Exercising Judgment in Teaching Politically-Charged Topics

My department has run a number of workshops (organized by grad students) on “teaching about race.” They asked me to speak about what the rules are about what we can and cannot say in the classroom. I was pretty sure I knew the “rules” but asked our Provost for the official statement. Interestingly, there was none, but the question was referred to the Legal department. After a  delay, Legal Affairs sent back an email citing Wisconsin state statutes and linking to some policy statements. I’ve pasted the original correspondence below.* First a student and I translated the legalese into English bullet points. Then I wrote an essay about how to think about the authority and ethical responsibility in teaching controversial topics. This was recirculated this fall and as I’ve gotten positive feedback about this, I decided to post it here, with a few more edits, in case it is helpful. There’s always more to say, and legitimate disagreement about how to handle some things. Feel free to use the comments to expand on these points. Continue reading “Exercising Judgment in Teaching Politically-Charged Topics”

Stata: roll your own color palettes

I realize all the cool kids have switched to R, but if you still work with Stata, you may be interested in some routines I worked up to generate color and line pattern palettes and customize graphs fairly easily with macros and loops. This is useful to me because I am generating line graphs showing the trends for 17 different offense groups. Some preliminary tricks, then the code. Continue reading “Stata: roll your own color palettes”

Participating While Privileged

I’ve been asked to participate in a session at a conference for academics and activists that is supposed to help set the tone for how academics ought to behave when interacting with community people. It turns out that I am considered to be good at this. This is the kind of accolade that is very dangerous. The minute you think you know what you are doing and are confident of your ability to mix well across lines of culture and privilege, you will mess it up. It is like bragging about how humble you are.

Since I seem to have been anointed, at least temporarily, as having some expertise in this area, I thought I’d write down some of my thoughts, partly in preparation for the session. We agreed I’d begin by giving my own background, but that feels like too long a detour, so I moved it to the bottom of this blog post. Bullet points because it is too much trouble to turn it into an essay. Continue reading “Participating While Privileged”

Religious Observance Policy Limitations

My campus’s religious observance policy is pretty good, although vague around the edges. First, we are urged to avoid scheduling mandatory exercises on days when “significant numbers of student would be impacted.” In practice, this means try to avoid Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashana; the updated version of the policy also mentions Eid al-Adha although, candidly even avoidance of Jewish holidays for exams is hit or miss and there is very little public attention to Eid on this campus.

Second, and this is the part I want to both praise and comment on, we are to provide a non-punitive alternative for any student who says they have a religious conflict with a particular date. There are reasonable constraints on this: the student has to tell the instructor the relevant date(s) within the first three weeks of class (not the night before an exam), and there can be “reasonable limits” on the total number of days requested. The policy explicitly says that “students’ sincerely held religious beliefs shall be reasonably accommodated with respect to scheduling all examinations and other academic requirements” and that “A student’s claim of religious conflict, which may include travel time, should be accepted at face value” because “there is no practical, dignified, and legal means to assess the validity of individual claims.”  Pretty good.

So where are the problems? Continue reading “Religious Observance Policy Limitations”

open letter to students of color

NOTE: I did not write this letter. I am posting it here as a model for what support looks like and because some people will find it helpful to have it in a place they can link to. For those of you not at Wisconsin, the context is that campus police entered an Afro-American Studies class and removed a student charged with putting up anti-racist spray-painted graffiti around campus, then took him downtown and filed criminal charges against him, thereby publicizing his name. This was in the context of a wave of hate and bias incidents on the campus; students in these cases faced campus misconduct charges, not criminal charges. Tony Robinson was a young biracial man shot last year by a police officer in a Madison neighborhood near campus.

18 April 2016

An Open Letter to the Students of Color of the University of Wisconsin-Madison

            From The Faculty and Staff of the Department of Afro-American Studies

The faculty and staff of the Department of Afro-American Studies is thinking about you and keeping you in our hearts at this time of extreme stress and tension.  Your anger is justified, your fear understandable.  The disruption of Professor Almiron’s class, and the arrest of your fellow student, King Shabazz, while important in itself, is only the most recent in a series of events that has been steadily escalating in recent months and weeks.  What so many of you are experiencing isn’t a sign of individual weakness.  It’s a version of post-traumatic stress syndrome, a mental health crisis as serious as those following campus shootings or natural disasters. We admire the way many of you are holding up but we understand what a strain this represents.

In recognition of that fact, we call on faculty across the campus to respond to the crisis in a spirit of care and generosity as we near the end of the semester.  Further, we ask the administration to affirm that call, as well as to offer public assurances that these events will not interfere with King’s plans to graduate at the end of the semester.  Further, we ask that emergency mental health support be made available to all students affected by recent events.

The most important part of our message to you is simple: do your best to keep your eyes on the prize, and know that we’re there to support you as you walk a difficult path.  We know you’re feeling torn between the demands of your studies and your desire to take an active role in responding to what’s happening.  Let some of the burden be shifted to our shoulders. Continue reading “open letter to students of color”

Cities you did not build, wells you did not dig

Sunday’s sermon text was

Then when the Lord your God brings you to the land he promised your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to give you—a land with large, fine cities you did not build, houses filled with choice things you did not accumulate, hewn out cisterns you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant—and you eat your fill, be careful not to forget the Lord who brought you out of Egypt, that place of slavery. (Deuteronomy 6: 10-12 New English Bible)

These lines echo today. They are typically interpreted by feel-good Christians spiritually, as reminding us that we are provided with good things not of our own making. And maybe as reminding us that we are dependent on others, not just ourselves. But these passages are explicitly and unambiguously about conquest and the displacement of the previous occupants of a territory. This can be readily seen in the parallel passage in Joshua:

You crossed the Jordan and came to Jericho. The leaders of Jericho, as well as the Amorites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hittites, Girgashites, Hivites, and Jebusites, fought with you, but I handed them over to you. I sent terror ahead of you to drive out before you the two Amorite kings. I gave you the victory; it was not by your swords or bows. I gave you a land in which you had not worked hard; you took up residence in cities you did not build and you are eating the produce of vineyards and olive groves you did not plant. (Joshua 24:11-13 New English Bible)

The Biblical writers know this history and make no apology for it. They believe that a one-sided war god backed them against their enemies and gave them the land over the dead bodies of their enemies. They remember their own victimization and their time of slavery and rejoice that it has ended, but they simply have no compunction about killing other groups and taking their land, and they are sure that is what their god wants them to do. (See more references below if you have any doubt that this is a persistent theme.)

