NOTEBOOKS OUT

Posted in Rants on January 22nd, 2017 by Ed

Even without teaching experience it must not be hard for you to imagine that smartphone (and to a lesser extent, laptop) usage is an impediment to teaching in a college classroom today. It is an impediment to all classrooms, I'm sure, but unlike K-12 teachers, in college we can't simply harvest their phones at the beginning of class like a middle school teacher might be able to. Accordingly, when I notice that students are not paying attention / absorbed in the many wonders of the internet, I often use the phrase "notebooks out" to try to snap their attention back to class. By that I mean, this is kind of an important thing you're about to miss, and I'm doing you a favor by letting you know that you should pay attention to it. I don't recall where I first picked this up – no doubt some teacher I had years ago – but I do it to myself as well when I want to make sure I'm paying attention to something. Getting distracted, after all, is incredibly easy these days.

On Friday and Saturday, especially the latter, I was Notebooks Out all day. It was hard to miss the sense that we are watching some pretty important history being made right now, good or bad, and here are a couple of things I think the coordinated marches on Saturday have demonstrated for us.

1. Zero Arrests by the D.C. police on Saturday despite hundreds of thousands of people showing up. This is interesting, as it represents the fact that police seem biased to resort to force more quickly and often with men than women, but also (and more importantly) that large numbers of women seem to be better at having a large gathering without resorting to juvenile property destruction that gives the police an excuse to intervene. I have news for all the Anarchy Bros out there: Starbucks has insurance and doesn't really give a shit that you broke their window. The only thing property destruction accomplishes is to delegitimize protests in the right-wing media, to give the police an excuse to start swinging batons, and to allow the perpetrators to engage in some kind of exhibitionism – play-acting revolutionary or something. If women (although men participated on Saturday too, in smaller numbers) can have such a large event without resorting to that kind of idiocy, then that suggests that men are largely (but not exclusively, so don't bother posting a link to a picture of a woman kicking a garbage can over) responsible for the "Hey, let's go get into a fight with the cops" aspect of protest. I'm not blind to the fact that the police are the ones responsible for instigating physical confrontations in many cases. All I'm thinking right now is, somehow a couple million women pulled this off without any batons meeting skulls and I think we all need to think very carefully about what should be learned from this.

2. That was awesome to see on Saturday. The crowd sizes were something to behold. Now. Can we sustain something? One weekend isn't going to get it done. They – the They we're all protesting – rely on the fact that we will lose interest quickly. "Let them have their rally, and in a few weeks everything will be back to normal." Here is, as I watched on Saturday, a list of things that all of us, regardless of resources, can commit ourselves to doing moving forward. It is not a complete list. Smarter people than me have come up with better lists, no doubt.

  • Attend school board meetings. The woman who thinks the Earth is 6000 years old will be there. The Dad whose idea of sex ed is to call your daughters sluts and lead the class in prayer will be there. Can you be there as well?
  • Attend city council or county board meetings. Again, the nutcases and seniors complaining about taxes and teenagers and loud music (code words!) will be there. When question time comes around, your voice could help balance that.
  • Write one or two letters to the editor of your newspaper per month. This seems apocryphal, but with older voters, elected officials, and heavy news consumers, print journalism still carries a lot of weight. True, the 40 and under crowd hardly pays attention to them anymore, but the people most likely to vote – older voters – treat newspapers like the Bible. Opinion editors seeking that all-important "balance" will be looking for cogent letters to run alongside the right-wing conspiracy screeds they receive in volume from their elderly audience. This is free and doesn't demand a ton of your time.
  • Can you donate your time to a local elected official's re-election? Municipal elections are already coming up soon here in Illinois, even though the previous election seems like it's barely finished. Republicans executed to perfection a strategy of focusing on local races where it is easier to win because voter turnout is so exceptionally low. Congress and Senate candidates already have tons of resources, although there's no harm in pitching in there either. The state legislators, judges, board members, and so on can benefit even more from your help.
  • Can you run for a minor local elected office? Just throwing your name on the ballot for something like a small town elected office position could affect races. This obviously is not a commitment everyone can make. But if you are a person who can…
  • Speak up. This is not for everybody, as many of us no doubt justifiably feel unsafe in many public settings. But if you feel comfortable doing it, add your two cents to things you observe in public. On many occasions, for example, when I'm at the gym or walking around campus I overhear people use gay slurs or derogatory language and a combination of solid eye contact and "Is that really necessary?" or "What are you, 12?" is not a big commitment for me. Does it change their attitudes? Probably not, but hopefully if they hear it enough it will make them think a bit harder about their words and beliefs. Again, being confrontational is not for everyone. But if you feel comfortable, speak up. People need to hear "That is not cool" a lot more than they do currently. They certainly aren't hearing it inside of their right wing bubbles.

    This is a difficult issue because, by design, over the past three decades we have all had to work more for less in return and that makes it difficult to devote time to civic activity. I know how you probably feel, and I feel the same way: tired, busy, and ready to accept any excuse to avoid going to something like a school board meeting after a long day of work. Don't beat yourself up if you can't do it. Like the marches on Saturday, you're not a bad person if you didn't or couldn't go. Everyone contributes in different ways and in different amounts. At the same time, we all have to recognize that nobody promised us a rose garden. Nobody said this would be easy. Conservatives have sucked it up and packed local government meetings for decades and it has gotten them what they want. If you're like me and you're sitting at home on a weeknight thinking, man I do NOT want to go sit through a school board meeting right now…well, this would be a good time for us to suck it up. I'm as guilty as anyone of succumbing to Too Tired, Too Busy. Can we do better? I have plenty of room for improvement. I bet you do too. So what are we going to do about it?