The moment we choose to love is the moment we begin to move against domination, against oppression. The moment we choose to love, we begin to move towards freedom, to act in ways that liberate ourselves and others. That action is the testimony of love and the practice of freedom.
— bell hooks
What is civic education now, when the highest political offices are held by people and corporations who suppress civic power? How do people in schools foster strong civic capacities when the forces arrayed against democratic processes are bold, strategic, and armed? As we move toward two vital markers of our civic life this January, the Inauguration and Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, I have been looking for guidance on these questions. Here’s a short summary of what I have found:
- Learn histories of resistance. Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States is a great start, but numerous crowd-sourced lists have been created recently to support transformative study. For example: Trump Syllabus 2.0, Prison Abolition Syllabus, #Standing Rock Syllabus, Library of Resistance. Prevailing models of civic engagement in the U.S. are service-based and philanthropic, and can offer vital exposure, but they don’t challenge systems of oppression. Apolitical approaches to civic life can muddy the focus on social change. But personal reflection on legacies of racism leads to conversations and relationships that are the foundation for sustainable civic action. Resources for learning from histories of survival and resilience are not only in writing, though:
- Follow the leadership of people who have been resisting for a long, long time: people fighting the Prison Industrial Complex, people fighting for immigrant rights, people fighting environmental degradation of our planet. The voices of moderation, of don’t rock-the-boat, of don’t-inconvenience-anyone, have not prepared us for the brave, strategic collective struggle needed to resist tyranny. We need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. As Rev. Rollins urged in his recent post, What white people can do about systemic racism, “Get out and go to spaces where you are the “other,” and stay there.” And:
- Challenge. Speak up, Act up, Persist. Democracy is not a spectator sport, as Mikva Challenge students remind us. Tips for joining the movement is a good primer on principled action, for people who are new to social justice work. Here’s congressional staffers’ practical guide for resisting the Trump agenda. SURJ’s Standing Rock Toolkit offers another resource that’s relevant for civic resistance in many contexts. Teaching Tolerance offers excellent classroom-based approaches to democratic engagement.
Listening, thinking, and acting – what Paulo Freire called praxis – will help us to create the vision of the world we want, and the commitment to help build it.
I sent students a note yesterday encouraging them to bring conscious purpose to their political lives and to seek out connection with people around them who are fighting for protection. I emphasized the myriad access points for democratic engagement. I’ll end with that letter:
January — MLK Day, Inauguration, Civic Resistance
As you go into the challenges of finals week, know that your teachers believe in you, want to hear about and support your dreams, and trust in your strength.
On top of your individual work, these are times when the levels of stress and distrust in our civic life are also overwhelming. We are living in a time when division, racism, and fear run strong, and it can seem that solidarity and resistance won’t be enough to counter the power of hatred. It is a natural reaction to avoid thinking about, to consider accepting, unjust realities, just to try to cope in a confusing world.
But just as every day news stories come that signal another blow to democratic life, every day new acts of defiance and opportunities for change arise. It is important to plug into these currents of hope: healthy democratic life is not out of reach, but it does require focused engagement, and especially the brave leadership of young people.
Many, many people have brought their creativity and fire into public spaces, with actions that build civic trust. We share as many of these actions as we can find on the Civic Engagement site for public events, so that you have a rich variety of opportunities – artistic, political, educational, etc. — to sustain your hope and build your vision. Many actions are focused on responding to Trump’s Inauguration by expressing solidarity with Muslims and immigrants, resistance to homophobia and threats to women’s rights, voting rights, and other foundations of democracy. Participating in actions is a great way to meet people and get more involved with organizations shoring up democratic life in Chicago.
Incredible events are planned here in Chicago for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, from the Polar Peace March here in Lincoln Park (you can sign up here to participate – with or without a donation) to counter gun violence, to IMAN’s Chicago-Atlanta Fighting Fear/Building Power event at the Harold Washington Cultural Center. We keep a list here and welcome your contributions to this list and to our general events list.
We’ll continue to keep you informed about opportunities for civic engagement. If you have ideas for actions, questions, or are looking for resources, please email me or come by.
With much respect,