Our March 2020 episode features Sociology Professor Scott Myers-Lipton, who has worked with students at San Jose State University to find solutions to social injustice. In Act 1, we talk to him about the background for his social action work and his book Change! A Student Guide to Social Action.
Act 2: Educating for Democracy
In Part Two Scott describes ways of integrating the community (university, city, state, nation) with the classroom. Students are citizens, with power, who have the knowledge and tools to change public policy. Students determine the issues they want to work on–such as affordable housing, public transit, and public health.
Justice work requires
reflection and resiliency. In Part Two Gordon asks the question: where does
religion stand?—on the side of the status quo or the people most effected by
injustice? He sees social change as a spiritual activity, and one that makes
religion a force of unity in justice work. This activity means showing up and building
solidarity with others over racial and economic justice. There are so many
overwhelming issues to deal with–from climate change to the rise of white
supremacist nationalism—that we are in a race against time. Winning the race is
an intergenerational, interreligious action. Gordon leaves us not with despair
at the enormity of the power imbalances and struggles, but with hope:
“The true value of the
conversations and practices in Stand Up! may
be that they help us stay human amid darkness and uncertainty. They give us
courage not only to keep fighting but to care for one another” (Stand Up!, p. 62).
This July 2019 podcast is a conversation with Gordon Whitman, senior advisor of the interfaith group Faith in Action: Building a People-Powered Movement (formerly PICO National Network;https://faithinaction.org). He has a B.A. in history and urban studies and a law degree from Harvard Law School. Gordon did his initial work in community organizing in Santiago, Chile with a grassroots health collective during the Pinochet dictatorship to work for change, and then with parents in the Philadelphia public school system. His book, Stand Up!: How to Get Involved, Speak Out, and Win in a Word on Fire Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2018; https://standupbook.org/ is a handbook for grassroots organizing. Gordon provides guidance into how to share stories, map and analyze power, strategize, and work for system change.
In Part One Gordon shares his background in community organizing and strategies to motivate groups to build relationships to act together. And he shows how anti-racism work is central to movement building and social change. One example he gives is the La Red Campaign, Faith in Action’s Network of Protection for Immigrant Families:https://faithinaction.org/issue-campaign/la-red/
Speaking Truth to Power, Act 2
Justice work requires reflection and resiliency. In Part Two Gordon asks the question: where does religion stand?—on the side of the status quo or the people most effected by injustice? He sees social change as a spiritual activity, and one that makes religion a force of unity in justice work. This activity means showing up and building solidarity with others over racial and economic justice. There are so many overwhelming issues to deal with–from climate change to the rise of white supremacist nationalism—that we are in a race against time. Winning the race is an intergenerational, interreligious action. Gordon leaves us not with despair at the enormity of the power imbalances and struggles, but with hope:
“The true value of the conversations and practices in Stand Up! may be that they help us stay human amid darkness and uncertainty. They give us courage not only to keep fighting but to care for one another” (Stand Up!, p. 62).
Rev. Noelle Damico (United Church of Christ) is an activist educator and movement builder with the Alliance for Fair Food.[http://www.allianceforfairfood.org/]. She coordinated the 2 million member Presbyterian Church USA’s involvement in the Coalition of Immokalee Worker’s Campaign for Fair Food [https://ciw-online.org/], among many other food justicecampaigns. This podcast takes place in an actual class setting, my Religion and Ecology class at Agnes Scott College, a historic women’s liberal arts college in Decatur, GA. Noelle joined us via Skype in our unit on connecting issues of economic justice to the larger topic of sustainability.
What is often missing
in mainstream discussions of the organic food movement is workers. Noelle takes
us through the founding of the Coalition of Immokalee Worker’s campaign and the
“sea-change” it brought, and continues to bring, in the food system, to create
a system that works for all people. Issues of safety, forced labor, human
trafficking, gender violence, poverty wages, wage theft, and worker abuse are
all parts of the history of injustices that CIW addresses.
A worker-driven social responsibility model begins at the work site, determined by the workers who become organizers and change-agents through marches, education tours, hunger strikes, boycotts, and other direct actions. Joining CIW are faith leaders and students as partners. One outcome on university campuses has been the cutting of contracts with Taco Bell on over 25 campuses. The current Boycott Wendy’s campaign [http://www.boycott-wendys.org/] seeks to continue to move companies beyond their “corporate responsibility codes” to real food justice. The CIW campaign has shown that changing the conditions in the field is at the root of a sustainable food future.
Pedagogy is an action verb here. On my campus the tomatoes in our dining hall are part of the fair food system; Aramark was (reluctantly but eventually) one of the signers. But our Aramark dining staff continue, through their own worker-driven campaign, to fight for fair wages and a workplace that offers respect and human dignity (through their union, SEIU). Though unionized, their struggle is difficult. Thus, fair farm and campus food workers are connected.
As part of the class students engage in a practicum with the campus Office of Sustainability in a variety of areas (climate change events, organic farming, National Audubon wildlife site, bees, and also economic justice with the campus Living Wage Campaign). One student working with the campaign joined the Aramark union steward and me on the WRFG Labor Forum, as well as our Economic Justice Teach-In. She also assisted with our “love poster” action in the dining hall for the staff—big posters we are hanging each week, signed with notes of appreciation and affection by community members, for each dining services staff member.
