April 3rd 2008

4Cs NOLA Thursday — Conference Opener

Okay, I was so excited this morning I couldn’t sleep. I woke up at like 5:00 (that’s 3am CA time!) and looked up my daily comics (long story, but Luanne’s dealing with a drug-addict boyfriend in Apartment 3G and Mary Worth is driving Toby to a serious Valium overdose and Dick Tracy is all hallucinogens all the time, so I had to get my fix) and then planned my day.

4Cs, if you’ve never been, is 3+ days of mega-overlapping sessions (30-40 concurrent sessions per hour-and-fifteen-minute time slot) beginning about 8am and ending about 6pm every day. You have to be prepared, you run mentally through the day, you prioritize and strategize your movements.

At about 6am, I went down to breakfast and while I ate, I organized my goal sessions into my pda, so I wouldn’t have to pull out and fumble through my conference program all the time. Last year was my rookie year and I discovered that by the end of day two I had completely lost all sense of purpose and was stumbling into sessions because, lonely and tired as I was, they just looked welcoming. Although I discovered, quite by chance, some really amazing sessions–and one by Steve Parks that was transformative–I vowed this year to be more organized and prepared. Actually, as frenetic as it gets, this atmosphere is invigorating, like a build-up. You meet people, you network, you have epiphanies and coffee and the high lasts…

So, the conference opening speeches started at 8:30. I grabbed a quick coffee at 8:15 and while I stood in line, the conference chair and the local organizing committee danced by accompanied by a 5-piece jazz band. The tone was set. In the main hall, I saw friends from Fresno State, Jaclyn Hardy, Marcus Chin, and Andrea Osteen (who was presented with a Scholars For The Dream award–and richly deserved), so it was fun to sit with people I knew.

The opening speeches were both funny and poignant–and political. Kathleen Yancey, president of NCTE, called openly for activism, anticipating the departures of both George Bush and Margaret Spelling from Washington and urging they hurry lest the screen door hit them in the ass. In fact she urged nationwide involvement in Literacy Education Advocacy Day, April 17 (just a couple weeks from now) which interestingly coincides with Poem In Your Pocket Day. Poetry — Advocacy; a great mix! 4Cs chair Cheryl Glenn spoke from a feminist background (quoting Adrienne Rich, Audre Lorde and Sojourner Truth among others) about our urgent national need to empower a culture of diversity–a culture that celebrates our differences while it values our commonality. She urged neither consensus nor compromise, but rather the sort of local micro-activism that feminism has used to empower and include its wide constituency. She urged us to disempower violence, challenging the rhetorics of hate (including official rhetorics such as “anti-terrorism”) at all levels. She mentioned that when she first attended 4Cs some 21 years ago, the issues at the convention were largely the same: the exploitation of adjunct faculty, the powerful forces behind standardized assessment testing, and dealing with basic students. Standing ovations all around.

It was begun. This is the politics in which I feel most at home. I took a deep breath and merged with the crowd flowing out toward the first sessions; in spite of the concerns of our time, I am hopeful. I am here to learn how it gets better.

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