Sharing this here belatedly, but I did an interview with Sonia Sanchez – poet, educator and activist – for Envision Peace Museum. Read the text and watch clips here:
I was running the new patient gauntlet yesterday, armed with my healthcare card, photo ID, perscription info, etc. It was all pretty standard until the nurse in front of the computer asked me “How do you learn best?” and then gave me a list of information modalities to choose from: reading, looking at illustrations, watching a video, etc.
There were five or six on the list but I didn’t catch them all because I was too busy falling off my chair.
I’ve never been asked that question by a healthcare provider before.
Later on, when I pulled out my notebook to take notes during the consultation, my new doctor said: “Oh don’t worry, I’m going to print everything for you.” While I’ve certainly left doctor’s offices with written records of examinations before, it was nothing like this. Dude paid attention to it being comprehensive, formatted it, and was careful about bullet points and fonts. (You know what’s funny? A super-fancy specialist, head of his division and regionally renowned, saying “Wait…let me make it pretty for you.”) It was a written record of everything we had talked about, so I had something to take home and read to reinforce what he had told me.
Part of me is made amazed and grateful by this interaction, but the rest of me is like “Shouldn’t they always ask that question? How’d I make it this far without being asked that question? Isn’t how a person takes in information foundational to how you interact with them about caring for their body?”
Gah. Of course this is what healthcare should be like! Of course attention to learning and education are foundational! Of course education is about so much more than schooling.
Now that I’ve caught a glimpse of this shiny promised land, I’m so not going back.
Note: I was asked to contribute a piece to AFSC’s blog Acting in Faith, so this piece also appears appears there with several other pieces about the Occupy movement.
When the Occupy Wall Street movement began in Zuccotti Park in September, I was surprised to find myself thinking about the Bonus Army and a lesson half remembered from a high school history class … something about veterans occupying the capitol, General MacArthur, and a fire.
The Occupy Together movement has spread to many other cities and finally is part of the mainstream national media. And I’ve done some research on the Bonus Army. I’m thrilled to see activists, specifically young American activists, reclaiming a strong history of nonviolent occupation.
In case you don’t know the story, here’s what I learned.
In 1924 the U.S. Congress issued bonus certificates to veterans of World War I based on the length of their service: $1.25 for each day served overseas and $1.00 for each day served in this country, to be paid in 1945. But by 1932 the country was deep in the throes of the Great Depression, and veterans began to lobby Congress to give them their money early. In May, thousands of unemployed veterans, many of them homeless and many of them accompanied by their families, began to descend on Washington, DC. Eventually numbering between 10,000-20,000, they occupied empty buildings and set up several tent cities, the largest of which was in Anacostia Flats, opposite the Capitol. They called themselves the Bonus Expeditionary Force, but newspapers, the public, and high school history textbooks have forever dubbed them the Bonus Army. They used the camps as staging areas for several nonviolent marches on the Capitol. (You can find footage on YouTube here.)
Accounts of the tent cities emphasize that they were well-organized and orderly. Veterans and their families laid out streets, dug latrines, and held military formations daily. Walter Walters, one of the primary leaders of the Bonus Army, announced that there would be “no panhandling, no drinking, no radicalism” (accusations of communist “infiltration” were rampant and overblown).
The social structure and the largely nonviolent nature of the Bonus Army camps was important to the movement. The ability of destitute veterans to build their camps with a humane, orderly, nonviolent, and community-minded ethos shamed the government for failing to provide the kind of safety net that veterans (and everyone) so badly needed.
A receptive House of Representatives passed a bill in June to give veterans their bonuses, but the bill died in the Senate later that summer. As a result, tensions increased and orders to “evacuate” the camps were issued in July.
First the DC police and later the army, including tanks and at the command of General MacArthur, marched on the Anacostia camp. In the ensuing melee, two veterans and two babies were killed, local hospitals overflowed with the injured, and the camp burnt to the ground. This “evacuation” – a military routing of United States veterans by the United States Army – marked the end of the Bonus Army movement.
