On Boycotts, Resources, and Privilege

In 2014, when the Baltimore Ravens and the NFL initially hedged to take action after the video surfaced of Ray Rice beating his then-fiancée, it took me about three minutes to decide to boycott the NFL.

This had been brewing for a while. I had recently learned of their non-profit status with the U.S. Government, knew of how they saddled communities with taxes to pay for lavish stadiums, was irritated at the apparent lack of interest in creating stronger concussion protocols, was incensed at their continued use of Native American mascots, and was well aware of their “don’t ask don’t tell” approach to handling men who abused their partners.

But it was a little sad for me to stop watching something that had been a part of my life for so long. I loved watching games with friends. I loved playing Fantasy Football. I wrote—and then published in an actual book—a piece about Fantasy Football! I loved coming home from church every Sunday, laying on the couch, watching games, dozing off, waking up, checking stats.

But I couldn’t support it anymore.

I often say that if we really examined how every corporation operated and chose boycotting as a method of speech, no one would shop anywhere or do anything. And I know the NFL doesn’t miss my support; I’m a gnat in a swarm of murder hornets.

But I do think that on a personal enrichment level, boycotts of chosen companies can redirect our resources to better things.

Once my Sundays (and Mondays…and Thursdays) were no longer subject to football games, I suddenly freed up hours of time a week. I’m not saying I’ve always made the best choices about how I use that time, but I have noticed the biggest change with Sundays. I watch movies. I catch up with friends. I explore Ancestry’s website and learn about my forbears. Sometimes I work, sometimes I read books.

My Sunday time doesn’t disappear as fast as it used to, because I’m not spending nine hours watching football.

Which brings me to a weekly conversation I have with myself: boycotting Facebook and Instagram.

How can I reconcile supporting an uneducated megalomaniac who has allowed his innovation to be hijacked by white supremacists and merchants of misinformation?

A quick anecdote: when my selfies or stories about dogs peeing on my leg get more interactions, comments, and likes, than my calls to action, it tells me that maybe my time spent on those platforms is wasteful.

I have a blog. I have email. I have a phone that sends and receives text messages AND makes phone calls. I subscribe to three newspapers and four magazines, all covering a variety of news. I listen to more podcasts than I can handle, and have more streaming services than I can watch.

I was all set to leave, and I realized: wow. What a privilege that must be.

What a privilege that I don’t rely on either platform to affect change.
What a privilege that I’m not fighting for my life and need to cast a wide net for support.
What a privilege that I have the money for a domain name and the “nicer” version of WordPress.

Privilege, privilege, privilege.

So I stopped my exodus plans and starting thinking about how I am using Facebook and Instagram, and how I might use them a little better. A little more focused.

On Instagram, I can make sure I’m curating follows of people whose voices I can learn from and amplify. Seek out people doing work in causes I believe in, donate to, and share their work.

On Facebook, I can take the same action as Instagram, PLUS use the embedded controls to see what I want to see. Sometimes I think we forget that as much power as Zuckerberg’s algorithms have over us, he’s also given us some tools to hack those algorithms, and third-party developers help out too. It might take some pruning, but I can create a feed that righteously motivates and sustains me.

As I went though the initial steps of leaving ZuckLand, I thought of the things that I might miss out on. Some were personal, but most were related to either my profession or how I want to improve the world.

As insidious as I find Facebook and Instagram to be, I can’t argue that the platform can be used for great good when I’m connected to the correct people.

I am going to limit my time, maybe publish more on my website, get more news from the places I subscribe to instead of relying on others’ feeds. But I’m sticking around for now. And if you go through a similar thought process from time to time, I invite you to reflect a bit, and maybe hack your own feed.

Or run your own boycott—you have my support.

Year-End Reflection

Every three years, I am evaluated by an administrator. Part of this evaluation involves setting a professional growth goal, and then reflecting on meeting that goal at the end of the year. I set a goal to become Adobe Certified in Adobe Illustrator. Here is an edited version of my reflection I turned in to my administrator. After I wrote it, I sent it to Stueve, who said it was damn good writing and I should post it on my blog. I thought Teacher Appreciation Week was good timing for that.

Well, what a year.

We started the school year with technology problems on a scale I’d not seen in all my years at BPS. It took me most of first semester to realize that if I was going to get anything done during my plan time, I needed to hide, because fixing tech issues as Building Tech Coordinator was seeping into my plan time, which made just the daily work of teaching more difficult, let alone setting aside time to do Illustrator tutorials. But I did complete the first of three training modules 1st semester and vowed to set better boundaries 2nd semester.