The launching point of the sermon was a tour the pastor and other church members took to be educated about immigration issues in Arizona. This stressed the overlain history of the area: indigenous inhabitants partially conquered and partially assimilated by Spanish; the Mexican people who are the amalgamation of indigenous and Spanish who moved around in Mexico; the Anglo-Americans who conquered Northern Mexico and finished conquering the indigenous and now have the audacity to complain about “foreigners” in the area. Our pastor also spoke of touring old Jaffa in Israel-Palestine today with Palestinians who can point to the exact houses that were occupied by their parents and are now occupied by Jews who forcibly removed them. There are plenty of other examples. White South Africans still occupy areas from which they forcibly removed Black South Africans in the 1940s and 1950s. European settlers on the Atlantic coast of North American were able to gain a foothold because they occupied villages that had been built and farmlands that had been cleared by indigenous Americans who had recently died of a plague. All European Americans live on land that was taken from indigenous Americans in a multi-hundred year war of conquest.

Some White American Christians believe in the war god who favored [White] America in its genocide and conquest just as the war god of the Old Testament favored Israel. In fact, the sense of American exceptionalism and American divine right to rule cannot be understood outside this religious context, this understanding of America as the new Israel and Americans as the new chosen people.

Biblically literate atheists point to these passages and these interpretations as a reason to reject Christianity and the Biblical tradition wholesale, and it is hard to blame them.

What is a progressive White American Christian to make of this? How can we reject the one-sided war god and make sense of our position if we believe in a god that is God for everyone? We must sit with the understanding that we are living in houses we have not built and drawing water from wells we did not dig. We are living atop the graves of others, and we are only here because our ancestors brutally displaced other people from their homes. This is plain historical fact. Either we believe only in the one-sided war god, or we believe that somehow there must be some just accounting for the sins of our ancestors. To continue to benefit from the consequences of past injustice is to perpetuate the injustice. And yet, we are not volunteering (I am not volunteering) to relocate myself to my ancestral homeland in Europe, and moreover (and perhaps ironically), Europe considers me to be a foreigner. It seems to me the only way forward is to sit humbly with the burden of history, to try to make justice or at least to get out of the way when others try to make justice.

 

* Passages which are explicit about killing and displacing others: Deuteronomy 2:33-34, 3:6, 7:2, 13:15, 20:13-14; Numbers 21:3, 31:17-18; Joshua 6:21-27, 8:22-25, 10:10-40, 11:8-15, 21-23; Judges 1:4, 1:17, 3:29, 7:19-25, 8:15-21, 9:45, 20:43-48, 21:10-12; 1 Samuel 4:10, 7:7-11, 11:11, 14:31, 14:48, 15:3, 7-8, 27:8-11; 2 Samuel 8:5, 8:13, 18:6-7; 1 Kings 20:29-30; 2 Kings 14:5-7.

peace and justice

The second candle of advent is the candle of peace. My radical daughter sitting next to me bristled and, to tell the truth, I did, too. To pray for peace without simultaneously thinking about justice is implicitly to pray for oppression to continue. Facts are facts, and conflict and turmoil are pretty much the only way to battle hierarchy, oppression, and injustice. Anger is politically important.

The Biblical texts are considerably more full of conflict than the sanitized middle class Midwestern Christmas narrative.

Matthew 10 (commissioning the disciples) (34-39): “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn `a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law – a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’ Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.  Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (With a similar sentiment found in Luke 12:51-53).

And Mary’s song in the Magnificat (Luke 1: 51-53): He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.

As individuals, we need to be as centered as we can be. Peace at the center, knowing that we are part of something larger than ourselves. And we need to remember the humanity of others, even when they are inhumane. But there is no religious warrant for asking for, much less demanding, that people choose peace over justice. It is the other way around. Justice is the commandment.

Hope in the Darkness, Fatalism is not an Option

This is the first week of advent, the week we light the candle of hope. Hope is not cheerfulness and optimism. Hope is not the property of the wealthy and self-satisfied. Hope stares into the dark, looks despair in the face, and dares to believe in another future. Hope is what keeps us going when everything around us looks bleak. Despair demobilizes, despair paralyzes. Despair makes us fatalistic and inactive. Despair tells us that we may as well go about the individualistic business of scrambling to get what we can for ourselves and ignore the signs of need and injustice around us. Hoping is believing and working for what is right and just when there is no easy path.

My hope in the darkness of injustice was renewed this week by these words from Ta-Nehisi Coates: “I’m the descendent of enslaved black people in this country. You could’ve been born in 1820, if you were black and looked back to your ancestors and saw nothing but slaves all the way back to 1619. Look forward another 50 or 60 years and saw nothing but slaves. There was no reason at that point in time to believe that emancipation was 40 or 50 years off. And yet folks resisted and folks fought on. So fatalism isn’t really an option. Even if you think you’re not going to necessarily win the fight today in your lifetime, in your child’s lifetime, you still have to fight. It’s kind of selfish to say that you’re only going to fight for a victory that you will live to see. As an African-American, we stand on the shoulders of people who fought despite not seeing victories in their lifetime or even in their children’s lifetime or even in their grandchildren’s lifetime. So fatalism isn’t really an option.” Interview on MSNBC’s “All In with Chris Hayes” 12/4/14, posted on the Huffington Post by Ed Mazzra Link

Name Ghost

One way or another it is looking like it will cost me several hundred dollars and significant aggravation to deal with the fallout of US patriarchy. Back when I was married in 1970, the women’s movement was just kicking in and a summer employer insisted that they could not (would not) pay me unless I signed a form changing to my married name on my social security record. I never got a new card, however, and since that time, the only name I’ve used is my birth name.To do this, in the 1970s I had several times to verbally lie to self-appointed local government monitors of women’s names (marital status was never a question on the written document one was signing) who were insisting that married women must use their husband’s surnames on things like drivers licenses and employment records. Sometimes the courts upheld the patriarchists, sometimes the women. All this dust gradually settled around 1980 and since then married women have been left alone and allowed to use birth names in peace.(All you young-’uns who are going about changing names willy-nilly for trivial reasons like marriage just make us older women sigh, given all the grief we incurred to avoid it.)

Because many people do change names at marriage, it is very easy to do so. You just drop by your local identity office with marriage papers and poof your name changes. This does not apply, however, if you are caught in the warp of the 1970s. If the SSA persuades itself that the name they have for you is your “legal name,” you must prove that there has been a legal name change. If you are a married women using your birth name you do not, of course, have such a court order, because you never changed your name. You are just dealing with the fallout of strong arm patriarchal bullying from the 1970s that gives many married women from that era an inconsistent set of names.

