13 October 2006

my g-g-g-generation

last night we attended a talk at rice university--it was a teach-in actually, about the new military commissions act of 2006 (the "torture bill"), and carl was one of the panelists. cosmo didn't really comprehend the gravity of the topic at hand, as he kept interjecting with shout-outs and guffaws while one of the panelists was listing now legal interrogation techniques such as waterboarding, induced hypothermia and prolonged sleep deprivation. as our friend iris would say, wagging her finger in disapproval, in-a-pro-priate. we had to step out of the room for most of the discussion.

it was a lot more fun for cosmo out in the gallery anyway. he got to climb on the swooping forms of rip-curl canyon and, best of all, he wandered around underneath the room-sized structure made of plywood and die-cut cardboard contours. it was a perfect environment for him. there was nothing he could damage, and nothing much that could hurt him either, so he got to crawl around freely, dipping under the low spots, giggling and sucking in his breath while simultaneously vocalizing at a high pitch (his newly discovered favorite sound to make). he wasn't disturbing anyone and he was having a ball(photo forthcoming).

we went back into the classroom and heard a few minutes of carl's talk. but once he heard his voice and saw him speaking, cosmo seemed to want to go down to the front to be with carl. he squirmed out of my arms and i let him crawl on the shallow steps leading down the side of the lecture hall. the little guy just couldn't contain his excitement though. his squeals of delight were too distracting, so we went back out--this time to the lobby for some dinner. he crabbed around a polished black bench, picking up camouflaged black turtle beans off the top, and occasionally a kernel of corn, or a bright green pea.

when the teach-in turned to Q&A, we ventured back in. i heard a student in a budweiser-logo-styled-padre-island t-shirt question the optimism of some of the "older" people in the room. he said that he found no comfort in the idea that the constitution would bounce back from this most recent threat, in about 15 years or so. he pointed out that he had come of age in this [post 9-11] climate of fear and illegal, unjust war. this current [insane] administration was all he had known. his comments got me thinking about the challenges his generation faces. i began to reminisce about my own college years, and the struggles we faced, the battles we fought.

i became highly politicized around my sophomore year as an undergrad in springfield missouri [sometimes referred to as the buckle of the bible belt]. it was the mid/late 1980s, the tail-end of the cold war era. we lived in fear of nuclear war, we were outraged about the arms race, and the military spending that was stripping social programs of funding. we tried to put pressure on the government to impose sanctions on the south african apartheid regime, we tried to draw attention to the US instigated contra war in nicaragua, and we were increasingly concerned about the environment-- raising awareness and implementing recyling programs on campus. i took classes on non-violence, and the geography of the homeless and volunteered at a battered women's shelter.

today on democracy now! there was a discussion about a new film set in apartheid south africa. the discussion made me remember a night right after i graduated from college. i was out at a club with my boyfriend in oakland california (i had just relocated to the bay area). a bunch of hippies and i were bouncing around on the dance floor to the cool rhythms of some reggae band. at the end of one of the songs were these words free. nelson. mandela. all the members of the band were singing these words, over and over...free. nelson. mandela. the audience joined in. soon the entire club was chanting free. nelson. mandela. it was a beautiful moment in and of itself, but it hit me in a particularly powerful way. everything i had been doing for the past two and a half years...all the organizing, meetings, mailings, flyers, fundraisers, film screenings, marches, peace festivals, state board meetings, green conferences, trainings, teach-ins, poetry readings, soup kitchens, anti-racism workshops...it all felt sort of futile...or not? it was uplifting to finally find myself in a room full of strangers who cared about the same sorts of things i had been working for, but somehow it was unsettling to know that so many people cared, and still it went on like this. change seemed impossible. i couldn't imagine a free south africa.

within a year, the apartheid regime collapsed, nelson mandela was free, and soon the berlin wall came down as well...the cold war was over too. these things happened, but it wasn't obvious to me that my work had anything whatsoever to do with those events. the times changed. the struggles of those days are not the same as the struggles of today. and yet, in some ways, they aren't terribly different, and in some parts of the world, not much has changed (i'm thinking of the israeli occupation of palestine for example). it's not as if my activism ended once i hit age 22. today's struggles are my struggles too. but the issues we face as we come of age seem somehow...formative.

before cosmo and i left sewall hall last night, we had watched some skaters doing stunts off the front steps, danced in front of the big mirror in the ladies' lounge, and cosmo had knocked his head repeatedly (but gently) against the glass wall of the gallery. he couldn't understand why he was unable to reach the brass strip which was RIGHT THERE, no matter how many times he tried, or how far along the wall he traveled! the stickers to prevent people from walking into the glass were way too high for a baby to see.

when the talk was over, we fetched carl and walked across the campus in the rain...
wondering about the dragons cosmo's generation will need to slay.

note:this photo has nothing to do with this post. sorry for any confusion.