Daily Digest 4: Blog from the Bus

DAY 4:
The following entry was written by University of Florida adjunct professor, Glynn Hayes.

Activism 101 to Advanced Activism in 4 days
I just ended my first steps into being an activist. I heard from my better half that several of our close friends asked where I was this week and when they heard that I was out riding around on a bus and union organizing there was shock. “How did this happen?” “We never knew this about him.”

I have been teaching 20 years and as an adjunct professor for over 15 years. I teach for a lot of schools and I typically keep my head down and just love teaching my students by sharing my passion for how this amazing planet works. I have continued to teach as an adjunct, rather than combing the country for a full-time position because it allows me to stay in Florida where I have developed roots and ties to my community. Most importantly it allows me to take care of my 16-year-old daughter, which I see as my most important full-time job!

As an adjunct I have experienced the same issues I have heard from many other adjuncts—losing classes at the last minute, being treated like you are less qualified than a full-time professor, struggling with healthcare costs, burdened by school debt from getting the advanced degrees I have, feeling like you want to help more to build your institution but just not having the time to participate and struggling to pay bills.

I realized that as adjuncts we have all been fighting these issues individually and getting little relief from the colleges where we work. I thought that maybe if we grouped together we could make a difference. When I saw some emails about forming a union for adjuncts on my campus and read stories in the paper about other colleges doing the same, I decided it was time to see what I could do to help out. So, I started attending the local meetings.

After a few months of getting to know super nice people with similar ideals and experiences along with the enthusiastic union organizers, I was asked if I wanted to join a bus tour that would be promoting issues of adjuncts and higher minimum wage under the theme of “Free College Now”. Thinking it would be standing up for what I believe in, but also feeling like I have never done anything like this and stepping out of my comfort zone is a good thing, I agreed.

The first evening of the tour we spent discussing the plans for the next week and getting to know the other participants. The next morning we attended how to be a “protestor” 101. Monica and Shoni, the leaders of the training, made the 3 hours go by so quickly it left me wanting more. We learned how to support one another. We learned creative ways to fight non-violently for our goals. We learned to raise our voices up for those who are oppressed.

The hardest part of this training for me, was preparing to deal with aggressive responses from people who disagreed with our goals. I mean, really, really, disagreed with our goals. We had to verbally attack one another and prepare to not respond back violently. My partner in this was an older woman with the sweetest personality… and I had to yell in her face at the top of my voice. It made me sick to my stomach. The understanding, though, that this exercise could protect us all from being actually hurt out there made it worth it.

Next stop on the tour was to actually protest, out there… We had symbolic artwork, signs, flags, fresh loud voices and new awareness from the morning’s training. We brought all of these tools with us to the march around the downtown. It was exhilarating and inspiring to be visibly standing up for what I believe in!

After the march, we moved into a different type of work to support our cause. We went to a nearby mall where we broke into pairs and canvassed for voter pledge cards. This is more of the grunt work you hear about in campaigns. Talking to people individually to convince them to vote. I now get why movements need lots of people to knock on doors from sun-up to sundown. Not much happens unless you get people to the voting booth with a pledge to vote and belief that what they think matters.

The following morning saw us at a town hall meeting hosted by the district’s Congressman. Another way to make our voices heard! The Congressmen was believed to be generally on our side so our plan was to let him know that there were many people in his audience that supported our issues of free college, raising minimum wage and supporting the adjuncts of our state. We selected our question askers and stood up and all cheered every time one of our tickets was drawn to ask a question of the representative. This action was, maybe not as exciting or potentially as arrest inducing as attending a town hall hosted by a representative that did not support our causes, still a valuable part in our intensive course on how to be an activist.

Also, during this day, I learned that it was planned for me to speak at the next day’s protest. We were travelling back to my hometown and who better to address the audience and talk about adjunct conditions then me. (I may have said that I would be interested in speaking at some point, but didn’t really think they would take a newbie up on the proposal). I have no problem teaching and speaking to my students. I have no problem addressing peers in my research field. I was very nervous about giving one of these inspiring “fight for what’s right” speeches for the first time. This was really important. I had gotten to know the people on my bus. Their stories were all diverse and their struggles amazing. I had to support them and really all of us. I had to do it to the best of my abilities. I had to face my fears and as academic, I had to earn the A+.

I was able to work that evening on my speech with one of the communication directors travelling with us on the bus. Omar, was very patient in dealing with an over-thinker and someone who should have their public speaking chops in place but doesn’t in regards to this type of speaking. I knew what I wanted to say and knew that it needed to be written down so I would not forget any part of it. I very much appreciate those who can give these rousing speeches without notes. All those high school students from Parkland are incredible in their ability to speak to thousands of people. I want to be them.

I was in the advanced class now. I was preparing to give others my words and emotions instead of being one who cheered the speech giver on. One of my fellow tour participants was a young girl who was there fighting for increasing minimum wage. She is struggling to barely make it in this world. She was also giving a speech and as we approached the rally place we talked about our nervousness. She was surprised that I was as worried as she was. We talked about stepping outside our comfort zones because we believed in what we were doing. I know she inspired me. I hope I did the same for her.

Final exam time! I had the microphone in front of my mouth…I would give myself a B. Perhaps, I am hard on myself. I did get a lot of good feedback from many folks who I did not know and didn’t have to be nice. They did clap at the right place. I did feel like I needed a cigarette after it. I put as much good positive energy into the delivery as I could. I know with practice, with a desire to keep leaning from uncomfortable things, I will get better. I realize too, that this was not a final exam after all, it was the beginning of a different class, a new journey.

Another adjunct, Alice, on the bus stated earlier in the week “that anything worth doing was worth doing badly.” I think that this true, especially when it comes to standing up for what you believe and what is right. We are in times when people are fiercely divided. When it seems investing in things is more important than investing in people. You may feel like your voice is not so good, or you may stand up and do it badly. The important thing is that you do stand up and know that all of us standing up – in any capacity we can – will transform “badly” into a great and wonderful change that will make all of our worlds better.