SSA knows who I am. I have a comprehensive identity record. They know my birth name, they can see my lifetime payroll records, they have my marriage certificate. They know what happened. There is no dispute about the facts. But they claim to be incapable of correcting their records to match reality without a court order. They say this is part of the heightened scrutiny on identity with e-verify. There are activists pointing out that this system disproportionately affects women. http://www.nilc.org/everifyimpactonwomen.html My lawyer says I should not have to pay her to do this for me, and I’m going to try one  more time on my own before handing it over to her.

I’m pretty mad but if I have to I can pay the money to get this straightened out. If I have to, I’ll get the court order. But as my friends say, “what are poor women supposed to do?”

you think applying for academic jobs is hard?

Since retiring, my spouse has been volunteering at the “job club,” helping low income people apply for jobs. Applicants for low-wage jobs need to apply on line, and many low-wage workers neither own computers nor have much experience using them. Plus they are often unfamiliar with the various verbal hoops applicants have to go through. One of the big ones are banks of attitude questions. Yesterday he spent a couple of hours with a woman applying to work as a baker in a donut franchise, not the chef who thinks up recipes, someone who just does the work of cooking and frosting. She had to respond to 300 Likert items, 25 a page for 12 pages (!) with items like these

It is important to know what my coworkers think.
It is important to know what my coworkers feel.
I can easily imagine what my coworkers feel.
It is important to my life that the company do well.
Sometimes you have to take a risk to solve a problem for the company.
You have to know all possible solutions before picking one.
My coworkers say I’m cooperative.
My coworkers say I’m obedient.

Other items, he says, are convoluted sentence structures that even he finds difficult to parse to figure out what the positive/negative ends of the scale are. After two hours, they had to quit because the room needed to be used by someone else, and they had only gotten through five pages of the questions. The 300 is the worst so far, but this kind of thing is common in the low wage world. Another time he was working with a mentally disabled man trying to get a job as a dishwasher who had to work through 150 such questions. This is not what you do after you’ve passed the screening and are being interviewed. This is what you have to do just to enter the screening process. My daughter the labor activist says they are trying to screen out not only thieves but activists. I’m sure she’s right, and also pretty confident that these question banks are produced by consultants who don’t necessarily think through what it means to have to spend five hours applying for a $9/hour job on a computer in a public place. Or maybe they do, and that’s part of the test?

I don’t mean with my title to belittle the stresses of being on the academic job market. It is a scary world out there, and the application process is time-consuming and stressful for everyone. But I think we have not stooped this low. Yet, anyway.

Grading Feedback

I’m finally done with grading. Well almost done. I’m still dealing with grade appeals. So what’s on my mind is some suggestions about grading, and I may write several posts on this theme.

It is important to give students feedback along the way about what your records show for them, especially if the grade depends heavily on lots of small things like daily attendance or homework. Even for test scores and such it is good to let the students see what your records show. The fact is, we sometimes make mistakes in recording grades. A system that assumes you never make a mistake is a bad system. If a student is going to challenge the accuracy of your records, you’d like that to happen in a timely fashion, not after grades have been submitted. And you shouldn’t be happy about students getting the wrong grade just because they didn’t challenge you.One way to give students feedback is your school’s on-line grading system. I don’t use ours because the interface is slow, clunky, inflexible and cannot handle the way I grade. Instead, I find it easy to use Word and Excel for this.

If you are part of the Microsoft/Windows world, you can easily generate grade reports for your students using Excel (or Access), Word, and Outlook. This is easy to learn to do and produces very high student satisfaction. Here are the basics. The trick is to initiate the merge in Word and from a Word document link to the data source. Let’s assume you have your grade data in a spreadsheet. The column headings are identifiers like names and the grade components like tests, attendance, homework. The rows are the students.  In Word, go to the “mailings” menu and the “select recipients” menu to link to the spreadsheet page with the data. The column headings will show up as merge fields in the merge field menu. You write your feedback form any way you wish, inserting merge fields as appropriate. You can lay it out as a table, or just free form text. Just don’t forget the field for the student’s name.  Adding a student email field is very useful, too. In large classes, I have found it helpful also to have a field for section number and TA name. Dating the output is a good idea, too. Then push the button to merge to a new document and, presto, you have feedback sheets, one per student. This lets you show students what you have for them in the computer and gives them a chance to correct clerical errors in a timely fashion. You can use the preview buttons to see what the pages will look like before you merge, and it is a good idea to merge to a file instead of a printer so you can double-check the results before sacrificing trees. Also you’ll want to keep an electronic copy of what you sent to the students.

Once you see how to do it, you’ll realize how easy it is to give a tailored report that fits your own teaching style. You can include explanatory text telling people how to interpret their grades or whatever. You’ll also want to include instructions for what to do if there’s an error, and a deadline for correcting errors. When you send/give out the reports, tell students (preferably in the report) what to do if they think there is an error in the records. It will be easier for you if the procedure requires them to use the feedback form you gave them, either annotating a paper form or replying to an emailed form.

The next step can be a bit harder to get set up but saves paper and instructor hassle and once it works it will keep working. If you also have Outlook and get its options set correctly, you can mail merge to email directly from inside Word. If it works at all, it works very easily. You have to make sure that the student’s email address is one of the fields in your spreadsheet/database. At my office, the default configuration did not have this capability turned on in Outlook, but it was an easy tech support fix to get it turned on. You can test this feature now, while it is summer.  Just set up a spreadsheet with name and email fields, and enter your own name and email and perhaps a couple of friends. I just used all three of my own email addresses. Then open Word and create a dummy document. Mine said: testing name <namefield> email <emailfield>. Then merge to email. If it worked, you’ll get the email, that easy. If you don’t get an email, it didn’t work. Tip: when it is for real, put yourself and your email address as the last line in your grade records so you can tell whether the email merge worked when you send to students. For some reason I do not understand, this only works for me if I choose the html option in mailing, and not in the text-only option.

A couple of tech notes: (1) This works the same way if you happen to have your grades in Access instead of a spreadsheet. You might be tempted to use the Access report function. Trust me, it is MUCH easier to initiate the report in Word. (2) If your grades are in a multi-page spreadsheet, you’ll need to create an export page that reads from the different data pages. As far as I can tell, Word cannot run a mail merge from more than one spreadsheet page (or Access table) at a time. Or do a separate report for each spreadsheet page. (3) Computed values will come through with 10 decimal places unless you overtly format them to fewer decimal places back in the spreadsheet. EDIT (4) Learned the hard way. Word reads ONLY the FIRST record in deciding how to format a field. If a field may have text or numbers, you need to make sure it has text as long as any longest record  will have in the FIRST record. This probably means you’ll want to create a dummy first record for this purpose.

