Category Archives: human rights

Workers unite!: Organizing for change Part 1: Ben Speight on unions and people power

Ben Speight teaching union organizing

This March 2019 podcast is for anyone who teaches/studies social movements, movement building, labor history, union organizing, non-violent activism, social justice teaching, and direct action for social change! Hear Teamster Local 728 Organizing Director Ben Speight give an overview of union organizing and connections to our current times. He visited my REL/EDU 385: Religion, Education, and Activism class in February 2019 to plug us into the history of workers and why unions are still relevant more than ever.

Teaching Sustainability: Focus on Fair Food and Ecojustice with Rev. Noelle Damico

Rev. Noelle Damico

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 tpippin@agnesscott.edu.

U-Lead Athens: Educating Un(der)documented students

“United, Unafraid, Undefeated, Unstoppable Leaders.” That is the description by the students of U-Lead Athens. Since August 2014 they meet every Thursday night at Oconee United Methodist Church, on the boundary of the University of Georgia (a university that bans undocumented students). Mentors and allies from the university (the UGA Undocumented Student Alliance) and the community gather to eat and study and plan for the future. Their mission statement states that they assist high school and recent graduates in preparing for college, identifying schools that are open to un(der)documented students, and applying for scholarships and other financial support. U-Lead Athens is a sanctuary, in the many meanings of that term, providing a supportive community.

In August 2018 my daughter Jacy and I visited U-Lead on a Thursday evening and interviewed current college students who returned to visit or volunteer, some current students, the director of volunteers, PhD student Nikki Luke, and two of the co-directors, Prof. JoBeth Allen and Prof. Betina Kaplan. The conversations set the context of the discrimination and anti-immigrant laws in Georgia, the activist work of students and allies to change these laws and provide access to higher education and in-state tuition, as well as working on justice issues around TPS and DACA status. The students shared their stories, their art, and their hopes and challenges.

Equal access to education is a human right. To support U-Lead Athens, click here:

https://www.uleadathens.org/donate

Resources:

U-Lead Athens website home page:

https://www.uleadathens.org/

Eileen Truax, Dreamers: An Immigrant Generation’s Fight for Their American Dream (Beacon, 2015)

Jose Antonio Vargas, Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen (HarperLuxe, 2018).

Laura Wides-Muñoz, The Making of a Dream: How a Group of Undocumented Immigrants Helped Change What It Means to Be an American (Harper, 2018).

For information about DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals):

https://www.uscis.gov/archive/frequently-asked-questions

https://www.nilc.org/issues/daca/daca-litigation-timeline/

Teaching as “Vocation”: Part Two of a Conversation with Irwin Leopando

In Part Two Leopando continues to explore the theological influences on Freire’s thought and activism that sustained him through exile and institutional work (in government and higher education). We discuss the institutional boundaries on using a Freirean method in the college or university classroom, and I admit to being a “failed Freirean.” We talk about what it means to live into as much democracy as possible in our classrooms, and acknowledge the restraints of institutional time (the semester length), grades, the tenure process, and other academic demands. In the end, Freire calls us to accountability—to risk and to dream, and to live into our “vocation.” Tune into the podcast for a fuller definition of what Freire meant by such a theologically infused term as“vocation,” and how this vision forms the basis of his pedagogy of freedom.

Special music at the end of each segment is ”Prayer for Immigrant Children” (2018) by Paul Myhre: 

https://www.reverbnation.com/paulomyhre

Freire and Faith: Part One of a Conversation with Irwin Leopando

Irwin Leopando is Associate Professor of English at LaGuardia Community College, (CUNY) in Queens, NY. He is the author of the book we discuss in this podcast, A Pedagogy of Faith: The Theological Vision of Paulo Freire (Bloomsbury, 2017). Leopando came to study Paulo Freire (1921-1997) in graduate school classes with his dissertation director, Ira Shor. Leopando’s interest in dialogical pedagogy extends into his own teaching of English composition. Also as one who grew up in the Roman Catholic Church, Leopando shares this faith affiliation with Freire.

In Part One of this podcast Leopando talks about his first encounters with Freire in Shor’s classes through Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Leopando became curious in how Freire’s Roman Catholic faith and his own experience of childhood poverty influenced his activism and his pedagogy in the political and social context of Brazil. Liberation theology and the Christian-Marxist dialogue were major influences on Freire’s thought. Democracy requires the literacy of the poor. And a democratic classroom requires the drive to help the learner grow into their own agency.

