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The Only-in-New-York Assignment

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.

18 thoughts on “The Only-in-New-York Assignment

  1. Wow! I tip my hat for those students who where able to stand and bring fourth their assignment in a location so controversial. I don’t feel that is my cup of tea, talking about it gives me a little knot in my stomach, also I am not a social media person.
    I also feel that reading out loud is a great way to understand what is being read, It helps the emotions flow word for word.

  2. This assignment was a great! it was nerve wrecking to be in Trump Tower and speaking for the people. what a great project.

    1. I really wanted to do this assignment but unfortunately I was working. I know it must have been uncomfortable speaking in front of so many people. Everyone who did you guys are talking about serious topics and issues that need to be addressed so I congratulate you.

  3. I wish I had time to go to this event transportation :Mta is horrible and Voting DAY was going to be packed. This is interesting event.

  4. I really enjoyed this assignment. I remember really wanting to participate in an event on Election Day (outside of voting) that made it clear Trump was not the person I chose for president and I would not let the day pass without some form of protest. I was very nervous to read in the hallway – fearing I’d stumble over words and my voice would resonate in that ostentatious lobby -, but I also saw this as an opportunity to complete an assignment and protest an administration intent on erasure and outright prejudice. The fact that one of the assignments for our public speaking class was VERY public really hit home. THIS is the reason we practice. So that in the event we need to speak out in public, we are prepared to make ourselves heard articulately.

  5. Speaking in front of a class is one thing but being recorded in public is another. I think this assignment is great because it tests your ability to speak in spaces you’re not familiar with.

  6. Reading about the experience you and your students had was very insightful. You made it sound really fun and educating, learning about new people by the things they read. The exercises you provided probably was very helpful to many of those students as well. Those students should be proud of themselves that took a lot of self-encouragement. And you are definitely right, the NYC MTA is horrible!

  7. i absolutely can not wait to do this assignment, seriously! what Mr. Jeff is doing AMAZING and the fact that your including it into your curriculum double AMAZING. If someone is wondering how can i use my voice ? how can i use this pent up emotions i have towards trumps administration? this is it. Meaningful, powerful, thoughtful…. exhilarating.

  8. I think this assignment will push me even further to get out of my comfort zone.Its one thing to stand infront of the class and present but to stand in public and be videotaped to put on social media is beyond me.But this is a great experience to deal with my fears of public speaking.

  9. I plan to give a speech in TT and reading this was very insightful and overall it sounds very fun to do this. I am now looking forward to doing this speech!

  10. I think this assignment shows how great NYC is. Passionate students were able to express themselves in an opportunity presented by their professor. I think the students were so brave to go to TT and i hope they felt supported by their peers and the audience. Having students speak at trump tower is a good way to have them feel more in control of the scary political situation around them and make them feel like they are also helping the fight against oppression.

  11. I did this for an assignment for your speech class. I was afraid to do it but once I read the poem I picked I was so glad I participated. It was really something I would have never done on my own. I’m glad I pushed myself to do this. It was something I never did before. I loved staying and hearing what people picked to read as well. I’m glad for spring 19, you made it an assignment. It pushed people to actually participate and experience something new.

  12. First hearing about the Trump Tower assignment made me anxious that I was going to be in a more public space then my classroom full of peers. Except I realized that this assignment counted for two and why wouldn’t I take part in a form of activism. I knew I felt strongly about many aspects in society that I didn’t agree with, so I viewed this as a time to share my voice. Following your requirements was not complicated at all and left much room for me to decide what I wanted to read. So I choose something that I knew has been a relevant issue for so long. As I read my poem on gender inequality, I realized how much I felt the words. I really felt like the author knew my thoughts and spit them out on my sheet of paper. I loved that I got to choose my article and it didn’t have to be a news article or a specific reading. You really don’t realize how powerful this assignment is until you arrive, read and reflect.

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