Gene Sharp’s famous “List of 198 Methods of Nonviolent Action,” includes methods that describe the Bonus Army as well as the current Occupy Together movement. Among them are group lobbying, haunting officials, assemblies of protest or support,withdraw from social institutions, and protest emigration. But perhaps the most apt is simply nonviolent occupation.
Although there are differences between the Bonus Army and Occupy Together, there are some important similarities: citizens, many of them having cooperated and served in economic and governmental systems that have failed them, use nonviolent occupation and community building not only to shame and make demands of the government, but also to demonstrate how a transformed social and economic system might work.
Like their Bonus Army predecessors, Occupy communities have set up (or are striving to set up) systems of social welfare and mutual aid: trash and compost collections, medical aid tents, and community classes. In Philadelphia and elsewhere, the goal of daily consensus- based General Assemblies is democratic and inclusive community decision-making. “Building a new society in the shell of the old” is an apt description and one that Occupy activists are using openly. It’s a phrase claimed also by anarchism, the labor movement, the Catholic Worker movement, and Gandhian nonviolence.
This is perhaps the best answer to the not totally unfair critique that Occupy Together has no coherent single grievance or vision for change. While it may be in its infancy – and while this kind of structural critique many be new to some of those involved – Occupy Together activists seem to understand that the problem is systemic and manifests in many forms. Seeing the connections between economic policy, free trade, lack of jobs, reduced environmental regulation and environmental degradation, the burden of student loans, and lifetimes spent in debt is indicative of structural understanding and thus the push for change.
In terms of clarifying solutions, building a community based on humanity, dignity, mutual aid and respect, and living democracy is a strong good place to start that change.
Bonus Army resources
It’s official. I live in business casual land now. Gone are the days when my “work clothes” included rubber boots and a bright red “I’m not a deer don’t shoot me!” down jacket. That outfit made sense at a rural land-based school because I could start the day teaching and end it up to my knees in compost. (Also it rained. A lot.)
But now I work in an office at an Ivy League university.
I knew when I took this job that that would mean some wardrobe changes, so before I started I asked my supervisor if I was correct in assuming that the dress code in the office was business casual. She suggested I pay attention to what others around me were wearing. At the time I was hoping for a clearer answer, but I quickly realized she was right on: some my coworkers wear jeans and flip flops, and others wear suits. And it’s all about interaction: those who work primarily within the office seem to lean towards the casual, and those who interact across the university, or who are in leadership positions, often dress up.
Unfortunately (or, really, fortunately) for me, I’m in more of an interacting-across-the-university position. Which I thought would be fine… I’ve secretly always liked clothing and shopping, even if poverty has inspired a fair amount of frugality.
Wow was I in for a rude awakening! The global price of cotton has gone way up, and the result is that everything seems thinner and disposable, even in nicer stores. And apparently the style these days is for things to be see-through, be-jeweled, deconstructed, or covered in way too many ruffles.
The whole process has made me conscious of my Quaker sensibilities, and how they seem to fundamentally alienate me from the rest of society: I want my clothes to be simple, nice looking, low maintenance, versatile, durable, and reasonably priced. Mostly I want to be comfortable and feel appropriately dressed without having to think about it too much.
And… like most women, my clothes are also closely tied to presentation and body image and there’s a lot of contradiction. I’m petite and young looking – I regularly get mistaken for being younger than I am (it’s a short lady thing, trust me) – so I want work clothes that feel “grown up”…. but not too grown up. I don’t want to look like a kid in my mom’s suit. Or like a tool in my alternative neighborhood. I want my clothes to be simple… but also to have a subtle arty vibe… to communicate that there’s more to me than the sensible shoes and middle class salary….really.
And then there’s this other thing: I’m keenly aware that basically everything I could buy new, unless it’s from that trendy store with the vaguely exploitative ads, is made in sweatshops. And that sweatshop workers are 90% women and young girls. Some other young woman suffered in a bad work situation so I could by a cheap shirt from a mall store.
