Friday, October 14, 2011
South Bend Spring
Would I ever think I’d find myself parting from one group of young adults yesterday, and then actually tearing downtown to join another? My knee-jerk reaction would normally be to slip into my hidey-hole on the third floor of Wiekamp Hall on the IU campus, or to run home—only three blocks—to read in solitude and eat Raman noodles. The first group—my first-ever class of college freshman English students—seem bemused at my political positions and ready to describe me as “professor,” but as a hopeless product of another day and time. Carter? Reagan? Bush Ist? Before our time—ancient history. But the other group, whether they know it or not, is acting just as we ancients did when confronted by power that we began at their age to perceive as anti-life and anti-love. Yes, it’s happening again—at last. Young people who only see doom ahead as willing participants in the Wall-Street mechanical McMoney-squeeze are reacting by saying NO, we’re not afraid of your billions and we want something better. I’d love to get the first group and the second group together.
I wish I could have followed the suggestion by one of my students—who may have been more motivated by the thought of skipping class on a beautiful day—that I just blow them off and go downtown, but Barbara Eherenreich and Studs Terkel merited the careful presentation I had crafted for the class. I tried to explain what is going on around Wall Street, that the protests have come home. They’re right on the only corner of South Bend with two big banks adjacent, the one more only a block away, camped on a private spot of earth “owned” by one bank, next to the main street in a scaled-down, Midwest-town parallel with the Big Apple. I hope curiosity brings the two groups of youth together.
Pundits decry their lack of specific demands. But they are specific enough for me: they’re saying, “what you powerful people are doing is wrong, it’s killing us, and instead we offer you life, in the form of music, art, signs, drums, guitars, and witness. These aren’t dogmatic young Marxists waving little red books, these aren’t articulate youth-quakers from upper-class families waving their privileges around. These are young people, reacting to the incomprehensible world of bankers, mortgage grifters, low-wage cheaters, and animal eaters. They feel a fresh breeze blowing—perhaps helped along by that warm front in the Arab world—but have no more of an idea what it portends than I did when I was their age and confronted by a similar thing. So I did the only thing I could do: after class I went downtown to do what I did back then: sing. I sang a song of fat-cat ridicule; I sang of unemployed caught in a suicide freeze; I sang of standing our ground when the damn starts cracking. That was the same as last time. What was different? Ozone holes and carbon dioxide; they were there to patch up a quarrel with the earth. They had a library—for heavens’ sake—books stacked on the curb right there in front of the bank. They had a webcam; these allegedly-inarticulate young people were sending live streaming video out into the world. They asked everyone, “Why are you here?” That was the most important part. We’re here to witness, to stand up. Why are you here, old man? Why do you care? Well, I’m there with the message that history, beautiful history, is about to repeat itself.
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