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I was surprised last night when I went on Facebook and saw negative comments about the Women’s March, especially surprised to read those from women. “Why are you marching? What don’t you have?” someone asked to women in general as if we are spoiled little girls who just want more and more!
“What were all these women doing blocking the roads when people needed them to get to work?” another person groused.
“Why take up the time of the police? They have better things to do than herd women with little pink pussies on their heads,” said someone else.
Okay, I thought. I’m not sure why, out of all things going on, people are so annoyed about women organizing and marching. Obviously, they just don’t get it. Women, and men, marched together for what we were taught in school: American values. The March supported women, yes: equal pay, protection from harassment, the right to female healthcare–those kinds of issues. But it also supported the values of honor, integrity, respect, truth and fair play. We marched for equality and justice for all.
Did I think I’d be doing this at 72? No, not at all. Did I think my sisters from all over the country would be marching in January because we felt we needed to? No, but here we are.
I went to the Kona March with 12 people, male and female. We ranged in age from 2 and 1/2 to 88. We weren’t a militant group–just neighbors who care about each other and the United States.
There were all kinds of people there–people who cared enough to come out and stand together . It felt good to chant: RESIST, PERSIST, INSIST. We will resist injustice. We will not be good little girls and go away–we will persist as we insist that our flag stands for everybody. We are a diverse nation–that’s a fact. And we love it.
A man asked me what I thought about the Trump year. He recorded what I said (Will I be arrested soon?), which was: “I think the band aid has been ripped off the cover of America, and the ugly wound festering beneath has been revealed. Perhaps now there can be some healing.”
My essay, Burn Baby Burn, was published this winter in WESTVIEW. It will be a chapter in my book about the days I taught in Seattle’s Central District.
I don’t remember whose idea it was—Sunny’s or mine. One of us decided we should have a drama festival for our ninth-grade English classes. It doesn’t sound like a big deal today, but in 1968 it was completely crazy. America was in terrible conflict—the fabric of the country in tatters. Assassinations were commonplace. Nonviolent and violent demonstrations for civil rights and against the Vietnam War spread through college campuses and spilled into the community at large. “Burn, baby, burn!” wasn’t just a slogan, as we all learned to our jeopardy.
It was almost impossible to teach anything at Meany Junior High at that time. We were located in the Central Area—Seattle’s inner city. Kids came from every ethnic and economic group, but the school was becoming increasingly African-American. So many were poor and underprivileged. My colleague Sunny and I were twenty-two—barely out of school ourselves. We were blue-eyed optimists filled with energy and ideas of how to ignite our students’ love of learning. We were passionate about what we did—we knew that education could be the ticket out of the ghetto.
It was tough going. Sometimes you’d give yourself a high five if a few students wrote their names at the top left side of the paper. At first we used the same curriculum I’d had as a student there six years before, including Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, a complicated play with so many characters whose names began with C—Caesar, Casca, Calpurnia. If it had been Romeo and Juliet, maybe we could have sparked some interest in these teenagers, but all I saw were blank stares as I plowed through the lessons.
It wasn’t that my students weren’t well acquainted with the concept of dramatic arc. Every day, they were involved in some drama. At Meany, we had to keep our doors locked in case the Black Panthers, Black Student Union, Students for a Democratic Society, or any other protestors wanted to hijack our classrooms. Our classes were disrupted several times a day by fire drills, making it impossible to build any momentum in the classroom. It drove me crazy and one day, I’d had enough. I marched into the principal’s office after the third drill to complain.
“How are we supposed to teach anything, Dr. Patterson?” I asked. “And why are you making us walk across the street for each drill? It’s pouring down rain.” I’m sure my hands were on my hips.
Dr. Patterson gave me a sardonic look. “Because bombs burst out,” he said.
I remember his smile when my angry expression turned to shocked fear as I registered the fact each fire drill was actually a bomb threat. I mumbled something like, “Oh,” and turned to leave.
“Also,” he said to my back, “I’d walk in the center of the hallway if I were you. Lockers make the best hiding places for bombs.”