I caught an NPR show earlier this summer about women and the career wardrobe phenomenon (I think it was Tell Me More, can’t find it now). The conclusion was that while men can often get away with very similar outfits everyday, women often spend gobs of money to stay current. It’s not just career clothing. Ever notice that vastly more retail space is dedicated to women’s clothing, like, everywhere? American women buy a lot of clothing (and stuff) in general. We have a lot of economic power. Imagine what else we could do with that economic power besides go shopping at the mall?
So here’s my thinking: the fashion industry oppresses women. It oppresses them in the working conditions used to produce garments and in the mass market trends needed to keep things flying off the shelves. It oppresses them through body image and conventional, hetero-normative, and racist ideas of pretty.
I don’t want to participate – and I kind of hate myself for whining about this uniquely first world problem – but I don’t have a lot of good solutions at this point.
I still need to get dressed in the morning, and I’m not quite ready to go the Little Brown Dress (or for that matter, the Quaker plain) route. Thrifting is good, but it takes, you know, time. And thrift stores don’t necessarily have your size or what you are looking for.
I think the best solution might be to channel my grandmothers and great aunties and their depression-era smarts: make careful selections for fabulousness and quality, hassle retailers for good products, mend and alter instead of replacing…. and share with your sisters whenever possible.
Anyone want to borrow a suit?
Two of my former students came to visit earlier this summer and I took them to Bartram’s Garden. In true Woolmanite fashion, they sized up the vegetable garden and quizzed the tour guide about the history of the land. Delighted by their interest, he went into a back room and returned with a 19th century map of creeks in West Philadelphia and eastern Delaware County, most of them tributaries of the Schuylkill River and many of them now underground and built upon.
Looking at the map, I was left with an sense of this throbbing web of water just beneath the surface, waiting patiently to burst its constraints.
Since then we’ve had one of the wettest late summers on record: dramatic thunderstorms, hurricane Irene’s direct hit, tropical storms, and epic flooding. The usually sleepy Schuykill River watershed has lately been a raging and muddy beast bloated with toxic runoff.
Inspired partly by Woolman, partly by a visit to Boulder earlier this summer, partly by conversations about fracking up river, and partly by the storms, I have lately been interested in (re-)thinking about rivers as urban spaces and paying particular attention to the Schuylkill. So when I heard about a Fringe Festival show called Constants: A Performance Journey in History Along the the Schuylkill River, I was really intrigued (and cajoled my friends to go with me). Fringe shows are known for their avant garde staging, and this was no exception: we met at an appointed spot in West Fairmount Park at 10:30 pm, donned life vests and climbed into canoes paddled by performers in animal costumes. Vignettes along the river’s banks emphasized Leni Lenape history, the Schuylkill’s darker days as an open sewer, an early 20th century Typhoid epidemic, and escaped slaves swimming to freedom across the river.
The most striking thing to me was not the narrative or performances. Rather, it was being on an urban river so late at night. A flock of geese, quietly bobbing the night away, were only vaguely perturbed by our presence. The outlines of trees clustered beautifully at the banks, and the performers headlamps illuminated rocky shores before surrendered them to the darkness again. The water splashed on me was cold, and slow moving.
We were never more than a minute at most from “civilization,” but it was a different world. My friend noticed how quiet was, while I noticed how noisy it was. It was a jumble of sensations.
Rivers create a lot of wilderness and a lot of edge, as permaculturists would say, as they flow through cities. There’s a lot of fertility – both for growing and sustaining living things, but also for diversity of use. (Not surprisingly, long term visions of sustainable cities always include rethinking of urban rivers and river banks as more than fast moving water that carries pollutants away.)
I delight in the Wissahickon, and the banks of the Schuylkill at Bartram’ss and in Fairmount Park. But what about the less loved waterways? The little backyard creeks in Delaware County cluttered with trash, or the banks of rivers that have been allowed to go to post-industrial decay? They too offer edge effect, and hard questions about down river pollution.
And as the recent storms demonstrated, they are all one pulsing waterway just waiting to run it’s banks.
