Monday, July 11, 2011

Free Minds Free People 2011: Chance Encounters

I am recently back from Providence, Rhode Island, where I attended Free Minds Free People, a conference discussing issues of educational justice.  Although this was not a particularly religious gathering, several circumstances of the event made me more convinced that there is a beneficent higher power overlooking us, that sends people to each other in their times of need.  So, I was pretty nervous about attending this--excited, but nervous.  No acquaintances let alone friends of mine were attending, and the presenters all had serious leftist credibility--amazing magazine editors, community organizers, the sorts of people that make our large-corporation-overlords shake in their boots because they exist.  Unlike me; I have a lot more knowledge about anarchist theory that most people, and not much else.  Also, I have a lot of phobias about cosmopolitan urban folk and the prejudices they might hold against a simple, married, church-y Midwestern girl like me.  
But the forces of the universe smiled on me.  On the first stretch of my flight out there, I sat next to a major teacher union organizer from Kansas, and was able to discuss our current situation extensively.  That in itself was a pretty amazing coincidence.  Then, on the flight from D.C. to Providence, my seatmate was a very kind middle school art teacher from Rhode Island.  After I told her about the conference, she confessed that it sounded like her kind of thing but she couldn't tell anyone she was liberal because of her family.   So we also had good solidarity-building conversations, and I got a little bit of the lay of the land from her.  
I arrived at the hotel with absolutely no transportation problems at all--there was a bus from the airport straight to the hotel, for only $2 (oh public transit, how I love you and want you in the Midwest).  Then, I walked into my hotel suite, and met my first roommate, a high school drama teacher.  She lives in New York now, but is from--wait for it--


What are the probabilities of that?  We connected over the internet through a roommate-search service the conference provided.  And right away, I had a friend.  It meant the world to me to have someone to hang out with, someone who was in fact aware of the existence of Kansas.  (East coast people, I know you mean well, and I love a lot of you, but...Kansas does not border Ohio.  Nor Canada.  Nor California.  Seriously, people?) So my new friend L. and I spent all of Thursday together, jigsawing some workshops.  More on Thursday (Radical Professional Development) in a later post.
On Friday, I started getting a little discouraged by the difficulty of making connections, but some wonderful math teachers from New York were very welcoming to me and talked me through a close approach to meltdown.  Then I met the editor of my favorite educational magazine, and she invited me to submit an article to them!  I was pretty much floating after that.  
Also, an anarchist publishing house set up shop at the conference and had several Chumbawamba albums that I had been looking for in record shops up and down the Midwest, to no avail.  SCORE.
On Friday night, another roommate went out with me.  We had a great time.  Then on Saturday, I went out for supper alone, a little bit sad at my failure to make serious connections (my faithful roommie from Lawrence was still awesome and still friendly, but had work to do).  I wandered around, then on a street corner found another soul in search of solidarity.  She turned out to be a fabulous documentary filmmaker from NYC, and hoping to meet a friend as much as I was; we spent the next five hours wandering around the city, eating, drinking, sharing life stories.  Glorious.
My new friends showed me the mafia-owned part of the city

One of them even let me try her swank
electric-powered bike.  What a thrill!
Finally, I thought surely my luck must have run out by Sunday.  But at the final closing ceremony, I met some delightful young teachers from Providence, who invited me to spend my final few hours in the city with them.  

I don't always believe in an interventionist God, and surely these wonderful and random meetings are partially due to my openness to meeting new people, and partially due to having a lot of like-minded people in one place at one time.  But still, I do think some sort of sympathetic universal power helped me connect with exactly the humans I needed to stay engaged at every level of this conference.  
Also, when I was writing my Great Anarchotheist Novel last NaNoWriMo, I had one of the sacraments of anarchotheism as "the sacred conversations with strangers, after the example of Jesus who spoke with the woman at the well."  I intended it as a somewhat tongue in cheek sacrament, as I find the focus on what constitutes a sacrament useless and arbitrary most of the time.  But now I'm considering taking that less ironically.  If we could all connect with strangers on a regular basis, could it bring us closer to the turning, to a new society founded on mutual aid and humanity rather than fear, top-down authority, and resentment?

1 comment:

  1. Nice post. Copy-edit "who basically has a lot more knowledge about anarchist theory that most people", then delete this comment.