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Postcards from Moral Monday

My mom and dad raised me with a passion for public school.  This photo is of my mom, about the same time she was working at Sears to help fund her college education.  She taught for over three decades, middle school and high school, French, Theater, History, English Literature, whatever the job market required, as my dad itinerated for the Methodist Church across Texas.  She is only 4’9”, and she continues to be a charming force to be reckoned with.  Two of her closest, lifelong friends Eva and Jeannie, were also lifelong school teachers.  Eva is an expert quilter and Jeannie knows absolutely everything about public school politics in Texas.

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Mom and Dad (now known as Cookie and Pop) were rooted in a commitment to public education.  Here is my dad’s father (in the middle, wearing the non-conformist cap) and his four brothers.  The little guy at the end is my Uncle Bill.  He served the public school system all his adult life, as a public school teacher, principal, and superintendent of schools in Mineral Wells, Texas.  (The shadow of the man taking the photo is of their daddy, my great-grandfather, Papa.)

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My mom’s parents were both public school teachers.  Here is my grandfather, Big Daddy, on the far side in a suit, with his sophomore class of 1929 in Miles, Texas.  He loved to work on his Corvair, and he served as a math teacher while also helping to raise his three children, my mom, her older sister, my Aunt Mary (now Honey) and my Uncle Robert.  Honey served as a special-education teacher for decades in the public school system around Texas.  (I think she may still be serving as a consultant to special education teachers in the D/FW area.)

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This glamour shot is one of my favorite family photos.  It is of my mother’s mother, who served as an elementary school teacher and school counselor her entire adult life, while raising my mom, my Aunt Mary, and my Uncle Robert.  Their family scrimped and saved to make a good home life for three kids on two teachers’ salaries, but, back then, it was possible.  My Grandma, Agnes Louise Tisdale, loved intricate, beautiful things, and, in her spare time (!) she painted detailed flowers on china for friends and family.  She would have loved the banner that my new friend made for us to carry at Moral Monday.

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At one of the Moral Monday gatherings, I came across a sweet young man carrying the most adorable banner with a trenchant word about the big lies behind austerity politics.  (I “tweeted” a picture of the banner that day.  You can see it here.)  It was just my sort of combination of smart, ticked-off, and sweet.  I eventually met his mother, a public school teacher in the area, and asked if I could share a photo of the banner.  She not only said yes, she offered to make me one!  She insisted I come up with the theme and that we collaborate on details.  Around that time, various talking-heads were suggesting that the protests were undignified, so I decided to inhabit and do the twist with that idea, and be a well-dressed, ticked-off, righteous-seeking Lady for Justice.  I am not quite old enough yet to be a Raging Granny, but, the next week, a few of them stood with us for a photo, along with a brave suffragette, who was delighted to find someone else in costume.

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Someone handed Emily and her friend this sign to hold at the gathering.  They both just learned health in their fifth grade class at George Watts Elementary.  At this particular rally, they were privy to hundreds of women – teens and grannies in cut-offs and in swishy skirts – standing up for real funding for women’s health.  As we walked around with our fabulous new banner, many women cheered for the pro-teacher message on the backside, a timeless note about the wisdom of investing in public schools, because, after all “No one can make a dollar stretch like a school teacher!”  This was particularly appropriate given that an actual school teacher made the banner with quilting scraps and fabric glue!

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I bought this dress at Dolly’s in Durham for an NAACP meeting in 2011.  David LaMotte wrote a piece about that event here.  You might wonder why I bought a vintage tea dress and white gloves for a serious rally?  Well, that was a bit of a Bridget Jones moment.  Tim Tyson (love you!) suggested some of us dress up as if indeed for a “Tea Party.”  But, it turned out, I was the only person who showed up at the event dressed in costume.  (Again, love you, Tim!)  So, what does my mother’s daughter do?  Throw back my shoulders and enter the fray in a frock and a retro clutch.  And, when given the chance, re-use the frock for another NAACP event.