Please feel free to use comments to explain how keep records and give feedback in other software packages, for example by using the report functions in a statistical package. I was very sadly and slowly dragged into using MS Word because I really prefer WordPerfect for most tasks, but MS Word’s mail merge function is one of its strengths. I could never get a WP mail merge to work without several trails, while a Word mail merge always works on the first try. My university supplies me with the MS products and Windows machines, so I have not used Open Office or Linux or Mac products, although I assume you can do the same thing more or less easily with them as with the Microsoft products. I actually use Thunderbird rather than Outlook for ordinary email, but Word won’t merge to Thunderbird, and the Thunderbird mail merge isn’t sophisticated enough to pick up data from other programs.

Footnote

Wherein I wonder about a sentence, learn a lot, and end up with more questions.

Today’s first hymn was titled “Great Spirit God” (one of two translations of Wakantanka Taku Nitawa in our hymnal). The music note said the tune is Lacquiparle, “Native American melody (Dakota) Adapt. Joseph R. Renville, 1842.” This hymnal has a short background note for each hymn. This one said: “Recollecting the accounts told by his grandfather and others, Sidney Byrd stated:

‘This hymn was sung by thirty-eight Dakota Indian prisoners of war as they went to the gallows at Mankato, Minnesota, on December 26, 1862, in the largest mass execution in American history.”

That caught my attention! The minister’s introduction mentioned the Native American provenance but not the scene of people singing it while they were being hanged.

When I got home, I looked it up. The note is a pointer to the 1862 Sioux uprising, one of the hundreds of battles in the three-hundred year war of the conquest of North America by Europeans.  From the point of view of many native people, especially Dakotas, those executed were martyred freedom fighters, while from the point of view of European and Euro-American settlers at the time they were murderers who brutalized innocent and peaceful settlers. From what I read, it seems likely that the men really were singing as they were marched to their hanging with linen bags over their heads, but just what they were singing and what it meant is less clear. Tracking down the story behind the note is a reminder of our brutal and complex multi-voiced history. I’m not sure what it means for us English-speaking Euro-American Christians to sing the hymn. Are we singing a native tune just because it is beautiful and haunting? To broaden our awareness of the multi-cultural scope of the Christian community? To express solidarity with native people? To honor those executed as martyrs to the faith? To apologize in singing for destroying their communities and taking their land? Is it an act of cultural appropriation for us to sing this tune? Or an act of cultural appreciation?

The hymn’s composer, Joseph Renville, was the son of a French father and a Dakota mother who was educated by Catholic priests and initiated the founding of a town at Lac qui Parle [French for “lake that speaks” which sounds significant but seems to have nothing to do with the story] in Minnesota in the 1820 and invited missionaries into it in the 1830s. He died in 1849. Renville is generally credited with turning three traditional Dakota tunes into Christian hymns in the Dakota language, including this one.  Whether the tune was considered sacred by the Dakota before it was made into a Christian hymn is unclear. Some sources seem to imply it was a traditional death or funeral song. The first English paraphrase of the Christian hymn was made at the request of the national YWCA in 1929 by R. Philip Frazier, a Congregational minister who was the grandson of Artemas Ehnamani, a Santee Dakota who was converted to Christianity while in prison after the 1862 conflict; Philip’s father Frances was also a minister. Philip Frazier and his wife Susie (who edited a collection of hymns) spread the English version so that it is now a popular inclusion in many American hymnals and songbooks. It is perhaps worth noting that the words in English include generic references to God (or Great Spirit) and a Creator with no mention of Jesus or specifically Christian theology.

The occasion for the mass execution was the aftermath of the Sioux uprising of 1862 in Minnesota.  The short version is that some Sioux started the war because their annuities were delayed and they were hungry and there was growing pressure on the tribe from European settlers. The uprising started with a small attack but grew and spread; several hundred European settlers were killed. There were Sioux who opposed the war and cooperated with bringing the rebels to trial after they were defeated. There was a formal trial with witnesses. There was also an intervention of President Lincoln, who transmuted the sentences of most of the 200+ fighters but not the last 38, who were supposedly guilty of killing or raping women or children. There are disputes about whether those executed were guilty of attacks on women and children, but there is no dispute that quite a few European settlers were killed one way or another. After this event, the Dakota (Sioux) were all exiled from their homeland and sent west. Some have returned to the area as individuals. Below I linked to a number of detailed accounts of the uprising and subsequent trial and execution.

According to the accounts, the executed men were singing what some observers called a “death song” for several days before their execution. Catholic priests and perhaps other missionaries were apparently in the prisons seeking converts. On the day of the execution, the condemned sang as linen bags were placed over their heads and they were marched to the gallows. What they were singing is less clear. Was it Wakantanka Taku Nitawa, the Dakota-language hymn written by Renville in 1842? If so, did they understand this as a Christian hymn, or as a traditional Dakota sacred death song, or both? If they were singing that tune, were they singing Renville’s words, or older words? Were they like the early Christian martyrs who shocked the Romans by cheerfully facing death?  Were they extolling Christianity or the Dakota culture? Were they mourning their own demise and that of their people? Were they singing in submission to God or in defiance of their executioners? One detailed contemporary account from an anti-Dakota writer in a St. Paul newspaper describes the men’s cheerfulness and singing in the days before their execution as evidence of the fraudulence of their supposed conversions to Christianity. In describing their song as they marched to the gallows, he calls it a “hideous Hi-yi-yi, Hi-yi-yi’” and describes one singer making one last vulgar expression of defiance as he gestures that his private parts will be found near someone’s severed head. The hymn is now sung often on December 26 by native people in Minnesota and the Dakotas in memory and honor of the men who were executed and went bravely? joyously? faithfully? defiantly? to their death.

Notes:

An audio on hymntime of the haunting melody accompanied by the Frazier English paraphrase of the Renville words

History of the hymn that seems to be an orphan document with no external links on the Chippewa County (location of Lac qui Parle)  Historical Society web site; my source for information about Frazier.

Lengthy accounts of the 1862 uprising and the trial and execution in

The fact of singing seems to be widely attested. An eye-witness account published in the St. Paul Pioneer Press of the execution by an anti-Native writer (who also includes extensive descriptions of the condemned men saying good bye to their loved ones) http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/dakota/Trials_of_Prisoners.html .

