Tuesday was day 117 of the pandemic year and the first day of shadowing for a prospective Learner. We started out the day with a morning meeting where we led with announcements. My announcement was I did not want to wait until the end of the day to do our social justice oriented activity, as that risked us not getting to it. Plus, it was easier for a couple of Learners to do it early in the day rather than later in the day. We then each introduced ourselves with our name, pronouns, how long we have been here, and what our favorite thing about Abrome was. The favorite things responses were interesting: no dominating hierarchy, the community and the people inside it, learning more about myself and the world and feeling less alone, less “fights” (i.e., struggles between teachers and student than there are at school), having new people come to Abrome.

That Tuesday was also a huge step up in terms of our intentionality on social justice for the social justice oriented Flying Squad. We agreed that we were going to pick up trash again, and we got right to it after the morning meeting. We spent a lot of time picking up trash on the walk that morning, and it would lead us into many deep conversations and lessons learned. Also, some songs. I don’t know how I did not know, but apparently the Learners and Facilitator Ariel have sung “the Abromies go marching two by two, hurrah, hurrah” before, and their rendition on this day was fabulous, until a turtle stole the show.

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Facilitator Ariel and I tried to help the Learners recognize where they were physically within the city, and we would point out landmarks and help them orient themselves based on places they’ve been with the Flying Squad this cycle, or prior to the pandemic. We also talked about why and how the trash accumulates in certain places. Some tried to turn the pickup in to a competition, but Facilitator Ariel specifically requested that we not compete, and that we just work together.

In total we had four large heavy duty garbage bags with us between seven people on what should have been a pretty clean trail along the river on the west side of downtown Austin. We were filling up the bags pretty quickly though, leading us to believe that either the city does not clean up very often, or that they don’t clean up at all, or Austinites are particularly challenged at finding trash cans for their trash.

As we were going under the 6th street bridge above Shoal Creek the youngest Learner looked in a large storm drain and said, “why is someone sleeping in there?” I asked him to step away so that we could talk about it. At that time an adolescent Learner walked over to it to look in, and I told him, “please do not look in there, leave the person alone.” He said, “I just want to look,” and I replied, “no, do not look in there. Leave them alone.” He then said he was going to look and proceeded to bend down to look in there and I yelled, “[name], step away now!” It was the third time I’ve yelled at a Learner since I’ve been at Abrome. It shocked everyone, including the Learner. One of the benefits of yelling once every two years is that it brings everything to a halt. I then had a conversation with the Learner about how little privacy and dignity are afforded to the houseless, and how our curiosity does not justify us disregarding their privacy and dignity. The Learner was naturally defensive and upset, but on the topic of honoring the humanity of those who are already marginalized in society I was not going to let this moment pass without explaining clearly what my concerns were. As I was talking to the Learner about it Facilitator Ariel was talking to all the other Learners about the necessity to not cause harm, and how easy it is for people who have privilege to hurt others.

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A bit further down the trail the Facilitators stepped away so the Learners could discuss where they wanted to take the day. As we were standing and sitting around a middle aged man came walking by and jokingly told us not to pick up his bed roll that was sitting under the bridge. It was a joke that fell flat, as no one thought that joking about being homeless was in the least bit amusing. Particularly in that moment. The Learners eventually decided that they wanted to find a place to dump the trash, go to the bathroom, and then make their way north to The Texas State Capitol grounds to hang out, with a stop for some food along the way.

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We emerged from the trail to a spot that conveniently had a dumpster waiting for us, and after we took a photo with our haul, we dumped the trash. I expected that we would then begin to walk but a woman with a dog came by and the Learners asked if they could pet the dog, and then they got into an extended conversation with the woman. Facilitator Ariel and I used the time to talk about the difficulties that we had under the bridge and what role we can play in helping Learners decenter themselves when necessary.

Soon thereafter we stumbled upon a bike shop that Facilitator Ariel’s friend works at. There, he talked about difficult situation that arose for the shop the prior summer during the protests and uprising around racial injustice and police brutality. The shop had a contract with the police department, and decided to end their contract, and that led to a lot of harassment directed at the bike shop. The harassment included threats of violence against the shop, even though the high profile owner of the shop expressed very reactionary, conservative views of the necessity of policing.

Facilitator Ariel and most of the Learners then went to a nearby park to use a public restroom, while I stayed with two Learners who wanted to get some food at a local corner store. Both Learners bought food, and sat down to eat, and I pulled out my lunch. As I was finishing, Facilitator Ariel and the other Learners came back.

One of the Learners who stuck around had found two skateboards without wheels and was playing around on them. He was practicing a variety of moves, and when Facilitator Ariel showed up, he also got into the act. It was during this time that it became apparent to me that I am definitely not the cool Facilitator. Just kidding, I already knew that.

We then continued to move north toward The Capitol, although the youngest Learner began to struggle. It may have been the salty food he bought coupled with not drinking enough water. We all slowed down for him and waited. I was proud of how the Learners recognized the need to support the struggling Learner instead of walking off.

One of the great things about the day was that the long walk allowed us to have a bunch of different types of conversations. For example, while walking one of the Learners asked Facilitator Ariel if he could touch his hair. I intervened and asked to speak to the Learner. I told the Learner that it is inappropriate to ask Black people to touch their hair, and that American history is one that has never honored the bodily autonomy of Black people. I asked him if he had ever been told not to ask Black people to touch there hair, he said no, and I said that that’s okay. Today was the day, and even though he may be curious that, once again, there are times when curiosity must be put on pause. Not only did he not ask again, but he later walked up to Facilitator Ariel and apologized.

Also on the long walk, we came upon a houseless musician who spoke with us about his art, about his experience in Austin, and about concerns he had about Austin and society. For some of the Learners, it was their first ever extended conversation with a houseless person. I hope that it helped move the perception of danger a bit, as a local group has been spending lots of money trying to convince Austinites that the houseless are a threat to public safety so that people will vote to further criminalize homelessness (by making it illegal to camp or sleep in public).

When we got to the Capitol some people collapsed to the ground and slept. Facilitator Ariel and a young Learner got goofy with the GoPro. Later, that Learner wanted to roam the grounds to look at the statues and Facilitator Ariel offered to join him. As they went from one statue to another, they talked about what the statues represented. When they got to the large statue glorifying the Confederacy, they discussed why it was so prominently placed, and so tall. They then contrasted that to the African-American and the Mexican-American statues nearby. In reflection, Facilitator Ariel and I agreed that the variety of experience and conversations we had that day fully justified our move away from Barton Springs and to House Park. We were finally able to focus on social justice.

As the day was coming to a close we let the Learners lead us back to the pickup point. One of the Learners took charge, and began walking in the wrong direction. Two other Learners expressed concern that they were going in the wrong direction, but had differing opinions on which way to go. Eventually they checked out a map on the shadower’s phone, and they began heading in the right direction. Later, they got stuck again. With a lot of confusion, fueled by exhaustion, the youngest Learner implored them to follow him. Eventually they did, and he led us right back. It was a remarkably remarkable day in retrospect.


Meanwhile, at the other cell they made friends with two ducks, discovered berries on a favorite tree and used an app to determine that they were mulberries, investigated a stick with dried up zebra mussels on it, and largely just enjoyed having a very large public space primarily to themselves for the day.