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Amanda Mackay Smith has been working for gender equity and genuine communication in public school systems across the country for much of her adult life.  You can get a sense of the serious scope of her work here.  She helped me carry the banner, and introduced me to all sorts of wonderful people working on justice issues.  And, when I said I was a bit wary of going too close to the stage, and making a spectacle of myself and our banner, she told me in no uncertain terms that women have to risk appearing pushy sometimes, particularly when the cause is so obviously important.  She also informed me that the piping on the dress I was wearing is not called “bric-a-brac” but “ric-rac.”  Imagine a dress adorned with bric-a-brac . . .

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Part of what was so lovely about the Moral Monday gatherings were the conversations going on around the edges.  People were talking to one another about what we each care passionately about for the good of a state we love.  Because I was carrying a banner tagged specifically to public school funding, I was blessed with many conversations with school teachers.  Some shared stories with me and with one another about whether their own principal and co-workers would be supportive of their being there.  Some of us talked about confronting a climate of fear in a workplace, figuring out how to speak together about what we think is best for a school, a city, a region.  I love this photo for the sense of gathering and the cloud configuration in the big sky above us.  Maybe it is the West Texan in me, but that expansive sky makes me hopeful that the seemingly small conversations that go on in a big “movement” help each of us go back home and find ways to be brave also in our local contexts, spreading courage around like little seeds that will flower in ways even the grand strategists can’t anticipate.

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Laura Rodgers Levens came straight from teaching, so here she and I are, one lady and one school teacher, smiling and praying for change.  One of us is wearing shoes that actually make sense for such an event . . . (Ah, vanity.)  Laura would love Pat O’Donnell, who picked out the ric-rac dress for me.  Pat was there at Moral Monday in spirit.  She runs the Madame Butterfly Vintage Clothing and Lending Boutique way, way down the funky part of Lexington in Asheville.  Pat loved on the Green Street Girls when we spent a few days in Asheville this summer, as we tried on taffeta and tulle and some marvelously bizarre outfits from the 80s.  She had Donna Summer playing, which, of course, made me very happy.  Pat was one of many people we met in Asheville who had heard about Moral Monday.  I am cheering for them from here as Mountain Moral Monday gets going!

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The final Moral Monday was spectacular, with thousands of public school teachers traveling hours to come and share their passion for teaching real children in actual schools across North Carolina.  Their signs were clear, creative, courageous – just as you would expect from women and men who have committed to the daily work of quickening imaginations and brightening burgeoning minds.  I was so grateful just to be there and shout myself hoarse with all of these inspiring people.  This local television station did a short piece that showcased some of the women facing up to the mess with wit and persistence.  You can find lots more links if you do a search for Moral Monday and “teachers.”

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This sweetheart of a man donned a creative outfit to make a point.  I am way behind schedule on a collaborative post on that “Man of Steel” movie, but this is the kind of superhero we need.  There are lots of ways to fight for justice.  Some of us make banners.  Some of us go through arrest.  Some of us write courageously at home, thinking about how to find the right words that might persuade people to have enough hope to shake off apathy or generalized rage and pay attention.  The work to be done right now is not “one style fits all.”  People have different gifts, and it is time to find ways to use your own, unique, precious gift to help shift this state back to sanity.  Perhaps the superhero movie that we all need to watch again is actually this one.   Those guys would have loved Captain Justice!  And, what a soundtrack.  I want to fight evil to Smash Mouth and classic disco, please?

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The Stupendous Kate Roberts took the professional quality photographs. 

  • Beverly J. McNeill

    Love this. So excited to see my church sister Amanda Smith quoted.

  • Beverly J. McNeill

    Love this. So proud to see my church sister Amanda Smith quoted.

  • Amy Laura

    I just realized something. (Sometimes I do something then only later quite sort out analytically the connection. It is a trait common to my personality type.) Anyone who reads PG regularly knows two things about my mom, in addition to the fact that she is very small. She was a public school teacher, and she loves fashion. She is the grandmother, after all, who told her 40 something daughter I should stop wearing mom jeans. When I was young, even on our very much middle-class family income, she would splurge on fashion. She would take me to the fabric store, and I would pick out the most complicated pattern and fabric combinations. She made a 12-gore skirt with (perfectly matched) rainbow stripes, for instance, when I was about 10. When I had to decide just which theme to go with for our little banner for Moral Monday, I think I was also honoring my mother, and her determination that our lives be not only functional and fair, but beautiful. Hearts starve as well as bodies. Give us bread, and give us roses.

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