10. Mutiny Over Amanuel’s Show

Friday morning Marina got Amanuel Cole’s producer’s call at 4:00. Someone had canceled. Could she make it? She got Ori to take Machi when it wasn’t his day, made it to the taping at the City station at five A.M. and then had to wait. Hers wasn’t the first segment Cole taped. The producer, Katia Santiago, a wiry energized young Islander, sat with Marina in what must be the green room. Marina guessed she thought it necessary to warm her up. “What do you do?” Marina wanted her to know that besides being a literacy teacher she was a writer, a playwright these days after having written journalism and poetry and fiction. That was why she’d come to teach literacy through writing. “Right now I’m rehearsing a play, right in the same Settlement house where I teach. They lend me a room in the afternoon. It’s great to work part time. My students help me. One of them gave me her wedding dress for a costume.” Katia looked at her. “Well you have a lot of time on your hands.” Just then she got the signal and sent Marina into the set.
Amanuel rose and extended his hand across the round table she’d seen often enough when she watched his show. He motioned to Marina to sit down. The set was sparse. The City station had low production values. There was a flat screen of a cityscape and next to it a fake rubber tree.
“You and your class attended Monday’s hearings on funding for adult education, what’s the view like from the front lines?
“They want us to do more with less. From our side we’ve been doing more with less for too long now, and we’re demanding more funding so that we can do well, do better.”
Amanuel nodded and smiled. “Are your students getting jobs? This administration, as you know, believes in work first.”
“What kind of jobs are you talking about? The kind that pay living wages, the ones this administration has exported? Or the kind that barely exist and don’t lead anywhere and have no benefits? Literacy means lifelong employability not just a job that’s going to churn people right back.”
“Isn't any job a way into the work force, a start?”
“How did you get your job? Was it because you had no education?”

Marina arrived in class clutching the tape of her segment Katia had given her as she ushered her out the door. “You kept Amanny on his toes. Not many people challenge his jive.” She kissed Marina on the cheek and handed her a business card.
She dashed into the class a few minutes late and felt the force field of coldness. Nobody looked up. Not even Claraberta welcomed her.
She walked the maze of round tables and walked behind her desk to the TV and VCR. She wheeled it out. “Want to see Amanuel’s show?”
Claraberta almost yelled. “Who hasn’t already seen it? It comes on right after the weather on the City station.” Claraberta was in tears. Marina was starting to get it.
“You went without us.”
How stupid could she be? Her internalized classism was blinding, left her shaking at the knees. She collapsed into her chair. “It wasn’t that kind of a show. It’s not set up to interview whole groups. It’s not taped before an audience.”
Did she even know any of that was true? She’d never even asked Katia. She’d just assumed it was her divine right to be spokeswoman for the group. She might have demanded to have the whole class there, or some of them.
“Bullshit.” Ginny screamed. “We’re not just stories. We’re people. You’re stealing our lives to make yourself a life.”
Claraberta was raging now. “Did you even ask?” Marina was terrified of their anger. Had no idea how to defuse it. And she was almost relieved they didn’t buy her lie.
She set them up in small groups to write to her, every rageful thought. She didn’t think they’d accept that.
While they wrote she called Katia on the class phone. It was a miracle that she got her. She was too scared to be coy. “I’ve got a problem. I got to class and my students are up in arms. They wanted to be on the show and I didn’t think to bring them. I assumed it was a one person interview show. Is there anything we can do? Is there a way to do a follow up?”
Marina listened. She could tell the women were pretending not to. She let Katia think out loud. “You’ve gotta help me out. I’ve got to make it up to them.”
Marina listened. “He was taken by that lifelong employability line.”
“What about if they read their writing? What about if they write a petition to Amanuel? “
She listened. “Can you get him to come here? Can you tape a segment right in the class? Talk him into showing that he supports authentic literacy, that he supports real education as the way to lifelong employability, something like that.”
Marina hung up. “Amanuel’s producer’s gonna call back.” The women who kept talking in small groups, while their scribes kept scribing, barely looked at her.
What were they writing? Marina was afraid they’d seen through to her class hypocrisy. She could barely look at them from shame. None of the scribes wanted to read out loud and, this once, she let them. “Literacy can be about the relationship to our self. It is about choosing when we speak, what we disclose. It can be about deciding what thoughts are on the way to other thoughts and can wait to be made public.” She stood now. She’d been speaking from her desk, mainly looking down. “I’ve been writing over here myself in my journal, thoughts I’m not sure I’m ready to share yet.” She paused and walked to her spot in the center of the round tables. “I’m going to ask you now to write me a letter and then hold onto it and decide Monday or later still, whether you will give it to me or not. I’ve disappointed you, actually, I betrayed you. You may be feeling betrayed. You’re probably angry and sad and sometimes those two feelings fight with each other over which one gets us. Gets to show. Fact is we all make mistakes and we sometimes lose each other over those mistakes. Sometimes the way to make sure we don’t lose each other is to decide to speak the difficult words. But you don’t have to do it now.”
The phone rang.
“Hola Katia.”
Marina listened and hung up. “Amanuel’s gonna come. He’s going to tape a segment of his show right here.