Making Waves: Brown Women Activists

Making Waves: Brown Women Activists


RYAN GRUBBS: Good
morning and welcome. My name is Ryan
Grubbs, class of 2010, and I’m a member of
the Pembroke Associates Council, which is the Pembroke’s
Center’s Alumni Council. The Pembroke Center is
delighted to be sponsoring today’s forum, Making Waves– Brown Women Activists,
in partnership with that Jonathan M Nelson
Center for Entrepreneurship. Before I introduce the moderator
of today’s conversation, I have to share some
information about the sponsors of the forum. The Pembroke Center for
Teaching and Research On Women organizes
programs such as this one to connect alumnae and
alumni and other friends with the center. Founded in 1981, the Pembroke’s
Center’s research and teaching explores social change and
how questions of difference such as gender, race,
class, and religion affect our thinking
in our world. The Pembroke Center
archives preserves the history of Brown
and Rhode Island women and the intellectual history
of feminist scholars. In the spirit of those
archives, our panelists have brought with them some
items from their activism to share with us today. These items are
located in the lobby and will be there after
the program for you to see. To learn more about
Pembroke Center, you can visit
pembrokecenter.org. The Jonathan M Nelson
Center for Entrepreneurship teaches entrepreneurship
as a structured process through programs,
events, and initiatives. Founded in the fall of
2016, the Nelson Center focuses on collaboration,
critical problem solving, and interdisciplinary
approaches to inspire and empower
entrepreneurial thinking, whether through curricular,
co-curricular, or venture support offerings. To learn more about
the Nelson Center and their soon to be dedicated
home at 249 Thayer Street, visit entrepreneurship.brown.edu
and subscribe to the weekly newsletter. In addition, of
the Nelson Center invites you all to join them
at their commencement reception from 4:00 to 6:00 today at the
second floor of [INAUDIBLE].. With that, it is now my
pleasure to introduce the moderator for today’s
panel, Bonnie Honig, who is a Nancy Duke Lewis professor
of Modern Culture and Media and Political Science, and
is the interim director of the Pembroke Center
here at Brown University. Bonnie, thank you for
leading us for what I’m sure will be a fascinating
conversation today. [APPLAUSE] BONNIE HONIG: OK, I’m
going to be brief, because look who’s here. So thank you, Ryan. I want to give, first
of all, a huge shout-out to Martha Hamblett,
who characteristically is sitting in the back
of the room anonymously. But we won’t let her do that. She’s the Pembroke Center
staffer extraordinaire who had the idea for
this panel, and made it a reality, which means
a lot of hard work happened behind the scenes. So please join me in– applauding her. [APPLAUSE] I want to say thank
you also to the Nelson Center for
co-sponsoring, and thanks to the panelists for
being here to talk about Brown Women’s Activism. We have with us
Johanna Fernandez– in the order that they’re
sitting in I’ll say– Nancy Northup, class of ’81
and also a recipient this year of a Brown honorary degree– [APPLAUSE] Yeah. Johann’s class of ’93. I apologize. I forgot that. Jayna Zweiman, class of ’01. and Rinku Sen class of ’88. I’m not going to say any
more than that, because we’ve asked them each to
introduce themselves with a brief presentation
about their work. And we’ll turn to
that right now. JOHANNA FERNANDEZ: OK. So we’ve been asked to
speak for five minutes. And I am the most long-winded
person in the world. But I’ve prepared–
five minutes. This was a very
difficult talk for me to think through or
even conversation, in part because I am now
a woman of a certain age. If you know what I mean, women. And I feel like I’m going
through a transformation in my worldview. And also, I’m a
professor of history, and we don’t talk about
our personal lives. So I was like, how? So this was hard. I grew up listening to stories
of poverty, dictatorship, and US invasion
in Latin America. At age 5, my father was orphaned
in the Dominican Republic. At 18, he paid someone to teach
him to read and write minimally so he could join the Navy. Before long, he was assigned to
man the ship of the US-backed dictator the [SPEAKING SPANISH],,
Léonidas Trujillo. Amidst a popular,
underground uprising– that’s a contradiction in terms. Amidst a popular, underground
uprising under a dictatorship, Trujillo was assassinated
in the early 1960s. But when Dominicans
voted into office their first democratically
elected president, the US military invaded
the island nation. It propped up Trujillo’s
vice president, and a civil war ensued, and
many radicals were killed. In order to diffuse a mounting
revolutionary situation, the United States Embassy
started handing out visas like hotcakes. Like millions of others
who have been driven out of their countries by US
political and economic intervention, in 1968 my
father immigrated to the Bronx where I was later
born and grew up. My father has never been
an organized radical. By which, I mean
someone who seeks to address the root
causes of social problems and is committed to the just
transformation of society. I’m giving that definition,
because that definition was mangled yesterday in an event
sponsored by the Pembroke Center. My father is not a radical,
