Dear Leslie Harris... I wrote you a song.

Dear Leslie Harris... I wrote you a song.

Leslie Harris is the president of the Seattle School Board, and she will preside over an important decision this summer as the board appoints a new representative for District 7 in southeast Seattle. Here Matt Halvorson asks for a transparent, inclusive process... in song!

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Black History Today: Anthony Rose, inspiring artist and visionary dream-chaser

Black History Today: Anthony Rose, inspiring artist and visionary dream-chaser

As kids, we are often told to follow our dreams. As parents, we often tell our children to chase their dreams. Somewhere in between, though, we begin preaching practicality and reality and a part of us dies.

One person who lives his dreams in a way that is unapologetic and to his own beat is Anthony Rose. Anthony embodies the notion that only those whom dare to chase their dreams are bold enough to catch them.

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'Still I look to find a reason to believe' in Seattle Public Schools

Seattle Public Schools announced recently that it will face a $74 million budget shortfall if the state legislature does not "fully fund education." Since that phrase has been so overused in Washington that it's lost all meaning, it seems safe to assume SPS will have to make some pretty enormous cuts.

Stephan Blanford, our strongest and often lone voice for equity and reason on the incessantly dysfunctional Seattle School Board, wrote in a piece for the South Seattle Emerald about his fears that our more-voiceless south-end schools will bear the greater burden of these looming cuts:

"I know I am motivated more by fear — fear of the kinds of cuts that we will need to make in December and January as the board grapples with a deficit that has grown to $74 million. I am deeply troubled by the ramifications these cuts will have in classrooms across the city and the uneven impact we could have on schools serving low income students and students of color. And I am motivated by my knowledge of what has happened in the past.
First, the uneven impact. Academic research demonstrates that seniority-based teacher layoffs disproportionately impact schools serving low income and students of color. This is because those schools tend to be staffed with newer teachers having less seniority – the last hired is often the first fired. Many of our principals will tell you that they’ve finally gotten a good mix of older/experienced and younger/energetic teachers in their buildings. As a result, many are optimistic for the first time in their careers about the chances of closing our achievement/opportunity gaps — unacceptable gaps that are larger than nearly every big city school district in the nation.
Secondly, based on recent history, I have come to believe that the school board that I serve on is not sufficiently oriented to or motivated by the need to eliminate the gap, in spite of the fact that the majority of students (53%) served by Seattle Public Schools are students of color. Obviously, not every student of color is in the gap – in fact, many students of color outperform their peers. But for those that don’t, there was very little outrage or even discussion when the board learned of our national ranking in a story that was reported back in May. I’ve frequently seen members of the board disregard advice from the staff and parents when it conflicts with the narrow interests of some of their constituents. During the months when we first learned of a possible budget deficit, some of my colleagues were much more interested in how to spend last year’s $10 million surplus, which could have made a sizable dent in the projected deficit. Many of the choices that were made during that exercise only make our achievement/opportunity gaps worse.
Why does this matter?
If you have a child in Seattle Public Schools, or are troubled by the growing gaps based on family income, race and ethnicity, gentrification, the school-to-prison pipeline or any number of societal ills confronting our city, region and nation, you too should be concerned! At the root of each of these problems is society’s failure to adequately prepare our children to reach their awesome potential. IT IS CRITICAL THAT WE STEP UP NOW."

 

If you want to lose hope altogether, read the comments on Blanford's article. He's met with defensiveness, privilege and skepticism, often admittedly from the north end residents (and from Charlie Mas, who loves chiming in on our issues from wherever he's at).

This isn't about dividing the city into a north and south end. That's already been done. We are already the have-nots. It's not that there are no low-income families in the north end, or that there is no money in the south. It's that these are two very different places, home to two very distinct populations. Our city has been largely segregated for ages.

Blanford's fears are based in reality, and part of that reality is that schools like Emerson exist in a different realm of Seattle Public Schools than their north-end counterparts. At Emerson, we are already operating with two long-term substitutes where we should have full-time teachers. We are one of the only schools in the city with such a high percentage of students eligible for free/reduced lunch that it's just given to everyone. We've had four principals in four years.

This is, by definition, a high-need school, but it's serving mostly low-privilege students and families, which means it gets ignored. Then when someone tries to speak up about it, the overwhelming response is defensiveness.

But we should just keep plugging away, believing things will change. I'm trying.

We're progressive in lots of ways in Seattle, but that doesn't give us a pass on all the ways we're still way behind the times. We have the fifth-highest achievement gap along racial lines in the country. It persists because comfortable, privileged white moderates dominate the conversation about education locally.

We will keep speaking up from the south end, from the other sides of all the borders and barriers. The question becomes, when will people listen? I'm looking for a reason to believe that will happen soon. It needs to, because my kids won't be kids forever.

