Hippy Underwear

Just kidding. Hippies don’t wear underwear. But their lawyers do.

The author returning home after three months in rural Texas. Mind the fuzz. It was a celebration. (2007)

Despite the title, the joke, and the image, it needs to be said: The battle of legalization isn’t being won by hippies. It’s being won by lawyers. Now, I am not going to dive into a political debate – that’s not what this is. But, I do want to give some examples of how people are making real changes from within a given system, like challenging the drug laws or raising money for charity. Even a father’s words might be useful for altering the status quo of our education system from within. We need to be critical.

I realize I’m painting with a broad brush, but bear with me. With the exception of medical marijuana in select states, four decades of discourse resulted in bupkis. That is, until Colorado finally called it up for a vote in 2014. Yes, the people spoke! but it wasn’t through peaceful protests and smoke-ins and parades. Those things also happened but it wasn’t until lawyers wrote bills and made cases in courts that legalization became a reality. And they did it with suits and ties on, no less! They made huge changes from within the given system by knowing the rules and playing them so damned well they couldn’t be beaten.

Yes, popular opinion mattered. Yes, action was needed. But the law of the land would not bend until the people of the law stepped up to the bar. Now, those people might have had tie-dye underwear on beneath their suits, but the change came from within the system of government. If you’re into legalization, thank a lawyer, not a hippy.

Ideas of internal changes have been around me for a long time, but they really began to form a dozen years ago when I regularly performed as a singer-songwriter in Floyd, Virginia, and some small town festivals. Crowd pleasers like Van Morrison and Sublime would be interspersed with powerful songs about politics and war from Darrell Scott and Scott Miller, and then I’d move back to the Stones and bluegrass. Back and forth. Sugar and Salt. It’s a very subversive way to play to the crowd, but it was still me. I could maintain my audience while also only playing songs I liked or wrote.

The author playing Front Porch Fest 2011. Courtesy of Fallon Kreye Photography.

Around 2007, I was asked to play a charity event for the Blue Mountain School, an alternative system. They’ve always sought to bring the community together, but times were hard. When I arrived at the venue, several barefooted unwashed dreadlocked people were dancing outside the door wearing facepaint and glitter, beating djembe’s and tambourines, playing wood flutes – you know, young dirty white hippy shit (broad strokes here, people). They were asking the Friday Night Jamboree crowd for money and donations – the old traditional crowd of farmers, hillbillies and country folk typical of rural Floyd – the old system. I knew this wasn’t going to be productive.

I watched as old-timer after old-timer stared in disgust and walked quickly away, leaving the revelers empty-pocketed, frustrated, and dismayed. I played to a sparse crowd of mostly BMS parents. They might have broken even after paying for the venue, I don’t know. You see, the system they were soliciting was anything but open to them. Traditional country folk aren’t going to give money to just anybody, especially if you aren’t offering anything in return but your drum circle. I believe the attempt failed because they didn’t know how to play to the crowd. It’s hard to ask strangers for money when you’re too in their face. What’s that southern saying? You catch more flies with honey than vinegar.

BMS Mardi Gras Ball staple Kim Kessler in all her glory (2019)

Fast-forward to 2019. The BMS has since changed administration, and ultimately its operation, back into a thriving community-minded school again. They’ve disguised the charity event as a Mardi Gras Ball, and who doesn’t love Mardi Gras? It is a well-known and more socially acceptable way to draw outsiders in without sacrificing the wonderful weirdness by which you live. It’s a party even rednecks can get behind, and they do. It sells out every year. Bring your honey and your money.

Whether in print or in person, I’ve often spoken of my dad being a career Marine, but did I mention he was also a free spirit? After his enlistment, he went to college on the G.I. Bill. His hair grew to his ass, his beard was long; he wore bell-bottoms and spoon rings and rose-colored glasses. He met my mom at the Yellow Deli, and it was love at first sight. He went back into the Marine Corps, applied to law school, and became a JAG. Even though he wore the uniform and was a part of the system, he did his damnedest to fight for the rights of others. Even after retirement, he did pro bono work for veterans and has openly expressed dismay for the persecution of LGBTQ in the military. My dad served for those who could not, and he impressed upon me to do the same. “Stick up for those less fortunate as you,” he always said, “even if it means getting your ass whipped in the process.”

The author and the ol’ man in 2012

How can we apply this to our pedagogy? Can we change a system from within? I definitely believe we need to look at ourselves critically, both personally and professionally. Our GEDI training has certainly asked me to question my preconceptions of what teaching is and could be. It’s caused me to reflect on my biases and actions, and more often, lack of actions. I’ve definitely had my moments to stand up for the right thing, but I’ve also had moment where I haven’t been vocal. Maybe it’s time to be more critical of my field and how & what I teach. Maybe it’s time to get my ass whipped again.

And by that, I do not mean to go out into the fray blindly, but to continually arm myself and others with information. We must create an environment conducive for critical thoughts and for preparing others to do the same. The Virginia Tech Industrial Design program encourages a socially-minded practice, but I am only just beginning to pay attention. I haven’t always had it easy, but I damned sure haven’t had it as rough as I’ve seen. I’m a very privileged individual who needs to step up to the bar more, to use my good standing to help others to their feet. I must be ready “to fight at their side”, as Paulo Freire stated.

Fighting the good fight takes changes from within. Be brave and stand forth, because we need more lawyers in tie-dye underwear.