Discussing Social Justice

We spent an hour and a half in the library in the morning discussing social justice issues that are important to us. I think this was in part due to the show we saw last week on artwork by incarcerated people and partially due to a video conference call I had been on the night before.

The conference call was with a group from the Agile Learning Network and was a discussion of how to integrate social justice issues into the lives of self-directed learners. Since it is a privilege to be free while others are oppressed, actively working on anti-oppression actions is a necessity. However, does that mean that the facilitators in a self-directed space should make social justice mandatory? It is my belief that that act itself would be a form of youth oppression. But how then does one ensure that social justice become a part of youth’s lives, youth’s concerns, youth’s actions if they can otherwise have the ability to opt out.

I did what I always do in these situations, I brought that question to our group, the young people I trust and respect. I was shocked at how seriously they took the question and subject. Yes, it was definitely a painful conversation, both because of the topic and because it meant a lot of talking with a group of young people who are used to moving their bodies. But that does not mean it was not important to them. They sat and debated and ultimately came up with a list of social justice topics that were important to them. And ultimately they started a list of actions and first steps they want to take.

They were interested in making a visit to a prison (again, likely inspired by last week’s exhibition). I was pretty sure (and later confirmed) that that is extremely difficult to do if not impossible, and so, I suggested that we write letters and draw pictures for prisoners. I have done a little work with a group that does just that, and so, I contacted them to get involved (they were thrilled by the idea and we’re working out details soon).

The group also expressed interest in climate justice, youth rights, animal rights and much more (see the journal entry below for the full list). We discussed some other actions and decided to put some work into making social justice an active part of our group. It was also emphasized that that should not mean that we also not have fun (self care as a form of activism is something I have discussed with the group before, mentioning adrienne maree brown’s writing).

And so, we decided as a simple first step towards all of this to go to Sean Casey Animal Rescue to walk dogs (they are a no kill shelter that is always looking for volunteers to help walk the dogs they rescue). We got about half way across Prospect Park on our way there when it began raining. Some of us sat under a tree and talked more, others played soccer in the rain. In the end, we never did make it to Sean Casey but all vowed to go there next week.

Instead, we turned around and went back to the library to play some Werewolves as everyone was worn out from talking about social justice all morning. On the way we stopped in some stores to buy food and be silly in the toy aisles. I also made a dare to see if anyone could fit in one of those newspaper vending stands. Several people came pretty close to being able to do it (see photographic evidence below).

In the end, we played a lot of silly games but also had a great conversation about social justice and what it means to be free while others are oppressed. I talked about how 1.2 million school aged children are oppressed in New York City every day by having their own free choice stripped from them by compulsory schooling. I talked to them about how the sheer fact that we get to be a Flying Squad together and they get to make their own choices every day as young people in and of itself is a form of activism. But we also discussed how that’s not enough and how we have to be helping others to become liberated for our freedom to be anything more than a privilege.