Sunday, April 22, 2012

Rally Gal

Teaching can be rewarding. It can be painful and tedious. It can be frustrating. For the most part, though, it's rewarding. Plus, I'm pretty good at it. I really would love to go to work, teach, grade, and go home (where I would then grade some more). However, that's not reality. The reality is that there's a whole other side to working at a community college--the bureaucratic side. I just want to do my job, but to do my job successfully, I sometimes have to get involved in things I never really thought about before--public forums, union strategies, pledges, campaigns, and petitions. It's all very daunting and it takes away part of the fun of teaching. Teaching is fun? Yes, yes it is (even when I'm grading the 50th essay of the day that is also the 50th essay that uses there instead of their even though we specifically went over the difference and how to figure out which one to use every single class for the past week--yes, even then).

Because I strongly believe that I can't let others fight a battle for me, I found myself at a rally on campus. It was a rally for students, formed by faculty who want to stop some of the poor decision-making that is not conducive to education and who want to make some more positive changes so that we can teach successfully (you know, like not killing sections of classes during scheduling so that students won't get closed out of classes they need to graduate and so that the max number of students in a class doesn't exceed the number of seats in a classroom--you know, mysterious and outrageous ideas known as "logic").

The organizers of the rally are strong union members. The attendees of the rally whom I recognized were mostly from my department; my department is a huge entity of about 100 full time and 100 adjunct instructors, so we have a huge voice. Many members of my department are also hard-core protestors, some from the generation where activism was a lifestyle more than any other available path of life, real Che Guevara types who I could see starting the day with a solid chant about freedom to wake up and then an hour of petition signing and letters to the government before going to bed. They are the real deal.

So when I found myself standing on the quad (which I did not even know was a quad until I wandered along with a few other people who also did not know we had a quad and bumped into the organizers who proclaimed, yes this is the quad, and I thought, wow I thought it was a football field), I realized I was so out of my league in the protest department. It was chilly. We moved into the sun. It was still chilly. Yet faculty still arrived and stayed, which is kind of a statement in and of itself. Standing in the cold shows resolve in some sort of way, defiance against forces over which we have no control.

That, really, was the only empowerment I felt. The organizers handed out signs. The signs were about my size, so I declined, thinking that if the wind picked up any more, I'd be sailing away with said sign. My vision of me floating on a wind gust was interupted by a call of, Why don't we start with some chants to warm up?

Uh-oh. I didn't realized there'd be chanting. It was then that I had another realization: I really had no clue as to what to expect. So chanting. There you go. Of course, there would be chanting. I looked around at our circle of maybe 100 strong (I read later on that it was about 100, but to me, it could have been 40 or 300; I can never estimate numbers like crowd attendees, age, height, or weight). This group seemed to small for a chant. I am highly uncomfortable with chanting in small crowds. Since this was my first rally, I wasn't going to suggest we forego the chanting. I went with it.

At that time, two black Chevy camaros were pulling up along the street beside us. They were unmarked public safety cars. Seriously? Seriously. There was also one of their electric carts, clearly marked, on the sidewalk next to them, I suppose to impede any kind of protesting beyond our planned path. Huh, this was really happening.

Then the chanting began. 2! 4! 6! 8! We need support to educate!

Okay, I can follow that. It rhymes. I'm a poet (though I do not like rhyming poetry very much).

3! 5! 24! 876! Whoa! Odd number chanting? This? Was something I could not do. I simply could not count by twos in odd numbers. It wasn't happening. Some other people were doing it, but also, I think, I hope, I wasn't the only one struggling. Why didn't we start with 1? Why start with 3? I think it had something to do with the rhyming, but why couldn't we just stick with the 2-4-6-8 and leave it at that? The entire two years of cheering I did as a kid was finally going to come in handy!