 

Day 9 at Standing Rock: Major Keys

About the Music: “Major Keys”

From the musician, Cee Goods:

Every move we make is major. We are all in this together, and together we can take down corporations. They need us, they need our money. We can fight and win the war. 

 "I am not god. We are God."

I love my family and my friends with intensity. It's part of what fuels me every day. And I love them actively — especially my family. We support each other, and we fit into each other's lives as part of a little web, an ecosystem almost. We hug and hold each other and help connect each other to the real beauty of deep, unshakable love.

The pain of Standing Rock has finally started to make the news. But the magic of Standing Rock is that so many people here are somehow learning to love everyone else with that same intensity and activity. In the old world, we were strangers. In the New World, we are brothers and sisters, parents and grandparents and children, and we treat each other that way. We live with the Earth, not on it.

Written behind Emma in this photo are the camp's direct action principles, led by the ideas of protection over protest, prayer and love over fear and reaction. Standing Rock can change the world because it is not simply about standing up to injustice and declaring that it's wrong. It's about saying enough is enough, and living differently come hell or high oil prices.

There's a reason "All You Need is Love" was the first satellite broadcast on planet earth. It's probably the truest thing anyone's ever said.

The best thing you can do to support Standing Rock this minute — and every minute — is to love everyone in your life as gently and intensely as you can. Then make the decision to share that love with the next person, too.

I am not god. We are God. And if we all realize that, we will change the world.

Day 6 at Standing Rock: Life is Sweet

About the Music: “Life is Sweet”

(co-produced by Old Gold; vocals by @frankstickemz - aka Flowzavelt)

From the musician, Cee Goods:
Life is sweet. We value our lives. They can try and attack with any means of weaponry, but it does not match the level of commitment to stopping this pipeline. Our lives are worth too much.

(The following are actual text messages I sent to Spencer (aka Cee Goods) on Sunday, Nov. 20, 2016. It was too hectic to write anything coherent.)

"Please share, protest, donate - do whatever you can do. What is happening at Standing Rock is happening to all of us... whether we realize it or not."

"I fell asleep sitting up in my car from about 430 to 630. Woke up and something was going down off in the main camp in the distance. Police cars, and a call for all the protectors to come to the bridge [on Highway 1804, which has been blockaded and closed for several weeks]."

"Police are definitely here, but it's not clear if they are the perpetrators or if it's DAPL."

"Can't get through on twitter or Facebook right now. Two planes and a helicopter circling constantly right now. Lots of people shot with both gas and rubber bullets in face and chest. People have gotten tear-gassed, they're using a water cannon to soak people and things."

"Concussion grenades and rubber bullets. Shit is going down. Someone has already left in an ambulance. There are no reporters or news outlets here."

Day 4 at Standing Rock: DreamsVille

About the Music: “DreamsVille”

From the musician, Cee Goods:
What foundation is this country built on? What values do we hold true for the land? Is it all but a dream? Do we as Americans live in a fantasy world? The harsh reality is nothing is ever what it seems.

The American flag is supposed to be hung upside down only in times of dire distress. I took this photo in Camp Oceti Sakowin at Standing Rock the morning after Trump's election, but every American flag in the community had been signaling distress for months.

The Dakota Access Pipeline, or DAPL (pronounced dapple), is the source of this distress, the source of the evil that is being confronted.

DAPL is spraying the camps with chemicals from low-flying planes at night. They have donated poisoned food. They are surveilling and infiltrating the camp.

They have herded up most of the wild buffalo in the region and are keeping them in pens without food or water. Sixteen had already died as of a couple days ago. I'm sure many more have already been lost.

The protest action that makes the news is real, but it is a distraction. The police are just a pawn in this game, and the fate of Mother Earth is at stake. The real atrocities are being generated and perpetrated by DAPL, the vastly monied corporation the police are protecting at the expense of the people.

We need your help. We are under constant attack. We are in dire distress, and so is our nation. Please stand with Standing Rock today by turning your flag upside down.

Day 3 at Standing Rock: End of Trump

About the Music: “End of Trump”

From the musician, Cee Goods:
High intensity, ready for anything. Will reach what you seek by any means necessary.

I took the above photo while wearing ear protection, eye protection and a surgical mask, standing across the railroad tracks from a row of militarized police assembled in a line to face off with peaceful demonstrators. Armed with tanks, sound cannons, tear gas, tasers, batons and guns, they flex their muscle against the people they are sworn to protect, instead defending the interests of a corporation.

They stand against the people as a symbol of capitalist greed and fear, misguided stormtroopers defending a dark empire.

Even more powerful than their terrible might and aggression is the power of love and prayer being reflected back at them. We are protecting this water for those officers, too, and for their children. And we've told them so. And then they've attacked.

We pray that love will replace the fear and that our connection to the earth and each other can overcome the divisiveness that stands in our path.

