Wednesday, July 9, 2014

I've Got the POWER

It is the third day of class, and I am still sick. I spent almost the entire class with a stack of paper towels serving as tissues on my desk, and I don’t remember the last time I was so exhausted.

In contrast to my awful physical state, we had a pretty powerful (no pun intended) lesson in class today. We heard from two leaders in POWER (Philadelphians Organized to Witness Empower and Rebuild), a multi-religious organization that fights for causes like raising low wages and improving the public education system. Bishop Dwayne Royster, the executive director of POWER, spoke to us, and the first thing he asked us was: “How do you plan on changing the world?” We listened to our peers talk about the social justice projects they are working on or issues they hope to help solve. Dwayne told us about public schools in Philadelphia, and talked about racism he experienced in school, telling us how he ended up on this path. He spoke about POWER, and his dreams of policy change in favor of marginalized communities echoed in our minds after he ended his portion of the lesson.

Sarah, the teaching fellow, spent a short time telling the class about leadership, drawing a diagram on the chalkboard of Point A, Point B, and a bridge connecting them. Point A was where you are, the steps on the bridge were tactics you use to help achieve the goal, and Point B was where you want to be. Sarah told us that it didn’t matter whether or not Point B was ever reached, as long as the steps toward it were built. She taught us about organizers, one of four types of leaders (helpers, rebels, advocates/reformers, and organizers) which basically cultivates the mindset needed to keep people in action. She gave us the Marshall Ganz quote: “Leadership is accepting responsibility to create conditions that enable others to achieve shared purpose in the face of uncertainty. Leaders accept responsibility not only for their individual ‘part’ of the work, but also for the collective ‘whole’…”

Fabricio Rodriguez was our second speaker from POWER, and he told us his story, how he became an organizer. As a young man, he took a job as a “tramp miner,” a miner who moves from mine to mine searching for the best pay, with his father. At one mine, the boss, Boomer, nicknamed “the Devil’s Landlord” by the miners, refused to allow his workers a lunch break. They worked for hours, and weren’t allowed to stop working for a few moments to satisfy their hunger. One day, Fabricio’s father ate lunch, and Boomer demanded that he stop, so Fabricio and his father started asking the other miners to protest by eating lunch outside of Boomer’s office.

On the day they agreed to do it, Fabricio and his father were the only two eating lunch. Both of them lost their jobs, but Fabricio explained to us why the protest failed (they didn’t know the miners well enough to be able to depend on them to join Fabricio and his father to stand up to Boomer) and what it meant to him: it was the first time he had challenged authority to do what was right, and that experience stuck with him for the rest of his life.

After Fabricio answered a series of questions on organization and activism, Eliana, who told us about the Book of Ruth yesterday, fielded a question on how there could be leaders in an organization so focused on gaining contributions from everyone with the answer: “It’s not power over someone else, it’s power with.”

We then turned to a class reflection on the Hindu castes, and Charles Howard, who spoke to us yesterday about religion, told us that poverty is inherited just as wealth is. Some classmates drew parallels to upper, middle, and lower classes in America, discussing how the system in India (while technically illegal, it is still rooted in the minds of Hindus) is more rigid but similar in that there is an economic hierarchy. The discussion transitioned when Andy brought up that someone (I forget who) once said that African-Americans are better off when they assimilate to white culture, and the person (I really wish I remembered who it was now) used the example that a black man makes a better impression when he isn’t wearing his pants low. Ruby, one of our classmates, very eloquently made the point that it is wrong to only accept “blackness” when it mimics “whiteness” (she received a round of applause from the room). We spent a short part of class brainstorming research questions about social justice as an activity to get us thinking (to clarify, we can write something if we want, but it isn't a part of the class to actually do any research or write a paper), then broke for the end of class after talking about education and class in small groups.

What I'm doing instead of watching a super cool
action sci-fi movie
I had been looking forward to going out to watch Snowpiercer, an optional class event, but decided after dinner that the more sleep I got, the better (the students who wanted to go left at 6:15 and are expected to get back at about ten, so it's definitely a very time-consuming activity, and I expect that Julia, who had enough energy to go, will be up late blogging). Julia very kindly left me with an enormous amount of tissues (my nose takes it as a challenge to go though all of them) and some chocolate (my stomach does the same). I’m sure I would have learned something from Snowpiercer, but since it’s a movie, it’s something I can do at home, and I really, really am tired. 

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