Many other accounts mention the men singing on their way to the gallows, although not what they were singing. E.g. this standard history from the Mankato boosters http://www.greatermankato.com/community-areahistory.php?navigationid=91.

As an example of how this event has become an important symbol, my Internet searches turned up the December 2008 newsletter of the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe, a 28-page newsletter which is otherwise primarily devoted to pictures of Christmas parties, public service announcements and other upbeat community news. Page 5 is half an “in rememberance” section that mentions this an other December events in American Indian history in short paragraphs and half a picture of men aiming rifles announcing that the Indian Veterans Post will have a 21 Gun Salute on December 26th at 10am in remembrance of the 38 Dakotas at the First Presbyterian Church Cemetery. Page 6 is devoted to listing the names of all 38 men who were executed.  Page 26 reprints a letter to a newspaper advocating that Minnesota admit that in creating the state the Dakota nation was destroyed and giving an extended critique of the fairness of the 1862 trials, in the process rebutting someone who had claimed otherwise.  http://www.fsst.org/documents/Newsltrs%202008/fsst_newsletter_january_2008.pdf  It is especially of sociological interest to see how historical memory and current social news are comfortably intertwined in this home grown internal document for a local community.

A report from a 1987 reconciliation project in Minnesota mentions that many Dakota believe Lac qui Parle was sung by Dakota at the hanging and also discusses the feelings of different people who have ties to the events, including Dakota who rebelled and those who cooperated with convicting the rebels. Singing the hymn together is mentioned as one part of meetings of reconciliation. http://www.dowlinconsulting.com/images/%20%27%2087%20U.S.-Dakota%20Conflict%20%20.pdf

I encountered a variety of other mentions of the singing of this hymn at community gatherings among the Dakota in December that referenced the memory of the executions.

The additional note on the other version of Wakantanka Taku NItawa in my hymnal says “Probably the best-known Native American Hymn, “Many and Great” is sung with great reverence by the Dakota people in worship, at communion, and for births, funerals, and burials. Renville helped establish the Lac qui Parle mission in Minnesota. Frazier, a Native American, was a Congregational minister.”

form and content, protest and repression

Warning: this essay is partly a personal religious reflection although it also contains significant sociological content. In it I reflect on a sermon calling protest a spiritual exercise and a meeting about training Black young people to avoid challenging or talking to police and the significance of the juxtaposition of these two events.

The Madison protests reconvened this weekend without me. A friend estimates 20,000 at Saturday’s rally featuring Michael Moore – a large crowd by any normal standard, although a decline from last weekend’s high of somewhere between 70,000 and 120,000 (depending on whose estimate you believe). Today the pro-Walker and anti-Walker protests were said to be a few hundred each. The real action is out state, with recall efforts and other attempts to “flip” Republican Senators, as well as the escalating pressures on the Democrats in Illinois – their pay is frozen and they are being fined $100 a day, among other attempts to force their return without any concessions. Walker’s refusal to negotiate on any point is both alienating the state’s moderates and raising his cachet in national right-wing circles.

There was a guest sermon at church today – the pastor’s brother, a Mennonite activist from Pennsylvania who spoke on engagement as a spiritual practice, the idea that instead of separating the spiritual from the world, you should be spiritual in the world. The scripture was Isaiah 58:3-7 :

“Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?” “Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers.  Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist. Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high.  Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?  Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?  Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?”

You find God when you are working for justice and helping the poor and oppressed. His own current political agenda is the movement against gun violence, which is trying to target merchants whose businesses are major sources of the guns that end up being used in urban crimes. The sermon was full of positive comments about the Wisconsin protest and how God is on our side as we challenge authority and work for the poor and oppressed. He wore a “We are Wisconsin . . . And we are winning” t-shirt. During joys and concerns, one congregant stood up to give thanks for her son, who’d been one of the protesters sleeping inside the capitol and then outside in the snow and rain – everyone clapped. If you think Walker’s budget cuts are good or that public employee unions are bad, you’d feel very uncomfortable in that congregation right now. We have a taken for granted assumption that we are all on the same side in this. I couldn’t help but remind myself that activists whose foundation is religious are often on the “other” side, supporting issues I really oppose, and the ways in which their communities surround them with people who don’t challenge their assumptions.

Don’t get me wrong. I think I’m right and the people around me are right. I truly and sincerely believe what I believe. And I truly do believe that we are doing the work of God when we work for justice. But so do the people on the “other side” of issues I care about think that God is on their side. I can’t help but note that God mostly tells people to do the things that a whole system of socialization and experience has taught us are the right things to do. It really isn’t enough just to engage, it matters what you are engaged about, what “side” you are on, and how you go about your engagement. Content matters, not just form. I’m struck every Sunday about how the hymns we sing, the messages we hear, the content of our joys and concerns all reinforce one set of understandings about what Christianity is “really about,” while other people’s churches emphasize other messages from the same core texts.

Or, backing away from religion to the broader context of protest and rebellion – it isn’t enough just that people protest. It matters what they are protesting about, what their goals are. The same vessel of protest carries both the tea party protests and this current mobilization. If you oppose the mobilization, you’d stress that the energy of the effort is union members organizing to defend unions – and you’d be right. It is primarily a mobilization of people through their well-organized channels for the purpose of maintaining the right to have those channels. It’s a defensive mobilization. Can we, should we bring the same concepts to bear on protests we like and those we don’t like?

The way protest and activism are being lifted up, and the comfort we all have with protest, brought me back into reflection about my other weekend activity. I spent Saturday morning at a training session for religious people to work on issues of racial disparity in criminal justice, part of an effort to found a local Gamaliel Foundation group. (I’m an attendee, not an organizer.) There were two choices. One group went off to learn about how to observe court sessions, to be a witness holding the system accountable.

I stayed for the presentation on how young people are being taught to avoid escalating encounters with police. The speaker is the former gang member and drug dealer I mentioned in a previous post. One component of the plan is small cards (the size of business cards) advising young people how to behave when stopped by police. The card contains a (small) color graphic of a tall white person in a police uniform facing a shorter black person. It says (in rather small print, obviously):

“Along the continuum of decision points in the juvenile justice system from initial law enforcement contact through disposition and beyond, the decision to arrest is the first and arguably the most powerful indicator of future impact on minority youth, their families and affected communities. Upon initial contact with law enforcement respectfully provide your name, name and phone number of your parent/guardian and clearly state that you wish to remain silent until your parent/guardian is present.”

