Senior year of high school I was voted “Most Likely to Lead a Protest March,” for railing against the injustices of the dress code and writing articles for the school newspaper with titles like “Welcome to Prison.”
But it wasn’t until college that I became a critical thinker capable of understanding why I’d struggled against my Catholic school upbringing. My liberal arts education, literature and anthropology and political geography, helped me see what I’d sensed all along: that maybe there were different ways to live and worship and love and construct society. Maybe the most important thing about Jesus was his radical socialism.
When Bush stole the win from Gore in the 2000 election (the first I could vote in), I was almost 22 and almost finished with college. I burned with righteous indignation over the injustices of the capitalist world. I knew I’d benefited from that world, and I also knew that the global majority did not.
After graduating, aimless and missing the headiness of college, I took an adult ed class with a professor who was part of the International Socialist Organization. Inspired by her intellectual vision, I joined the movement, attending their weekly meetings and peddling their newspapers and dutifully highlighting dense tomes by Trotsky and Marx.
Activism in my 20’s came naturally. Sure, I was hotheaded and rife with contradictions, but at least I was grappling. And I was grateful for living in a country where I could wear a Fuck Bush tank top in DC while protesting the Iraq War. Proving the prophecy of my teenage peers, I even commandeered the bullhorn at one downtown march. I can’t remember what exactly we were protesting, but I can remember the thrill of speaking out collectively against injustice.
I carried my activism out to California and into grad school, where I tried mobilizing fellow Writing Center tutors to join the fight for higher wages. I seized upon Paulo Freire’s “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” and wrote my thesis on liberatory education in the college classroom (not realizing until years later the irony of trying to “liberate” upper middle class white kids at SSU). I took my high school students to a midnight vigil outside of San Quentin, crying with them when the execution bell tolled.
And then I turned 30, Obama got elected, and the whole world sighed with relief. No need to protest against competence. As I got married and had kids, my activism grew less active: quiet, inward, and domestic. M and I try our best to live our values. We grow food and buy our clothes at thrift stores and participate in our community like the educated liberals we are.
I never stopped being politically-minded or challenging my students to think beyond their indoctrination, but the Women’s March in January was the most active thing I’d done in a while. It felt so good to bust out the markers and duct tape for sign-making with my four year-old daughter. Marching through downtown Santa Rosa in the cold rain moved me to tears more than once. Almost like a home-coming.
Now I’m compelled to do more. So yesterday evening I spent a couple hours volunteering with Food Not Bombs, giving free food to hungry folks right down the road from my house. Hardly earth shattering, I know. But in some ways, that’s the whole point of activism: low-key and un-glamorous, service to the most forgotten, disenfranchised people.
As I wrapped burritos in tinfoil, an older man, dirty and kooky and pawing at the boxes of pastries, kept talking to me. It was clear what he needed most. And so I did my best to listen.