feel like we were doing something, that we were cohesive, that this was almost a ritual- something more than just standing there. Cory showed up and sort of hid behind a construction barricade because he was kind of embarrassed that we were standing at an intersection. After a while he came out from behind it though, and drummed a little on a construction barrel. One guy had driven by and seen us protesting, and he ran home and made a sign ("BUSH PULL OUT THE WAY YOUR FATHER SHOULD'VE") on a piece of sheetrock and came and stood with us, paint from his signmaking smudged on his cheek. He said his friend was over there and they had tried to get him to go. He wanted to call his friend to get him to come down, so I let him borrow my cell phone, but his friend wouldn't come.

I was proud to be with these people, these informed people that were willing to give up their usual suppertime and after-dinner TV to make a statement. We stood there for almost an hour and so many people gave us a thumbs-up or a smile or a wave or a honk or the peace sign. I was thinking, someday I can tell my kids about this. Maybe me standing on a street corner with a bunch of people isn't going to make Bush go "oh, never mind about the veto," but it's something. I can say I tried. It's better than sitting at home watching TV. And it says something to the American people, seeing us there. You can sit at home and have your opinions, but nobody's going to know them unless you get out there and tell them. I was really proud and glad.

We made the newspaper. At the end they say that a soldier says "these guys are going to come over here and kill us if there's no war". And I know he was over there, but I wonder how much of it was drilled into his head in boot camp and how much he knows from experience. I mean, did an Iraqi come up to him and say "I'm going to come over there and kill you unless you kill me first," or was it just his supervisor saying "If you see anybody that looks threatening, kill them, and this is why we're here..."? I guess I won't know. We'll just have to wait and see...

birthday party, cheesecake, jelly bean, boom

Okay, so when is a good time to panic about this bee thing? Let me know.

Gas prices expected to rise through the summer... But they won't exceed $4 a gallon! Phew. I was worried for a second there. Did you know that through Katrina, the gasoline sales DID NOT CHANGE. We proved to the oil companies that they could charge us as much as they like and we'd still buy it in the same quantities. Good job, America!

I don't understand the place of religion in politics. Also, I don't understand fanatics. Why do they hate us? There must be a reason. I haven't been paying enough attention to things we're doing in Palestine. What are we doing over there to make them hate us?

And I don't want to talk about how we failed to override the veto. I'm verklempt.