Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Learning From The Civil Rights Movement

i've been reading about mississippi and the civil rights movement. the thing that struck me in both books is how civil rights activists there were successful not because the federal government supported them, but around that lack of support. they knew what they had to and could do. so this meant mississippi focused a lot on voter registration over direct action. local people started freedom schools and had parallel elections and ran parallel parties.

no matter what the administration said, they were often selling out these activists that were fighting for what they knew was right. for example, the kennedy administration would verbally say they supported the freedom riders and would never work against them. then they would make a quiet deal with the local sheriffs, promising if they would let the freedom riders get to jackson, the federal agents would allow the riders to be arrested.

there's also the interesting aspect that many black teachers and principals were against integration and initially signed on to the mississippi governor's offer to "voluntarily segregate" schools in exchange for increased funding. those teachers and principals had a lot to lose- their jobs, their standings, their economic position.

i know that thinking about thinking about sexuality and the civil rights movement together is controversial for many people. but i am learning a lot about how to resist homophobia, what state and federal administrations will do to protect the power they have, that people who have any kind of power will present one face publicly while viciously defending their power in secret.

i think this is exactly what is going on at DPI. I have long said someone has to love Governor's School more than they love their administrative position at GS. So far, we have seen no one who feels that way. No one is willing to stand up and question why a openly homophobic, evangelical Christian group in Arizona should be determining or effecting the curriculum of a public school program in NC. And I doubt anyone in a position of power will anytime soon.

Which leaves those of us who are powerless or have less power to use what we have. Faculty. Students. Alumni. Those of us who have been pushed outside the GS community. Power at the bottom often gets overlooked or undervalued, if recognized at all. But it is all the little things that begin to add up. Calling out homophobia where we see it. Resisting when basic tenets of academic freedom are violated. Labelling hypocrisy hypocrisy. These things matter. They mattered in Mississippi in the 1960's. They matter in NC in 2008.

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