The young people are urged to give their true name (to give a false name is obstruction of justice, a felony) and then to shut up. In trying to explain or defend themselves, young people often provide police with the basis for criminal charges. The idea is for the young people to carry the cards on them so they can hand them to the police if they are stopped – the hope is that the police will recognize that the young people have been told to do this and thus, hopefully defuse police anger at the young people for refusing to talk. I’m wondering if youth are also taught breathing exercises or other techniques to calm their anger and frustration when stopped unfairly. Survival here means NOT protesting, not rebelling, not standing up to power. The “protest” is to resist becoming a crime statistic. The adult trainer is very clear that sometimes the young people have done something wrong, but they will make the situation worse if they talk to the police and confess. It is also important for young people to understand who police are and that talking back to police is very different from talking back to other adults. Another card tells them that Educational Resource Officers in schools are real police officers and they must not talk to them without their parents present.

So young Black people need to be taught not to challenge authority as a survival strategy, just as they were taught in the South before 1960. It is a necessary lesson if these kids are going to make it out of adolescence with their hopes intact, but I reflect again (as I have so often before at these kinds of meetings) just how much self-control African Americans need to be able to get through the day in a racially-stratified society. How bad White kids are allowed to be and to get away with it, and how little tolerance Black kids are offered for misbehavior. And I cannot help but reflect that all this energy devoted to avoiding confrontation with police and avoiding arrest limits the capacity for Black protest mobilization.

And it is not just children. As I mentioned before and confirmed in further conversations, one of the Black parolees who was supposed to be speaking at these events has been picked up on a parole hold each time he asks his agent for permission to go to an event addressing issues of racial disparity in criminal justice And “driving while Black” stops – endemic in this community, as elsewhere, constantly force Black adults to endure disruptions to their plans and the self-control to remain calm in the face of unwarranted surveillance: Where are you going? Where are you coming from?  Why are you here on this street at this time? Account for yourself. Do you have any drugs or weapons?

I need not to over-do this, I need to put it in context. Black people are agents, and there are lots of Black folks challenging political structures as well as trying to protect young people and provide help to those damaged by our system. As I have mentioned before, there is constant attempt by Black adults to create a sense of personal and political efficacy among young Black people. In fact, the speaker in our group came with his wife (who is also his business manager) and his small children. He said he makes a point of bringing his small children to meetings because he wants them to see him doing his work. Another Black attendee also brought a small child. People are working hard to train up their children for active, engaged citizenship.

But still, the contrast is looming. Tea partier or unionist – the carriers of protest in the past few years in this country have been overwhelmingly White. Look around at who feels entitled to protest. Look at who feels safe enough to turn out into the streets in large numbers. And then look around to see whose voices are missing from the public assembly. Look around for who teaches their children they are entitled to speak up, and who has to teach their children how to survive repression by keeping quiet when confronted with police.

“Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? “

Late Monday, as it gets colder and uglier in Madison

It’s getting tense today in Madison. The Department of Administration (not the Capitol Police) has issued a series of orders that have the effect of not allowing protesters into the Capitol and of making things tough for the few still inside. People who are authorized to enter by a legislator are being escorted in and out, not permitted to stay and join the protest. There are rumors that the small numbers still inside are being played on national media (FOX anyone?) as a sign of diminished protest enthusiasm. The police and protesters are trying to work ways around this, but the police are following orders and are apparently unwilling not to follow orders. Protesters accuse the Governor of trying to force a confrontation between police and protesters. There are actually lines in the Wisconsin Constitution that say that the Capitol must be open to the public so groups are filing suit to get court orders to reopen the Capitol. In short, even police who side with the protesters can engage in repression if they follow orders.  The Governor will be giving his budget message tomorrow and he is hoping to have a clear field. A rally was called for 6.

Although I’ve been sick, my spouse and I decided to go to the 6pm rally for a while. It’s been in the 20s today — not all that bad for here — but it is supposed to get down to 12 overnight. (That’s in Fahrenheit, or -11 for the rest of the world.) It is clear that the goal of clearing the Capitol is to get dissident voices out for the Governor’s budget message tomorrow. Rumors are flying. All over Facebook is the claim that I’ve been unable to verify, that the Capitol Police Chief (under the authority of the Department of Administration (DOA), which has been issuing the “clear out the Capitol” rules and misleading press releases) has been replaced by the head of the newly-appointed head of the State Patrol (under the Department of Transportation), who  is the father of two key Republican legislators. It is clear that the Dept of Admin has been issuing orders over the head of the Chief of Capitol Police, who himself issued a statement earlier today that he did not arrest overnight protesters because they were doing nothing wrong. But there has been no official announcement that someone with an appointment in the Dept of Transportation is now in charge of the Capitol Police. Nor any  announcement that the Chief of Capitol Police has been fired. [Edit: Finally  Facebook has a report from one of our grads who talked directly to the Chief and asked him if he’s been fired. He said no, he’ has not been fired.]

Another rumor circulating this evening and spoken from the dais is that “tea party” protesters would be smuggled into the gallery for Walker’s budget speech tomorrow via an underground tunnel from the office building a block away. There’s been remarkably little evidence of tea party folks anywhere. This just does not seem to be their issue. (Although there was one old guy wandering the crowd speaking to individuals tonight who seemed to be trying to stir up trouble by calling the speakers “porkers,” i.e. labor leaders who just fed at the trough. Nobody around me was taking his bait.) But as I thought about it later, it seems rather likely that Walker would issue special invitations to his friends to try to pack the gallery. I don’t know that there is a tunnel between the two buildings, but it wouldn’t be crazy for there to be one — it is pretty cold here in the winter. So the issue for tomorrow is who will get into the Capitol for a seat in the gallery, which is generally first-come-first-served.

DOA rules have been permitting few or no people to join the protesters already inside, so the ranks inside have been declining as people leave for their jobs and other obligations. There are relatively few protesters still left inside (about 50 today, I think, down from several hundred last night), but there are TAA and sociology grads among them. I ran into some TAA leaders outside in the cold at the rally, and they told me that they are in contact with “our” people inside, and that as far as they knew, things are going ok inside.

Today’s rally was obviously ad hoc. There was a crowd that I’d estimate to be in the hundreds, but it was obviously continuously shifting. There was a really crappy amplifier compared to previous days, so it was very hard to hear speakers even from pretty close to the speaker’s stand. Shouts of “talk louder” frequently drowned out the inadequate sound from the speaker. There also appeared to be no particular plan to the speakers. We arrived late, so perhaps I missed the keynotes, but what seemed to be happening was an “open mike.”  Some people worked for inspiration, others seemed (to me) to be off-base or, in one case,  seemed (to me) to be fabricating claims of mistreatment by authorities inside the Capitol (including a story of police erasing the video record on her cell phone), in light of other information available to me.

