Feeling no burn

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Always astounded by the lack of historical fluency of college students, I once again found myself defining terms like ‘conservative’ and ‘progressive’ and giving history lessons on the Constitutional context–revolution, tyranny and power. Most students did not even know from whom America gained its independence judging by the quiz on the first day of class. It’s always a big job to explain the story of America.

But now it’s research paper time and the readings turn political, especially advantageous in an election year: essays on gun control, torture, colonialism, free speech, economics (subprime mortgage debacle) and poverty, to name a few. My hope is that students will attach history to current events, find relevance in the story behind the polarization of just about every issue: guns-no guns, pro-life/pro-choice, as well as examine the apologists for just about everything from torture during the second Iraq war to complaints of reverse discrimination in school admissions policies. 

But after my history and vocabulary lessons, I asked my students about voting. Very few said they would vote this election on the grounds of apathy and disengagement from the process. None felt it made a difference. Where were all the enraged college students riled by the rogue candidates on both sides of the political spectrum? I was hoping to find a few Bernie Sanders enthusiasts in particular to question. From newscasters and social media accounts of his popularity, I was certain I would find a few supporters among college students. I did find one.

She liked his free college and single payer universal health care solutions and felt he was for the people and not big corporations nor Wall Street. Unfortunately, she did not stand up to gentle questioning about how she thought congress would vote regarding free college and universal health care. But she had reached the end of her thoughts on the subject and so I was on my own to speak on behalf of revolution, which is how Bernie Sanders’ words and ideas have been characterized. 

In the end, I worked myself into a lather detailing some of the best known revolutions in American history from independence to unionization to the Vietnam War’s end. They all took people getting hurt, risking life and liberty. They took numbers on foot, in the streets. Short of that, revolutions do not happen, just gradual shifts by attrition, erosion, desensitization and devolution or evolution. The pendulum keeps swinging. But Bernie’s revolution, as inviting as it sounds, is one for the streets, not the ballot. 

I am skeptical about what will happen should he get to the White House and meet with an intransigent congress as has been the trend in recent years. Will he disappoint those youth who came out to get him elected and thereby give them reason to stay home next election? I suppose that is the risk of any campaign’s success–failure to make good on promises.

We read Garrett Keizer’s “Loaded” about guns for today. Keizer is a gun-toting progressive by his own admission. After outlining the traditional camps and characterization of the two sides as either NRA gun violent nuts or tree hugging pacifists, he decries the lack of revolutionary fervor in defending rights, ideas and the Constitution. His last paragraph segued nicely into my drifting English, history and political lecture:

The harvest is great but the laborers are few. Still, if asked to choose between an urban guerrilla armed with an Ak-47 and a protester armed with a song sheet and a map showing how to get to the designated ‘free speech zone,’ I would decline on the grounds of insufficient faith and negligible inspiration. Rather, give me some people with very fanatical ideas about the sanctity of habeas corpus and the length of time an African American or any other American ought to have to wait on line to vote. Give me some people who are not so evolved that they have forgotten what it is to stand firm under fire or even to squat near the fire in a cave. Give me an accountant who can still throw a rock.

Malice in the Mirror:  Through a Suburban Looking Glass


Who am I to play the ponderous observer, 
sitting here on the patio of a plush restaurant, 
having eaten an overpriced salad, 
imagining my calories sumptuously slide by 
in smug gustatory content, 
and getting buzzed on craft beer 
while watching suburban life pass, 
above the plashy roar of a flawless fountain? 
This is not LA. 
This is not a methadone withdrawal 
or a return to the streets 
after the sync of incarceration’s rhythm. 
This is a frightening freedom squandered by the free.
You are not free.  
You and I walk in tremulous chains, 
cybernetically sealed to another, 
the system, 
the great opaque that wants to nail us 
gripped to rusted metal and splintered wooden cross 
of slamming bars and broken people, 
dragged down the rabbit hole 
of small minded manicured degradation 
and gargantuan monstrous hate.  
I want to scream at them as they stroll by, 
selfies for two underneath the fountain:  
You don’t know what seethes beneath you, 
around you; 
everywhere there is misery abounding!  
The ignorance of bliss astounds me.  
I was there.  
I have returned there.  
What can I do to keep them a’wing, 
those born to suffer and cycle their lives 
through bars and pain and hurt, 
knowing nothing but blind beatings 
of bedraggled flightless wings, 
rejection and disengagement, 
love lost and forlorn, 
never gaining a step ahead of themselves?  
Desperate yowling dogs hound me, 
howling out my name–Impostor.  
I hear it and cower, 
hiding beneath the blankets of my lonely comfort 
of a solitary bed in the safety of my unkempt room 
like the mind of its inhabitant, 
overgrown wilderness, 
unattended, 
abandoned.  
I want to transcend but cannot muster it.  
I see the will in its distant form.  
I feel the stirrings.  
I smell smoke and I cave, 
whipped with carcinogenic wickedness.  
I cannot contain myself.  
And thus, 
I am not the wrong target 
for systematized paralyzed equalized 
misfortune of the sick and tired, 
the sick and poor, 
the sick of it all.