I could hear him laughing even after I left the office and made my way carefully down the center of the hall.
Dr. Roland Patterson, who came from the East Coast, was the first African-American principal in the Seattle Public Schools. He was a short man who I thought had a Napoleon complex. Not only was he autocratic, he didn’t take well to criticism. But he did humor Sunny and me, going along with many of our ideas. In contrast, several of the old guard viewed us with derision. One ex-marine, who’d taught there when I’d been a student, snorted every time I walked into the teachers’ room. I half expected him to ask for my hall pass. While Sunny and I worked to engage the kids’ interest, he ruled his classroom as if he were still a drill sergeant. I thought of myself as my students’ coach, not their adversary. I’m not saying I wasn’t tough if I had to be—I’ve been told that my look from across the room could freeze a recalcitrant student in his tracks.
Still, I was glad that the week before the drama festival, Obie Tate chose to hold Steve Wilson’s class at gunpoint instead of mine. Obie was a recent transfer (which was what the schools did—transfer a troublemaker anywhere out of their school). Mr. Wilson was a big guy—nothing much seemed to bother him. Obie, after holding the gun to several students’ heads, had stood down. I don’t think I would have had Steve’s calmness to defuse the situation as he’d done.
It was in this anarchical milieu that Sunny and I decided to have the drama festival. For several weeks the kids rehearsed and gathered props and costumes. Meanwhile, we decided to invite important people in the community to be the judges. One was Fitzgerald Redd Beaver. He was the editor of The Facts, an African-American weekly. A large man, his facial expression was a permanent scowl—at least it was when he looked at me. He didn’t like whiteys teaching in the black community, and he wasn’t shy about announcing it to the world. One of his kids was in my class and at Back-to-School Night, Mr. Beaver glared at me throughout my presentation.
“Why do you think you can teach in this school? You’re white,” he said afterward. “You can’t possibly relate to my son or any of the other African-Americans. You know nothing.”
I wanted to say I’d been involved in the civil rights movement for years. I wanted to explain that I’d grown up with black kids and had known them all my life. I knew our experience was very different, but I felt I could make a difference now. Being Jewish, I’d also known the sting of prejudice. I wanted to explain that we were trying to create change within the system—that we cared and wanted to right wrongs.
I wanted to say I was changing the curriculum to include African-American authors like James Baldwin, Richard Wright, and Langston Hughes. I wanted to say that just because I was Caucasian didn’t mean I couldn’t teach everybody of every color. I started to say, “I’m here because this is what I know how to do—it’s what I can do to help,” but he cut me off. How we had the guts to ask him to judge the drama festival, I don’t know.
The other judge was Roberta Byrd Barr. I had seen her at the Cirque Playhouse when she starred in A Raisin in the Sun with actor Greg Morris. (She became principal of Lincoln High School in Seattle in 1973, the first woman principal of a high school in Seattle.) She was an outstanding woman, a busy and multitalented person who generously agreed to “judge” this tiny endeavor. We felt honored.
The day of the drama festival I woke to sunshine. A good omen, I thought. I drove my husband to work because the car was filled with props. “I know it will be great,” he said as he got out.
“I hope so,” I said. “The kids deserve it.” We were all tired, all burdened by the assassinations, by the civil rights struggle, by the Vietnam War and the protests. I loved that the kids were getting to just be kids having fun, if only for an afternoon.
My first period was ninth-grade English—almost everyone was participating, which was an amazing feat in itself. Students broke up into groups and rehearsed for the final time. I felt so encouraged to see their focus and also the camaraderie building between the kids, no matter their race. We can do it, I thought.
We met in the auditorium right after lunch. We’d gotten permission from the other teachers to let participating students leave their classes for one period. The kids were excited about their scenes, their costumes and makeup, and being on stage. You could feel it—the energy, the joy. As for Sunny and me, we had the feeling that we were actually doing something constructive. Learning was taking place—amazing!
