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.”
Dr. Stephen D. Brookfield’s website:
The 99ers Band website:
Brookfield, Stephen, ed. 1987. Learning Democracy: Edward Lindeman on Adult Education and Social Change. London: Routledge, Kegan & Paul.
_____. 2004. The Power of Critical Theory: Liberating Adult Learning and Teaching. New York: Jossey-Bass.
In this 12 minute bonus segment Arizbeth and Rafael respond to The New Yorker article by Jonathan Blitzer from May 22, 2017: “An Underground College for Undocumented Immigrants.” Rafael ends the segment with his poem, “The Monarch Martyr.” In this photo you see Freedom U. students at a University of Georgia class right before their arrest. The butterfly wings idea originated from artist activist David Solnit, a puppeteer who has used his art in social movements for over thirty years (e.g. the World Trade Protests in Seattle in 1999). He uses art in protest and revolution, and the Freedom U. students adapted his creative strategy for their courageous acts of resistance.
How to support Freedom University Georgia? Donations to this grassroots sanctuary movement go a long way to making their dreams of educational equality a reality. Professors volunteer, but funds are needed for classroom space, books, college tours, and pizzas. If you live in metro Atlanta, there are volunteer opportunities, such as being a driver. If you are connected with a college or university, make sure you have policies to support and provide opportunities for students like the ones on this podcast. Check out their website [www.freedomuniversitygeorgia.com/donate] and Facebook page [Freedom U. Georgia] for current updates and connections. Nothing Never Happens will keep in touch with these new friends and will post updates too.
In this bonus segment Freedom University Georgia students show us how the use of the arts informs and propels their movement toward educational equality. They give us insights into their journey across borders.
They share nine poems with us:
“Sandman,” “The Life of a Crayon,” and “Maybe” — Mileidi Salinas
“A Monster” –Arizbeth Sanchez
“Engines of the Wild, Wild West” — Rafael Aragon
“Nameful” — Arizbeth
“El Señor de los Salmos” — Rafael
link to the translation
“Letter to My Younger Self” — Arizbeth
“Astronomy” — Rafael
In Part 2 our guests from Freedom University Georgia (FUGA) talk about their definition of leadership–from the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ model of “we are all leaders”–through students as “co-conspirators” in their educational experience. Their questioning of the master narrative of current U.S. immigration policy has led them to collective action, with the Georgia Board of Regents and the state legislature. For all the leaders in FUGA, the university is practice for a better world.
As they have found their voices, the media often revises or erases their voices. FUGA speaks truth to power, and those outside can never fully understand the context. In addition, the idea of a democratic classroom is open to sabotage, for those beholden (whether they acknowledge it or not) to the master narrative of traditional banking education (in its various forms) have to find a fatal flaw in the utopian experiment, even if they have to invent a flaw.
It is my hope that this podcast provides some space for these voices to be more fully heard, and the butterflies to soar (see Part 4 for more on butterflies!).
Freedom University Georgia (FUGA) is “a modern-day freedom school based in Atlanta.” They meet the needs of undocumented students who are denied access to Georgia’s top public universities and to in-state tuition. FUGA offers college-level classes, SAT prep classes, and leadership training. The director and student leaders of FUGA, Mileidi Salinas, Dr. Laura Emiko Soltis, Arizbeth Sanchez, and Rafael Aragon, met with me for a conversation on June 16, 2017. We discussed their work as learners who share the roles of teachers and students in the work of living into Article 26 of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights (December 10, 1948):
1. Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.
2. Education shall be directed to the full development of the human
personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and
fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.
3. Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.
Note that this article says “everyone” not “citizens.” The students of FUGA are undocumented because of a broken and unjust immigration system. They are part of “everyone.”
Human rights are universal, inalienable, and indivisible and interdependent. FUGA takes an activist stance to hold the state of Georgia accountable, while they call out the state legislature and the Board of Regents of the university system as human rights abusers.
In their document, “A New Appeal for Human Rights” (May 16, 2017), members of FUGA respond to the Georgia state legislature’s passing of HB 37, the nation’s first “Anti-Sanctuary Campus Bill.” Along with the right to education, they address the rights of non-discrimination, housing, voting, religious freedom, workers’ rights, and healthcare. This document, available on their website, provides the most current context of undocumented students in Georgia, and highlights the urgency of democratic education in the midst of many roadblocks.
In this podcast in Parts 1 and 2 they talk about shared power and speaking truth to power, leadership (especially when faced with the consistent attempts to erase their voices), movement building and strategy setting, non-violent direct action and civil disobedience, along with subsequent arrests. And they respond to a recent (May 22, 2017) article by Jonathan Blitzer in The New Yorker in Part 2 in a bonus track. In another bonus track, Arizbeth, Rafael and Mileidi graciously share their poetry with us. The students in Freedom University are taking risks, modeling liberatory education, connecting to other struggles through coalition building, and facing the impossible possibilities with wisdom and courage.
Cultural Agents at Harvard University
In Part 2 of our conversation Vialla Hartfield-Mendez and Doris Sommer takes us further on some wonderful creative tangents on generative learning and democratic education. They discuss the (re)use of art as a vehicle for getting “unstuck” in imagining just societies, and the practice of Augusto Boal’s theatre of the oppressed as a way of embodied learning. The pronouncement of the death of the humanities is not only premature, it has served as an impetus for rethinking students and teachers as cultural agents for creative change. The changes to classrooms, through the examples they discuss from k-12 to higher education, are inspiring.
Pre-Texts is an expansion of critical pedagogy using the arts to create democratic discourses and connections between university and the world for social transformation. Pre-Texts is part of Cultural Agents (culturalagents.org) at Harvard University: “arts and humanities in civic engagement.” Pre-Texts is an approach to the humanities and to social change, grounded in student-centered learning. The handmade books from recycled material (Cartonera) in Latin America, and the art activism of Antonus Mockus, former mayor of Bogata, are two example of art in the world.
Doris Sommer, Ira and Jewell Williams jr. Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures and of African and African American Studies at Harvard University and Vialla Harfield-Mendez, in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese, and Professor of Pedagogy at Emory University, joined me in a conversation on May 24, 2017 at Emory. They talk about Pre-Texts origins and evolution, the train-the-trainer pedagogy sessions, and the re-imagining of the humanities in the world. The tangents they follow provide examples of new ways of defining leadership, learning, and innovative change practices.
The foundational sources by Doris Sommer include her edited book, Cultural Agency in the Americas (Duke University Press, 2006) and The Work of Art in the World: Civic Agency and Public Humanities (Duke, 2014).
The Highlander Research and Education Center
May 16, 2017