Never Alone: Building Movements with Project South

Our October 2020 podcast features fearless and visionary co-directors of Project South, Emery Wright and Steph Guillod. Founded in 1986 as the Institute for the Elimination of Poverty and Genocide and based in Atlanta, GA, Project South is firmly rooted in the dynamism and creativity of the Black freedom tradition. It is a center for political education, grassroots organizing, legal and rights support, and movement support and solidarity.

Steph and Emery tell us about the history of Project South, how they came to their work, and how the work of grassroots education and movement building intersect in the organization. We hear about some of the current areas of focus for Project South, including a youth organizer-training program being held remotely at the time of recording and community-based free COVID-19 testing. From here, we deepen our conversation about methods and theoriest of community organizing and radical pedagogy. We talk about what it means to establish — and to keep — trust in the context of raced, gendered, classed power that cross-cuts movement organizations.

Out On the Line: On Charter School Unionization and the Chicago Teachers’ Strike

In Act 1 we talk to teacher-organizers Martha Baumgarten and Renee Ridolfi about their pathway to becoming teachers and how they ended up at Acero Charter Schools in Chicago. Commenting on the broad problems with charters and with the broader privatization of education, they reflect on what they have learned about practices of anti-racist solidarity — spoiler, you don’t find it at Teach for America — and what they might have done differently.

Act 2: Between charter unions and charter abolition

In Act 2 we dive into the specific experience of being a teacher in the Acero charter school network, or what Renee describes as “setting myself on fire to keep everyone else warm.” We discuss the heroic response of teachers to these working and learning conditions: the first ever charter school strike in the winter of 2018-19. Through the lens of this work, Renee and Martha comment on the current moment, where teachers are under extreme pressure to resume in person classes during a pandemic.

About our Guests:

Renee (left) and Martha (right) pose in their Acero uniforms, accessorized with union stickers

Renee Ridolofi is a school social worker in the Durham and Chapel Hill area, and she specializes in child/adolescent mental health. Drawing on her background in elementary education, she worked for two years as a teacher in UNO/Acero schools while she was completing her Master’s in Social Work from UChicago. During this time, she was part of the first-ever strike by charter school teachers.

Martha Baumgarten is an organizer and educator who currently teaches elementary special education in Cook County, IL. Before that, she worked for six years at Chicago’s Acero/UNO charter school network. There, she served as union steward, Vice President for Teachers, anon  the committee that united the Chicago Teachers Union locals representing public teachers and charter teachers (respectively). Fun fact: Martha and Lucia attended the same summer program — the Youth Theological Initiative, featured in a previous podcast-– as teens. The rest is history!

Martha (wearing the red beanie) speaks to a gaggle of journalists during the charter school strike of winter 2018-19.
Mark Mckee (center with trumpet) and Max Bowen (left in black hoodie) record a music video in a junkyard. We're grateful to have them as musical collaborators.

Music and Sound

Outro music in Parts 1 and 2 is by Akrasis: Mark McKee (beats) and Max Bowen (Raps): “A Good Spy (Reprise)” from Children Singing in Hell and “TTE” from Unemployed Apologist.

Music by Akrasis is available on BandCamp: Check them out!


#COLA Now: A Conversation with UCSC Wildcat Strikers

Our July 2020 podcast features the scholar-teacher-organizers from the University of California at Santa Cruz. Brenda Arjona, Bristol Cave-Lacoste, and Priscilla Martinez are graduate workers who, with their colleagues at UCSC, have been on a wildcat strike for a cost of living adjustment (COLA) since December 2019. They are fighting to reduce the overwhelming rent burden, as well as food insecurity and barriers to healthcare, that they and other precarious workers in Santa Cruz have had to endure — while the UC decided to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on military style policing and surveillance of striking grads. (Fun fact: UCSC claims in its official motto to be the “Original Authority on Questioning Authority”).

Call for a UC Boycott!

cola or lie
Click to see the collection of #COLA4All memes.