Mr. Beaver was late and I remember pacing back and forth, getting more agitated with each passing minute. Should we start without him? I wondered. Would that make him angry? We only had an hour and a half to get all the acts in. Ms. Byrd had been early. She’d smiled and given my hand a squeeze when she came in. Just her presence gave me confidence.
Mr. Beaver walked in just as I was about to start. Surly, he didn’t offer an excuse. Only when he saw Roberta Byrd and sat down beside her did his sneer lessen, but not by much.
We began with a condensed version of the 1943 radio play Sorry, Wrong Number. Certainly it was an old play, but it still had a punch. And it had the advantage of being in the textbook. The kids stood with mikes as if in a recording studio and read their lines from the “script” they held. The audience loved it and so did the actors. You could feel the excitement and it was contagious. I stole a look at Mr. Beaver—even he looked entertained.
Next came the scene from A Raisin in the Sun. This required scenery and costumes. It was in the middle of this act that Dr. Patterson came in. My first thought was that he was going to sit in on the judging after all.
Instead he came up to me, frowning. “You’ll have to leave the auditorium,” he said in an undertone.
“What? We’re right in the middle of the drama festival.” I shook my head. “No, we can’t leave. We’re doing something wonderful here!”
“The school is on fire,” he said in a slow staccato. “We need to evacuate.”
“Fire?” I said. I was terrified of fire. Three years earlier I’d walked past someone’s room in the sorority house and seen the curtains on fire behind her. I’d screamed something incoherent and then run down the hall to the fire alarm. I had to break the cover to set it off, and it seemed like hours before I’d been able to. I still had nightmares about the flames licking around Jackie’s head. I dreamed that we didn’t get out safely and it was my fault.
Now I turned quickly to the kids. I had to make sure they were safe. “Everyone, we need to exit the building. Please follow Dr. Patterson out the rear door,” I said.
“What? Why do we have to leave now?” one of the boys asked.
“Yeah, we were just getting to my part,” a girl said.
“I know. And I’m sorry. But the school is on fire,” I said, my voice shaky. I’d begun to smell smoke.
It was important to get the kids safe. We led them outside and across the street to where other students were already gathered. We all stood watching the smoke rise from the west wing of the building. I noticed some of the African-American kids had white cloths in their hands. At lunch, one of my seventh-graders had come up to me to ask if I’d wetted my cloth yet. I didn’t attach any significance to it at that time, but now I realized that this fire was no accident. It had been well planned.
I’m not sure how long it took, but the fire department succeeded in putting out the fire. Eventually we returned to the building. There was chaos, of course, with the smell of smoke and fear hanging in the air. School was dismissed immediately for the day. I didn’t see Ms. Barr or Mr. Beaver—they must have left immediately. I met Sunny in the auditorium, where the props and scripts lay abandoned.
Sunny looked close to tears. “Let’s take a walk around the school,” I said, trying not to cry myself. “Maybe the fresh air will clear our minds.”
It was a warm day, so we didn’t need jackets as we headed out. We walked side by side without talking. When we rounded the corner on 19th, we saw a big group of kids coming toward us. As they got closer, we realized they were throwing rocks at the school. The sound of broken glass filled the air.
Sunny and I looked at each other. “Oh, shit,” I said.
Here we were, these two very white women, and approaching us fast was an angry mob.
“What should we do?” Sunny asked.
We didn’t have time to consider options, which turned out to be okay. Because we were wrong about the group—the kids weren’t angry at all. They were just having fun.
When they saw us, they called out: “Hi, Mrs. Anderson. Hi, Mrs. Muscatel.” They stopped throwing rocks as they came closer, smiling and waving. I smiled and gave the occasional wave as they continued through us. A half a block away, they started lobbing rocks at windows again.
In those days in the Central Area, if the fire department was called out, the Seattle Police Department’s riot squad came too. Sunny and I had just breathed sighs of relief after surviving the rock throwers, when we looked up and saw the police marching up the street toward us. I’ve never been so frightened in my life. They were in full riot gear, their pink faces very piglike in the afternoon sunshine. I could feel their menace from three blocks away.
