Doing Good

a little activism

NYCMoi Okay, I've had enough. Here's what I sent off to my state senator and to the senator representing most of my students at CNR and here are their email addresses if you'd like to do the same:
diaz@senate.state.ny.us
and
serrano@senate.state.ny.us.
You can find your senator here.

Dear Senators Diaz and Serrano,

I'm currently an adjunct professor at the College of New Rochelle's South Bronx Campus. I live in Parkchester and commute by bus or subway three or four times a week to the campus at 149th Street and 3rd Avenue in the Bronx. I'm writing to you both about the looming MTA fare hike, but not just because it will increase my costs in the face of the meager pay that adjuncts make. I'm writing you both on behalf of my students, who live in your districts.

Many of my students are on public assistance. Some of them have overcome enormous obstacles to attend college: abusive relationships, drug addiction, extreme poverty, homelessness, alcoholism, AIDS, deaths in their families. Many of them are still confronted with these problems and keep coming to school anyway, because they know getting an education is a stepping stone to a better life. The thing that impresses me most about my students is their deep desire to improve themselves, to become contributing members of society, rather than victims of circumstance. They work so hard, juggling exhausting, low-paying work, the demands of children, and their school work. I admire them immensely.

Many of our college's classes meet once a week to minimize the amount students have to spend on transportation. If the MTA raises their fare as much as threatened, a large number of my students will not be able to afford to make the trip to school even once a week. This will short-circuit innumerable efforts by hard-working people to make something of themselves. The working poor have enough obstacles in their way. Please work with your fellow senators to keep the MTA fare hike from being another one. This is no time for dithering. Peoples' dreams are in your hands.

Yours sincerely,

Ann E. Kottner


Hard Times

Depressed Moi A little story from the train that bears recording:

I took the No. 6 down to 86th St. to go to Staples for new toner and paper around noon today. The car was pretty empty; there were four or five of us: me, a middle aged Hispanic man, a youngish black woman, and across from me, a late middle aged white businessman with short hair, a dark suit, a long, black wool coat and a briefcase, nice looking but with a sad face. Around 116th a young couple got on with their chubby-faced little boy in a stroller. Dad was in scuffed Timberlands that looked like they'd been on a construction site, jeans, a light jacket. Mom was in jeans and boots too, and just a long-sleeved T-shirt, though their son was bundled up well. He started the pitch: they'd lost their house, he'd lost his job, couldn't get public assistance yet, never thought they'd be living in a shelter. He wanted work and a chance to go to college and instead they were asking for anything we could give them. It wasn't like the usual pitches. These two people were proud and embarrassed to be asking for money. Every single person in the car gave them something, including me. Afterwards, we all kind of looked at each other in a way New Yorkers on a train normally don't, shaking our heads, eyes a little too bright. The guy across from me in the suit really looked stricken and muttered something that sounded sympathetic and disgusted, not with them but with the situation. He'd given them several dollars.

Four people I know have lost jobs within the past couple of weeks. Another friend just lost one today. The safety net is frayed. And a neocon on Facebook tells me that capping the salaries of financial moguls whose companies take bailout money will somehow only hurt the economy more. All I can think is that those fuckers are lucky they still have jobs and it'll do their kids good to endure a couple of years in a public school and miss their skiing vacations. Let them sell their country houses.

Eat the rich, baby.


be kind

Going to Church Moi Great review article in The Guardian today about a book called On Kindness by Adam Philips & Barbara Taylor (only available in the UK). The gist of the review is that we, as a society, are suspicious of kindness and see it as a form of selfishness or weakness, in part because we've been taught we are all in fierce competition with each other for survival. Here's a good example: I was catching up with a friend I hadn't seen in a while over New Year's and was telling her that I'd been helping my friend Helen (whom I've known longer than the friend I was talking to) get her new pied-a-terre set up over here. It's been over a year-long process, from the house-hunt to the final move in and Helen, who has a nice house in London and a very successful business, stayed with me several times along the way. We've gone shopping together, I've picked things up for her, met with realtors, and basically shared everything I've gleaned about living in New York for the past 20 years. As I was describing this, my friend kept asking me "what's in it for you?" over and over, until I felt like I was justifying my actions.

While it's true that Helen could probably throw me some freelance work now and then, and she's already invited me to stay with her next time I'm in London, the truth is that I've been helping her out (a) because she's a friend, (b) because someone else (Laurie) helped me out when I first moved here, and (c) because I like helping people. There: I said it. Yes, I do like helping people. It's one of the reasons I teach. The best moments in the classroom are those

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what it means to be inclusive

RadicalMoi I've been known to hold a few extreme and even radical ideas in my day. In a male-dominated society, feminism itself is a pretty radical notion, as Marilyn French said. I will go so far as to say that some of my view points are pretty binary: either on or off, with no gray areas or extenuating circumstances attached: women deserve the same opportunities and compensation as men; white people are not smarter or better than anybody else; education should be free through the Ph.D.; affordable healthcare is a right, not a privilege; every human life has value (where "human life" begins is another, separate matter). As I get older, though, the gray areas get bigger until I find myself backing off from the sweeping statements I used to make about issues. Sometimes I can't even define my own feelings or opinions about an issue. For example, the idea of abortion has always made me uncomfortable, but I've never felt I had the right to impose my feelings on other women—nor that anyone else has the right to make that decision for individual women. People are full of contradictory beliefs they can't resolve in themselves, me included.

So it's starting to irritate the crap out of me when people pile on President-Elect Obama for not following their agenda. We had a regime like that for eight years, in which a deeply conservative moral agenda was forced down the throats of both moderates and liberals. And while I would go so far so to call myself a far-left liberal, even a socialist, I don't want "my side" to do the same thing. Why? Because it stymies progress, making it a tug of war between two opposing sides, rather than a set of compromises that everyone can live with. It's polarizing and unproductive.

