Democracy, Education, Mary Oliver, and What the Rabbi told Me
Sometimes there’s a lot to be said about the world. Today, I slept late, though I have a looming deadline. I looked out at the blue sky and thought about how truly different I feel now that spring has arrived. There is a wild joyfulness about spring in the north; a sincere love of seedlings and garden planting, budding trees and bright green grass after a heavy rain, of bikes and walking, and the inaugural Outdoor farmer’s market. A momentous sense of bliss invades when the first tree leaves arrive as it will take until middle-May for the trees to flourish—that first color always a new green the color of limes.
It is national poetry month and I have just started a new job; there is less time to frolic or find torment in the words and world of writing, more of my mind is spent worried about how we will change the world, as this new job is a political one. It’s temporary work which is perhaps all I am capable of in this field but I want to be more. I have noted that people who work for socio-economic (because in the US it’s always about class) justice have to maintain the mindset of the Buddha—our righteous actions are valuable in and of themselves even if they never make a bit of difference in the world. And I guess I agree I’d rather fight injustice knowing that I am going to lose than do nothing at all—though, mind you, I don’t feel hopeless about change.
Indeed, it has always and only been a small group of committed individuals that create change in the world. Of course what we struggle with is our sense of smallness and our feelings of self-love, self-preservation: to know and process all the injustice of the world seems too much, too painful, enough to kill us.
What I am continually surprised by (really I don’t know why I’m surprised, I’m no saint or spring-chicken) is how everything revolves around the bottom line of money and greed. Really, aren’t you sort of surprised by this? Don’t you sort of want to believe all people have good intentions at heart?
A few days ago Reince Priebus came to Burlington Vermont and a group of 100 plus Pro-Labor protestors stood outside the Hilton where he was to speak at a GOP fundraiser dinner. Priebus stated, “I call that a coffee clatch,” in reference to the protestors, “I’m used to 70,000 in Wisconsin.” It seemed he was proud of the WI protests—which at their height were as many as 120,000—as though supporting public policy hated by the people is something to gloat about. However, since Priebus was never elected by the people for any public servant position perhaps he holds a grudge.
What bothers me about the current sweep of legislation aimed to severely dismantle public unions, besides the obvious feeling that this is coming from big business (Koch Industries) and aimed to strategically erode the power of Democrats by destroying the most viable groups of middle class mobilizers, is that the GOP once again is fucking with our public schools.
Photo: Jay LaPrete / AP
Democracy requires an educated public; in fact it only runs via education. The more the GOP destroys our schools the more they destroy the principles of democracy. Again, it’s all about what makes money and what costs money. Apparently the GOP would like to pay teachers minimum wage with no benefits. Apparently only people who generate revenue deserve to make a decent income. Does this really make sense to you?
If any of you out there think that teachers have it easy, I urge you to talk to teachers about what their days are like, about how hard it is to try to teach 30 plus kids –all with different needs, emotions, feelings, learning abilities—in an hour; ask them how much time they spend at home grading papers and planning lessons, ask them how much time they have to spend fighting for a decent wage and affordable benefits (my mom pays a quarter of her income for health care), ask them what it’s like to start out making $30,000 (apparently the starting income of a non-masters level teacher at Burlington High School). Then, I urge you to never ever again think of not voting “Yes” for the school budget or complaining about how teachers get summers off because if you want to live in a society where education sucks then you don’t want to live in a democracy.
Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images North America
Back to Reince Priebus: Right now in Ohio, Arizona, Florida, in Alaska and several other states legislation aimed at destroying public unions is being pushed: making it illegal for teachers to strike, tying test scores to teacher’s pay, and eliminating the union’s ability to deduct dues from paychecks (so every teacher would have to mail in the $20 or so due from each check-why don’t we require individuals to mail in their income tax each paycheck also).
I urge you to stay informed and speak out against this legislation. Unions are the last stand in the erosion of the middle class in the US. Again, I need to point out democracy: unions allow workers to have a say about what happens in their work place rather than having a small group of individuals making all the decisions. Unions are democracy—a government of the people, by the people and for the people.
Back to Poetry Month: from Red Bird poems by Mary Oliver
I don’t want to live a small life
I don’t want to live a small life. Open your eyes,
open your hands. I have just come
from the berry fields, the sun
kissing me with its golden mouth all the way
(open your hands) and the wind-winged clouds
Following along thinking perhaps I might
Feed them, but no I carry these heart-shapes
only to you. Look how many how small
but so sweet and may be the last gift
I will ever bring to anyone in this
World of hope and risk, so do.
Look at me. Open your life, open your hands.
I want to believe that this life has room enough for the world of the spirit, for the life of the poem, for days filled with fighting for justice and days spent in the oblivion of the sun of early spring—for days alone in our private hearts and days of solidarity.
A Rabbi once told me, “Emily, your righteousness is your strength.” He did not mean that I was a rightous woman, he meant that in fighting for what is right I gather strength.