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Leadership and Activism, Learning at its Best, Philosophical Meanderings

Sustained by Love from Comrades (SLC)

Now is one of the few times I’m glad I have no time to write. I started writing a post in April and had to do it in pieces. I was almost all set to post something when I just had to change it. My next post was going to be titled “Time for Some Negativity.” After some disclaimers about my I-love-the-kids-trust-me-I-get-it bona fides, I was going to discuss the lack of realistic and potentially productive venting we don’t often see among the education Twitterati. This polyannasphere, I posited, was replete with inspirational, reductively optimistic tweets and blog posts that ignore some of the reality that we all go through, some of the pain we feel precisely because we do care a lot about students, our craft, and the future of our profession. I thought that lost in the sea of inspirational quotes, “look at what my 1st grader wrote,” and “here’s a cool website about an idea/teaching tool/app” (all of which is fine, but can’t be all there is to say) is a space for more critical reflections that include an occasional sense of despair, doubt, and (temporary) defeat. Then, in the seasonal contexts of the school year wearing on me by spring (and having too many irons int he fire) and annual “Should I still teach high school? Should I still teach?” mini-crisis, I was going to examine how the kids’ reading and writing skills have deteriorated, how they are apathetic and alienated, how they can’t/don’t think, how colleagues can disappoint you, how admins can frustrate you, and how your union is failing you. But after this past weekend, I couldn’t. And I’m happy, for once, it takes me forever to finish a post. Before I could put the last few lines together and publish the post, I had an experience that almost totally rejuvenated my mind and spirit, making the negativity of the originally intended post simply no longer a reflection of where my mindspace is at — and it happened in….Salt Lake City, Utah. Yes. That’s not a typo.

In late summer or early fall (I really can’t remember), I had the honor and privilege of being asked to be part of the national planning team for the 2013 edition of the “Free Minds, Free People” conference, a semiannual event organized by the Education for Liberation Network and other allies. I jumped at the chance, for a lot of reasons. When Salt Lake City became the host city, I must admit I had my doubts. While their application and some of the early conference calls indicated more diversity and activism was there than I first thought, I was still ambivalent. As the planning process moved forward, and because I was too busy to think too deeply about the conference unless it was time for a conference call of some kind, my doubts subsided further, but I was very much looking forward to seeing the city for myself during the planning retreat, which finally took place this past weekend.

Many of my preconceived notions about SLC were wrong. Here is what I found out:

1. The city is not as white as I thought. I mean, I knew it was a city and that the rest of Utah would be whiter, but I was still surprised by the level of diversity. While there is a huge Chican@/Latin@ community, a trip to the SLC Living Traditions festival (and discussions with the local planning team) revealed evidence of pockets of Tongans, Filipinos, Sudanese, Turks, Greeks, and other ethnic groups.

2. There is more complexity to the LDS/Mormon community than I thought. There are way more Mormons of color than I ever imagined. Also, some Mormons are (relatively) “hip” about politics and activism. I never thought any LDS folks would be in our planning group or social circles, but there were. I felt humbled and aware of my prejudices. Additionally, there is a growing group of ex-Mormon dissidents who have left the church, many of whom are now totally atheist.

Mestizo Coffeehouse — the hub

3. Activism in the SLC area is growing, and there are some wonderful groups there. Many great strides have been made already, young people are getting involved int his activism with enthusiasm, and ties between these activists and their community schools are mostly strong from what I gathered. The Mestizo Arts and Activism Collective, the Brown Berets, the FACE movement, and Venceremos represent some of the organizing and activity taking place, especially within west SLC’s Latin@ community. Th

e local activists are ready to expand their efforts. These committed comrades are also dealing with the loss of a dear friend and mentor in March. I have full confidence they and FMFP will serve his memory well. Issues such as immigration/treatment of persons without documentation, structural racism, police harassment, LGBT rights, and emancipatory education are present in SLC, and FMFP seems to be coming at a very good point in time.

the revolution will not be on chart paper, but it helps

The work of the planning retreat was done mainly on Saturday. It was so great to be rolling up my sleeves with wonderful educators and activists committed to social justice and education’s power as a tool for liberation. Local SLC activists — new ones and veterans — deepened our knowledge of the city’s past and present. Reflective dialogue took place around the goals and desired outcomes for FMFP 2013. Important conversations took place around LDS/Mormon positionality, the local teams assets and needs, and how FMFP could serve the local groups best. We revisited the goals and outcomes and began to articulate how conference content can meet these goals/outcomes while incorporating youth leaders and the needs of SLC’s local team. After reviewing the responsibilities of each conference committee, we each chose the one that best fit our needs and talents, and began to form a vision for that committee’s work before, during, and after FMFP.

Social justice nerd that I am, Saturday’s work would have been stimulating and fun enough to make the trip worth it. But workaholic that I am, I was grateful for the off-hours socializing and camaraderie. The word “bonding” is thrown around perhaps too much, but I truly feel more bonded to, feel connected to FMFP, the national team, the local team, specific individuals, and what I saw of SLC. We had conversations about good, relevant, important topics and shared humorous moments as well. When you spend so much time around fellow travelers in a condensed period like a weekend, you get to know folks on a level that would have taken much longer had we met in some other ways.

A veteran activist, Ruben (Universidad Sin Fronteras), hearing me talk about how small I can make my world during the academic year — no social life, perfectionism, cutting out the things that de-stress me like yoga and exercise because I have too much to do that does stress me — remarked, “The movement keeps you healthy.” Joe, a NYC education activist (Brohterhood/SisterSol, Total Equity Now) said on Saturday that it’s like the group and our work get us on a high. Now that doesn’t mean I don’t need to get off my ass and do more physical activity and get outdoors more, but their point is a good one. Being around educators and activists so committed to social justice and who are such good people is stimulating and exciting, and it helps refresh your mind and spirit. During a tough stretch of a tough school year, this trip could not have come at a better time.

Other than reuniting with my dogs, I was actually upset to be home and wished I could have stayed longer. The retreat was a wonderful experience. Seeing “the real SLC” was a revelation. The people I met are great. I felt uplifted, sustained, at least partially rejuvenated, and I want to ride this feeling out for the remainder of the school year.

So let me give you some advice as we enter the last stretch of the school year when our fuses can be shorter, the students can be mentally checked out, the cumulative stress and effort can wear us down, and the urge to be negative and cynical can become greater:

Balance. Be kind to yourself. Keep perspective and priorities. Get out of the house/apartment more — to socialize or to get into the outdoors. Surround yourself with great people doing great social justice work. The revolution needs you well — and it needs love, or it’s no revolution.

Oh — and you better be there for “Free Minds, Free People” 2013.

About iteach4change

teacher, thinker - try to be radical at both tasks...


One thought on “Sustained by Love from Comrades (SLC)

  1. so i fixed the typos over on my blog…. and i added a link there so you can hear more about the friend and mentor who passed away…

    Posted by iteach4change | May 27, 2012, 10:10 am

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