Tackling T.I.N.A.–and Literature–Together

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Summer might be drawing to a close soon, but there’s still plenty of time left for summer reading. If you’re interested in discussing literature and exploring issues surrounding economic justice, look no further–Tackling T.I.N.A. will host a book group discussion of Marge Piercy’s groundbreaking novel, The Longings of Women, on August 21st from 4 until 5:30 PM in Linderman 300 (located in Linderman Library on Lehigh University’s campus).

Established in 2017 by two Lehigh graduate students, Adam Heidebrink-Bruno and Mareesa Miles, Tackling T.I.N.A is an outgrowth of the English Department’s Literature and Social Justice focus. Although Miles has since graduated, Heidebrink-Bruno continues to organize meetings, along with a new Executive Board. In addition to facilitating Tackling T.I.N.A. discussions, Heidebrink-Bruno is a Ph.D. student, a teacher, a dad, and–as you might have guessed from the shared last name–my partner. We recently sat down to discuss his experiences with local community organizing over the last year.

According to Heidebrink-Bruno, Tackling T.I.N.A. refers to the common trope about capitalist systems, namely “that there is no alternative (T.I.N.A.). This is a myth, of course, but a powerful and controlling message nevertheless. Assuming that there are no alternatives available makes it difficult to imagine and enact meaningful solutions. Tackling T.I.N.A. events aim to counteract this myth, encouraging participants to imagine both practical and utopian possibilities, and working together to build these alternative institutions locally.”

One of the group’s hopes is to share a series of readings and community discussions to challenge this narrative and envision what other forms of economic structures could look like. Heidebrink-Bruno shares, “Tackling T.I.N.A. uses accessible literature to generate community interest in economic issues, creating public dialogue about the economies that work for everyone. More than anything else, I hope that participants find a community that reminds them that they are not alone in the fight for economic justice. Along the way, I suspect participants will also learn a bit about the power the imagination has in creating positive social change and how both fiction and theory can impact our day-to-day lives. Moreover, I plan Tackling T.I.N.A. events so participants have an opportunity to learn more about how to get involved in economic justice work locally, making our events a place to network and build coalitions between concerned citizens and social justice organizations.”

Furthermore, Tackling T.I.N.A. acts as a conduit for students, faculty, community members, and organizers to come together in a shared space. Tackling T.I.N.A. co-facilitates meetings with local experts (including activists, local leaders, NGO directors, professors, upper-level students, etc.), who weigh in on a given topic.

“For instance, our final Spring 2018 meeting was themed ‘Sustaining Local Communities,’ where we talked about the intersection of food justice and economic justice. For this, we brought in Ian Panyko, Director of Cafe the Lodge; Tamara Myers, Director of Community Gardens and Urban Agriculture Working Group; and Andrew Goldman, Community Co-coordinator of Lehigh University Eco House. This variety is integral to the Tackling T.I.N.A. mission of making alternatives easier to imagine and enact.”

This school year, Tackling T.I.N.A. discussions will revolve around the interconnected themes of housing, homelessness, and economic justice. In the future, the group plans to move meetings off campus, to more accessible and comfortable venues within the Southside community. All of the 2018 public discussions will be hosted by places that are already participating in economic justice work, including New Bethany Ministries and the Social Impact Center.

To kick off the discussion of housing and homelessness, members were asked to vote on a summer reading novel. They selected Marge Piercy’s The Longings of Women, one of the author’s better known texts. Written in 1994, The Longings of Women explores the intersecting lives of three main characters, each of whom represents a different socio-economic strata. Mary is one of the working homeless–despite the long hours she puts in cleaning houses, she cannot afford to make a deposit on an apartment or a buy a car. She pays careful attention to her appearance in order to “pass” as a person with a home, fearing that if her employers found out about her true living conditions, they would mistrust her and fire her. She works for Leila, a college professor who lives a comfortable life. Between lecturing and writing popular books, Leila is the main breadwinner in her family; however, she allows people to believe that her director husband supports the household to adhere to traditional gendered expectations. Finally, Becky, the subject of Leila’s latest book, sits in prison awaiting trial for the murder of her husband. Coming from a working-class poor background, Becky had always dreamed of the kind of financial security that she thought marriage would bring.

Despite the three women’s different backgrounds, their stories share a common thread. Each has struggled to fulfill personal and professional roles–as daughters, wives, and mothers. And each has been taken for granted, mistreated, and disappointed by those they believed were closest to them. Although a lengthy novel, The Longings of Women is well-worth the time invested and should yield an interesting discussion about women’s economic struggles and the need for better, more inclusive support systems.

However, if you don’t have enough time to invest in a novel at the moment, you may be interested in some of the shorter readings about poverty and homelessness that Tackling T.I.N.A. offers on their website. The “Narratives of Poverty and Homelessness” readings will form the basis of this semester’s first public discussion, which will take place on Thursday, September 20th, from 4:00 until 5:30, in a location to be announced shortly. Hope to see you there!

*You can purchase Piercy’s novel here; feature image courtesy of same site*

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