Here's an example of what I mean from Shakesville's Melissa McEwan, who's pissed off at Obama's choice of his personal friend, Rev. Rick Warren to lead prayers at his

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Damned if you do, damned if you don't

Bitchbutton In the You Can't Fucking Win Department, this just in:

A new study in Psychology of Women Quarterly finds that women who present themselves as confident and ambitious in job interviews are viewed as highly competent but also lacking social skills. Women who present themselves as modest and cooperative, while well liked, are perceived as low on competence. By contrast, confident and ambitious male candidates are viewed as both competent and likable and therefore are more likely to be hired as a manager than either confident or modest women. . . .

Results show how disparate hiring criteria further discriminates against ambitious, competent women. When judging the ambitious women's hirability, a perceived lack of social skills formed the basis of the hiring decision, and the womens' high competence was relatively neglected. For ambitious men, however, perceived competence and interpersonal skills were weighed equally in the hiring decision. Women were doubly disadvantaged because even when female applicants adhered to stereotypic expectations by presenting themselves as modest, they were unlikely to be hired because evaluators emphasized their relatively low competence and discounted their (high) social skills.

The double standard is alive and well: "He's ambitious; she's a bitch." Men are still not expected to have social skills; women are still expected to fill that role in society. Ambition and competence conflict with social skills (where did that one come from?) Women should be modest, not toot their own horns, not have goals and dreams and desires that might conflict with men's. Women who present themselves as confident and ambitious are still seen as dangerous aggressors who threaten the social order and the

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World AIDS Day, 2008

20anniversaryimage_mediumTwenty years is too long to live with something that can be prevented so easily, people. Infection rates are still rising worldwide, though the numbers in the developed world show that public information campaigns help prevent transmission. Respect yourself and your partners and protect yourself and your partners. Speak out about it. Urge the government to rescind the gag order on reproductive health organizations that offer condoms as birth control and std prevention in developing nations. The truth works. In the meanwhile, help us find a cure. For a list of AIDS organizations who need your time or your money, click here.


Bronx Voices

ArtsyfartsymoiOkay, deep breath . . .  it looks like this thing is actually gonna get off the ground. Bronx Voices is a group of performers, poets, songwriters, rappers, singers, actors, teachers and whomever else we can drag onto the stage. It started with something one of my fellow profs, D.L. Anderson, called the Poetry Jam in a room at the South Bronx campus of the College of New Rochelle. I contributed a poem and then got chatting with D.L. about how to make the voices of the students we were teaching, and their mind-boggling stories, heard in public.I'd already thought about putting together an anthology of their work when D.L. mentioned the same thing to me. We got together with a few of them and D.L.'s vision of a performance piece and, well, Bronx Voices was born.

Fundraisingflyer_3 Our first performance is coming up (click for larger view or download the flyer).
Most of all, come to our show. We're dirt poor, like most new and struggling organizations and we need some seed money besides mine and D.L.'s, especially since neither of us have a lot of dough to go around.D.L.'s daughter just started college and well, I'm a freelancer and an adjunct. Right now we're doing this purely for love, and out of the belief that the people we're working with need to be heard.

If you can't come, but you're interested in donating, I've got a Paypal account that will make it extremely easy for you, and your donation will be tax deductible now that we've joined The Field.

Every little bit helps. But we'd really like to see you sitting in a seat at the Arc Light come December 9th.

Just coincidentally, this is my 100th post on this blog, and I can't think of a better way to celebrate that fact. Poetry is such a huge part of my life, and teaching is becoming so again, so that makes this post double relevant.

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Blog Action Day on Poverty: Teach a Man to Fish

Radicalmoi"Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime."  —Chinese Proverb

Blocactionday2008_2 Today is a Blog Action Day and the topic is poverty. I haven't participated in one of these before, but this is something I feel strongly about. Teaching at the College of New Rochelle's extension campus in the South Bronx has only made me more aware of how dire the problem is. Understandably, the current financial crisis has too,though I have little to lose in it personally. The longer I teach students like the ones I have now, who are coming back to school later in life either because they didn't understand how important it was at first, couldn't afford it, or had other obstacles to overcome, the more clearly I see how education is one of the most important tools for fighting poverty. Sure, living wages and a redistribution of wealth would help too, but there's truth to the idea that you can't ever take away someone's education or skills from them.

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Rave On

PeacegirlLike just about everybody else who sees it, I can't get enough of this video. Celtic music does this to me. I can't tell you how often I've danced around my apartment to jigs and reels. And George Michael. And Peter Gabriel's "Solsbury Hill." And the Clash. Bless Matt Harding for reminding me.

More time dancing, less time killing each other. Everybody Snoopy Dance! Thanks to Jen-Luc for the heads up.


Saving the Suicide Hotline

Peacegirl This is a favorite cause of mine, not because I've lost anyone to suicide, but because I've felt low enough myself to not really care whether I lived or died. Even if you aren't actively seeking to end your life, that point where you don't care is a bad enough place to be; I can't imagine going that one step further and because I couldn't, I got myself into therapy and stopped walking into traffic without looking. But not everyone is always this rational. I know it's important for people in this state of mind to have a safe place to find help, a place that's confidential, that won't treat them like criminals (or potential suicide bombers), that won't penalize them or make them feel worse than they already do. In a country where you cannot make a phone call or send an e-mail message without an assured right to privacy, this issue is not a trivial matter. Keeping your records confidential is not something the government, especially the current one, is very good at. And this kind of problem requires empathy, not bureaucracy. So if you can, give a few bucks to keep this service private and independent.