“We better get the hell out of here,” I said to Sunny.
We quickly turned onto school property and headed for the double doors. I felt we made it inside just in time. I have no doubt that the police would have grabbed us and maybe even roughed us up. We’d probably have been arrested before we could say who we were.
Sunny and I went to the teachers’ room, where many of the teachers had gathered, some angry and some in shock. No one talked—almost everyone smoked. After a while, we were told it was safe to go to the parking lot for our cars. In my mind’s eye, I saw the rock throwers and the riot squad and wondered who I was safer from.
“Let’s go to my house,” I said to Sunny.
It was a short drive to my studio apartment. I turned on the radio as soon as we’d started the car, wanting to hear if they were reporting the fire. There was nothing.
At the apartment, even though it was 3:00 in the afternoon and neither of us was a big drinker, I made us gin and tonics. Our nerves were shot.
We took our drinks and sat on the couch.
“We almost did it,” Sunny said after a few minutes. She had red hair, and fair skin that freckled and flushed easily. Now she was deathly pale.
“The kids were loving it,” I said.
Sunny nodded. “I know. You could see how excited they were.”
“It was the most positive thing I’ve seen for a long time,” I said.
“Now I don’t know what will happen. School’s almost over for the year.”
I leaned my head back on the couch. “I am so tired,” I said.
We continued to talk about our confusion and despair until it was time to pick up my husband. He and I took Sunny back to school for her car.
In the spring twilight, the school sat as if untouched. You couldn’t see that the windows were broken or that something had broken inside of us.
There are sometimes my heart is so full that I get choked with emotion. Last Friday we walked to Mercerdale Park on Mercer Island, a suburb of Seattle, to watch the high school homecoming parade. Really we went to watch the high school band. Really we went to watch our grandson play the trumpet in the band.
A combination of things came together to overfill my heart. First and foremost was seeing our grandson, 16, standing amongst his band mates. I felt so much love and pride mixed with awe that the baby I’d held (not so long ago, was it?) was now this accomplished young man. I was completely fer klempt.
The sound of the band and the nip in the air stirred something in me too. I had a subliminal instant flashback to the days of Garfield High and the UDub—going to the games with my friends and with my dad. In this troubled world, it was comforting to see untainted exuberance. There was a small town innocence without the feeling of xenophobia that we’ve been witnessing on the news. And I didn’t think too hard about injustice and prejudice for a moment. I just enjoyed.
The next day, the breaking news on television was the rally and march in Charlotte, North Carolina. It was a peaceful protest against police shooting black men like Keith Scott and Terence Crutcher. Hundreds of Charlotte residents turned out—blacks, whites, Asians, Hispanics, gay, straight and in between. Parents pushed their kids in strollers, teenage kids with drums beat out a cadence—much like what had happened the afternoon before on Mercer Island.
It was the white people wearing Black Lives Matter t-shirts that got me fer klempt the second time in two days. They get it, I thought as I choked back tears. They understand where the focus has to be—not right now on all lives mattering, but on the lives that haven’t been mattering.
America is a complex country with systemic problems. It’s no fairy tale and a lot of times there are no happy endings. It’s better to acknowledge that, instead of covering it up. Otherwise, we’re just ostriches and the status quo will rule. Call me sentimental, but I’d like to see Americans working together with mutual respect to solve our problems. In this country, we have the potential to do just that. I wouldn’t live anywhere else.
America, the beautiful. Or is it America, the beautiful? I think it’s probably both. Certainly this country is not perfect. Certainly, I would live no where else. And I’m eternally grateful to my grandparents who had the courage to flee Russia and Lithuania. As they sailed into New York harbor, they felt the protecting shelter of the Statue of Liberty and the benediction of Emma Lazarus’ words: “Give me your tired, your poor, / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”.
Their way was not easy when they hit these shores. Instead of the streets of gold they’d heard about, they found only poverty, hardship and prejudice. But they weren’t afraid they’d be killed outright as they had in Europe. With hard work and perseverance, they could build a successful life. And they did.