Theme music for Nothing Never Happens is by Aviva and the Flying Penguins and Lance Eric Haugan. Additional music is by Paul Myhre: “Dreams of Winter Sans Guitar (2019).”
My audio engineers are: Reagin Turner, China Wilson, and Megan Simmons. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
At the fiftieth anniversary of the Memphis Sanitation Workers’ Strike, the Poor People’s Movement, and the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I invited two activist-scholars involved in the New Poor People’s Movement to talk about popular education and movement building for social change. In Part 1, Willie and Colleen talk about the legacy of the sanitation workers’ strike and the Poor People’s Movement, and how they defined leadership and power and “found a way out of no way” in a politically charged 1968.
From the Kairos Center website: “Willie Baptistis a formerly homeless father of three who came out of the Watts uprisings and the Black Student Movement. He has 50 years of experience educating and organizing amongst the poor and dispossessed including working as a lead organizer with the United Steelworkers, as an educator and organizer with the National Union of the Homeless and its educational arm, the Annie Smart Leadership Development Institute, as the Education Director of the Kensington Welfare Rights Union for 10 years, and as a lead organizer and educator for the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign, as well as many other networks. He is a Board member of the National Welfare Rights Union, the United Workers of Maryland, Picture the Homeless in New York and on the Advisory Committee for the Wildfire Project. Willie is the author of numerous books, articles, and pamphlets including Pedagogy of the Poor, A New and Unsettling Force: Re-Igniting Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s Poor People’s Campaign, It’s Not Enough to Be Angry, Lessons from the Poor Organizing the Poor: 5 Main Ingredients and the 6 Panther P’s. Willie presently serves as the Poverty Initiative Scholar-in-Residence and Co-Coordinator of Poverty Scholarship and Leadership Development for the Kairos Center.”
“Colleen Wessel-McCoy has been involved with the Poverty Initiative since 2004 and currently works as Co-Coordinator of Poverty Scholarship and Leadership Development, with Willie Baptist. Originally from Marietta, Georgia, Colleen received her undergraduate degree in religion and social justice from Agnes Scott College. She was part of the inaugural year of the Interfaith Service House and worked for several years as a tenant organizer in Chicago. She and John Wessel-McCoy have two children, Myles and Josephine. She has a MDiv from Union Theological Seminary and earned her Ph.D. in May 2017 in Christian Social Ethics with a dissertation on Martin Luther King, Jr.’s vision for the Poor People’s Campaign of 1968 and its lessons for building a social movement to end poverty today.” Colleen also helped develop the Religion and Social Justice major at Agnes Scott College, along with being the first major in this program.
In Part 1 Willie and Colleen tell the story of the work of the Kairos Center at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. Part of the mission statement of the Center, based on the Greek word for “the right and opportune time,” is:
“We believe we are living in a kairos moment: A moment of great change and transition, where the old ways of doing things are breaking down, new ones are trying to emerge, and decisive action is demanded.”
In Part Two of our conversation Chris Crass talks about what activist/popular education and movement building mean for higher education. Chris is a co-founder of the Catalyst Project: Anti-Racism for Collective Liberation (https://collectiveliberation.org/) that offers political education and organizing support. He also discusses his commitment to dismantling patriarchy and misogyny (see his essay: http://thefeministwire.com/2013/06/against-patriarchy-tools-for-men-to-further-feminist-revolution/). Systemic change brings personal transformation. In these times of attacks on equity and racial justice, Chris discusses how to find hope in resilience and resistance. First step: to educate ourselves and show up for racial and gender justice. Chris reminds us: We are the 99%.
Activist, organizer, writer and social change agent Chris Crass (http://www.chriscrass.org/) is committed to the long haul of justice work. In Part One of our conversation, Chris talks about his background, the many movement building mentors and the collective liberation of oppressed groups. He is the author of two books, Towards Collective Liberation: Anti-Racist Organizing, Feminist Praxis, and Movement Building Strategy (PM Press, 2013) and Towards the “Other America”: Anti-Racist Resources for White People Taking Action for Black Lives Matter (Chalice Press, 2015). In his anti-racist work he begins with the historical and structural definition of racism from The People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond (http://pisab.org/): racism is individual race prejudice plus structural/institutional power. Chris works to build dynamic multiracial alliances, with an intersectional framework—“working class-based, feminist, multiracial movements for collective liberation.”
The Highlander Research and Education Center has been at the heart of popular education and social change. In 1932 Myles and Zilphia Horton, Don West, and others founded the Highlander Folk School in Monteagle, Tennessee as a place of cultural memory and organizing, participatory action research, and racial, economic, and environmental justice. Highlander has been causing beautiful trouble since its training of union leaders in the 1930s on, in its first interracial workshop in 1944, through its involvement in the civil rights movement and citizenship schools in the 1950s and 60s, and its support of movement building for groups working for justice and human rights in southern Appalachia and beyond.
In this podcast the two new co-executive directors of Highlander share their visions for the Center. They take us through the basics of popular education and the importance of communities defining “what is and what ought to be” in their local situations, while building coalitions with other resistance movements.