Attendees were exhorted to spend the night and assured that donations of blankets and warm coats were coming in. I couldn’t help but remark to my TAA colleagues that this did not seem like a very reasonable strategy to me. The crowd was mostly middle-aged. When I got home, I saw on Facebook a call for a “tent city” on the Capitol grounds, which at least upgrades the potential shelter provided to outdoor overnighters. And lots of people in this part of the world do winter camping. [Later edit: Facebook support site Defend Wisconsin reports 50 sleeping over in the cold and calls for blankets, hand warmers, warm hats and mittens etc so they don’t freeze to death. More than one committed activist expressed dismay at this action on the support page.]

Speakers were insisting they would stay “until we win.” If “win” means “get any kind of compromise at all,”  I suppose this isn’t entirely unreasonable. Scott Walker thought he held all the cards, but he failed to count the quorum number. But if “win” means “win” as in getting what you want, vowing to sit out in the cold in Wisconsin until you get it seems like a losing strategy for the long run. I’ve personally been suggesting to people that there ought to be some sort of dignified exit strategy to fight again another day, instead of a bitter dwindling of numbers by attrition. But, as I’ve also noted, I’ve always been a behind-the-scenes pessimistic analyst, never the visionary at the vanguard. This movement has already gone farther than I thought it would.

Sociology faculty have been cautioning our TAA students not to be “ahead of the working class,” not to try to be a vanguard. From the external evidence, the elements that seem to me, as an outside observer, to be most extremist, are not the teaching assistants, but some of the members of the other unions.

Tomorrow is a big day. Scott Walker gives his budget speech. Everyone expects it to announce yet more horrific details, and to include punitive responses to public workers. Walker may have miscounted his cards, and the past two weeks have to have dashed his hopes of being a rising national star of the right, but he still has almost all the high cards in Wisconsin — including an electoral victory last fall, control of both houses of the legislature, and a letter-item veto power*. He’s obviously angry and likely to do his best take out a lot of his opponents in the wake of his public humiliation. I personally am pretty afraid of just what he is planning to come up with.

*I’m not kidding. The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled some years ago that a Wisconsin governor can veto single characters — including digits and decimal points in numbers and the word “not” — out of bills passed by the legislature, as long as what remains when he is done is a grammatical sentence. This has led to its own brand of insane legislation-writing when the Governor and the legislature were not of the same party.

Last Saturday there were 100,000 euphoric people marching around the Capitol. Tomorrow . . .

madison, race

Quote of the evening (partly paraphrased): “I know you sat around and let Walker get elected. You-all didn’t think Walker was going to hurt YOU-all, just us Black and Brown and poor people.”

This seemed fitting, as I’ve been party to many political conversations about the narrowing of the protest to the collective bargaining issue. The ranks are not at all happy about their leadership just conceding the financial issues. The proposal will cost state workers a minimum of 6-7% of their salary, more if they are low wage, as the health insurance premiums do not vary with income. But there is a lot of other stuff in the bill that is being completely ignored. It would give the governor the right to kill off Medicaid — a coalition is trying to bring up that issue, but isn’t making it out of the din. Another part of the bill that isn’t being contested is the right of the Governor to sell off state property without taking competitive bids or gaining the approval of the Public Works Commission. And, of course, with so much under attack, nobody is even considering the possibility of improving social services for the most destitute. This year’s deficit could be made up at $32 per adult in the state — it just isn’t that big. But the Republicans are busy cutting revenue via cutting various business taxes.

This evening I went off to a long-scheduled meeting of a group seeking focus on racial disparities and form a local branch of WISDOM, Wisconsin’s Gamaliel Foundation group. I wasn’t sure anyone would be there with all the ruckus at the Capitol, but a fair number of folks did turn out, although I think everyone either already has some tie to the issue or has a direct tie to one of the organizers. Although the organizers were White (and spoke at the beginning and end of the program), all the invited speakers were Black: a lawyer who heads the racial disparities implementation team who gave an inspiring speech about hanging on, addressing the things we’d rather hide, and God’s calling; a former financial professional who provides job coaching for returning inmates (who stressed that he took the job because of his relationship with Jesus); and a former self-described gangster and drug dealer (quoted above) who told us how his life was turned around by “old white ladies” visiting him in prison. The fourth speaker was another former inmate who runs re-entry programs: he was a last-minute sub for the guy who was supposed to speak, who is currently being held in jail on a parole hold. The substitute speaker and another (white) person who is in his circle of support were talking later about how the parole agent won’t return calls and about what to do next to try to get him out. I also met a diversity specialist who was at the Law School forum earlier this month (about which I did not blog, but the recap is it featured the Black newly-appointed DA who will have to stand for election doing his best to talk the disparities issue into a muddy swamp) who wanted to connect.

The Madison protests are still going. A nasty storm kept the crowds small and indoors on Sunday; there was a rally Monday I did not go to.  Tuesday was another big rally day and the campus was asked to walk out in solidarity and march to the capitol. On the way back, I heard the guy behind me say: “This is Walker’s physical fitness program for the University. Walk up and down State Street every day.” The Steelworkers and Firemen are sleeping at the Capitol. Crowds are smaller. The police have told the protesters that they will try to clear the Capitol of sleepovers if the crowd gets small enough, and blog posts indicate that the sleepovers are being confined to smaller and smaller areas. The word I get is that the out-of-town union people are frightened of the police and keep spreading [false] rumors that the police are massing in riot gear. The locals think the police are acting friendly. Knowing how local police work, I’m pretty sure that if the Capitol is closed, they will be told to disperse and given time to do it, and then will have to face the question of whether to stay and risk arrest or confrontation.

The State Senators’ absence blocks passage only of budget bills. So the Republicans are setting about the business of passing all the other noxious legislation they can, including repealing the recently-passed requirement to collect racial traffic stop data and requiring voters to show ID.

And I finally started collecting personal email addresses so we can do protest support without violating the law. It is explicitly against the law for state workers to use state resources to lobby about a bill before the legislature. As you may imagine, a lot of people are ignoring this law, and there are a wide variety of interpretations about just what it means in this context, as workers do have the right to express opinions about their work conditions. Anyway, the personal email list removes this ambiguity, although it is cumbersome to use. I had to explain to people how to set up a gmail account.

