OK, so the commute is horrible and keeps getting worse with the increasing subway crowds and rent is ridiculous. But this city gives back: awesome food and people and energy and a place for someone as weird as I am. AND it gives me an on-going protest at Trump Tower (TT) where people read work that is critical of the Trump administration. This event happens to be organized by my good bud and neighbo,r Jeff Bergman, who has been featured in The Guardian and CNN among other places. He has been stalwart in going to the TT lobby every Friday at noon to do various readings and often has others join him. So I made this an optional assignment that goes like this:
Go to TT when Jeff is going to be there, prepare an appropriate reading, do it and then write about it. Fortunately, Jeff had a special extra long session of this event (which he calls “Learn as Protest”) on election day November 6, 2018 from 3:00-8:00. Preparing them for this assignment was pretty easy and straightforward. I showed them a video of Jeff doing one of his readings and talked about what an appropriate reading is. They had a lot of leeway here. It could be as direct as an editorial criticizing a Trump policy or as subtle as a poem celebrating a culture Trump denigrates. I let my classes know that I’d be there about 4:30 and would stay for awhile but they could go whenever they wanted.
A total of eight students chose to participate. And let me say they were AWESOME and Jeff agreed. One student read from an LBJ speech, one from Howard Zinn’s book, two students read pieces defending Transgender Rights, one student read a piece about Muslim women, one read from Obama’s first inaugural speech, one read a poem by a 14-year-old protesting the Trump administration, and one student KILLED a poem by Elizabeth Acevedo called “Hair” about judgements around Dominican women’s hair. She was AMAZING. She felt every word and made us feel it too. (I also read from the introduction of Nancy Maclean’s “Democracy in Chains”.)
And let me say, reading out loud isn’t nothing. I have an articulation exercise where I cut up a short story, hand out the segments, then we read them to one another and I emphasize pronouncing every syllable. Everyone has about a paragraph. After we read a story (“Train Time” by D’Arcy McNickle) about a group of Cree children waiting for the train to take them to a boarding school (seemed relevant right now), I asked the class what it was about. One of my students said she couldn’t listen because she was so nervous waiting for her turn. So you can imagine the courage and will it took to prepare a reading, get to TT and read in front of a bunch of strangers.
Like I said, it was an only-in-NY kind of thing and it was really wonderful being there with my students. They were all nervous, but they did it and let Jeff videotape them for his facebook page (except for one student who opted out of that). It was a statement and it felt meaningful (more on that when I get their papers about it) and I am very lucky to live in a town where we can do this sort of thing.