the twit


    barack obama in jackson

    part 1: late may

    i get a phone call from the local NAACP chapter president - gus mccoy. apparantly, obama is coming to jackson on july 15 for a fundraiser, and gus wants to organize a youth rally - he's frustrated with the intentional lack of publicity and the $2000 extra-special-donor rooms characterizing the event, and thinks that if young people in jackson show enough numbers and sufficient organization, we can use a youth rally to convince the obama campaign to involve a more public element to the trip. what is more, gus wants to use the youth rally/obama visit as a launchpad for a grassroots "i am barack obama" fundraising/promotional campaign.

    this is of course an attractive opporunity to get CRCL students (and others) involved in the campaign process, especially because this fall is a big mississippi election year and it would be great to piggyback obama enthusiasm with a focus on local governance and voter registration. the catch is that the situation has surfaced during the penultimate week of the school year (and the last week for seniors), so organizing in the schools will be a problem. i send out an e-mail to interested students and wonder if anyone will show up on a friday at the end of the school year with one day's notice.

    five students and a parent show up. we decide to start a facebook event to promote the rally, to plant networking seeds in as many area high schools as we can, and to work with a local graphic designer (my friend darren) to design and print fundraising t-shirts that will serve as a foothold for the rally's bid - that youth in jackson can organize bodies, funds, and enthusiasm for a presidential campaign. participants in the meeting sign up for different responsibilities, and we decide to let things develop for about a week before touching base again.

    part 2: the next couple weeks

    within the weekend the facebook event has about 150 confirmed guests, and the message board is buzzing with speculation/skepticism. contact with gus begins to become infrequent and uninformative. as of the meeting in my classroom, the rally is only a possibility - hinging on the need to convince obama's people that we've got sufficient numbers. so, there is a hesitance to move forward and tie people in to an event that may not happen (and ask them to buy t-shirts that may not exist), but tying people in is exactly what increases our chances of moving forward. in the interim i learn a little about mississippi's campaign fundraising culture, which has counterintuitively strong financial veins for the democrats - centering (from what i understand) on isaac byrd, a high profile lawyer who was instrumental in "winning a landmark $513 million settlement in a 27-year class action battle over Mississippi’s unequal funding of the state’s historically black universities in Ayers v. State of Mississippi" (source: Trial Lawyers for Public Justice). apparantly byrd had brought obama to jackson some years previous in connection with barack's senate campaign; however, the lawyer's financial muscle was not supplanted by a fluency of organization, and when alan keyes threw his hyperconservative republican hat into the ring for the illinois senatorial race (claiming at one point that "Jesus Christ would not vote for Barack Obama" [source: Wikipedia]), barack had to back out of the mississippi fundraiser to return to the front, and a mismanaged communication chain had some mississippians showing up for a $100 plate that didn't exist (note: this is what i've gathered from anecdote, and may not be precise). nevertheless, obama's campaign had taken a rain check that was now being cashed in by jackson for the presidential campaign, and both byrd's networking and the financial addition of a prominent mississippi black republican (again: anecdote) was making the return to jackson worthwhile.

    momentum for the youth rally stagnates as all information from gus seems nebulous and noncomittal, urging students to continue to pull people into something that certainly
    has dismal chances of coming together as time goes on without confirmation from barack's people. emphasis shifts instead to the "i am barack obama" t-shirt initiative, which gets a stronger and stronger green light as the rally goes from a we're-waiting-for-the-go-ahead yellow to a don't-ask-don't-tell red one. apparantly the t-shirt has been loosed (or always has; i'm confused about this point) from explicit connection to the obama jackson visit, and somehow the students are supposed to switch gears from the sinking rally and pool their energy into pushing product (designed by this point, but still unprinted).

    as obama's visit gets closer and closer, i start to take the stance of gritting my teeth when people ask if it's actually going to happen and cringing when i think about the students who have put their neck out for something that's almost surely crumbing. the facebookers begin to get irrate on the event message board - noting that nothing from the jackson media or barack's campaign website speak of a rally in jackson, and thus the $25 t-shirt "fundraising effort" is looking rather dubious. to the nervousness of my students in regards to this, i have no answers and plenty of guilt. i essentially close my eyes and hope everything melts away. in the midst of all this, the CRCL receives the president's award at the annual jackson NAACP banquet. our de facto president - charles - and i are seated at the president's table, and i spend the evening making small talk with the wife of a south african pastor while charles stares into space and an ill-positioned jazz band makes communication nearly unfeasible. there is certainly no mention of obama during the banquet or afterwards at the lobby bar, and the south african pastor's outrage at the docility of mississippians in the face of what he can only call apartheid surely resonates as i sit nervously with my martini and little to talk about.

