(Photo from Niagara, New York summer, 2011, anti-violence campaign.)
I forgot to turn in my key after class this afternoon so I came back in the evening to the Metropolitan State University Minneapolis building where I taught an afternoon class. I arrived just as students were getting out of class, streaming down the stairs, continuing class debates and notes about assignments, dressed in faded jeans and business wear. Metro State students are all ages — most in their 20s-40s –most finishing a double shift as workers and students, some rushing home to complete a third shift as parents. Despite these stresses, I could feel the energy of possibility and change, of connection and new ideas rippling through the building.
In the morning I had gotten on the bus with poster-paper rolled in a rubber band and an idea that I wanted students to map out a reparations plans to heal our nation from the scourge of racist policies past and present. In class I divided the board in five parts:
- Apologies, monuments, museums, textbooks, and curricula.
- Truth and reconciliation
- Cash outlays
- Government and institutional reparations in the form of outlays for education, housing etc.
- Commit the crime, do the time – retribution.
We talked about different real-life scenarios in which these forms of reparations have been implemented and then students picked one of the five and came up with plans — utopian in that they were in charge — but still in the real world, in a backlash-prone nation. The atmosphere was jovial and thoughtful as students acted out parts to illustrate their ideas. We talked about breaking through information silos and overcoming divide and conquer strategies.
One student stopped before leaving to thank me for the class. Another — after talk of an upcoming paper, another joked “This was my favorite class, but now you’re wrecking it with deadlines..”
I left class feeling inspired, walking across Loring Park, watching ducks on this gorgeous early fall evening. A dog in the narrow dog park stood like statue on a stump, making me and other passersby laugh. I crossed Hennepin avenue on the pedestrian bridge stepping over young lovebirds being photographed. I wandered around the sculpture garden. Another couple dressed for a glorious occasion were photographed next to the iron swing and the glass fish. I met my partner and we had a glorious evening listening to the magnificent poet Douglas Kearney and the soaring notes of a bass clarinet — Walker Art Museum’s free Thursday.
It wasn’t until I returned home that I heard about the Oregon Community college massacre. I immediately thought of my students, of the energy I felt in the school building when I returned my keys.
I know such hope and possibility existed at the Umpqua Community College in Oregon.
Ten people who made hard spaces in their lives for school, to build a better life, are gone.
Ten families, ten groups of friends are left to mourn.
Tens of tens of Umpqua students just had the plug pulled from their hopes and dreams.
Another stat to add to the tens of tens of school shootings since Sandy Hook.
I’m glad to see the President angry. We need to stop the NRA. But we also must stop state-sponsored violence of our police and armies. Otherwise we have no leg to stand on when we demand an end to civilian gun violence.
Even the most disturbed can see when the emperor has no clothes.