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Activists-in-Residence Bring Pedagogy and Methodologies of Social Change to UCLA The 2019 activists are a co-creator of Occupy Wall Street, an archivist at the Southern California Library, and a UCLA Luskin alumna who is a storyteller, politico and campaign strategist

By Cristina Barrera and Les Dunseith

The 2019 UCLA Activists-in-Residence were introduced Jan. 16 to about 100 students, faculty, staff and community supporters who did not let a steady rain deter them from welcoming activists Micah White, Yusef Omowale and UCLA Luskin alumna Tanzila “Taz” Ahmed MPP ’07.

During their residency at UCLA, each of the three activists will pursue a project designed to advance their commitments to social justice. They will also engage with UCLA faculty and students to share their methodologies for social change.

The Activist-in-Residence Program was launched in 2016 by the Institute on Inequality and Democracy at UCLA Luskin and the UCLA Asian American Studies Center to advance core research themes concerned with “building power to expose and tackle various forms of dispossession in unequal cities,” said Institute Director Ananya Roy, professor of urban planning, social welfare and geography. “We have insisted on turning the public university inside out.”

Micah White, Ph.D., is an author, public speaker and lifelong activist who co-created Occupy Wall Street, a global social movement that spread to 82 countries. His first book, “The End of Protest: A New Playbook for Revolution,” was published in 2016.

“This kind of opportunity for the critical pedagogy of activism is as rare as it is needed,” White said prior to the reception. “Activism and the ways we protest must change if it is to regain its effectiveness. And the best way to do that, I believe, is to bring the rigorous thinking of academia to bear against the deep strategic and theoretical challenges facing practicing activists.”

White’s time at UCLA is focused on whether activism can be taught — and how to do it. He and Roy are exploring that issue by co-teaching a course on housing justice activism and protest as part of an effort known as Activist Graduate School.

During her opening remarks, Roy said, “Micah has brought to UCLA Luskin his latest project, Activist Graduate School, which I see as an urgently necessary effort to build pedagogy an infrastructure in these troubled times.”

As archivist at the Southern California Library, Yusef Omowale has been a participant in collective memory work to document the impacts of policing, incarceration, displacement and poverty. He has been involved in political education workshops, campaign support, and the offering of spaces for healing and material support to ease the day-to-day sufferings of individuals in need.

Founded over 50 years ago, the Southern California Library holds extensive collections related to the history of community resistance.

“I am thankful to receive this Activist-in-Residence position for the respite and resources it offers,” Omowale said. “Coming from a struggling nonprofit, having access to all the university affords is no small thing.”

Even so, Omowale said his acceptance of the fellowship carries with it a measure of trepidation.

“The university, consorting as it is with racial capitalism and its progeny, neoliberalism, is not a safe place for most of us,” he explained.

Working in South Central Los Angeles, Omowale is regularly confronted “with dominant imaginings of the violence that we must have to contend with in our work. And certainly, we encounter the violence of poverty, environmental toxins, policing and the interpersonal kind. From this reality, the university is meant to represent a safe haven — a north star.”

Yet, he said, the geography of the university is bounded and sustained in part by the “violence it enacts on communities like the one I work in.”

He continued: “Whether intended or not, this residency has a discursive role in legitimizing the university, erasing its violence, through appropriation of ‘activism.’ I cannot ignore this function, nor my participation in it.”

On the other hand, “there are so many people laboring in the university that I love, and I am thankful for the opportunity to join them in their collective projects for freedom. I will take the advice of Harney and Moten that ‘in the face of these conditions one can only sneak into the university and steal what one can,’” Omowale said, referring to the book, “The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning and Black Study,” by Stefano Harney and Fred Moten.

During his residency, Omowale will extend his work on building an archival practice that can document displacement and dispossession in Los Angeles.

The UCLA Asian American Studies Center (AASC) selected Tanzila “Taz” Ahmed as its 2019 UCLA Activist-in-Residence because of her “creative use of storytelling, art, social media and digital technology to advance Asian American social justice movements that is path-breaking and fits perfectly with our center’s digital initiatives ” said AASC Director Karen Umemoto, professor of urban planning at UCLA Luskin. She further noted that while pursuing her Master of Public Policy degree at UCLA Luskin, Ahmed was part of a student-led initiative to bring critical race theory into public policy.

Ahmed is co-host of a popular podcast titled “#GoodMuslimBadMuslim” and an avid essayist. She was honored as alumna of the year by UCLA Luskin Public Policy in 2017.

Ahmed said that “digital tools have become one of the most democratizing ways to access movement knowledge, history and analysis to inspire this community forward.”

She continued, “As a community, we have to tell our own counter-narratives and contemporary histories that keep getting sidelined — and what better way to do that than a digital storytelling project rooted at UCLA?”

Ahmed will explore the intersection of digital storytelling with the building of political movements by developing an audio advice column for new Asian American activists.

Her fellowship is made possible through the Yuji Ichioka and Emma Gee Endowment in Social Justice and Immigration Studies, which honors the late UCLA scholar Yuji Ichioka and his wife, activist-scholar Emma Gee.

The Institute on Inequality and Democracy fellowship program is supported by a gift from the James Irvine Foundation.