    part 3: july 15

    i wake up at 8am because my cellphone is going nuts. i've been trying to get up with my alarm at 9ish - half because i'm tired of sleeping through the day, and half because the new zelda on wii is profoundly addictive - so it isn't horrible to get downstairs and make my requisite half-pot of coffee as i check my messages. gus has called; i remember barack's supposed to be in jackson today, and nervously call gus back - half expecting him to ask if the "i am barack obama" t-shirts are ready to go for this afternoon's youth rally, and how many confirmed guests we have again. the news is strangely different - gus has gotten word that obama is going to be at peaches cafe - a historic soul-food restaurant in the historially black section of old jackson - at 5pm and gus has gotten a green light to have 10-15 students gather outside. it's unclear whether this involves standing at a distance from the candidate and shouting approval as he smiles by, or whether it invovles a handshake or an autograph, or whether it invovles a conversation. at this point, i'm rather used to the uncertain terms of involvement, and tell gus that i'll be meeting with some students at the ACLU this morning - the local ACLU branch has stared an informal summer internship to tie CRCL students over between school years - and i'll see what i can do. he says ok and call him back with the numbers (again it seems we need to make our presence worth his/obama's while).

    once the coffee's in me the networking juices start flowing and i send a facebook message to hardcore CRCL members and an apology/invitation to the leaders of the failed youth rally. i explain the situation at the ACLU intern session, and by the time i leave their office i've got four confirmed and my phone ringing incessantly with alternating messages from gus wanting the status quo and students wanting to what's going on. charles - the CRCL president - is at the ACLU meeting and he begins working on the phone numbers he has but i don't, and before i take an afternoon nap out of exhaustion, the confirmed number is in the 1oish range and i've tied myself into driving some students to and fro what seems at this point to be the circus.

    margaret wakes me up from my living room couch nap at 4, we grab my new camera, and speed towards a student's house as i shake off the remnants of sleep. we make it to the jackson train station - the agreed upon meeting place - in the midst of all of the students rolling in (except charles, who has taken my suggestion that he get a marker and some poster board to make flyers to another level by going to kinkos and blowing up something he made on his computer). i check to make sure that all of the confirmed students are present, and we move (except charles, who is speeding down I-55 at this point) to the next parking lot, from which we walk up to farrish street, where peaches is.

    there's a cluster of TV cameras and requisite media personnel outside peaches, but only a handful of bystanders. gus goes to talk to the jackson police/secret service people monitoring the situtation, and we're given directions on where to stand and what to do. at this point it's about 4:45 and barack's expected to show up somewhere between 5 and 5:30pm, so the students (charles has now shown up with huge posters and nasal congestion), margaret and i huddle up against an imaginary line the secret service has told us not to cross, and make small talk with the small amount of other people "in the know," alternately complaining about the heat (a student, desma, leaves eventually because "the heat is sweating out her weave") and wondering if obama is actually going to show up. i meet a civil rights movement veteran who calls jackson home but is an art history professor in texas; he proceeds to give me an attractive perspective on the tension between theocentric and marxist-afrocentric-philisophical accounts of history and power, pointing out intermittently how young i was and how i didn't understand how the civil rights movement is often misinterpreted as distinct from a human rights movment (for the record, i do understand). margaret meets the dean of the mississippi college school of law; he proceeds to heavily court her to apply to mc, unaware of an unspoken conflict between her desire to focus on family law for the lgbt community and the profoundly restrictive concept of family law that mc's law school (a baptist insitutution) may promote.

    at some point, a parade of police cars and SUV's begin their stranglehold on time and space. obama shows up and the crowd surges with outreached hands and rabidly clicking cameras and cameraphones. barack spends some impressive face time with those gathered - shaking hands and exchanging pleasantries with most of us before going into peaches, engaging in more small talk amidst some photo-op fried chicken, and emerging again to re-shake most of our hands before getting back into the SUV/cop car parade for the evening's big fundraiser.

