Generation X Raising Generation O: The Prequel

I’ve been thinking that the why of this blog deserves some time–the why me and the why now. Here’s the why me…which might be read as “who cares” or “why do I care”–questions I always ask of my students.


There was a time–before the dark tunnel of graduate school, and before my time was consumed for caring for two very young children–that service was central to how I understood who I was in the world.  In high school and through college, I volunteered every summer with the full spectrum of developmentally and emotionally disabled children through an amazing, all-volunteer camp, Camp Fatima of New Jersey, which remains one of the highlights of my life.  I built homes in Appalachia, and did several stints at Model UN and Model State Legislature programs (even serving once as President of the Senate (!)).  At Princeton University I volunteered with autistic children and served as an editor for the Progressive Review.

After college, my very-left leanings led me abroad, where I worked for the National Peace Council on Northern Irish issues, which eventually led me to Belfast, where I worked for the Community of the Peace People.  This is the group founded by Nobel Peace Prize winners Mairead Corrigan-Maguire and Betty Williams, along with the journalist Ciaran McKeown.   Mairead was around frequently, and remains easily one of the most compelling and gifted human beings in the world.  Driven by the deep tragedy of her life, a deeper faith, and a commitment to justice, she had a Siren-like ability to rivet your attention. She was simply put, different than most people.  Ciaran became a good friend and advisor, and I miss to this day the friendship of then administrator Ann McCann, who was exceedlingly smart, funny, and ran the Peace People’s programs with insight and compassion. She did the real work, and taught an international staff how to do so as well.

In London and Belfast I reported extensively on peace and community groups on both sides of the Catholic/Protestant divide. My reporting led me to interview former Loyalist and Republican paramilitaries, officials of the integrated schools movement, community and civil rights workers, and traditional peace and justice groups. This research resulted in the publication of a chapbook, “Peace and Cross-Community Groups in Northern Ireland,” published by the National Peace Council in London, which subsequently became the model for the Northern Irish government’s document of the same name. I’m very proud of this document, which was the first of its kind. Unfortunately, I no longer have a copy.

In Belfast, I wrote regularly for the Peace People’s international newsletter, a bit for local papers, and with the Peace People, I did extensive community work with Catholic and Protestant youth in Belfast and with the wives and children of paramilitary prisoners. It was a heady, exhilarating time. I loved Belfast. I loved volunteering. I learned about the issues from the inside-out. I saw what a difference work on the ground could make in the lives of ordinary people.  I saw that a peaceful solution had to include justice, and this point of view has continued to inform my political view to this day.

When I returned to New York, I landed a job with the War Resisters League, became a war tax resistor and a couple of years later, after I started graduate school, had my wages garnished by the IRS.  This was during the Gulf War, and in many ways, we were at the center of the protest movement, particularly with regard to conscientious objectors, who were extensively counseled by one of our staff members.  At WRL I worked with lifelong committed activists and met many more through their national network.  I worked, too, with COs from the Second World War, who are among the most impressive humans I’ve ever had the honor to know.  Though I’m Catholic, I loved that it was a secular organization and could speak to issues of peace and justice in a way that did not depend on faith.  In the thick of all the war and protest, I shaved my head, and many years later, my boyfriend at the time, the poet John Hennessy, wrote another poem that channles these times.

And then, more or less, came graduate school. And marriage, and Ella and Finn, and work through their school is about all I have been able to think about. Until now, when I feel compelled to return somehow to some of those things which connect my life to the larger political world; to act with my children, not just to educate them; to reenter political life, this time in a more moderate, pragmatic way, because even though my sister still thinks we’re way out left way out here in California, I’m not the radical I once was, and I like my hair longer. I’m ready to disengage the irony and the deep sense of disenfranchisement that came with 8 years of Bush, and to find a way to act again.

And this time, I’m bringing my kids along with me, and we’ll see what happens.

Advertisements

2 Responses

  1. I’m sure we must have crossed paths in NYC… I was working full-time, volunteering nights at a couple indie film places, and protesting the war weekends in DC and NY. Funny that we should finally meet here, after grad school and marriage and kids. I have these same impulses, about trying to find ways to include my kids in some form of activism. It’ll be interesting to see how these next few years develop.

  2. Maybe I even handed you a flyer…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: