TAs Thriving: Tip #8 Get yourself out there and advocate collectively

I posted tip 7 on Sunday morning. While it was the night before tax day and seemingly a good day to talk about money, Easter Sunday may not have been the best day to open that discussion. Should I have waited until Monday morning?

As soon as my post went live, I went to my parents where I engaged in some rowdy debates. When you are a Ridgway, you enjoy good-natured clashes. It’s a fact. Everyone who knows a Ridgway knows this to be true. On the drive home, my life partner teased how my family once again talked over each other loudly. How do you ever hear each other? I don’t know. We do. He also noticed how we pivot to a new position to continue arguing with each other. He frequently wonders, Do you all like living in a state of agitation all the time? I don’t feel I live in agitation. He also regularly notes that there is so much love in my family. So much love! It’s a safe place to disagree with someone. In my childhood home, all are welcome to get comfortable with discomfort, probe our assumptions, and challenge each other’s thinking. It’s incredible to be loved that much! It’s where I develop my strength and hone my perspective to advocate for the field of teaching artistry.

Towards the end of our heated afternoon discussion, my mom reminded me of a book she and my brother had recently read together (and then argued about). She gave me her copy. I look forward to reading Angela Y. Davis’ “Women Race & Class” and learning from this brilliant philosopher, activist, and author. Davis inspires me to challenge even my own wondering that maybe my post on Easter Sunday wasn’t such a bad idea after all…

“You have to act as if it were possible to radically transform the world. And you have to do it all the time.”

Angela y. davis

Two of my brothers work for a leading national union. The discussion of unionizing the field of teaching artistry often comes up with them and could be an entire blog of its own. I’m definitely behind workers organizing, but I also recognize that unions are systems of people who fail each other. Even the United States government, serving people, frequently undermines unions.

There are examples of this all over the place. Recently a school principal requested teachers to watch an instructional training webinar during their planning time. The union contract entitled teachers to this unassigned time. The principal breached the contract with their request. Yet teachers cooperated with the principal, ultimately weakening their collective power. Why? Because not a single one was brave enough to speak up and rock the boat. They were negligent in their role as self-advocates. Even when a legal document stated they had the right to disrupt, they remained silent. When our hearts tell us, “this is not right…. this is inequitable… this is unjust…” why do we go along with it?

I frequently listen to protest songs, listening for inspiration, seeking motivation. Joe Hill wrote the orginial to the version Billy Bragg song.

There is pow’r there is pow’r in a band of workingmen,
When they stand hand in hand,
That’s a pow’r, that’s a pow’r
That must rule in every land—

Joe Hill

How do we get Teaching Artists to stand hand in hand?

Listen to Billy as he sings:

Power in the hand of the worker
But it all amounts to nothing
If together we don’t stand.

Stephen William Bragg

I hear many folks speak about needing a union in the field of teaching artistry.

A union would help but like Billy sing, it all amounts to nothing if together we don’t stand.

Unions thrive from self-advocacy and togetherness.

Self-advocacy requires you to know what you want, need, and your legal rights and calls you to speak up when necessary.

By uniting, we can be a formidable force to ensure better working conditions for teaching artists.

I have organized myself to create an equitable and vibrant arts ecosystem. I’m committed to improving the working conditions of the profession and field. 

I speak for myself.

I speak for (and with) others.

Can you take my hand? 

8. Get yourself out there and advocate collectively.

Early on in my co-founding of the Teaching Artists of the Mid-Atlantic, I made this commitment:

As a Teaching Artist Leader,

it is my responsibility to advocate for the field.

Truth is I don’t always know what it means to be a leader, what my responsibility is or what needs my advocacy.

I want to revisit something I said when I introduced this series of tips:

It’s hard to admit (and agree) that the field might need to change. You might not feel safe headed into this conversation. You might steer far from it. I get it. You may love the freedom that the identity of an independent contractor avails you. You may like your direct administrators and not want to put them on the defensive or in a hot seat. I feel you. It can be uncomfortable. Overwhelming. Sad. Scary. That doesn’t mean change isn’t necessary or possible.

I am uncomfortable.

I am scared.

We will get through this together.

From time to time, colleagues privately share they aren’t ready to speak up yet. I understand. I know they’ll find their voice. They brilliantly advocate on so many other issues – the environment, human trafficking, poverty, and immigration. However, this issue is personal, and it can be challenging to advocate for self. It’s important to be there for each other. Last week, a colleague called for advice and support for a situation that required self-advocacy. Later in the week, I circled back to celebrate their efforts. It was a big step for us both. Ever since I read adrienne maree brown’s “Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds,” I’ve been exploring the concept of radical collaboration.

My dearest colleague, you might feel like you are out there on your own.

You’re not.

I’ve got your hand, and an equitable and vibrant arts ecosystem is within reach.

The clock on the wall read almost midnight, but the clock in our souls revealed that it was daybreak.

Martin Luther King, Jr., “Stride Toward Freedom,” page 48.

It’s daybreak where I am!

What time is it for you?

I learned a long time ago the wisest thing I can do is be on my own side, be an advocate for myself and others like me.

Maya Angelou

Published by Jennifer Ridgway | Yard Dramas

Theatre Teaching Artist | activating artistry and moving the collective soul

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