Alternate History: Refusal 4

The next day, the students came into the well-appointed classroom, with its big windows and its new desks and its variously computerized boards and screens, and I sat there and said nothing.

I refused to teach them and my colleagues refused to teach them and the people who worked in the offices refused to explain anything to them or process their paperwork or even help them withdraw, and the custodians refused to empty the garbage cans and the groundskeepers refused to shovel the snow, and the people who ordinarily cooked for them refused to cook for them and turned the delivery trucks away, or unloaded them and then gave the food directly to their own and their neighbors’ families.

I lost my job and I went home, frightened, sick to my stomach, with less to lose–less status, less money, less safety–and free to do more, or do differently. They all did, we all did.

(There’s another version of this story where I was the only one to refuse, but I like this version better.)


I actually feel like teaching is one of the areas where I can be useful, but I could be wrong about that. The founders of the institution that employs me made some of their money by buying and selling human beings (which they have acknowledged) and they built it on land stolen from the Narragansett Tribe (which, as far as I know, the institution has not acknowledged).

The proposed “track straightening” of the Amtrak Northeast Corridor would pass through Narragansett tribal land and sacred sites, and members of the tribe have voiced their opposition to it. (It would also damage or destroy forests and wetlands, both of which can help Rhode Island weather climate change.) You can see the environmental impact statement here, and via email you can tell Amtrak/NEC Future not to build this track: info AT necfuture DOT com. They are supposedly taking comments until January 31st.

You can also call the office of Senator Jack Reed, who is in favor of building the new track, at (401) 943-3100, and tell him why you’re opposed to building it. I’ll post some words later today that you can use, if you want.


Alternate Histories: 6/6, 4/29

[Note: I took 2 days a week off during the first round of Climate Anxiety Counseling sessions, so this is an alternate history from a day I’ve already visited.]


[These three were a couple and their friend who came up together.]

How do you imagine helping other people, sustaining other people?

Person 1: That’s both a really specific and a really abstract question.

Person 2: Well, on a really concrete level we would shelter people if we had to. [Hugs Person 3.] We have a lot of room.

Person 1: It assumes we’ll be the ones who have the shelter.

Person 3: Well, it’s fair to assume we’ll be more likely to have it than some other people.

Person 2: That’s true. People who are on the coast, who are on the floodplain —

Person 3: I was thinking more of people in island nations. And I’m thinking about California. … My building would probably be fucked, but I’m on the 3rd floor. I’ll have to go in and out through the window.

Person 2: We think we have more protection than we do.



Between them, W and GG and K had named one thing that turns the middle of these stories to fog: when you can think about them, they’re far away and somewhere else. When you’re in the middle of them, it’s harder to think about them, because you’re trying to keep afloat. Yet in a disaster, a crisis—they knew, because they’d seen it–many people behave beautifully, generously, turning not just themselves but their institutions and premises over to response.

W and GG and K said to each other: what if we switched the order in time? A crisis is a moment of intensification and change: for better, for worse. Or better for some and worse for others.

Because there is no away, because it makes the most sense to start where you are, W and GG and K began to take their premises and their institutions apart with the help of their colleagues, who listened to them; with the help of their students, who asked them questions; with the help of the people who had once worked invisibly for them, who stopped working.

Their plans changed. They’d thought to make the university into a house of refuge, and that worked for a while, until it exceeded its capacity; they wanted to make it a training center for survival, and to some extent it was; they’d thought to make it a place of inquiry again, but all people had were questions. So they made it into a place of resource, a fountain that poured out everything it had until it was gone, a spring that ran for a while and then ran dry, while people who had been nourished by it took their nourishment elsewhere to do other things, and the bramble and the rat snake and the vole and the poison ivy and the fox and the wild rose—early inhabitants and entrenched colonizers—began to uproot and to wander.

If something ends, still it was there once.