Broken Wings: March 5, 2010

It’s come to my attention that I haven’t posted this outside of a couple of social media platforms. This would be one of the reasons that I favor teaching citizens on how to protect themselves against hostile forces.

I made a promise tonight.

It’s one I hope I’ll never have to keep.

A dear friend and mentor, Dr. Karren Baird-Olsen, Sociology and American Indian Studies Professor at Cal State Northridge, is, as I write this, lying on gurney in a hall in an emergency room. Here’s why.

Today there was a student protest on campus. The funding to education is being cut again and fee hikes are being implemented and programs are being cut and all of the promises that were sort of half-assed promised the last 1/2 dozen times the students marched are pretty much just dust in the wind.

You can blame it on the recession or incompetence or whatever your pet peeve is but here’s the bottom line: the future of the state of California is being gutted. Systematically and thoroughly gutted. We’re being told that all of our children in elementary and secondary education are supposed to be preparing for college while college — with its insane tuition hikes — is being quickly lifted out of reach of just about everyone who isn’t (a) already possessing wealthy parents or (b) willing to plunge into crippling debt.

The students are starting to figure this out to; this isn’t like losing a job. It’s like saying that every job from now until the end of your life will be meaningless, will be beneath your potential because you couldn’t get a piece of paper that says you really are a smart kid. You couldn’t afford it.

Dr. Baird-Olson said she hadn’t seen a fire light up like that in student’s eyes in decades. They knew they had to do something.

So about 3000-4000+ show up for a rally — that’s about 10% of the student population at least; off they go, marching around the campus, working on getting the message out, on getting attention. There’s the usual mix of activists and agitators along with folks you might not expect — the CSUN swim team, for example — comprising an amazing cross-section of CSUN’s student population.

After various marching about and blocking some streets, a group of students decide to do a sit in, to block a street. I know the street they were on; it’s not particularly a busy one. Busy enough to make a point but not dangerous. Certainly worth the risk. Dr. Baird-Olson saw them planning to do it, knew what was up and decided to stay with them. She’d been in marches like this for a long time. She’d been arrested for civil disobedience. She could help protect her students.

It comes to mind that I haven’t introduced her properly yet. Dr. Baird-Olson is 73 years old, striking platinum hair and a fierce spirit that belies her stature. She’s an amazing mentor with astonishing stories and with a twinkle in her eye, she’ll give you the support you need while challenging you to do it yourself.

The last thing you’d picture her is, is a threat — unless it’s a threat to your ego! I met her when I joined up with the American Indian Student Association (she was the adviser and coordinator for the program) and she has done nothing except earn my respect every time I’ve dealt with her.

She’s well known — and well respected — among her peers, the local tribes, the native community at large and among the political set as well. If you ever want to find out what an American Indian means by “elder”, you’ll learn about it when you spend time with her.

She was there to protect students. It’s so very her, so very indicative of her spirit. Police dressed in full riot gear pulled up fast to the intersection and formed a solid line. They demanded the students leave. The students didn’t move until the cops started to move. Then, the students, arms locked, got up and moved peacefully back.

I’m going to make a point of this because I heard it from experienced protesters / monitors. These were adults who’ve done this before, who know the consequences and who know how to point out what went wrong. They said — and several of them agreed — that the students were up and backing up as fast, and as peaceably, as they could.

Some of you already know this drill.

By the time the cops say “back up”, it’s too late for you. The next word are “you’re not backing up fast enough. You’re disobeying a direct order.” And the surge happens.

Cops pushing up against students. Students trying to get back faster.

Then a cop breaks the line.

He steps past the shield line and he fucking truncheons her.

Then he stomps on her after she falls.

Karren Baird-Olson.

The students — not the other cops — rush to the defense, get her up. One strong young man takes a BEATING to make sure she gets out of there.

She’s pulled out and then paramedics are called and she’s in the emergency room, shaking, in shock, her arm fractured. Six students arrested. I’m betting at least one was arrested because they helped her.

73 years old.

Frail, shock of platinum hair, with an impish smile that would light up a room.

Black truncheon falling. A big boot coming down to make sure she stays down.

I’m visiting her and she’s scared. She has a right to be. Nobody her age should go through that. And I’m standing next to her just before they put in the pain meds. Just before they tell her she’s going to have to wait to eat — she hasn’t eaten since 11:00am — because they still have to find another doc to put on her splint. And she makes me and Nikki and a third person — a professor — who is there with us promise.

If she passes, call her children. Tell them that they were the best thing that ever happened to her. Tell them that she doesn’t want to leave them, she’s going to fight to stay, but if she does go, at least it was like this.

The last part goes unsaid. Fighting for the rights of her students. Trying to protect them.

We tell her she’s too tough to go; she’s got classes to teach, people to visit.

She makes us promise anyway.

It’s a promise I hope never to fulfill.

Instead I leave it with this. Don’t stop fighting, don’t stop protecting, don’t stop being there for the people and causes you love. Jump in with both feet and make certain that everyone knows that “we the public” are the people standing right in front of you.

And we are strong together.

In her own words:

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