Activism in Suburbia

My students choose a theme every year. I did not tell them to do this, but hey, if you put together a group of smart, motivated teenagers, they do crazy shit. This year, my darlings chose activism for their theme. Previously, I was a big fan of coddling them, but now I realize what a waste that was. Now, when something uncool is happening on campus, I just ask what they are going to do about it. When they get to work and shit goes sideways, I tell them no one else is going to fix it.

So I’ve basically become a suburban dad.

And hoo boy is it working.

The club’s always had the motto “Support. Educate. Advocate.” which, honestly, looks great on T-shirts. And the kids have always supported each other and educated each other and advocated for each other. The issue, I realize now, is they don’t advocate for themselves. And neither do I. In the past, I was fighting their battles to protect them (No regrets. We all need the occasional champion). As I’m sending the little ducklings off to protest and make pamphlets and schedule meetings with administrators, I’m realizing that I have an excess of time. So you bet your ass I’m using that time to advocate for me.

There’s a fine line between defending the kids (“Remember, you won’t always be aware of the queer students in your classes by looking, so don’t say things like that”) and defending myself (“That was super offensive to queer people and I’m super queer”). Defending the kids is rote at this point. Calling students and teachers out on heterosexism is second nature. But telling people they just hurt my feelings is new. And weird. It’s also empowering as fuck. Suddenly, we are not talking about abstract offense. We are talking about me. And I’m offended damnit.

Of course, the kids tend to absorb the lessons I’m learning. Mostly, because I say things like, “Guys, I’ve been advocating for myself and it’s real empowering. You should try it,” and “You’re your own best advocate.” I really like that one; it has good cadence. I can also reverse it. “Who is your best advocate?” Then, they roll their eyes and say, with a dramatic sigh, “Me.”

The advantage of having bright students, of course, is they quickly learn to apply lessons from one subject to another. Last week, one of the queermos was dragging their feet on their college applications. We negotiated their task list to one item: pick up your transcript. The next tasks, I promised, could be tackled the following week. So off they toddled to pick up their transcript. Fifteen minutes later, much to my surprise, they marched back in my office, transcript in hand.

“I really wanted to walk home, but you said I’m my own best advocate and I figure the best way to advocate for myself is to apply to college.”

I’m starting to see why suburban dads are so proud all the time.

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