An Incident On the Train Heading to the Teachers’ Rally Downtown

We too, white men, together with everyone, have a responsibility to fight sexism, racism, and injustice, whether in everyday public spaces, at work, or in civic discourse.  

Brief moments like this one below reminds me how it all fits together, the mentality we are up against, and the beating heart that propels us all, in courageous resistance, through the fear, doubt, and terror screamed out and amplified daily on all our devices.

It was nine thirty in the morning on the Los Angeles Metro’s Red Line, a Saturday morning in mid-December.

My friend called said he was going to the teacher’s rally downtown, as did many others who care about their communities.  So there I was, on a crowded train, headed downtown.

The train was packed with teachers, kids, and families, all squished together along with the usual Saturday morning passengers headed together on that rail car from the suburban sprawl of Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley to downtown LA’s civic center.  In that container in which we traveled made of shining silver metallic walls and dark orange seats, women and men crammed and contorted their bodies to make room for successive waves of demonstrators. Teachers, children, spouses, and students, mixed in with the everyday Saturday morning train passengers, commuters, families running errands, the mentally ill, the homeless, students, youth, elderly, disabled, and the poor.  We were all there going somewhere, traveling together, if only for a little while.

A tall, middle-aged, brown skinned man grasped one pole for support.  He wore a wrinkled striped off white and blue shirt with a large coffee stain on his pot belly, his giant eyes bulging out with tiny dark pupils and bright oversized bright white irises.  A few curled strands of hair lay puffed up atop his balding head; the wisps of brown hair raked atop his blotched bald skin, the back and sides of his head covered in greying brown.

He would smile excitedly around the teachers and kids, grinning with his crooked yellow teeth and a mouth smelling like alcohol and rotting bones.  He held the middle pole with his elbow bent, along with both myself and a young woman. A petite attractive white woman in her mid-20’s, she stood no more than 5’2, and clutched the silver pole with tiny fingers and glossy light pink manicured nails.

Each time the train would lurch and rock the man would move his hand quickly as if steadying himself, but then he’d overlay his sweaty palm and grimy blackened fingers over those of the young woman, who would quickly move her hand to another part of the metal rod.  After the second or third time this happened, she responded in a soft, but stern voice, declaring, “Stop it. Don’t touch me. Stop.”

He smiled and laughed in an excited chuckle, his swollen eyes lighting up in a grin that stretched his rosy red cheeks, their dimples, and pock marked face.  He leaned in his body against the pole, pressing his soiled shirt and warm flesh against her tiny hand, staring intently at her chest.

I decided to engage him, to allow her to escape, to draw attention to this creep, to do something, anything.

“How are you doing?” I summoned the courage to ask.

“Goood,” he mumbled, turning to me in an agitated grimace.  “There are a lot of teachers on this train, huh.”

“Yeah, they are headed downtown, protesting for a fair contract, for more resources for their classrooms,” I responded.

“Donald Trump says they are wrong, that they are greedy.” he replied. “All they want is money.”

“You believe him?”

“Who Donald Trump? Of course! He’s rich.  He’s always right. He’s got four stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. more than Robert Redford, or Arnold Schwarzenegger.  He’s strong. He’s got the military. He’s gonna fuck them up.”

“Really?” I asked half astounded, half not, but still curious what he’d say.

“Yes. He’s the best!”

“You don’t think it’s because he wants to stay rich that he wants to keep teachers and schools poor, so he and his buddies can keep the money from that big corporate tax break they passed last year?” I questioned.

“No way.  He knows what he’s doing.  He’s rich. He’s the most powerful man on earth.  He’s got the military. He’s so strong.” The man slurred, and as he breathed speaking towards me I caught a strong whiff of rotting food and alcohol.  He continued. “He’s gonna fuck them up. Just like the troops, the military now at the border. He’s gonna kill all the illegals.”

I raised my eyebrows.

“Yeah, that’s right!  If your rich and strong you have to be right.  If you are poor.. These people, are born poor. They’re trash!” he cursed, spitting a little.  “If you’re poor, you suck. You aren’t worth nothing. You suck. Trump is going to fuck them up.”

“And you support that?”

“Yeah!  Kill them all.  Kill all the illegals.  He’s got troops at the border, just you watch.  He’s gonna kill them all.”

The train stopped with a startling jerk.  And another group of teachers and children pushed themselves in to the already crowded train.

I turned around as I was pushed by the crowd further towards the center of the train car.

My eyes connected with a young teenage student, maybe twelve or thirteen years old. The eyes in her round, red, indigenous face – Maya or Zapotec – said everything, so sad, disappointed, and profoundly pained. I looked around.

Teacher, women and men, but mostly women, were laughing and chatting, giggling in the confined space talking to each other, squished a bit too comfortably with their coworkers, accompanying each other to the demonstration.  They wore these red shirts; “Red for Ed.” Just like the shirts that waves of teachers donned, striking for better schools in West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma, North Carolina and Arizona earlier that spring.

They seemed excited and anxious to march together, to demand respect at their schools and win better staffing and more resources for their students; the majority of those enrolled in Los Angeles Unified School District speak English as a second language.  Three quarters of the student body is Latino.

I thought I overheard one teacher say to her friend that LA schools have one of the highest class sizes in the country, and they’ve only gotten worse.  “No wonder we can’t take bathroom breaks; and my principal says I just need to control my bladder, like it’s my fault or something,” she might have said.

“Yeah.”  I thought I heard the other reply.  “Imagine that. When I’m the one buying paper and pencils for the kids,” she whispered indignantly on that crowded train.  “Last year my history textbooks said Bush is still President. I had to practically beg to get new books.”

Is this what moves these teachers to march?  Is it stand up for a future for these students, for the next generation? Is it to ensure that the kids they teach graduate with the employable skills to survive in California’s surging information age economy?  Is it to shield our children, their minds and bodies, against sexual predators, white supremacists, and bullies who think that Trump’s words and deeds grant them the moral license to grope whom they want, kill whom they want, and do what they want as long as their victims are poor, black, or brown?

Maybe.   Maybe it’s the faces of their colleagues, the loving and smiling teachers, those women with the heart and patience to teach against all odds; those who dare demand equal opportunity, to hold on to a promise of an American dream; to safeguard that sacred responsibility to teach the love of knowledge, critical thinking, and a questioning wonder to the next generation that will propel the Golden State forward.  Maybe it is walking with their students’ parents and children, hand in hand, prepared to strike with the thousands of their colleagues, pouring out the subway and into the street. Is it that motivation that animates the stucco facades and locker lined halls of a thousand schools each morning? Is it that power that will steel their resolve to forgo pay, and instead stand outside their schools, picketing on the sidewalk?  

Maybe it will come down to it.  They’ll be there on that picket line, until the government bends to their union’s demands, and the community’s needs.  Can you see them? Laughing, singing, chanting and dancing to the drums and horns of the school marching band, or a colleagues’ spotify soundtrack; with tight determined grips waving signs on thin wooden sticks that read in bold black type: “On Strike!  Give Kids A Chance! Stop Starving Our Schools!” I see them. Teachers on the front lines of the resistance, their bright, hopeful eyes shielded with wraparound shades, wearing dangling earrings that sparkle shining in the morning sun.

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