Last weekend I was inspired, like so many of us, to see so many thousands of women marching in protest. Though I was sad I couldn't be at any of the marches, I was grateful to be with an amazing group of women educators from last summer's Western Mass. Writing Project's Summer Institute. Every time we get together, the discussions and the camaraderie re-invigorate me. This time was no different.
We started by writing to the prompt: "In what ways do you feel hopeful or positive about the future - of your students, your kids, the country?" On this important day, I wanted us to think about how we could contribute from our spot around a conference table at UMass. What these women wrote touched me so much, I asked them if I could include their pieces in this week's blog, and they agreed. Here is what they wrote.
From Jenny Speck-Sherson:
I am hopeful because good people are coming together with fire in their belly to make positive change. I am hopeful because good people are coming together with fire in their belly to make positive change. The election of “He Who Shall Not Be Named” has been a call to action in activism for those who see freedoms cherished by all human beings are protected. It reminds me of a post-disaster sense of unity and universal kindness. When we face great hardships, we are often at our best. That feeling emanates, radiates and warms my soul, despite the insanity.
As a teacher, I hear more kind words to students and more inspirational posters going up. I notice more kindness between students and take a moment to celebrate those kindnesses with them. We all need to pave the way for the future. We need to get more diversity novels and writers in our classrooms and have lively conversations about different perspectives as well as common human needs. This shift has started in my classroom and I’m so excited about my new mission.
From Stephanie Singleton:
While it’s very difficult to find specific positives now while so many people seem angry, we have to focus on the positives to keep ourselves sane. One positive that I can find with my students is to know and hear that they care. Yesterday in class, we watched the inauguration, and there was a lot of chatter going on. I think that if it were dead silent in the room, it would mean that the students didn’t care about the country and/or not have a clue about what is going on. Talk can be good. Also, students kept asking me a lot of “why” questions. Not only can this tell me that they care, but it also can bring us closer as a class to share our thoughts and feelings together. One of the initiatives in our school this year is to complete restorative circles in the classroom. Lightbulb! This prompt just gave me the idea that I should try a circle with this exact question. During the restorative circles, there is only one person allowed to speak at a time. It’s supposed to provide a safe space, so this may be good to allow students the opportunity to speak his/her mind unharmed.
As a country, it’s harder for me to find positives when there is so much fear. Again, maybe one positive is that people care now, so they are doing something about it. The first positive that I can think of is that in four more years, we will be happy again. I want to feel hopeful and positive. It’s important to feel that way. When we are faced with something negative, whether it be a comment, something we see, a question we are asked, maybe we can all try and turn it into a positive. I do keep hearing that we need to want “President” Trump to succeed, because if he succeeds, we as a country succeed. If he fails, we all fail. Let us all try to keep that in mind.
From Maria McSorley:
I have been avoiding listening to NPR - I know, it is a cop-out. I get it. But I just haven't been able to bring myself to do it. I listened before the election, I listened on election day and the following day, and since have been withering away from it. But two days ago I finally turned it back on - no more escapism. THis is reality and I, as well as so many citizens in our country, need to process it. To ignore it, to pretend it isn’t happening would merely be worse, it would be giving up. And I am not about to do that. When I was listening, three young activists from the Boston area came on, they were in their early 20’s, bold and exhilarated, despite being disheartened by the results as well. But one of them said this - “we have had the last eight years under Obama to gather our strength, we have had eight years to organize and to learn how to rally for what we believe in better than any other time in our lives.” So now we have to take those eight years of solitude and use them to fight for what we know is right.
I look on my students, many of whom came to me the morning after the election in tears, not having slept (as I had not) all night. They looked grey. They looked defeated. I don’t know how well I kept it together for them, but I know this. They care deeply about their country, about the people who share it with them. They love freedom and equality and human dignity. They give me hope. They are listening. They are awake and alive to the world around them now.
I will gather my strength from them and will try to give them that same strength back because now is not the time to despair. Yet, even as I write those words, I know that I only half mean them. I want to be able to say them with every cell in my body imbibed in them, but as of today I cannot yet. However, I will soon. We have an opportunity to show who we truly are as a country, who we are as people. I have actually never experienced a desire to be involved in this way ever before, but now. Now I have to.
“Do not pray for an easy life, pray for the strength to endure a difficult one.” - Bruce Lee
And my part (Alicia):
I feel hopeful because I think a whole new generation of people is paying attention now, and rising up. I feel hopeful that people are speaking up and uniting. I feel hopeful that there are enough people doing this that we will be heard. I feel hopeful for my children because they are being forced to be more conscious of the political mood right now. Being brought up myself going to protests and marches, I didn’t have the energy or will to do that with my kids. I think they lost something in that process but I am hopeful that now they are becoming more socially conscious and will be active in some way. I feel hopeful for immigrants because more people are becoming aware of the issues around immigration and this can create more understanding. I feel hopeful for my students because my school is becoming once again a place of joy, beauty, social consciousness/justice, and learning that is connected to the world. I feel hopeful and thankful that thousands of women (and men) are marching today to protect women’s rights across the nation and across the world. I feel strongly that we can’t get bogged down in all the negativity. It won’t make us feel better and it won’t change anything unless we turn it into something productive.
From Zevey Steinitz:
I feel hopeful about the future because even though we have a horrible new president, people are rising up and speaking out like never before. This new administration will polarize people, it will be a million times worse than people anticipate, yet I take the long view. I believe in the long arc of history bending towards justice. Here are two anecdotes which illustrate this. I observed this yesterday:
I was working in an elementary school in Northampton. In the afternoon, fourth graders came downstairs to work with their kindergarten “reading buddies.” Most kids selected books and just started reading a range of literature, they were huddled close together, pointing to pictures, talking about the stories. One pair was not on task. They were wandering around the rug together- the older boy looking a little anxious and wearing a parka, the younger one following him around like a puppy. I was thinking about whether to redirect them and point them to the bookshelf so they could get settled, but decided it wasn’t my place. Their verbal check-in was probably just as important as reading.
The older boy, “do you know why I am wearing all black today?”
Amos, the younger one, looking up at him, “no.”
“It’s because of the inauguration, we have a new president-- Trump.”
“Oh…” (Amos looking puzzled)
“Yeah, no more Obama....I’m wearing black because I don’t like him.”
Amos, “Well, my grandparents voted for Trump.”
Older boy, without missing a beat, “Well you can’t change the past, but you can try to make the future better!”
My daughter is deciding where to march. She had offers from lots of friends and her grandmother wanted to march with her. The bus to D.C. was too expensive. Maybe she would go to Boston. Her cousin wanted to go with her, but was feeling sick. Finally, after about two days of indecision I picked her up from the bus home from school and we had a great conversation in the car about politics, feminism; nuanced trains of thought. She decided to march with her friend Amelia and she would spend the night at Amelia’s house. She started reading the newspaper and several websites to get the logistics of the march. She started to pack up what she needed. Of course, high at the top of her list was an outfit. She looked through my drawer of political t-shirts from the 80’s. Rejecting the old UMass women’s studies shirt with the women’s symbol and fist, instead my 16 year old picked, “I vote with my vagina.”
These kids will change the world.
Breathe in fear, breathe out hope.
Breathe in bigotry, breathe out inclusion.
Breathe in ignorance, breathe out inspiration.