View more photos from the reception on Flickr:

2019 Activists-in-Residence Reception

‘Minority Report’ Hits Major Racial Themes Scott St. Patrick’s Luskin-sponsored performance provides a no-holds-barred look at race in America through the centuries

By Zev Hurwitz

It can be difficult to truly empathize with another community’s narrative. Tragedies and injustices toward a racial group only resonate up to a point for those not directly impacted. But true empathy cannot be felt without experiencing the narrative up close.

Scott St. Patrick and his company brought the black American experience up close to a diverse crowd of nearly 200 students and community members when they took to the stage in the Broad Art Center.

Sponsored by the Department of Social Welfare at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, “Minority Report” is a nine-vignette journey through the black experience in America. Each act was a solo piece by one of seven actors articulating a narrative that touched on a different area of the history of black Americans.

“In Social Welfare at Luskin, we are committed to struggling with racism as a social justice issue,” Gerry Laviña, director of field education for the Luskin School, said as he opened the evening. “We also acknowledge and will acknowledge tonight that the struggle has gone on for generations and continues today.”

St. Patrick, the show’s creator, led off with an extended poem that addressed some of the program’s hardest-hitting themes. St. Patrick began with an emotionally charged lament of the “epidemic of violence” against African Americans by police, which followed a montage of cellphone footage of recent acts, including the death of Eric Garner by police in which Garner could be heard gasping, “I can’t breathe.”

St. Patrick’s opening monologue, which slammed a system in which African Americans are predisposed to institutionalized racism toward blacks and drew parallels with the shooting of the Cincinnati Zoo’s gorilla, Harambe, set the tone for the following acts.

Several of the most impactful vignettes described historical instances of oppression toward African Americans — both violent and socially oppressive. Detra Hicks lamented the cyclical nature of racism toward blacks in America in a piece that linked the violent 1955 murder of black teenager Emmett Till in Mississippi to the more contemporary killings of Tamir Rice and Jordan Davis.

“Where the hell is peripety?” she exclaimed, referring to the literary device wherein a protagonist’s misfortunes are reversed.

In between each vignette, a clip of relevant video or audio set the tone for the following act. While much of the content focused on graphic illustrations of violent injustices and systematic inequality suffered by blacks, a piece by comedian Donald George probed some of these areas with a touch of humor. He likened the 2016 presidential election to a choice between different sexually transmitted infections in the first fully humorous segment of an otherwise serious series.

Kelly Jenrette discussed civil disobedience in her piece “Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party” and highlighted the story of institutional repression of voting rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer. Jenrette currently stars on television in the Fox series “Pitch,” which follows a fictional African American woman breaking the gender barrier in professional baseball.

In “Black Tulsa,” Marcuis Harris delivered an informative piece on how, even in instances of success for the black community, racism rears its ugly face in a violent and destructive manner. Harris’ piece focused on the destruction of a thriving Tulsa, Okla., black community, which was leveled by supremacists in a “race riot” in 1921.

Even the terminology used to describe these instances is part of the issue, Harris said. “‘Race riot’ implies equal footing,” he said, describing the overnight destruction of Greenwood. “This was terrorism.”

Jaclyn Tokos, the only non-black performer of the evening, described the various points of contention — with both blacks and whites — she has faced as a white woman engaged to a black man.

“You can’t teach someone who to love,” she asserted, following a video of boxing legend Muhammad Ali’s 1971 interview in which he explains why he would never choose to marry outside of his race.

Several performers wore attire related to their performances, though Tokos’ donning of a “Black Lives Matter” t-shirt (her fiancé’s, she said) not only made a strong impact, it also reminded audiences of the times. “Minority Report” was performed at a critical time for race relations in America and to be reminded of this in an aptly named piece, “Interracial Love,” was pivotal to the message.

Tokos was followed by Kiya Roberts, who continued to preach love — between blacks. “I don’t need you, but I want you,” Roberts says to no man in particular in her vignette, “It’s Complicated…” The pursuit of love as a means of resolution to the pain between races was stressed more than once during the performances.

As the evening came to a conclusion, “Minority Report” became a “call to action,” to fight injustice and inequality with the power of love. Audience members were left with an “it’s on us” mentality and affirmation that love truly is the only way forward.

St. Patrick performed in two other acts, including the closing. In “Katrina,” St. Patrick led a multimedia-guided personal drop-in to the conditions inside the Superdome in post-Hurricane Katrina. For several days following the devastating storm in 2005, thousands of New Orleans residents were told to seek shelter at the stadium, having been promised provisions. However, the nearly all-black population housed in the Superdome went largely neglected, with few-to-no rations or supplies brought in, and horrific restroom conditions — all on top of deep emotional trauma.

In the most moving moment of the performance, St. Patrick brought the audience inside the Superdome and shared vivid descriptions of the sights and smells. “Many of you couldn’t even last one minute,” he said. Those who dared to attempt to flee to a neighboring community came across a battalion of armed guards, who blocked access to the relatively well-supplied Jefferson Parish.

As the audience absorbed the horror experienced in the days following Katrina, they were reminded of the underlying message of the evening: What ethnicity is experiencing this travesty? Would the conditions have been the same had the ethnic makeup of those inside the dome been different?

After witnessing nine vignettes of reflection, the audience is more likely to acknowledge the ugly truth that is the “Minority Report.” No. No it would not.

Read more about the genesis of “Minority Report” and why Social Welfare Chair Todd Franke chose to sponsor it at UCLA.