Trans*Pedagogies: A Conversation with Dr. Z Nicolazzo

Part 1: Toward a Critical Collaborative Pedagogy

From the field of studies in higher education come deep insights into pedagogical theory and practice. In the second of a series on trans*pedagogies, and on the recommendation of Dr. T.J. Jourian, I invited Dr. Z. Nicolazzo to talk about teaching and activism.

Nicolazzo is assistant professor of Trans*Studies in Education in the Center for the Study of Higher Education, University of Arizona, and the author of Trans*in college (Stylus, 2017), and numerous articles.

In Part 1 we discuss the components of “a critical collaborative pedagogy”: “Each time I teach a course, I introduce our classroom as a community in which we all-students and myself—both have responsibilities for our shared learning” (“Teaching Philosophy Statement: Arriving at a Critical Collaborative Pedagogy”). How do we (both trans* and non-trans* educators) do critical pedagogy and how do we practice pedagogy intersectionally? What does it mean for our classrooms and curriculum to pay attention to and learn from trans*pedagogies?

Music for this podcast is provided by fabulous artists:

Opening theme and interstitial music is by Aviva & the Flying Penguins and Lance Eric Haugan.

Ending music on Parts 1 and 2 is “Prayer for Paradise” by Paul Myhre, co-created with Mike Shelton.

Education for Global Citizenship: An Interview with Carlos Alberto Torres: Part 2:

In Part 2 Torres talks about the origins and work of the UCLA Paulo Freire Institute in social justice education. He discusses his many influences (Gramsci, Marx, liberation theology, Alves, Dussell, Habermas, Bourdieu, Illich, Rawls, Dewey, Gadotti, to name a few), and the new theoretical directions of his graduate students in ecopedagogies and anarchist pedagogies.

From his discipline of the sociology of education, Torres exposes the dilemmas of global citizenship, and the role institutions of higher education play in perpetuating the status quo. In a meeting with Freire soon before his death, Freire gave Torres a second mantra: “We have to confront neoliberalism as the new demon of our times.” Torres shares with us ways to head this call to equity, empowerment, and freedom.

Freire’s First Critic: An Interview with Carlos Alberto Torres: Part 1

Carlos Alberto Torres is Professor of Social Sciences and Comparative Education at UCLA (2009-present), past Director of the UCLA Latin American center (1995-2005) and founder of the Paulo Freire Institute in São Paulo, Brazil (with Freire in 1991), Buenos Aries, Argentina, and UCLA (since 2002). Prof. Torres is also President of the World Council of Comparative Education Societies (WCCES). He is the author of numerous articles and books, including Social Theory and Education (with Robert Allan Morrow; SUNY Press, 1995), Comparative Education: The Dialectics of the Global and the Local (with Robert Arnove; Rowan & Littlefield, 2013, and the editor of First Freire: Early Writings in Social Justice Education (Teachers College Press, 2014). He has written short stories and poetry and is also an accomplished gardener and woodworker. A complete list of his background, research and accomplishments can be found on his website, https://carlosatorres.com/

We spoke last summer about the origins of his interests in Freire and democratic education. In Part One of our conversation Torres tells stories about his background in Argentina and the influence not only of Freire but also of the Jesuit priest, teacher,  and liberation theologian Carlos Mugica (1930-1974), who was assassinated by the dictatorship. Mugica’s last words, “Now more than ever, we must be with the people,” resonate with the liberation movements of that time and now.

Resources: The New Poor People’s Campaign

https://kairoscenter.org/

Poor People’s Campaign website: https://poorpeoplescampaign.org/

https://kairoscenter.org/willie-baptist-on-inequality/

Baptist, Willie and Jan Rehmann. 2011. Pedagogy of the Poor: Building the Movement to End Poverty. New York: Teachers College Press.

Barber, William J., III, with Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove. 2016. The New Reconstruction: How a Moral Movement Is Overcoming the Politics of Division and Fear. Boston: Beacon.

Theoharis, Liz. 2017. Always with Us? What Jesus Really Said about the Poor. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.

Popular Education for Social Change: The New Poor People’s Campaign

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 Baptist is 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.”