And then my colleague Mr. Stueve got sick.

For most teachers in the building, a sick colleague would have minimal impact on daily life. But over the past eight years, Stueve and I have created a program that can only be sustained in its present form with two teachers. Suddenly I found myself needing to manage basketball broadcasts, check out equipment, help editors of two staffs occasionally make changes and improvements to content, recruit students for next year’s staffs, and at times even help students in Stueve’s introductory classes with minor technical issues. All of this, of course, happening at the same time as I’m learning all the music for the school musical and attending those rehearsals, still teaching my own classes, and producing a newspaper and website.

Oh, and there was the added mental stress of not knowing whether Stueve was going to be okay, and my own two-week bout with some kind of virus (corona? Until I get an antibody test, I’ll always wonder…) that really knocked me out at the worst possible time.

I looked at the reality in front of me, and the first thing to go was the after-school Adobe work sessions for students, which was time I planned to use for my own certification. So there was another six hours of time lost toward meeting my goal of becoming Adobe certified in Illustrator. But I figured once the musical was over and Stueve returned to school after a two-month absence, I could get back on track. No problem.

And then, COVID-19 shut down the school. And to an outsider looking in, you might say, “Well Ms. Rowse, you are single and have no kids and you have all the time in the world now to meet this goal! This is quite the opportunity for you!” And yes, that’s fair, except for a couple of problems.

First: The mental toll of being completely isolated with no one in my home was much greater than I initially calculated. It is difficult to motivate myself to complete Illustrator tutorials when I am unable to share what I learn with students or colleagues.

Second: I can’t actually take the exam, because it has to be proctored by Mr. Stueve, and he is (wisely) keeping his family in isolation, and I’m pretty much keeping to myself as well to protect my parents, in case of an emergency where I might have to go to their home and help them with something. So to complete all the tutorials now, when I’m not even sure when I’ll be able to take the exam (will we be back in August? Who knows!), would be foolish.

So this leaves me, for the first time ever, as not meeting my professional growth plan as I had envisioned. However, I know I still grew as a professional this year. Here’s how:

I took students to a national journalism conference for the first time ever and attended sessions about how to continually improve our program.

I took 3 graduate classes via Augustana College which made me reevaluate how I design all instructional materials.

I read the book “Intention: Critical Creativity in the Classroom,” which is giving me ideas for how I can improve my courses.

But most important, I learned how to set clear boundaries when it became evident I had too many responsibilities simultaneously crashing in on me.

I had a good plan. In any other year, I would’ve met this goal well ahead of my self-imposed May 15 deadline. So I guess I can sum up my professional growth plan for 2019-2020 with this: I did grow as an educator, I did grow as a person, and I hope that is enough.

Downturn

April 28

Rediscovering my happy places and old friends:
Bartlet’s White House
Sacred Heart Hospital
Santa Barbara Police Department

It’s these places keeping me sane
Letting my head escape
And forget all I am missing.

April 29

“Just do the mile,” I repeated
Bracing against a spring-chilled wind
“You will feel better,” I repeated
Shoving my weight against gusts

But when I returned
I did not feel better
And there are days, I suppose
When no matter the tools–
Walks, writing, watching–
Wallowing is the only true and restorative course of action.

Two Short Poems

April 26

Things I hope I keep:

Leisurely walks around my neighborhood
Audiobooks
Books books
Sunday family game time
Virtual hangouts with friends when schedules and distance keep us apart
Cleaning random items when I notice their grubbiness
Isolation-induced perspective

April 27

A rare visit to family
Socially distanced, of course
An ache filled, to see people in the flesh
An ache amplified, six feet apart

It’s keeping us safe,
I repeated in my head
Until the ache became too great
And I waved goodbye

Ozark and Hugs

April 23

Watch Ozark, they said
It’s so good, they said
It’s not too scary, they said

Beware: the characters on Ozark are liars
Beware: so are the people who tell you to watch it
Beware: it is scary.

April 25

I am not a hugger
I flinch sometimes when touched
I was not always this way
But when I realized I faced
A life alone
I retrained myself to not be a hugger
Lest I constantly miss being touched.

The last time I was touched
By another human being
Was March 7
And while I’m glad I retrained
My hugging tendencies
This lack of human contact
Is starting to gnaw at me
Keeping me up late
Wondering if adults have ever withered
From a lack of touch.