Thursday, January 24, 2019

One Day at a Catholic High School



At the time of this posting, the government is still undergoing its so-called “partial shutdown.” Untold thousands of government workers are truly suffering under the strain, since they were barely surviving before they stopped being paid. I'm waiting for the president to drop the other shoe, declare a state of emergency, dissolve both houses of Congress, proclaim himself dictator, and live up to the title that Michael Moore has given him of “America's last president.”

But today I'm going to share a little anecdote from a tour I did around 15 years ago.

I was trying to get more gigs at high schools, with very limited success. I wanted to reach the kids who were going to be drafted for the next war, which was then starting up. I played at a total of maybe a dozen high schools during that time. Most of the time, the teacher who invited me got into trouble with the administration, or with parents, or both, afterwards. None of them had been expecting this to happen, and it was an educational experience for all, you could say.

Once I performed at a conservative, mainly white Catholic high school in the midwest, where 10% of the student body were in the Junior Officer Training Corps. It was probably a lot like the school those kids from Kentucky go to. The JROTC kids came to my gig in uniform and sat in the front, in protest against who they thought they were coming to hear, arms crossed at all times, determined not to clap after the songs, it seemed.

I want to reach all of my audiences, and I had no intention of failing to reach this one, though this was the first and only time I've ever been invited to perform at a Catholic high school. I made a wild guess that many of the students had Irish ancestry, and I focused my 45-minute school-wide concert on the history of Irish oppression by Britain, and the history of the Irish immigrant experience in the United States. I sang to them about the Irish who deserted from the US military during the 1846 US invasion of Mexico who joined the Mexican Army. Known and loved still today in both Mexico and Ireland, they were called the St Patrick Battalion, or the San Patricios.

By the end of those 45 minutes all of the uniformed JROTC boys were clapping. Several of them were very intent on speaking with me after the concert. One of them told me he had learned more in those 45 minutes than he had learned all year at school, and he was obviously just getting started.

If you, like me, view yourself as a radical with a mission, then it is our job to win the hearts and minds of anyone we can reach. It's a very worthwhile effort, I've found – a little bit of reality can counteract a whole lot of lies.

Wherever they let me into the high schools in my brief career as a musical counter-recruiter, on every occasion I successfully convinced teenagers not to join the military, who had been thinking of doing so – without exception. If I can do that every time I spend 45 minutes with a group of students, just try to imagine the possibilities, if they let people like us into the high schools more often. This, I believe, is why they don't generally do that. We're much safer when kept inside our echo chambers.

It's not hard to imagine what those kids at the Lincoln Memorial might be like in ten years. Some of them will be anarchists. Most won't. Most kids don't actually fall too far from the tree, because of their circumstances. Some kids are taken on buses to anti-abortion protests in DC every January, and in the summers they're taken to week-long outdoor church revivals. Other kids are taken on buses to protest militarism outside of the School of the Americas every November. They generally don't go to the same Catholic schools, though there are many values they share in common with one another, and given the opportunity, real communication can be an amazing thing. That's why the powers-that-be want to make sure we just keep shouting at each other.

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