This column is third in a series about ACPA’s L.A.M.P. (Lead. Amplify. Mobilize. Partner.) strategy for discernment about our work as an association. I want to talk about “M”–mobilizing the ACPA community as part of a larger social movement for equity and inclusion for all people.
It is an exciting time to be an ACPA member because we are in a period of significant social upheaval and disruption worldwide—a time that Frederick Douglass called “earnest struggle:”
If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters…Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.
We are social justice educators. Therefore, it is our job to invite students and engage them to learn about injustice.
We use many different methods to facilitate this learning. I am very energized by the early results of ACPA Video On Demand’s series Confronting the Reality of Racism in the Academy. More than 17,000 people visited the series in the first 60 days. In addition to the first recordings at the Saint Louis University campus and Ferguson, the Missouri State Chapter for ACPA has now completed nine segments to continue the work in their community.
Another great opportunity to learn together occurs at our annual convention. There is nothing more compelling than several thousand ACPA members showing up in one place and “thinking out loud together.” I can’t wait to see us all in Montréal. Imagine ACPA in French and English! If you have not watched the Tampa convention series on ACPA Video On Demand (www.videos.myacpa.org), I encourage you to do so. Don’t miss what these extraordinary human beings had to say to us.
In some ways the Tampa Convention was the best of times and the worst of times. I felt pulled in many directions because sometimes our process of working together is messy.
Our Convention Team did a fantastic job of creating a learning environment in which we intentionally “unpacked” current social upheaval about race, gender identity and trans* identified persons, immigration and undocumented status, navigating religious diversity and accessibility. We invited Eboo Patel, Jose Antonio Vargas, Stephanie Hammerman, Laverne Cox (she cancelled on-site and appeared by SKYPE) and Michael Sam to replace Laverne’s on-site speech (he cancelled). We then asked Stephen Quaye and Jamie Washington to replace them both on site and they graciously agreed to do so.
Cancellation by a keynote speaker ten days before Convention is a mountain to overcome. Cancellation by that speaker’s replacement made a volcano out of that mountain. We were stressed and worried about filling the slot and some of our members were equally worried about how we filled it. After vetting a list of trans* identified replacements for Laverne, we ultimately chose Michael Sam.
Some members felt that we did not do the right thing in doing so. They protested at Convention. Some members protested their protest. It is fair to say that the majority of people did not directly engage in either process. We are still working to understand each of these responses and how we should work more skillfully with one another towards the common goal of asserting human dignity and justice.
Most of our challenges bring us to a place of “both/and” rather than “either/or.” Our speaker choices were a “both/and” in that I believe that the worldview the speakers brought to us was stellar. I am grateful to each of them. And, not everyone agreed with our choices. Some felt negatively impacted and we grieve that reality while feeling excited about the extraordinary “push/pull” mobilizing force that was present in the stories of the speakers.
Every day since Tampa I have noticed things that were not visible to me before I heard Jose talk about his experience as an undocumented resident. Every day, I have seen the impact on Muslim members of my local community in ways I have not seen in the past.
I hope we will repeat the good work of inviting people who are leading social and cultural change through different means than associations.
Not long after Tampa, we published an objection to the passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in Indiana. We launched a Move On petition that more than 1800 people signed. Some people felt we were “too radical” in our approach and did not agree with the Association taking the position that we did. Some people thought we should have boycotted Indiana and we did not.
As I work through each opportunity to talk to members about various actions we take as an Association, I am reminded of Peter Dreier’s question to his students:
What happens when people within the same social movement disagree over strategy, tactics, or goals? When are such differences useful and when do they undermine a movement’s effectiveness? Every movement faces this dilemma.
We have to face that dilemma while refusing to go silent or dormant. It is still the work of social justice educators to mobilize people toward common good. My hope is that we choose to agree to disagree when we must, yet always remain in solidarity about the movement toward full equity and inclusion for all human beings. Thank you for your contributions on our campuses and in your communities.