Monday, November 17, 2014

Playing Class Struggle, reading Ann Frank and other adventures with the younger and often wiser, the trees and their lessons

Never too young to play Class Struggle! ‪#‎neverbeacapitalist‬ ‪#‎workerswin‬ photo by Caroline Shepard


There are funny moments and measurements for growing older (for being kids, for all of us for that matter).  The last few weeks offered a funny convergence between the pop culture of my childhood and my kids’ lives. Between reading Lord of Files and watching snippets of Rocky Horror Picture Show together, cross generational overlap has come often, lots of memories and lots of coming full circle. 

Jenn Shepard photo.  We read the middle edition. 

“Damn it Janet, I love you” we sing. 
“I just love that tune,” number two confesses.  So do I.

And then there are moments which throw me for a curve ball, such as when the kids’ push beyond anything I experienced at their age.  This is not uncommon. 

Number two came home the other day, asking to read Anne Frank’s diary.  Suffice it to say, I was not requesting to read Holocaust memoirs when I was eight.  Not sure I knew it existed.   But she’s at it. 

 We’re reading it together.  We read and read her stories of days and days and years in the “secret annex” hiding from the Nazis, struggling with family and group dynamics with some eight other people;  in between, the twelve year old Frank wroies and looked the tree outside her window.  “I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn.”

And she dreams. “Think of all the beauty still left around you and be happy,”  wrote Frank.
And the world came crashing in on her.  

We know what will happen in the story but we keep reading, as her words invite us into her world, even decades after she left.  I think of who she would be now, seven decades later. 
My mom and I celebrated her birthday just the other night.  She would only be a few years older than mom were she still here.  Yet, here moms well into her seventh decade.

“You didn’t tell us she dies,” screams Eva at her teacher, after reading the mrmoit in 1994 in Los Angeles in the film Freedom Writers, a story about group of kids looking for meaning in the classroom and their often divided city.

“But she’s still here,” her friend reminds her. “She’s still teaching us.”

She certainly is, still teaching us to look at the trees outside our windows and revel in their beauty, to be kind, to create small changes, to share, and care even amidst the ugliness and violence of the world.

There are so many lessons.

Just the other night, the kids’ and I played Class Struggle.  Designed "[t]o prepare" players "for life in capitalist America" Ollman developed Class Struggle in 1978, as a Marxist alternative to Monopoly. An instant cult classic, the games' distributor soon canceled it. Copies are still available ebay. That is where I found my copy. The cover shows a picture of Karl Marx in an arm wrestling contest with a capitalist in a suit. "He looks like Mitt Romney," noted number two, looking at Marx’s competitor as we played the other night. A pink reader inside describes the object of the game.  The rules for the game are simple. "Class Struggle reflects the real struggle between the classes in our society. THE OBJECT OF THE GAME IS TO WIN THE REVOLUTION... ULTIMATELY. Until then, classes advance around the board, making and breaking alliances, and picking up strengths and weaknesses that determine the outcome of the elections and general strikes which occur along the way." Throughout the game Workers and Capitalists vie to form alliances with students and small business people, each of whom must choose to form allegiances. After rolling dice and moving around the board, players pick up chance cards. A workers’ card declares, "Student are beginning to recognize that when they finish school most of them will become Workers. Move directly to the next square that allows you to make an alliance with the Students."  Friends help friends survive in this game, which echos a history of class struggle born of friendship societies, affinity groups, and the like.  Students help students survive, even as the players cope with the lessons of the struggle.  I was eight when the game was invented.  But the cases still seem eerily resonant. 

“State regulatory commission controlled by capitalists” – this chance card sounds straight out of Governor Cuomo’s efforts to stack the cards in favor of frackng New York. “Banks refuse to lend the cites any more money” until they get out the business of providing free education.  The fiscal crisis n New York laid the groundwork for a neoliberal urbanism of tuition increases we’re coping with decades later.  I see class struggle every day at CUNY. 

But we still have opportunities for agency looking at this game.  We still choose our alliances. 
Class is as class does, Stanly Aronowitz reminds us. We still have agency.  We can still move beyond the crude Hegelian dialectic of life as a simple conflict between workers and owners, the proletariat and bourgeoisie.  There are other struggles, we can break through.

Friday, we rode through luminescent Brooklyn, looking at the pulsing colors of our vbrant global borough.

Number one cooked all day and number two walked through the Bronx Botanical Garden with me.  Looking at the different leaves n the forest, we surveyed the ground. 14,000 years ago there were ice glaciers here. And they gradually melted. Five thousand years later, tree started growing here.  The lessons of the forest are many.  The biodiversity of the woods helps us see that there is a great deal of randomness.  There is far less certainty here than we could ever imagine.  The old growth forest descended from those first trees which started growing here 9000 years ago helps us see what New York City could look like, might have looked like without us. 

“Look at the layers of the forest” I asked number two.

“Yes, there is the emergent layer, the canopy layer, and the understory, before the forest floor,” she explained.   She’d learned about the structure of a forest in class. 

The bridge over the Bronx River. 

Life lessons are many today as I enter my 45th year, not the least of which is to listen to the kids, to hear the echoes of the past, and learn from looking at the forest.  In choosing to find the beauty, we can all be students and active agents in this messy world of ours. We can all be a part of this joyous struggle. 

Playing class struggle with the people's puppets of OWS and healthgap fundraisers. Join us. 

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