The #COLA strike has been a rollercoaster: it involves a struggle for union democracy, mass firing and loss of healthcare during a pandemic, inspiring coalitions with local workers and students, standoffs with police in riot gear, a *fire* social media campaign that helped spread the strike across the whole state system, and the launch of Strike University and the FUC popular education / speaker series across the UC. They share the story in our conversation. They also reflect on what the strike, and their organizing broadly, has meant for how they understand themselves as teachers and scholars.

UCSC graduate wildcat strikers stand on a tree-lined sidewalk with black signs that spell out in white letters THE RENT IS TOO DAMN HIGH

About this Episode: Brenda, Bristol, and Priscilla

Brenda Arjona and her child pose with protest signs. The sign on the top right reads "UAW on Strike" and the sign on the bottom left reads "Give my mom her job back (and also honk)." It also has a picture of a person wearing a t-shirt that says, "My Neck! My Back! The UC is wack!" We agree.

Brenda Arjona is a third year PhD student in the Archaeology track of the Anthropology department at UCSC. She is also one of the fired wildcats! Her multidisciplinary research centers BIPOC voices, while incorporating queer theory and feminist method, to work toward a decolonial archaeology. As a California historical archaeologist, she is committed to practicing her work in a way that refuses to reproduce — and instead directly challenges — Eurocentric and colonialist norms in research, methodology, and theoretical frameworks. 

Brenda’s excellence in scholarship, teaching, and activism has been shaped through her experience as a non-traditional, Latinx graduate student. A community college alumna and a single parent, Brenda has been deeply impacted by the movement organizing—which is central to her aim to be part of changing how higher education happens, who is represented in its spaces, and who it serves. Also, follow her on Twitter!

 Bristol Cave-LaCoste is a History Ph.D. with a designated emphasis in Latin American + Latino Studies. She is a historian of sexuality focused on immigration law and prostitution in the late 19th early 20th century U.S. Her dissertation looks at forms of policing sexual non-conformity at local and federal levels of state, and how women resisted limitations on their movements and sexual lives. She also teaches a queer history class that explores how queer history gets preserved and circulated in archives and public history spaces. She wants to give a big shout-out to the StrikeU and FUC series organizers across the UC, who have helped so many people analyze their contexts and organize. In her roles as teacher, scholar, and organizer, Bristol believes history can and must mobilize us to create change and often tells her students: if history isn’t making you emotional, you haven’t found the right history yet.  

Bristol Cave-LaCoste stands in front of a "Doomsday Clock" created during the graduate wildcat strike
Priscilla Martinez, UCSC wildcat striker and public history scholar extraordinare, looks sharp and smiles for her headshot.

Priscilla Martinez is a seventh year Ph.D. candidate in History at UCSC, with an emphasis in Latin American + Latino Studies and a specialty in oral history. She is also one of the fired wildcats!  Her work is anchored in nineteenth and early twentieth U.S.-Mexico borderlands history, and her dissertation explores the intersections of indigeneity, mestizaje, nationalism, and citizenship in and around the Mexican Pacific. Her prowess as a public scholar is remarkable, and particularly notable in the three podcasts she hosts. These include COLA-fornia Dreaming (dedicated to the voices behind the graduate student wildcat strike at UCSC), the co-hosted We Should Be Writing (following two Xicana best friends as they process often problematic pop culture obsessions through the lens of their academic training), and — in her role as resident scholar and historian for Tucson’s Chinese Cultural Center —  Tucson Speaks! (featuring oral histories of the city’s Chinese and Chinese Mexican communities). Unsurprisingly, she has a great social media game.

Righteous Indignation for Change: A Conversation with Shirley Steinberg, Act 2

In Act 2 of our April podcast, Shirley Steinberg talks further about the Freirean foundations of her education theory and practice. She calls on teachers and students to live out righteous indignation in our educational systems and how to create resistance and change. “We have to be in stealth,” says Steinberg, and shed light on how our institutions have failed us. Steinberg finds it important to listen to students, and to engage with youth culture, in order to lead collegially with them.