On Wisconsin!

Madison Friday 2

Part II of Friday protests. Written later with more leisure.

I begin with the  part of the most general interest first. If you don’t have  a taste for my more personal musings in the middle, you can skip to the end, where I recap my understanding of how  the week’s events unfolded and summarize what I saw when I looked at the TV news coverage of today.

Out at the 5:00 rally, lots of singing, union songs plus God Bless America. Late start on the talks. A Assembly Democrats come out and talk about having a “surprise” for the crowd. Say he’s going to tease a bit, talks about other things. I’m thinking, “Oh, Wow, there’s been a concession.”  Finally says, “The Republicans have adjourned to Tuesday!” I’m certainly confused about why he’s sounding so happy about this. He says “Isn’t that a wonderful surprise?” People around me are saying, “What is the surprise?”  It turns out he’s trying to say (not real clearly) that having the Assembly adjourn to Tuesday is a victory because the process has been slowed down. Then more speeches from really hard working teachers from union families who love their jobs and are worried. Sorry I’m getting a little jaded at this point. I’m cold and hungry and it is already 6pm, the time I thought the 5pm rally would be ending. I’d heard Jesse Jackson was going to speak, but I decided I couldn’t hold out any longer, so I left. Later, checking local news clips, I discovered that this is what had happened according to two local television reporters: The Republicans called a session for 5pm. Then they actually started early, without the Democrats, and took votes on some amendments and were about to vote on the main motion when the Democrats arrived. The Democrats yelled and there were angry exchanges. The result  was that the Republicans agreed to rescind the votes on the amendments out and adjourn until Tuesday, meaning that Democrats can still offer amendments on Tuesday. None of these goings-on in the assembly made it to the national news broadcasts, but the local FOX affiliate covered it, including the Republican confession that it had been a “bull run” and the the print version on the FOX website mentions it. Continue reading “Madison Friday 2”

madison protests later in the day

I’m back from a few hours at the Madison protest and the midday rally.

The galvanizing issue for the protest is to strip public unions of collective bargaining rights over anything but salary. There is a report that the “budget crisis” is a sham, in that the budget was left in fairly good shape by the outgoing Democratic governor (who has been imposing cuts on the public sector, the university, and welfare throughout the eight years of his administration), and the Republicans passed a series of expensive tax breaks for businesses in January. It’s fair to say that this is not a sad response to fiscal crisis, but a calculated attempt to weaken unions.

The midday protest was quite an event. It is a huge crowd that looks a lot like tea-party folks: overwhelmingly white, predominantly middle-aged despite the large infusion of high school kids and college students. Even a few “Don’t Tread on Me” flags.  Labor unions from the private sector were out in force today. The Capitol is packed and huge crowds are outside it. Lots of shops along State Street have signs supporting the unions and/or the teachers. I’m sure they are doing a booming business. The police and firefighters, who are exempted from the loss of collective bargaining rights due to their support for the Governor in the last election, nevertheless turned out in force in solidarity with other public workers. The mood of the crowd was upbeat.

Late-breaking news: State Sentate Democrats finally got a spine with mass support and are in hiding to prevent a quorum which would bring the bill to a vote. The police are now charged with finding them. The rumor is that they left the state.

The is another rally called for 5:30 this evening and more over the weekend. The Ed Show on MSNBC (comes on after Rachel Maddow) gave Madison extensive coverage last night and is broadcasting from here tonight; people were urged to show up to the Capitol Square for the broadcast.

Continue reading “madison protests later in the day”

madison protests

This is a week of protests in Madison over the new governor’s “budget repair” bill that includes repealing most collective bargaining rights for public employees. Someone posted a 30 second clip of the rally on Youtube from Wednesdays  midday rally, estimated at 30,000 people, even bigger than yesterday’s rally that was estimated at 10,000 – 12,000 and  included a lot of labor union contingents. (My impression was that the modal attendee yesterday was middle-aged, not college age.) Hundreds of people spent the past two nights providing 2 minutes of testimony each at the legislative hearing on the bill. Wednesday’s  rally was augmented by the “sick in” of Madison’s public school teachers which led the district to cancel classes. With the schools closed, whole families are downtown at the rally, as well as substantial contingents from all the high schools. This is largely a “company town” in the sense that government employees predominate, so an attack on state employee benefits is an attack on the whole community. Outside of Madison, it seems to be the unions who are stepping up and see this as a continuation of the attack on organized labor. Beyond that, we’ve gotten to the position where government employees have become stigmatized and safe “others” to attack as part of political career-building.

I may post later about feeling like Obama, dithering around, in my case about how to handle class cancellation in the face of the flow of events. Madison finally made the national news after 30,000 protesters were out yesterday. Today Milwaukee public schools have also closed, along with many districts near Madison. After a somewhat confusing series of “assembly instructions” hindered by the ban on using university email for any political activity, it is clear that most university classes will be canceled for the day. This is likely to be a very big day for collective action. The state house passed the bill at midnight last night, the state senate votes today.

National news is still not getting the story right. This state’s “fiscal crisis” is not as bad as most, and most of the deficit is due to a series of tax breaks the governor pushed through for his cronies in January. The mass mobilization is around stripping public employees of collective bargaining rights. This is galvanizing organized labor generally.

Interesting to be caught up in the flow of events.

I’m off to join the masses.

edit:  Milwaukee Public Schools did not close, although many southern Wisconsin districts have closed. They are likely to have a mess there if many teachers call in sick but they refuse to close.

edit #2: State house has passed the bill, the strategy is to delay the vote in the Senate by having hundreds (thousands?) of people sign up to speak at the public hearing. People have been testifying at 2 minutes apiece since Tuesday.

Egypt & other protest videos

I’m posting these links here so I can find them for later classroom use. This is a two-part series produced by Al-Jazeera. Each episode is 25 minutes. WordPress won’t let me embed, so here is a link to their page:
http://english.aljazeera.net/programmes/2011/02/201121310411102992.html

Here’s a 3 minute synopsis posted to Youtube by Al-Jazeera

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cbeDKzT71Y4

Two minute video on the Madison protest Feb 15 2011 (re proposal to strip collective bargaining rights from state workers: http://host.madison.com/ct/news/local/govt-and-politics/blog/article_726761dc-394a-11e0-8465-001cc4c03286.html?mode=video

Here are some pictures from the overnight sit-in: http://www.facebook.com/#!/album.php?aid=614511&id=716045233&fbid=10150383401840234