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field notes from climate justice teach-in

transitfan's picture

1/25/13: Part I: Before (written at 11:10AM)

Last night Students for a Livable Future had an almost-two-hour planning meeting over dinner for a 1.5 hour teach-in today during lunch at the dining center. (Wouldn't it be amazing if teachers could do that? Though on second thought, that degree of planning would probably prove tiresome and unnecessary for experienced educators.) We are calling our event a climate justice teach-in but really it is all about our campaign for Haverford to divest its endowment from fossil-fuel companies. (Is that misleading? Will people be upset? Or will no one come at all? We advertised quite heavily with posters hanging from trees, tons of Facebook posting, etc. I'm pretty nervous about it all right now.)

I will be facilitating a brief presentation on divestment history, from apartheid to the present. I was thinking of just lecturing from my research to save time, but then I thought I could make handouts which people could read aloud paragraph-by-paragraph like we did yesterday in Ed class. I liked that a lot. We could even have people say their favorite sentence. But that might take way too long. Also, if I print copies for everyone of the handout and we have any hecklers at the teach-in they will definitely call me/us out for being wasteful in printing. Last night people liked the idea of me making it interactive, but they didn't see how long the handout would be (4 pages/2 sheets of paper). My plan is to make printouts and then decide to use them or not once I get a read on the group. Potentially wasteful, but also allowing myself to be resilient to different circumstances.

After the teach-in will be a strategy session for active members of the campaign to plan next steps. So far College officials have ignored our letters asking to start dialogue with them, which isn't surprising at all based on the history of divestment campaigns. Can an educational campaign persuade them divest? Or will we have to resort to the more drastic measures like prolonged sit-ins and hunger-strikes that accompanied the most successful divestment campaigns in South Africa? Higher education administrators do not want to be educated on the climate justice issues that students learn about in class, it seems. Or they already are informed about fossil-fuels/climate justice issues but not in such a way that has made them open to taking action.

Part II: During (1:30PM- between teach-in and strategy session)

 After the teach-in we do a Delta/positive debrief. (We also add “insights” and “negatives”) Facilitated by organizer from a national organizer, who also facilitated most of strategy session afterward, and one section of the eight section teach-in.

In a classroom setting, it would have been a problem that we ended 15 min early, but for this it was probably good.

Positives: around 40 people showed up! (our goal was 25)

We added a question/answer session: there were good questions!

we stuck to the agenda, which had a very good flow. Organized/prepared.

Good space- a little too noisy some times but people walking by stopped in and joined us!


Feedback: alienating- focused on it as environmental issue without making connection to human life. Info presented in off-putting way. We should switch terminology/jargon.

we need to prep

Person A: I could have been better at encouraging people to become more actively involved.

Person B: I wish I had more facts/figures to work from. I would like to see our Q&A be more evenly spread-out among us! (I agree)

Persons C+D: location was a mixed bag. We should think about space more in advance!!

Person D: We could have been more transparent in identifying our bias.

Person E: petition signing logistics awkward. We could have welcomers to future events!

Person B: History was frustrating- didn't make a clear connection to climate change. Be better prepared to answer questions.

Yeah, as the facilitator of the history section, I should have planned in advance with the visiting organizer (who I never really talked to) to figure out what my lesson needed to include; we could have done it better.

Visiting organizer: our answers to some questions were confusing. Too many people tried to answer some of the questions. However, it was smart that we sat down when we answered question- set up a more comfortable dynamic with audience.

Persons D+F: We can work on step forward/step back.

Person D: We should figure out who knows the answer to a question and wants to answer before someone speaks up and says they don't know the answer.

Person B: we weren't all always looking at the person who was talking. Didn't look cohesive/professional.

V.O.: don't feel guilty if you talk too much and need to step back.

(debrief ends w/ moment of silence)

Part III: After (written at 9:00PM)

During my portion of the teach-in, there were no hecklers but, being mindful of the time and the odd layout of people sitting and standing in rows in the sunken lounge of the dining center, I decided to basically lecture. I did, however, pass out my handouts to those who wanted. I forgot to remove the reference to one part of divestment history at Haverford that I had wanted to omit due to its irrelevant controversial-ness (the anti-Israel divestment attempt), but the handout neither supported or opposed that campaign and I doubt people noticed or minded the small reference. I do think I may have been looking down at my notes too much and I'm not sure I connected well with the audience.

While I think I did an overall adequate job, I missed the mark in terms of making divestment history seem relevant to them. I talked about apartheid, but didn't explain why I was talking about apartheid or what that had to do with climate change. Unfortunately, none of the other sections of the teach-in made that connection either which contributed to some people's thoughts that our presentation was esoteric or off-putting. It's lucky that we had a relatively patient liberal-arts college audience; in another setting I do not think we would have been listened to at all. Although my misgivings on the teach-in increased as I thought about throughout the afternoon, I think it was successful overall.

The strategy session on the other hand was a little underwhelming. There were ten people in attendance in the plain white Campus Center classroom, a nice group of active-allies and as with the teach-in more than I was expecting. Clearly the visiting organizer is well-versed in the theory of different types of learners: visual learners were well accommodated with charts, timelines, and images while team-building games and generally lots of moving around will have been good for kinesthetic learners. However we failed to set or keep to a schedule and went almost an hour over time while still accomplishing less than I would have hoped. I think the organizer should have switched from an introductory educational mindset to a strategic planning mindset to allow us to get to planning more quickly. In addition, while using a fictional campaign with characters in The Simpsons to model the spectrum of allies was a nice idea and made some good points, it took up time that could have been used to brainstorm allies in our campaign and I doubt it made much sense to those in our group who didn't watch The Simpsons.