who spent the past four days involved with the efforts around the Save Our Schools March in DC.
I make no contention that this will be coherent.
I speak for no one except myself.
Yes, I was on the executive committee for the event, and helped kick off the main party of the rally by introducing Linda Darling-Hammond, but I claim no significant role.
And while I was very involved with this, I have simultaneously keeping an eye on the happenings elsewhere in DC with respect to the financial - and political - future of this nation.
And I am tired.
We had thousands who came to the Ellipse in the heat yesterday.
We had inspiring speeches - from big names in education, from those lesser known, from Matt Damon.
We had the enthusiasm and hope and anger of the participants.
Today we had a Congress where we tried to figure out how to go forward.
I met many I had never seen, but with whom I have had electronic relationships. I had other come up and thank me for my part (although I do not consider my role all that important) in helping bring this all together, people I had never met, some who may read the words I post here or elsewhere, or others who simply noted my role in introducing Darling-Hammond and the fact that my tshirt indicated I was on the Executive Committee.
Those were good things.
It could give hope.
Then I look at what is happening elsewhere in DC.
I see the social safety net in serious jeopardy.
I see an unwillingness to fight for the principle that those who have wealth and income have a responsibility to contribute to the larger society.
I see an administration that still seems unwilling to draw lines when they should be drawn, to provide leadership when it is critically needed.
I hear from friends on Capitol Hill that they believe they are again being sold out by this administration, that the President might secure his own re-election but he is jeopardizing the political survival of many in his party.
I am aware that this administration finally understands how angry teachers and parents are about its educational policy, yet rather than address the underlying causes seeks to ameliorate the damage, coopt the activism, defuse the the anger so that it does not jeopardize its electoral prospects, but to hell with what the actual policies are doing to this nation.
I have been writing here at Daily Kos about eduction since 2004. It is more than 7 years. I have run panels on the subject at Yearly Kos, participated and supported panels at Netroots Nation.
I blog. I tweet. I talk with people on the Hill.
I connect people.
I serve as a union rep in my building.
I continue to teach.
A half dozen weeks ago I had dinner with one of the most prominent people in education. I told that person that a part of me feels that we have already lost the battle for public education, which to my mind means we have already lost the battle for democracy. Yet I have to keep going as if we have not, otherwise I could not justify the time and effort I spend teaching young people, and from that time and energy the additional time and energy i devote to writing/lobbying etc on education and related matters.
And then I would have few choices - suicide comes to mind, because I would not want to live in a society that so abandons the principles upon which it SHOULD be based. Social suicide -withrawal from politics and policy, ceasing to teach - is another. I could retire at the end of the forthcoming year and between pensions and social security seek out some employment that would not be so emotionally and spiritually and intellectually demanding, for far less money, and have more time to read the books I have never read, catch up with the videotapes and dvds some still in their shrink wrap, perhaps even occasionally go to a current movie or play or concert, or simply take off a weekend and take a drive to the country or walk in the woods.
I am tired.
I am 65 going on 100, although being among my students sometimes makes me feel as if I am not yet 40.
I should be pleased by what we accomplished this weekend. We started with a small group of dedicated people. The executive committee was less than a dozen. I was the only active classroom K-12 teacher, one other was an academic coach of other teachers. We had university teachers of teachers, we had parents, we had community activists. This group of amateurs got support from important voices, raised money, built an organization working through preexisting groups, put on a conference, a march and a congress, all on a budget of perhaps $150,000. When the administration tried to coopt us we were able to put out cogent statement that not only prevent the co-option, it also set down markers about our seriousness of purpose.
Given how much the media was consumed by the debt crisis - which cost us one unannounced speaker from the Hill, who could not get away - our media coverage was good and in general positive.
Those of us involved in planning and executing the events have received thanks and praise - in blogs, through tweets, in emails, in personal face to face expressions.
We know we have started something.
From that I should be pleased, and being tired should be accompanied by a sense of satisfaction.
Yet for me it is not, because I fear it may be for naught, because it takes place in the larger context of the dysfunction of our federal government, the deliberate subversion of the functioning of state and local governments, the well-funded destruction of the right to collective bargaining for employees both of public organizations and in the private sector. It comes from the ongoing destruction of hope and future for so many in this society, when companies can advertise that those who have been unemployed for more than a short while need not apply for the job openings they have.
Some of the people with whom I spoke this weekend are long-time activists. Some openly talked about how far we as a nation have fallen from the activism that in some ways transformed this nation into a place of greater justice, socially, politically, and economically, when we were younger, several decades back.
We heard about resegregation of our schools, by race and economics, but we were blessed with the presence of Phoebe Ferguson, herself a direct descendant of Judge Homer Ferguson of Plessy v Ferguson fame, who has a foundation with a descendant of the other party to that case, who brought with her a group of young people as new freedom riders.
