What are you going to do about that when the dust settles? How are you going to work to learn & unlearn & teach your family, your students, or your colleagues to see & learn in new ways?
Across society, we are seeing youth step up to address societal problems. Within these contexts, some individuals are inspired to identify ways they can leverage digital technologies to work toward positive social change.
What can educators learn about activist and organizer practices as they bring activism & texts or narratives shared by activists into learning environments?
To engage in dialogue is one of the simplest ways we can begin as teachers, scholars, and critical thinkers to cross boundaries, the barriers that may or may not be erected by race, gender, class, professional standing, and a host of other differences.
Activism usually begins at the local or grassroots level as people come together to “convince, pressure, or coerce external decision-makers to meet collective goals either to act in a specified manner or to modify or stop certain activities.” As such, the perspective of “contestation” is a core component of activism, as well as the tenets of advocacy, conflict, and transgression.
The challenge is that as we engage in organizing and activism, we must start with understanding and connecting the local before moving to the global. The Internet holds great power and opportunity. The ability to tweet a message that will be consumed by a global audience is very enticing. The challenge is that this very rarely happens. There is also a lot of risk associated with this mindset. We also need to do the work first before connecting and participating.
As the focus on audience extends out from the self to publics to networked publics, the opportunity to enact change and have one’s narrative heard is lessened over time. The Internet and other communication technologies provide opportunities to broadcast a narrative for a variety of purposes. It does not guarantee a receptive audience. The ability to reach an audience may not scale up in the manner we hoped as we speak to networked publics. Furthermore, the ultimate message received may not be what was intended.
Even as educators and their students are thoughtful, vigilant, and circumspect about getting involved in these spaces, there is the chance that mistakes will be made.
Due to the nature of digital information, any missteps will be documented and digitally archived for all to review. Critics may also take intentions, content, and narrative out of context in an attempt to smear or harass the author.
The first one I think is most helpful is don’t prescribe unless you can describe. It’s really learning about how to describe the impact of a policy decision or the impact of a situation from a first-person perspective. If you can’t do it from a first-person perspective then don’t prescribe a solution because you could be actually exacerbating the problem and that might have unintended consequences in the future.
The preceding quote is from Muhiyidin d’Baha, an activist from the Charleston, South Carolina area which calls attention to the need to focus on work at the grassroots level and to describe these events and inequalities at the local level before moving to prescribe, or consider the implications, for teacher education. Read more about d’Baha here.
Risk and reward are involved when engaging in these practices and with these texts. These situations may also be an important teaching moment. In the post linked above, d’Baha provides actionable guidance on how to effectively organize and address local problems. Specific to this discussion of organizing and activism, Muhiyidin describes the balance between moving from the local to the global.
Online vs. Reality: What we’re doing is we’re exploring a new way of communicating and a new way of organizing in which we organize virtually. We want to express in physical reality then we want to bring that expression back into virtual reality to reflect on and to have that generate some more energy so we can express it in physical reality. There is a dance there that we’re learning how to do so we don’t get caught up in the social media world because in the social media world we can have 3,500 people that are coming to an event and we can have 100,000 people that have watched a video. But when it comes to a city council meeting to actually push the work forward, it’s hard getting people to come out.
This philosophy of organizing from “the block up” is detailed fully in a curriculum focused on “strengthening cooperative youth enterprises with a vision of nurturing their ideals and awakening their dreams into reality.”
The end result is a focus on first doing the work yourself before you move to the local context. Read up. Problematize your perspectives. Question your assumptions and biases. Listen to others. There is a need to discuss & problematize identity & privilege in the classroom. There is a need to center women’s voices. There is a need to simultaneously educate oneself on the histories of numerous communities of color, & indigenous or immigrant communities whose histories have been neglected in most schools.
Please note, I identify as a white, heterosexual, cisgender male. I recognize the power, privilege, and perspective I have in studying and sharing this information. I recognize my need to do the work.
After you do the work, connect with others in a local context, and work to strengthen and nurture local ideals and dreams into reality block by block.
Higher education’s role, as I see it, is to help society reflect beyond activism and resistance, necessary and important as they are. There is a need to develop critical citizens capable of negotiating multiple conflicting interests in a process of creatively co-constructing a better future.