But then they changed the chant. Whose college is this? The community's college! The question-response chant can be tricky if you don't know what the response is. This new chant brought me back to my participation in Take Back The Night one semester in college when a bunch of us walked the path along campus and into town, stopping in places where women had been raped and assaulted. The leaders would call out questions and we would all answer a firm NO! no matter what they asked, which worked until the one question that did not make any sense and some people shouted a No! when the answer was supposed to be a Yes! while others didn't shout anything and it all kind of lost its purpose, so we called someone back at the dorms to come pick us up so we could get hot chocolate.

The chant of Whose college is this? worked until more people showed up. They apparently thought the right answer was Our college! instead of The community's college! So when the question arose, everyone answered differently. I didn't answer at all. I was still uncomfortable with the chanting in small groups situation.

My colleague standing next to me, a Protestor, said that she'd told them to start with the chants everyone knows. I gave her a blank face. She was like, You know--Tell me what democracy looks like! Blank face. This is what democracy looks like! I was like, Yeah, I don't know that chant, B. Then she said another one that went something like Together! United! We will not something something! Blank faced, I said, Yeah, I don't know that one either. They were, however, easier to remember than these custom-made chants.

When the speech-makers came, they got us started in listening and responding to cries of change with either cheers or boos. Then the PR leader told us to read the orange side of the signs everyone was holding. Ah, reading. This I could do. We read what was on the sign very loudly. Then we read what was on the blue sign of the sign. Scripts I can follow. I've never been one for wanting to memorize; that's why I never went into acting (yes, THAT'S the reason).

Once the speeches were over, we were told to follow our picketing leader. I don't know if anyone knew who that was, but we all managed to get into a line and walk towards the semi-circle where the administration offices were. That's when the unmarked cars that were clearly public safety sprung into action, one car zooming around so that each end of the semi-circle had a car stationed at it. I don't know what this was accomplishing. One of the leaders had a bullhorn and was shouting chants into it. The other leader did not have a bullhorn and was leading a different chant.

Then we walked. In a big circle, we walked, sometimes chanting different things, and sometimes chanting similar things, and sometimes not chanting anything but chatting and laughing and conversing while carrying signs or not carrying signs lest the wind take us away from the circle. One student walked through our circle and said, I don't want to get involved and you all should get raises. Heh heh. You know, that's what a lot of students usually tell me when they get into salaries. I never ever ever bring up how much I get paid, but every once in a while, students will bring it up either in class or during office hours or even in the hallway, and they'll say that teachers should get paid more. I don't know what they think I get paid or if they even think about it, but they say it anyway unprovoked and that's kind of a nice thing to think about when I'm on essay 49, on the verge of the frustration-shakes from making the same correction at least 30 times: put them on a pedestal, not petal stool.

One woman came out on the steps of her building, crossed her arms, and shook her head at us. That made me feel silly and then angry. If people protest, they obviously have a good reason. Why else walk around in a circle, holding signs that could get caught on the wind, freezing, chanting? They want to get a message across for a very important reason. Instead of standing in judgement, maybe listen to what they have to say and then try to find a solution. Take that, judgy lady.

On maybe the 20th lap and after suggesting to no one in particular that perhaps a silent rally would speak volumes since I was still feeling awkward about the size of the group combined with the chanting, my officemate and I ducked out of the circle and headed back to the office. We felt that we'd done our part. Some people were arriving late, so it's not like the protest was dwindling. I felt that we had been heard enough and since only a handful of students had passed by, we weren't generating any further buzz.

Too soon! I miss everything! Towards the end of the rally, the picketing leaders lead everyone up the path the electric public safety cart had blocked. I guess it moved or they went around it. They marched to the plaza where more of a crowd would see them, where students became inquistive and active. I found this out in an email the next day. I wondered why we hadn't simply just marched on the plaza to begin with: 1. we all know where the plaza is, which leads me to 2. we all know we actually HAVE a plaza as opposed to having a quad which I don't think many people knew. Since it is a football field.

So what's the take-away? Well, a bunch of muddled stuff. I felt like I did something. Even if I wasn't keen on chanting and felt a little silly, I was still a body and a body means a crowd and a crowd means a presence and a presence means a voice, and a voice is important. Power to the people! Hey, that's a chant, right? Maybe I learned a little more than I thought.