In a day when student rights are continually being restricted, today we were blessed by another presence - the high point of student rights was probably in the early 70s, with Tinker v DesMoines ruling that students did not leave their First Amendment rights at the schoolhouse gate. Today Mary Beth Tinker, one of the parties to that case, joined us at the Congress. She had spoken to my students several years ago, recognized me and came up to me. I introduced her to people, and now she will also be speaking at a high school near the one at which I teach. She took a very active part in today's planning and discussions, wanting to pay forward on behalf of the young people of today.
I do not know how much longer I can continue, especially in the face of so much discouragement on the national scale.
When i wrote something about my discouragement and weariness about a month ago, I got an email from one of my heroes, who insisted I call her. Then Deborah Meier insisted I had to keep at it. She reminded me of that several times this weekend, including today shortly before she left. She is now 80, has been fighting battles on behalf of students for longer than one can imagine. She refuses to give up. And her persistence is part of what keeps me going, even at a moment like this when the national news could totally discourage me.
I am tired. I am discouraged. And I know I cannot cease. I know I must keep teaching, writing, lobbying. I may need to expand my activity to more active forms of protest. Perhaps we all need to take to the streets as some of us did in the 50s, 60s and even 70s. Perhaps we need to sit in at government offices to remind officials, elected and appointed, that they work FOR US, that We the People of the United States are the sovereigns - and despite Santa Clara v Southern Pacific and Citizens United that formulation in the Preamble did NOT include corporations among We the People.
I am tired. Writing this reminds me how tired I am. In the past four nights I have had a total of 19.5 hours of sleep, the longest stretch in that time a bit over 3 hours. My body aches, my mind cannot function at full capacity, and my energy seems non-existent.
Then I think of Deborah Meier. I listen to the passion of Jonathan Kozol, still in his 70s. I hear the clear and pointed prose of Diane Ravitch, also in her 70s, who is constantly attacked because her credibility is a threat to those who seek to corporatize our schools and demonize teachers and the unions. I listen to Pedro Noguera, an adviser to Obama, say pointedly that this year we march, next year we vote. I hear the powerful words of Superintendent John Kuhn that he wears the red badge of failure to make AYP as a badge of honor - 80% of his students come to his schools with no English, and his task is to serve them, not to meet arbitrary standards on test results for exams to which they are subjected after only one year in this nation, as if the results are an accurate measure of what they are learning.
I look at the retired teachers who came, who are putting themselves out on behalf of all the students for whom they fought in the past - here I think of Janet Grossbach Mayer, who has written passionately about her 33 years of teaching students in the Bronx, in schools sometimes still heated by coal, from economic and family circumstances that shatter your heart as you read about them. Janet is still out there advocating, writing, speaking, and - yes - fighting for the students, and thereby for the future of this nation.
I am tired. I am worn down.
And damn it all to hell I will not, I cannot, use that as an excuse.
We came together, and we gain renewed strength and energy from our collective presence.
While we were on the Ellipse there were people bargaining perhaps a few hundred yards away in the White House complex, bargaining away the social safety net, the financial stability of this nation.
Obama's campaign says that the goal is to Win the Future. WFT? - We did more for the positive future of our young people and thus our nation in our gathering on the Ellipse than the politicians bargaining and posturing nearby, on the Hill, on the morning talk shows, etc.
One telling moment from yesterday. As the march proceeded around the White House, it came in proximity with the second day of unpermitted demonstrations on the Lafayette Park side of the building. The previous day pro-Assad and anti-Assad groups of Syrians had come to blows, actual fist fights. The police cleared a path between the two as our thousands marched by. And something interesting happened - for a few moments, the two groups of Syrians found common cause - both began to chant about Saving our Schools.
I am tired. I sit with a cup of herbal tea writing this words. Soon I will go home, perhaps go offline, and relax with my cats.
I am not beaten down. I wear my tiredness as a badge of honor. I am tired because I am still trying to make a difference.
Tonight I will collapse in weary sleep, perhaps even as I soak in a salt bath.
Tomorrow I will get up and begin planning - for the next school year's instruction, for my part (however temporary it may be) in continuing the efforts which resulted in our visible actions this weekend.
I think I have earned the right to rest - but not for too long.
The tasks before us remain daunting. We may need to do much more to keep our democracy from disappearing before our eyes.
When one does a good effort on behalf of a good cause, the tiredness seems like a badge of honor, doesn't it?
So consider - what will YOU do, how will you act/speak/write/demonstrate or perhaps just make even small changes in your daily actions, things that will provide you with the same kind of tiredness and the quiet satisfaction that despite the odds you have tried to make a difference, that you refused to give up?
Peace, but not too much, because the stakes are so high.