This blog post is dedicated to Elizabeth, for being willing to be in a canoe on the Schuylkill River at 10:30 at night, Shadfish sculptures and all.
I’ve decided not to add my voice to the cacophony attempting to make sense and be meaningful about the 10th anniversary of September 11th.
Much of what I would have said was said better in this NYTimes Opinionator piece:“The only American they’ve ever known.”
Additionally, this John Ashberry poem, from his 1998 book The Wave, was given out by my freshman year English teacher a few days after the attack. It spoke to my condition me then, and much of it still speaks to me now:
Rain Moving In
The black board is erased in the attic
And the wind turns up the light of the stars
Sinewy now. Someone will find out, someone will know.
And if somewhere on this great planet
The truth is discovered, a patch of it, dried, glazed by the sun
It will just hang on, in it’s own infamy, humility. No one
Will be better for it, but things can’t get any worse.
Just keep playing, and mastering as you do the step
In to disorder this one meant. Don’t you see
It’s all we can do? Meanwhile, great fires
Arise, as of haystacks aflame. The dial has been set
And that’s ominous, but all your graciousness in living
Conspires with it, now that this is our home:
A place to be from, and have people ask about.
For her final project in Environmental Science, Annelise is asking everyone to write a “letter to the land” about their learnings from, and connection to, Woolman’s 230 acres of forest, scrub, meadow, garden, and buildings. This is mine – slightly edited for a wider audience.
When I first came here, the dryness of the land in August was totally different than the lush humidity of my home back east. I was accustomed to four dramatic seasons. Here there are really… two. I had read about madrone and manzanita long before coming here and was glad to finally meet them in person. (For the record, madrone looks a lot like the rhododendrons of my childhood in the Delaware Valley.)
I was called out here by a leading (as Quakers say), by a vague vision of a garden in a forest (I would later learn the word permaculture and its resonance with this vision and my life), by archetypal evergreen trees that still crop up in my art, and by the ghost of Utah Phillips (whose spoken word I loved when I was a teenager, and who, I learned after I arrived here, loved Woolman.)
This place has helped me to understand and become clear on many things. Through learning about the history of mining in the Sierra and seeing its effects – the canals, tailings and erosion in our woods – I have (re)-learned that even most seemingly wild places have been touched and changed by humans. This is an important lesson for a woman from the built-up suburban East. Learning about mercury poisoning in the Yuba and its tributaries, minerals in our out-of-commission wells, and the invisible ozone that comes to settle here in the summer all helped me to understand that our ecological work can no longer be focused on purity. We’ve lost that battle. A lot of damage has been done – to the natural world, and by extension to our bodies (connecting environmental issues with health care is another lesson learned here). Instead, we need to focus on regeneration, restoration, and resilience in an altered landscape. I am grateful to Woolman, the land and its people, for helping me to understand this, and for inspiring/reminding me to stay grounded in love, ingenuity, and creativity.
The culture around sense of place that is so strong at Woolman, and that inspired this most excellent project of Annelise’s, has also been an important lesson for me. Talking about relationships with the land – awareness of watersheds and foodsheds, wildlife, human and geological history, etc – helped me to understand that I am actually rooted elsewhere. And that rooted-ness is rare in this day and age, something to be valued, protected, and cultivated. So I am hungry to return to the Philadelphia area with tools and awareness sharpened at Woolman, to thoroughly embrace and love that place that I am from, to be its conscious denizen.
So thank you, Woolman, for calling me out here, for offering up your lessons (which have been many more than are listed here). And thank you, Woolman, for sending me home. I will always remember the sound of the wind in the pines, my wild neighbors (dear, quail, turkey, lizards), the stars and quiet at night, and that view of the mountains while rolling down Woolman Lane. This is where I learned to be a teacher – that I am a teacher.
May future generations hold this land as the laboratory for teaching, learning, nourishing, challenging and growing that it has been in my experience. May the healing continue, may it long be a sacred space.
With gratitude and respect,
Peace Studies Teacher, Fall ’09 – Spring ‘11