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Writing from the "Outside": Notes Towards Day 25 (Tues, Mar. 21)

Anne Dalke's picture

Bring markers, paper, tape.

I. (2:25-2:30, Anne) course-keeping
* Collect copies of Kindred (from Amanda, Farida, Sierra, Martina)

* Ed Program info session in two weeks: Wed. April 5, 5:45, BYC 239

* we will not be holding class tomorrow, because we are attending the
Community Day of Learning, and are encouraging you also to participate
(may have noticed that didn't follow-up on organizing a session;
too much else going on here!) but quite a few seem related to our shared topics--
Martina's helping to facilitate a StoryCORE session, "Narrate Your Belonging";
there's a spoken word artist, Walidah Imarisha, who's edited two anthologies
on social justice, and authored a book on Crime, Prison, and Redemption;
there are also some nice alternatives like square dancing and yoga--so do go!
we'll start class on Thursday by sharing some of these experiences...

then we'll welcome another visitor,
who will talk with us about the "literacy of activism":
Kavita Goyal is on the planning committee for the CDL,
so will be esp. eager to hear about your experiences

She is also Assistant Director of NELI
(Non-Profit Executive Leadership) Programs @ the
Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research;
and will be joined by one or two members of CADBI
(The Coalition to Abolish Death By Incarceration),
who will speak of their experience having a family member
on the inside who is sentenced to Life Without Parole,
and how that personal experience has led to their political activism. 

in preparation for their visit, Kavita is asking you to read 3 short pieces:
a talk given by Cesar Chavez (director of the National Farm Workers' Association)
to SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordination Committee) in 1965;
a 6 pp. excerpt from a community organizing manual prepared by the
New York City Organizing Support Center in 2000 (the manual is
ong; just read pp. 3-9); and a 2016 piece about "organizing one-on-one"--
all listed/linked to from the syllabus.
We had a great planning meeting with Kavita last week;
she'll be focusing in part on the need to work from
from self-interest in organizing for activism.

also keep on plugging away @/enjoying!
Americanah, which we'll begin today,
pick up again next week....

III. (2:30-3:15, Jody) return to Gonnerman
We had some questions on the table about the current state of the Rockefeller drug laws,
about rules regarding public housing and contact w/ others who have been incarcerated;
found out that the laws have changed somewhat, been moderated,
but there are still a variety of drug laws, in a variety of states,
and @ the federal level, that are punitive, including manitory minimums

for me, these changes--which you're welcome to research more fully for your next paper--
raise a another question, about protest and activism:
EBartlett was focused on repealing the Rockefeller laws;
YASP also has some particular foci...
invite contributions...

question this raises: how we map activism in relation to these issues?
what are the range of possible responses/impactful actions?

Anne: a number of your postings trace the spectrum of possible actions:
One of you wrote about some of the problematic ways that activism is valued,
your worry that society values the empowerment of activists like Elaine Bartlett, for instance,
"because of the fact that these individuals who have been oppressed 'turned their lives around'
....this seems to connect to the overvaluing of linear and constant progress and transformation."

Another of you wrote about your anger that we are not doing more; after
a discussion with someone who is incarcerated, who felt that their dream of
continuing their education was dead: "this encounter made me angry. It made me question what we're doing.
....We have so much privilege and access to resources. Why aren't we doing more?....
it doesn't feel like we're joining with anyone....Have we done anything that's enabled them to
do what they need to do for themselves, their families and their communities? "

A third one of you also wrote about feeling angry as you left the prison: "I couldn't place
my anger then, but I think now I know it has something to do with the word 'waste.'"

Another of you reflected on the possibility of becoming a lawyer: "I know if I do,
I would be incapable of doing anything with my degree but apologizing for every cry unanswered."

Yet another of you asked if we are transgressing boundaries, asking too much of people inside:
"I felt uncomfortable when one of the women was being pushed to share when she made it clear she did not want to....
a breach of trust occurred when her story was sort of shared and she was continuously being asked and expected to share....
we must not overstep and ask for more than what is given, we must respect one another's choices and decisions,
especially when it comes to sharing personal stories."

Another of you also noted that, while the women in RCF "said they wanted to do more writing....
few want their writings typed up or read by us.  I believe they have found the value
in writing for themselves and not for others." And yet, you also said, we were able to
"form a conneciton between our stories, which allowed us to really speak to each other."

Another one of you described, while inside,
trying "to do that radical work of relationship building."

Finally (!), everyone who went to PICC with YASP last Friday described S's
warm, friendly, familiar interactions with the COs, going in; counterwise,
most everyone who went to RCF on the same afternoon described a very
uncomfortable encounter w/ a CO in the elevator while leaving.

What actions are called for/what activism is possible in such situations?
How much accomodation is necessary, to enable a program to flourish?
How much pushback is possible, without endangering the program?

Given everything we've just talked about,
What is activism looking like to you now?

Get in groups of 3,
mixing yourselves up in terms of sites,
and use what you are learning in praxis
(successful activism in action, where you see gaps),
to talk about what activism looks like--
of course including obstacles or challenges--
then map it; make it visual.

Get up/look/share:
what is activism looking like to us now?

IV. (3:15-3:35, Jody) Picking up on Adichie's novel, Americanah
which also invites us to think about who we are/
how to negotiate space we share with others.
The main location of Chapter One is a hair salon in Trenton;
we're like you to consider who Ifem is when she is there.

Two passages to help you focus you on this question:
p. 21: "'I'm also going back to Nigeria to see my man," Ifemelu said,
surprising herself. My man. How easy it was to lie to strangers,
to create the strangers the versions of our lives that we have imagined."

After a number of flashbacks, the novel returns to the hair salon
@ the beginning of Chapter 9, p. 126: "They looked @ Ifemelu for her agreement,
her approval. They expected it, in this shared space of their Africanness, but Ifemelu
said nothing and turned a page of her novel. They would, she was sure, talk about her
after she left. That Nigerian girl, she feels very mportant because of Princeton.
Look at her food bar, she does not eat real food anymore. They would laugh with derision,
but only a mild derision, because she was still their African sister, even if she had briefly lost her way. ..."

Write for a few minutes about what we are learning about Ifem in this initial location.
How is she is negotating this space of contact and encounter? 


V. (3:35-3:45, Anne)
What other dimensions of the novel are striking you?
What other scenes/topics do you want to be sure we discuss?
We won't return to it til next week, but want to get
a sense from you of what directions you'd like us to taken then...