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At Dawn, The Teachers Rise
June 21, 2001
by William Rivers Pitt

"In our world of big names, curiously, our true heroes tend to be anonymous. In this life of illusion and quasi-illusion, the person of solid virtues who can be admired for something more substantial than his well-knownness often proves to be the unsung hero: the teacher, the nurse, the mother, the honest cop, the hard worker at lonely, underpaid, unglamorous, unpublicized jobs." - Daniel J. Boorstin

One of the hardest truths to face as a member of this American society is that change requires enormous amounts of time and effort. One cannot simply wish something into existence, even if that wish is for an idea or a reform that appears patently necessary. The seas are rising, the polar caps are retreating, the earth is warming, the coral reefs are dying, the air is filling with CO2, the cities are choking on smog…one must come to face the truth that, even when presented with such glaring catastrophes, it will likely require a lifetime of sweat to even scratch the surface of a solution.

We all know why. Who am I when compared to Enron Corporation? What are my resources? What is my capacity to do combat with such a monolithically wealthy foe? How can I possibly defeat those who profit wildly without care for the consequences? Where do I even begin?

The end result of this line of questioning is inevitable and disheartening. We lose interest, for who among us can climb Mt. Everest? We cease to care, for caring becomes too painful when, despite our passion and our work, we know at the beginning that we are assured of failure. We become convinced of our inadequacy, of our powerlessness. We are tamed by the belief that one person truly cannot make a difference. We live and work and die and are buried burdened with the failure to act, despite the hard belief that any actions would have come to naught. We are broken very early, and we seldom heal.

The shattering of idealism happens during our youth, somewhere in the gulf between seeing the need for change and understanding what bringing that change requires. No one is better equipped to expose an injustice than a teenager. They are pure of mind and spirit, and have yet to face the bruising compromises that mark the path to adulthood. From this plateau of purity they can see far, and are not yet poisoned by the leaching of confidence in the very idea of change.

Teenagers are, however, even more utterly powerless than the rest of us. They stew in the cauldron of adolescence, outraged by the world but unable to do much of anything about it. Even the strongest youth eventually pulls the plug sooner or later. It is simply too painful to care so much while being capable of so little. Thus, when they finally reach a place where they can actually accomplish something, they are finished with the thought of even trying.

This is a generalization, to be sure. There are legions of people in America who did not disconnect, who rise every day and wage the fight for change, who have not suffered the final crisis. But these people are vastly outnumbered by those who have died on the road to Damascus.

The world is as it is today because so many have lost the belief that they are in fact the heart and soul of this country, that in their combined strength they can rout utterly the forces that cage us, steal our rights and our natural legacy. So much evil happens in broad daylight and is ignored with a shrug. This is the way it is. Who am I to think I can change it?

If I have painted here a portrait in colors of utter bleakness and despair, it is because we must recognize our common plight. Before change can happen on a national scale, or on a global scale, it must happen in the hearts and minds of individuals. We must never, ever surrender to the belief that we are powerless. If we do so, we are already defeated.

We must wake with the knowledge that we will certainly fail in our quest, yet we must square our shoulders and meet the day and our duty, for to do less is to admit that what is happening now in our country and our world is acceptable. Silence equals consent. Freedom begins when we say, "No."

There are too many days that have passed when I succumbed to the siren song of that silent complicity. I look out at a world that has been trained to never look beyond personal need. I see a lion named The American People that has been brought to heel because it believes it has no claws, no fangs, no strength of heart and soul. I have passed days when the very thought of awakening that great beast to its potential stills me, for I know the strength and guile of its trainer.

I was awakened this week to a memory that I intend to keep with me for as long as I live. That memory is of exploring a cave out in South Dakota. In the center of that dark cavern was a rock with a deep depression dug into its core. The cave guide told me that the depression was created by drops of water falling from the ceiling high above. The drops fell about once a day, and had been doing so for thousands of years. Over time, the unyielding stone had been worn away.

I think of the weakness of water against the strength of rock, and I consider which had prevailed.

I am a teacher. I tend the flame of youth. I am tasked with more than the rote delivery of Shakespeare, vocabulary, grammar, and history. I am tasked with the duty of making teenagers care about the status of their minds and hearts. It is my duty to remind them, every day, that their claws and fangs, while in miniature, are sharp and will become sharper still. I am burdened with the assignment of ensuring that they do not disconnect. I am warmed by the knowledge that, thus far, I have succeeded far more often than I have failed.

I am the drop of water falling from that high ceiling. I have this week been reminded that I am not alone. I stand with Paul, and with Judy, and with Theresa, and Jillian, and Philip, and Cathy. I stand with T-Bone from Cincinnati, with Rebecca from Washington D.C., with Peter from Los Angeles. I stand with Chad, with Gary, with Aaron. I stand, and they stand with me.

At dawn, the teachers rise. They go forth in hope, and hold high by their own personal example the belief that to care is to succeed. They toil against stony indifference, they wear away the rock one drip at a time. It does not matter that their political views do not always meld. In the end, it matters only that they rise.

If you need a hero, an example to emulate, look to my compatriots. They are the finest example of patience and endurance you will ever need to find. They care, and thus they prevail.

We are out here, we happy few. When you despair, remember us. When you wish to surrender, remember us. When you cannot imagine a way in which your voice or your desire for change will ever make a difference, remember us. We move out into the world, one drip at a time, and we make change with squared shoulders and hope ever on our lips.

We say to you, tamed lion, that caring is an act of defiance which you are still capable of.

Remember this at dawn when you rise. You are not alone.


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