Fast forward a hundred years and their granddaughter has been lucky enough to go to Washington D.C. three times in the last ten months. Who’d ah thought? I’ve toured the Capitol Building twice and the White House once. I’ve toured the monuments all three times. I’m now a junkie!
The city is built on a grand scale that we don’t see much of in our united states. Statues and magnificent buildings are interspersed with green parkways. It’s beautiful, truly.
This last trip I was at an ADL convention. The Anti-Defamation League was originally founded in 1915 to protect Jewish people from Antisemitism. It has grown and broadened its goal to protect all human and civil rights. I feel safer at night to know the ADL exists. I was impressed by the dedication of the young people attending, and inspired to action, myself.
Our hotel was only a ten minute stroll from the White House and I walked to it a couple of times. Tourists from around the world flock there. It’s impressive both because of its architecture and its significance. My four-year-old granddaughter walked there with her babysitter. My daughter and grandson walked there to see it at night.
We were home only two days when I heard about the shooting at a White House check point. It sent shivers down my spine. What if one of my family had been there then?
“Did you hear about the shooting at the White House?” I said as I walked into the dentist’s office.
“I hope they shot Obama,” a pleasant looking woman said.
I was taken aback. “Too unkind,” I said. “He’s our President.” Where’s the respect? I thought. There should be some respect for our President, if nothing else. Just plain old human decency.
The woman gave me a dirty look and turned her back on me. I sat down across the waiting room, not looking at her either.
Where has all the civility gone? I wondered. Long time passing.
Will it take another 911 to get out the “United We Stand” posters, and to bring back the realization that we’re all Americans, all part of the same family? Disagree, fine. Disparage, okay. But to wish someone’s injury or death? That’s too ugly of an American for me.
Do you feel like the world has gone crazy—that it’s tilting out of control on its axis? The headlines in the news make me think I’m in the Twilight Zone and we have regressed a century or two. What happened to the progress we had made as civilized people? World War II was brutal, but hadn’t the world learned from this? It could never happen again, right? And what about the gains the Civil Rights Movement made? Were they so negligible? Didn’t we learn over the years that we were part of the same species, more alike than different no matter our race, country, religion or sexual orientation?
In the era when the Berlin Wall went down it seemed like global peace and freedom from tyranny for all were right around the corner. I remember that New Year’s Eve in 1989 when we believed all things possible. We never envisioned that could include the genocides in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Rwanda in the 1990’s.
As I began writing this blog, I wanted to know when the Rwanda Genocide had occurred. I googled it and was led to the page below. I don’t remember the history books of my youth including any of these acts of genocide. Reading about them made me feel sick, but I read each one. I encourage you to do so, as well. It puts perspective on the genocidal acts in the Middle East right now. ISIS is following in the bloody footprints of their predecessors.
Man’s capacity for inhumanity seems to be inexhaustible.
Below, copied from : http://www.historyplace.com/worldhistory/genocide/
The term ‘Genocide’ was coined by Polish writer and attorney, Raphael Lemkin, in 1941 by combining the Greek word ‘genos’ (race) with the Latin word ‘cide’ (killing). Genocide as defined by the United Nations in 1948 means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, including: (a) killing members of the group (b) causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group (c) deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part (d) imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group (e) forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
Recent to Past Occurrences
- Bosnia-Herzegovina: 1992-1995 – 200,000 Deaths
- Rwanda: 1994 – 800,000 Deaths
- Pol Pot in Cambodia: 1975-1979 – 2,000,000 Deaths
- Nazi Holocaust: 1938-1945 – 6,000,000 Deaths
- Rape of Nanking: 1937-1938 – 300,000 Deaths
- Stalin’s Forced Famine: 1932-1933 – 7,000,000 Deaths
- Armenians in Turkey: 1915-1918 – 1,500,000 Deaths
It is a sad day. It is a day I didn’t want to come. I wanted Nelson Mandela to live forever.
I became familiar with him and his anti-apartheid struggles when I taught in the 1980’s. As a geography teacher, I taught some about latitude and longitude, but it was always the people (and the foods) that I emphasized. In 1987, the movie, MANDELA, was broadcast on television. Starring Danny Glover as Mandela, it was great! I taped it and showed it to my classes when we studied South Africa. From then on, Mandela was my hero.
When he was released from prison after 27 years, I was cheered. When apartheid was dismantled, I was heartened. When he became the country’s first black president, I was amazed. When he showed such integrity and forgiveness to the whites who had harmed him and his fellow people, I learned that goodness and power could reside in one person. He not only spoke of peace and equality, he put his words into action.
President Barack Obama spoke about this today: “We’ve lost one of the most influential, courageous and profoundly good human beings that any of us will share time with,” Obama said. “He no longer belongs to us, he belongs to the ages … His commitment to transfer power and reconcile with those who jailed him set an example that all humanity should aspire to.”
I knew that it was time for Mandela to make his final journey. He was ill and tired. A 45-year-old South African housewife expressed my emotions exactly.”I have mixed feelings. I am happy that he is resting but I am also sad to see him go,” Molebogeng Ntheledi was quoted as saying.
Goodbye, Mr. Mandela. May you rest in peace. May the lessons you taught the world never be forgotten.
Some people have questioned my political leanings. Why, they ask, are you so liberal?
Actually, I don’t think of myself as a liberal. Certainly, I can see eye-to-eye with fiscal conservatives. But I was raised to believe that all people are created equal. I’m not talking specifics here—Little Johnny may have more brains than Little Spencer. Little Clarissa may have been born to a wealthy family and have advantages over Little Joanie. No, what I am looking at is the forest here—or the species, really. What I am saying is that though our skin color may be different or our religion or our ethnicity or sexual orientation—underneath it all, we are human beings. We are the same.
It’s been fifty years since Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech. My classmates and I were privileged to hear him speak before then. In November, 1961, at the invitation of our principal, Frank Hanawalt, Martin Luther King Jr. came to Garfield High School to speak. He also spoke at my temple, Temple De Hirsch Sinai. Many of my contemporaries heard him there. He spoke of brotherhood and kinship and equality for all. He made us realize we could do something to create change.
From that time on, I had a dream that all children would be treated equally no matter their race, religion, or ethnicity. It was so apparent to me that people are people—some are good and some are bad. Some are smart and some are stupid. But I could also see that the economic and social divide of America was of Grand Canyon proportions. If you came from a disadvantaged background, it could make all the difference to getting ahead. I felt education was a key to getting people out of the ghetto.
I began teaching at Meany Junior High in 1967. I wanted to work within the system rather than outside of it. (I ‘d become a civil rights activist in my own way since college. Once, George Lincoln Rockwell, the Nazi bigot, came to speak at the University of Washington. Many of us were outraged. When they wouldn’t cancel the speech, we attended, sitting Caucasian, African American, Caucasian, African American throughout the auditorium.)
At Meany, located in Seattle’s inner city, I became a civil rights advocate in my classroom. Someday, I thought, if these kids were encouraged and given the chance to learn, they could go anywhere—why they could even become president!
When I quit teaching to raise my family, I brought the ideal of equality into our household. For starters, I put a poster of a white baby sitting next to a black baby, by my children’s crib. I am proud to say that my children and their children do not disappoint me. In reality, babies are color blind. You have to be taught to fear and hate. My daughter just sent me this photo. Our granddaughter, who is 18 months, had settled two of her dolls together for the night.
I think it is inconceivable to my children and grandchildren. that African Americans had to sit in different parts of a bus or drink at different fountains. It was to me, too. I remember going to a high school convention that was held in Houston. When I mentioned that my school was integrated, other delegates couldn’t believe me.
“So, they go to your school, but they have different classrooms,” one girl said.
“No, of course not,” I said.
“Really? Well, they sit on the other side of the room, then,” another girl said.
I shook my head. “Nope, we all sit together.”
They were astounded.
I wish I’d known then that Jimi Hendrix was going to be famous because I could have bragged that he sat next to me in Sophomore English.