Tinker Tree Family Flashlight March, MLK day, Carl Schurz Park 6pm 84th and E. End Ave!

When I first opened my daycare, I wanted to stay open for 1-2 Monday holidays. I hoped that my moms and dads would have a day off work, and the option to have a full-day of daycare, too. When I was the working-daycare mom, a day like that would have been a “sanity day,” and allowed me to get a proper haircut and see a matinee with my husband. Not everyone gets the day off, some have go to work, but enjoy a less-crowded subway commute. Either way on MLK day, our playrooms are open, and busy celebrating our action hero holiday.

We begin study in August, on the anniversary of the March on Washington. It’s an interesting time to walk about the neighborhood, news stands often have magazines or papers with his pictures and pictures of the march. I bought one last year, a Time Magazine Special Issue. One of my kids pointed it out, “look!” She wasn’t old enough to say more than that, but she’s wise enough to recognize something important, and show me.

She recognized his face from some of our favorite picture books:

Martin’s Big Words, Doreen Rappaport

We March, Shane W. Evans

I Have a Dream, Illustrated by Kadir Nelson

It may seem crazy for my little crew to think that people could be so mean to each other because of skin, when they sit amongst each other in all shades of “white,” and “black,” and “other,” all mixed up on a great big teeny-tiny island. In a lot of ways, for them, Dr. King’s dream is realized. We focus more on how we are all the same. Race is only one excuse we can use to be mean. As a toddler teacher, most of my day is teaching “gentle,” and “peace,” and “calm.” Somebody took somebody’s baby doll, all hell can break loose.

Dr. King helps me teach peace. Lots of songs from those times flow through my house. I read somewhere that our words to our kids are their inner voices as they grow up. I think songs are that for me. My dad sang all those old folk songs from the 60s. I think  I have sung “If I had A Hammer” 3 times a week for more than 35 years now.  When I got to meet Peter Yarrow, he told stories of the power of these songs as the crowds softly sang together, holding hands and holding peace so deep in their hearts as they faced arrest, “We Shall Overcome,” and how they brought peace into the hearts of the police and there was no violence that day. How beautiful words, beautiful songs, and beautiful trouble can change the world!

The world needs some changes. It seems like there is a national or international story about pollution striking some community (usually poor) related to fossil fuel energy production daily. This pollution robs us of our most precious dreams (fertility, fecundity), and our most precious loved ones. I am not accepting this as a new adaptation to conquer through things I need to buy. I am choosing instead that we kick out fossil fuels and all their related poison, and get behind healing mother earth strategies like the man on the moon mission.

What else can we do?

Dr. King taught us here in the USA how to have a good ‘ol peace fight. In his fight, they first challenged unjust laws with civil disobedience, brought in media attention and branched a message through networks of churches and colleges: be peaceful and dignified, know justice is behind us. Many believe the environmental movement started with a book, Silent Spring, by Rachel Carson. She was a Steeler-country girl like me, surrounded by pollution in the most beautiful place. I am so excited I found a children’s book about her, to include her in our study of action heroes. I read her book long ago, but I never knew of any big, national calls for action. It’s wasn’t until Bill McKibben, a Middlebury College professor, got arrested with over 1000 others that I found a way to express my fury at the industry, built up since first hearing “16 Tons” as a little child. I went to a great-big DC protest he organized with my 3-year old. I wanted my little boy to know real life heroes were peaceful troublemakers to balance our comic-culture fun of “Hulk smash.”

It was a comforting feeling. So many others standing with us to proclaim we want to protect our water, earth, our rights. For me, this fight started with water. I remember our coal-town farmhouse with a poisoned well. It sucks. As 300K people in West Virginia are feeling what it is like to learn you were poisoned, and left with nothing to drink or wash in, it happens over and over, nearer and nearer. It’s something we take for granted, but ask anyone who knows me- I am always bitching about saving water. I teach my babies that water is precious.

That first day was about the Keystone XL Pipeline. Since then, I learned NYC has our own local fights. Fracking and its infrastructure: pipelines and compressors and injection wells and radioactive waste waste water and radon-laced gas stoves is threatening our great-big-teeny-tiny island too. And I don’t want to sit back. Sitting back makes me feel stressed, powerless and anxious about how it is becoming harder and harder to keep my kids safe. We are one apathetic employee away from…? Leak? Explosion? Groundwater lighting fire? Spill? How many gallons of water forever taken off the water table for how many million people? How many toxins are in a cornfield before we shouldn’t eat the corn?

I watched a video about fracking with Mark Ruffalo once, talking about how when he feels most powerless, he isn’t doing enough. The Hulk’s lean in moment? It may have been one of mine.

So last year, we had a little MLK day march at our park. Marches with little kids in winter can’t be too burdensome. We brought flashlights and we sang and ate pizza. It was fun and it was a great way to close our lesson. We hosted a Great Green Playdate in spring at the Museum of Motherhood with Angela Fox and Harriet Shugarman of Mothers for Sustainable Energy and Climate Mama. We gave another for teachers. We did two Green Halloween Playdates at two important rallies: The Global Frackdown at the Spectra Pipeline site, and Minisink Matters at Union Square. Tinker Tree and our Custom People’s Puppet of OWS appeared in the Huffington Post.

Each time I share ideas I learn something new, meet new people and encourage more families to come in and join the fight. Taking my 4-year old to a rally at a Cuomo fundraiser in midtown was not fun  for him. Some stuff is a blast- like going to DC and walking with mom (and a stroller)and seeing all the amazing signs and puppets and musicians. One time I didn’t take him, I missed him because I got to ride a float  gliding along K street- but it was burning hot and I am glad I didn’t take him looking back.

My mommy-and-me approach to activism is I want it to be fun, and show the littlest and busiest among us that we can win in this way. Whatever your fight is: the planet, machine-gun control, Bee Colony Collapse, The Trans-Pacific Partnership, A giant garbage marine transfer station in the neighborhood, a more just society, or getting your baby doll back, it can be won without violence or destroying things- little problems are solved within a few people, big changes need big amounts of people. I promise it is true- here is this MLK guy, he did it. Rachel is another  hero we can point to, a scientist who spoke out about what she saw and caused such outrage, DDT was banned. “Mark Ruffalo is a real person, fracktivist hero, and he pretends to be Hulk (who is a pretend story) as his job, he is an actor”, confusing the heck out of my little boy. Bill McKibben is a teaching hero and his student, Duncan Meisel, became my teacher in a little church in Brooklyn.

The idea of a program called the “99% Spring” was to teach people how to organize and take action to protect their communities. Pretty powerful stuff. Lots of history, lots of civics. As were were going through the group intro: name, where are you from? what do you hope to achieve. I said “world peace.” It got a giggle, even amongst the biggest dreamers, but they all nodded. I think it all interconnects, and boils down to the Peace Rules of at my daycare, is that we all take care of babies, we take care of our bodies, we take care of home, earth- if this is the culture, I believe wholeheartedly that there will be peace. How can it not? I think activism is like the art of peacekeeping, and these are the ideas MLK has me tinkering with.

Thank you, thank you, thank you:)

Natalie

 

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