A Semester Ends in the Climb for a GED

Sister Patricia Opening the Celebration

Milwaukee       It’s always important to “pay attention in class,” so I carefully listened and watched as the GED students and their tutors came together for a potluck lunch at the Dominican Center to mark the passing of another semester of study.  I’ll stand first in line with those that scoff at service delivery as a band-aid over the killing wounds of injustice and inequality or as a path to social change, but never let it be said that we should not respect those who struggle forward and those who join with them to support their fight.

There were fewer than twenty that came together in Milwaukee in mid-morning, but there was excitement in the room.  Some had been there for hours already preparing something for the potluck, so there was food for fifty!  Sister Patricia who oversees the multi-ringed circus at the center was stirring sherbet into a punch bowl with some fizzy concoction for a punch without a name, but that the Fort Smith native assured me was an old southern recipe of hers.  People were dressed for the occasion but it was their smiles that lit up the room as that sat in the tables with balloons flying from each one.

The GED tutoring runs every morning from 9 to almost noon, Monday through Thursday.  Students each take a table with a tutor sitting close by working the lesson plan.  I had often seen them during my monthly visits throughout this year.  After our leadership development sessions in the evening, we always had to reassemble the room before we left.  It was a habit.  No one questioned it, like camping in the wilderness, we would leave no traces behind us.

students and tutors

This was my opportunity to be a fly on the wall at this part of the operation that was so different from community organizing, although one of the leaders turned out to also be on the GED path in these sessions as well.    The program was straight forward but effective.  Sister Patricia saluted the students and noted the ones that were absent, working, or ill, along with the tutors, who were all volunteers.  The only student getting a special shout out was one woman who had most faithfully attended.  This was about the process, not just the result.

The chief instructor asked everyone to offer a reflection to begin the program.  It was moving to hear people stand up and express their gratitude for the tutors and the opportunity, just as the tutors expressed their gratitude for the students.  It was refreshing to hear the tutors apologize for pushing people and continue to commit to improving the program.

One volunteer talked about the field trips the students had been on, and that was a marvel. They had visited a house in Wisconsin that was a stop on the underground railroad.  They had been to a play they loved called the “Five Moe’s” about five guys one of whom was named No Moe.  They had been to museums, libraries, and hither and yon.  They loved the experience and talked excitedly about it all.  Every person received applause.

I’ve been to my share of graduation exercises, but I don’t know if I have ever enjoyed one more that sitting listening to the GED class ending another semester in the Amani neighborhood of Milwaukee.

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Budgets, Bullets, and Buses

Brother Rice Bey President, Amani United

Milwaukee       It wasn’t going to last long on a busy day, so I went with the Amani United leaders as they went downtown to testify to the county commissioners in solidarity with the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) bus drivers who had supported them in their successful effort to stop the elimination or rerouting of the major bus line through the neighborhood.  It was a strange and confusing experience.

It was impossible to ignore some of the messages the commissioners were sending to the citizens.  They met in the courthouse complex abutting the jail.  Security was intense of course as is common in all courthouses now where tempers and tragedy run hot and hard.  The hearing room hardly held fifty people, which was strange for a county with almost one-million residents.  The leaders and I said in an anteroom outside the hearing where a speaker piped in the testimony and commissioner’s bodyless comments through their microphones.

It took me a bit to get a handle on the issues before the body.  I knew there were huge tensions between the union, the county, and the bus management.  The last contract came after a strike, and they were now working on an expired agreement with another strike looming.  A wagon load of issues separated the parties.  A retired driver with thirty years in before leaving a couple of years ago told me in the lobby about how much revenue the buses lost because the fare machines improperly recorded the take.  It must have been millions from his description, and it was certainly common knowledge to the drivers, so it must have been so to management as well.

Richard Diaz Amani United

But the issue at hand was security on the buses.  The sheriff’s office seemed to want deputies to ride on the buses, like the random air marshals that were on airplanes, until many were recently pulled by Trump to do border control work.  The head of the union in a fiery speech, threatening a strike again, seemed to want to allow the drivers to be armed and seemed to argue security for drivers and passengers was a key concern.  None of this was likely to increase ridership on the buses outside of our constituency of auto-less low- and moderate-income families where public transportation was a lifeline to work, grocery stores, schools, and public services.  Amani United leaders testified that buses were important and safety was an issue, but kept out of the weeds on buses having folks riding shotgun and creating another killing zone on wheels.

Was this a bargaining strategy or what?  The cost of putting a deputy on every bus route would be phenomenal!  The union must realize that this would be a budget buster and would end any hope of better wages and benefits.  If driver security and thefts of the fare-box were real issues, a bulletproof Plexiglas apparatus similar to the separation for cab drivers would be a simple, one-time fix and expense.  Live cameras and even metal screeners connected to the doors would be easier and cheaper to protect passengers, it would seem?

My small experience at the hearing certainly made me think, but I can’t say that either the commissioners or the union were doing much more than bulking up their own positions.

***

Please enjoy Lonely People from Rickie Lee Jones.

Thanks to KABF.

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