On making a difference

Monday October 04, 2010 @ 05:15 PM (UTC)

I tweeted yesterday about a student teacher being reassigned for admitting he’s gay. It’s a story that came to my attention through my RSS reader but, sadly, is local: the district where this student teacher was originally assigned is the one where I went to elementary school.

I wrote a letter yesterday, planning to send it to the Superintendent and post it here, but an attack of cynicism shook that intention. There’s a lot of easy, feel-good (re)activism that goes on here on the interwebs. You submit your name for an online petition, retweet something, and ta-da! You are an activist! Writing one letter is sort of the same thing: drive-by activism. It’s shallow, brief, and perhaps accomplishes little but puffing up the letter-writer. Some might say one person picking up a pebble, repeated many times, will move a mountain; but it’s easier to find historical examples of dedicated mountain-movers pushing boulders over years and decades.

But on the other hand, this news story isn’t coming from another state or another country, the vast hinterlands of Elsewhere that filter through webpages and RSS feeds into our consciousness. This is where I grew up. This district, thanks to the execrable Measure 5 (which my family campaigned against while I was matriculating in that school district, and which is why I ultimately left), is underwritten by Portland’s tax dollar as well as Beaverton’s.

I’m not endorsing a proximal approach to morality and politics in general, since all too often that means a cozy sort of privileged insulation. But in this case I think it’s reasonable: perhaps I can’t make a difference in every case of homophobic discrimination in the world, or even in America, without devoting my life to it. But this is my neighborhood, this is my home. If I don’t speak out, I’m letting this be part of my home without protest: my silence says this discrimination is acceptable. (Just like not voting at all is an extra-effective way of voting down taxes and ruining our schools! That’s a little Measure 47 joke for the locals.)

Perhaps I look a little foolish, and perhaps I’m an armchair activist. But I’m printing out my letter, and I’ll post it here tomorrow. Because this is where I live, and because LGBT people live here too.


If you want to have impact, and show that this is a response of feeling, maybe you should make an appointment, and hand-deliver the letter. You can note that you attended the school, have chosen (i.e. made an active choice with opportunity otherwise) to live in the area, and would like to ensure that your view is heard, preferably without having to help organize a campaign against the superintendent, school board, etc.

Interesting. Kind of the opposite of the “why a letter, why not just blog” input I’ve gotten from elsewhere.

The Superintendent of BSD is retiring or somesuch at the end of this year, and I wouldn’t say I’m campaigning against him or anything. What I’ve asked for in my letter (as you’ll see) is, if not a change in this decision, then a policy that will forbid this sort of double standard in future.

I suppose it’s simply my outlook. To my mind the methods each have their own point:

  • Blogging is for alerting your friends / viewers / associates & being able to refer back to it or receive comments
  • Letter-writing is about expressing your particular grievance and they wherefore and hows behind it.
  • A meeting is to show that you find the item so objectionable it is worth your time and attention to see it redressed.

While I agree with your letter, if you find the methods and opinions expressed truly heinous, I at least would like to believe that in your shoes I would request a meeting, request more information in case the journalism doesn’t reflect the entirety of the story, and express my particular dismay and reasons. Then again, I’m generally considered abrasive.

Ah! Well, you’ve certainly clarified your position. I think in this case, I wouldn’t escalate to the in-person thing unless I were a more direct stakeholder (read: parent, public school teacher, et c.)

I sent my letter today!

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