National Priorities Project, and, as I might have expected, I left with very mixed feelings.
My longtime friend Jean Grossholtz was being honored, and she honored me with a place at her table. (That meant I didn't have to pay to attend.) I drove up from Springfield to Holyoke's Log Cabin
Jean is the person who deepened my understanding of what forces shape our lives. I met her in the early days of Arise for Social Justice, when she was still teaching at Mt. Holyoke College.
One day when she was visiting Arise she said "Michaelann, you've got to understand what globalization is, because its going to change the face of our world." Thus I had to learn about things like neoliberalism and deregulation, and I began to understand how much corporations control what happens to us.
Through the years she'd pay other visits to Arise, tipping me off to subsets of globalization such as genetically modified food, the World Trade Organization and the coming water wars. All of this was years before any of these topics emerged into the mainstream.
Jean is not only a teacher, she is a hardcore activist and organizer. I'll always be grateful that she made it possible for me to go to Seattle with her for the World Trade Organization demonstrations, where I learned how to avoid tear gas and how to sing "Amazing Grace" with my mouth taped shut. At eighty-one years of age, she's spending a bit more time finishing her memoirs than organizing, but of course that's a relative statement--she just came back from Europe where she met with her large network of fellow activists to talk about immigration policy.
At the table, Jean told us how she was practicing being gracious for the evening-- she hates public recognition but had finally given in to NPP's director, Jo Comerford, another longtime friend of hers. The room was full of NPP supporters and friends of Jean's, and I saw many people I know but don't see often, people I respect and admire, people I love as individuals but am less comfortable with in the aggregate.
Jean was called to the podium to receive the Frances Crowe Award, and then she spoke organizing, social change, and the absolute necessity of our all taking responsibility to create a movement-- words I have heard from her before, but she speaks with such passion and commitment that I am always heartened to hear her.
Then several NPP staffpeople spoke. NPP helps make federal data accessible so that people can understand how our tax dollars are spent. They have a great website which is about to get even better. Without hyperbole, the information is infuriating; if the budget was in the hands of the people, we would make very different decisions. But I remember talking to NPP staff a couple of times about the real power driving legislative decisions. Why was there no discussion about corporations, campaign contributions, and well-heeled lobbyists? And this was years before the Citizens United Supreme Court decision striking down spending limits by corporations and special interest groups working to get a candidate elected or influence public opinion.
NPP's keynote speaker for the evening was Congresswoman Donna Edwards, D-Maryland . She was introduced as someone whose community organizing had helped to bring about the passage of the Violence Against Women Act of 1994, so I hoped to hear at least something about community organizing's role in social change.
No such luck. Instead, we were subjected to a very boring and way too long harangue about why it was important to vote the Democratic ticket this year, even though the majority of us were disappointed in the Democrats. Her speech was largely unmemorable, but I do remember her saying, "Who cares what Robert Gibbs has to say about progressives?" Well, as a progressive, I cared, because to me it showed the complete disdain the Obama administration has for those who helped to get him elected. Her other main message was not to support third party candidates, who might spoil the election. Well, screw that, I thought; thanks for helping me decide to vote for Jill Stein and to let the chips fall where they may.
Finally the speech was over and the evening drew to a close. I walked up the hill to retrieve my car and pulled out of the parking lot to head toward my working class city, Springfield. I pretty much had the road to myself as other cars turned left, toward Northampton and Amherst.