    part 4: epilogue

    i have little reason to dispute barack's star status, and no reservations about my being overwhelmed by it (he's more attractive/magnetic in person than i would have thought). despite the complete lack of transparancy in this whole mess, plenty of my student's frustrations were completely mitigated by the knowledge that they have shaken obama's hand. some, i hope, will retain the hard lessons learned regarding the fickle/unidirectional nature of financial politics. most, i think will revel in the pictures and autographs accrued:

    my good friend laura noted after reading this (and sitting through my struggling explanation of the ordeal) that she still doesn't understand how the don't-ask-don't-tell element surfaces in the narrative, not to mention why it never goes away/is resolved. my only response to this is that i don't know either; one moment we're building momentum for youth mobilization and participation, and the next moment i can't get a word in. at the end of the day, the barack visit seemed equal parts secrecy and mismanagement - but which of these played the major role in dismantling the hard work of my students, i have no idea.


    on lesson plans

    regarding the development of a MTC wiki that is intended to facilitate the development of teacher resources:

    this is a slightly modified e-mail to the people developing the site, and may only make sense in the context of the inner politics of the mississippi teacher corps - but hopefully it has some resonance with the dilemma of the classroom teacher in a resource crisis:

    this (or any) lesson plan depot will be an excellent way to document the planning process, but it will be a horrible way to share resources. what is the goal of an mtc wiki: to focus on novel ways to integrate web-based documentation into its own classrooms (which is a noble enough goal), or to focus on novel ways to facilitate resource access to its participants (which, i contend, is a different goal)? if it's the former, which is a valid enough reason to create the thing, then i rest my case - and what jake's put together is excellent for these purposes. if not, here me out:

    of course, the intent is that wiki will go live tomorrow morning, and so showing them a well-structured lesson plan depot is the obvious route if we want things to start accumulating data. however - since what we're (you're?) developing is a wiki, i would ask the second years - either before or after a crash course in wiki editing - what a successful pathway of resource distribution looks like? that is - if i wanted to get information and materials together for a lesson on adding/subtracting fraction - what is the most useful format that this would be available in? if i'm a teacher, the most imporant thing getting from point A - which i guess we can assume is my initial thoughts/memories about adding/subtracting fractions, as well as my accumulated awareness of the class of students i'm going to work with - to point B - which is a confident plan of action that fits around my teaching style and my classroom composition. BELIEVE ME, this will not be achieved by a well-organized library of lesson plans, which can be printed out as is - or (to those detractors who would mention that a person could weed through and get the handouts they wanted, and write their own plan, which they can of course post on the wiki) whose primary format preempts a depth of navigation beyond its fundamental cover letter restrictions (it is in my mind impossible to imagine that attaching handouts to a madeline hunter approximation is the best way to present a teacher with the opportunity to make a value judgement on the utility of the materials themselves in respect to their classroom; there is too much time wasted in filtering through and contextualizing so much beuraucratic (sp?) filler). come on guys, even in good to great: "We recognize that planning is priceless, but plans are useless" so: how do we cultivate the critical moments of planning without sacrificing to the pitfalls of plans?

    the direction should not be: here's a format that basically adds digital and wiki trappings to a medium you're already used to (this is like having early films being glorified theatrical productions), the direction should be: we have a month to build around us the most useful and flexible resource network we can imagine: if we start with the internet and some wiki software, what does this look like? (this is like: i have a narrative and a camera: how can i make it happen?)

    of course: my criticism is more than likely too little too late, as i'm out of the proverbial loop and i won't be presenting to a room full of second years tomorrow. also, even if any of you were sympathetic to my skepticism, it's profoundly true that i do not have a better model for resource collection and distribution - nor do i harbor the pretention, contrary to popular belief, that all i need to do is sit down and meditate on this mess for a bit before i have whatever epiphany i'm whining about. however, i think a brainstorming session about how to be adapt a wiki to the needs of teachers in classrooms may offer up better perpective than a top-down here's-how-you-get-to-do-your-mtc-assignments-online sort of thing. having a binder labeled "algebra I" that's full of even peer-edited lesson plans will be another dusty addition to our classrooms. we have never been instructed on the process of moving from lesson plan to classroom teaching (though if you wanted to build a curriculm around this, go for it - it would be necessary for the application of this wiki); we have been instructed to plan for our classrooms and to accumulate a formated cover sheet for our plans in a given format - the format that jake has done a good job of tranferring to the site. lesson plans in this light are byproducts, not stepping stones. my bottom line: we need to keep the measure of success focused on the usefullness of these texts to future teachers (including future use by the contributors themselves), and we need to let the wiki medium form fluidly around our objectives, not just be a new way to present an old idea. if nothing else, let the second years think about whether or not the proposed system will achieve these goals.

    i would greatly appreciate thoughts on this matter. i would be happy to include points of clarification if necessary.