Day 2 at Standing Rock: K.I.N.G.S.

About the Music: “K.I.N.G.S.”

From the musician, Cee Goods:
Because everyone standing at Standing Rock resembles true power and leadership. The commitment, the unity, the fight. All are worthy of being a king for this land. The beat shares a distant war cry in the back, but includes peaceful flutes demonstrating the protests in full.

The folks living in these teepees in the photo above were my first neighbors at Oceti Sakowin, the largest of the three main camps of people at Standing Rock.

Supporting the direct acts of prayer and protest on pipeline work sites is an entire community of people, many of whom never approach the "front lines." Oceti Sakowin had seven separate kitchens when I arrived, all of which arose organically out of a need in that particular area of the camp. Across the river to the north are two more camps, Rosebud and Sacred Stone, which sit on the southern edge of the Standing Rock Indian Reservation.

Throughout the combined camps, needs are met as they arise. Several medical tents provide care of all kinds for anyone who asks. It is common to find donation tents as well, filled with clothes, blankets, camping gear and other supplies to be taken as needed. Everyone gives freely and takes only what they can't do without.

These prayerful, integrated communities make possible the more "newsworthy" direct action, and they are open to all. They are open to you, as soon as you decide to come and stand with Standing Rock.

 

 

10 Days, 10 Photos, 10 Songs: An Awareness Campaign for Standing Rock

For the next 10 days, I am collaborating on a Standing Rock awareness campaign with Cee Goods (who also happens to be my brother-in-law). He will be creating one instrumental track each day, each based on a photo I have taken at Standing Rock. This will end on Thanksgiving, because the way of life and respect for the land that the Native Americans have always fought for and tried to preserve still rings true today.

Day 1: "Dark Love"
Day 2: "K.I.N.G.S."
Day 3: "End of Trump"
Day 4: "DreamsVille"
Day 5: "The Stand Off"
Day 6: "Life is Sweet"
Day 7: "Judgement Day"
Day 8: "Diamond"
Day 9: "Major Keys"
Day 10: "Kings Return"

 

"You don't have to live next to me, just give me my equality..."

 

Nina Simone was a brave woman to be singing these words back in 1965.

There's something particularly striking and incredible and sad about watching her play it live now, with the benefit of perspective. She's on fire -- in lots of ways, yes, but mostly in the I'm-burning-to-death kind of way. She's on fire, and she's releasing these desperate, guttural cries about oppression and bigotry to whomever is in the room, sharing her pain by (figuratively) rolling around onstage for everyone to see.

The crowd thinks she's entertaining them. She knows she's trying to put out the fire.

 

"Mississippi Goddam"
Written by Nina Simone (© Warner/Chappell Music, Inc)

Alabama's got me so upset
Tennessee made me lose my rest
And everybody knows about Mississippi Goddam

Alabama's got me so upset
Tennessee made me lose my rest
And everybody knows about Mississippi Goddam

Can't you see it
Can't you feel it
It's all in the air
I can't stand the pressure much longer
Somebody say a prayer

Alabama's got me so upset
Tennessee made me lose my rest
And everybody knows about Mississippi Goddam

This is a show tune
But the show hasn't been written for it, yet

Hound dogs on my trail
School children sitting in jail
Black cat cross my path
I think every day's gonna be my last

Lord have mercy on this land of mine
We all gonna get it in due time
I don't belong here
I don't belong there
I've even stopped believing in prayer

Don't tell me
I tell you
Me and my people just about due
I've been there so I know
They keep on saying 'Go slow!'

But that's just the trouble
'Do it slow'
Washing the windows
'Do it slow'
Picking the cotton
'Do it slow'
You're just plain rotten
'Do it slow'
You're too damn lazy
'Do it slow'
The thinking's crazy
'Do it slow'
Where am I going
What am I doing
I don't know
I don't know

Just try to do your very best
Stand up be counted with all the rest
For everybody knows about Mississippi Goddam

Picket lines
School boy cots
They try to say it's a communist plot
All I want is equality
For my sister my brother my people and me

Yes you lied to me all these years
You told me to wash and clean my ears
And talk real fine just like a lady
And you'd stop calling me Sister Sadie

Oh but this whole country is full of lies
You're all gonna die and die like flies
I don't trust you any more
You keep on saying 'Go slow!'
'Go slow!'

But that's just the trouble
'Do it slow'
Desegregation
'Do it slow'
Mass participation
'Do it slow'
Reunification
'Do it slow'
Do things gradually
'Do it slow'
But bring more tragedy
'Do it slow'
Why don't you see it
Why don't you feel it
I don't know
I don't know

You don't have to live next to me
Just give me my equality
Everybody knows about Mississippi
Everybody knows about Alabama
Everybody knows about Mississippi Goddam