A reader asks why I did not stay home from work and join the May Day protests today, and I feel like this question deserves a serious response.
Partly, I have always had a phobia about crowds, and never willingly put myself into a crowd situation. I don’t even like to go to an agricultural fair, or a peaceful parade. In my Manhattan youth, crowds and violence often went together, or at least crowds and the fear of violence. I am a wimp.
Partly, I felt like I could do more good in my classroom today than anonymously out on the streets. It is the last full week of classes at my institution; students are finishing up projects that need response and guidance. If I didn’t show up to work today, it would throw a monkey wrench in the plans I made for a graceful and productive ending to our semester together.
Partly, I don’t have any beef against my own employer, so not showing up for work today would affect the wrong target, while making no difference at all to the intended target, the 1%.
I guess the biggest reason I felt like my presence was expendable to today’s protest is because no one would notice if I was or was not out there on the street, but I would definitely be missed from my classroom.
However, in at least one of my two classes today, I did spend some time talking about May Day and the reasons for the protest.
I was surprised to learn that very few of my students had any clue as to what May Day signified to the labor movement, or why the protests today were taking place.
I don’t know why I assumed that my students would be more politically aware than I was at their age.
Turns out, few of them even realized there were going to be significant protests today, much less what they were all about. Some also had their doubts as to whether the Occupy approach was likely to be effective.
Well, I pressed them, if occupying public spaces is not an effective means of protest, what would be more effective? Joining a political campaign? Writing a letter to the editor?
No one had an answer to that, but I could see the wheels turning.
And that’s why I am glad I decided to stay at work today. At least with this one small group of students, I was able to foreground these historic May Day protests in their minds, and ask some questions that no one else probably would have asked them today.
Maybe as a result they will be paying attention to the news in a different way, and thinking more concretely about how the issues blazoned across all those posters and banners are relevant to their own particular lives.
Whether working on the small canvas, in the classroom, or the big canvas, out in the street, we are working together to build up the necessary momentum to blast our way to a better world.