but he’s always been a radical philosopher of sorts. And this is the kinds of
things that he would say, because, of course, he grew up
in poverty, and was orphaned. How can so few have so
much, and so many so little? I took all of this
to heart as a child. So at 17, when I
was given the option to travel to the USSR or
Spain on a paid school trip, guess where I went? Because my father witnessed
the disappearance of radicals in the Dominican Republic– I need that clicker. Because he witnessed the
disappearance of radicals in the Dominican Republic,
my choices as an adult have a tendency to send him
screaming into the night. So I have long been
involved in the movement to free Mumia
Abu-Jamal, someone who the Fraternal Order of
Police calls a cop killer. He was on death
row for 28 years. He’s a former Black Panther,
one of the most famous prisoners in the world, has written
many books from death row. An international movement
saved his life in the 1990s, and he was not executed. He’s still in prison. Did I say that the cops
call him a cop killer? I believe he’s innocent. And like many other people in
prison in the United States, he was wrongfully convicted. The problem is that
my father is sent screaming into
the night whenever I talked to him about
the kinds of things I do. Or he finds out, because
I try to keep it from him. The thing is that he
keeps on egging me on. When word got out that
Trump had the wealthiest cabinet in history, my
father was like, well, good, can’t we redistribute
that wealth? So at that particular
moment, I’m like, oh, my god. OK, because he was kind of
half kidding and half not. So he pulls me into his office–
the living room in his Bronx home– and he says in Spanish, OK– I’m not going to say it in
Spanish, even though I have it here in Spanish– explain to me what is
going on in this country. You know, immigrants
are being deported, Muslims are being
kept from coming into the country–
what is happening with American
hegemony and capital? he says in Spanish– he doesn’t speak English. And so, I’m like,
I’m a professor, something that my father was
confused about when I said I’m going to be a professor. A doctor? You mean, a medical doctor? No, I’m going to be a historian. But he understood that,
because he appreciates history. So he started asking
questions, and this is what I told
him– in the 1970s, the rate of profit
of American business entered a long-term
period of decline. He asks, why? I say, because of growing
economic competition in the world market. Japan and Germany
had just finished rebuilding their post-war
economies, which were build with the latest technology. Their goods outpriced
American goods, that, as you probably
know, were being produced in old manufacturing
plants built in a different epoch– like
in the late 19th century and the early 20th century. In response to this growing
competition from abroad, American business partnered
with US government to rescue US capital. And this is what we now
know as neoliberalism. What exactly did
they do combined? Through overseas economic
expansion to Latin America, they were able to
rescue American profits. There was also an
enormous amount of financialization of
American Capital, essentially Wall Street speculation. But they also did it through
the draconian wage cuts to the US working class
that we know about now, the elimination of
benefits like health care, and union busting According
to a Harvard economist, in the last 40 years
the US witnessed a mass transfer of wealth
from the bottom of society to the top. In the past, when such a
huge transfer of wealth had happened, it had been
precipitated by a military coup or a revolution. In the United States,
nothing happened. How did the American
ruling class prevent a massive uprising
of the American people? US politicians of both parties
have dangerously manipulated fear and used the
politics of crime to win votes and shift
blame to people of color for the problems of US society. For 40 years, they have quelled
the deep economic anxieties of white Americans by
focusing exclusively on law and order,
welfare reform, anti-immigrant legislation, and
the fight against terrorism. As we all know, these
are all code words for acceptable racism in the
aftermath of the civil rights movement. So for 40 years,
what we see happening is that amidst worsening
economic conditions today, a small but significant
minority of the white population decided to vote for an outsider. And I’m going to
end in a minute. This right-wing offensive
has been in the making since the 1960s. It began with a
government-led campaign of homicidal repression
against black radicals that criminalized black dissent
and destroyed the US left. The reason why the
African-American struggle– the black freedom struggle– in
this country is so important, is because at
every moment it has stretched the
nation’s conception and definition of democracy. One of the people who was
arrested during this period, because of his activism and his
membership in the Black Panther Party, is Mumia Abu-Jamal. And these are some of
the people I work with. Radicals are
dangerous, because we argue that oppressed
people share more in common with the oppressed
people of the world, with Palestinians, with
the bombed people of Iraq and Afghanistan, and with
white workers, however unreconstructed,
than with politicians who look like us, or even you. And that, as Martin Luther King
said at the end of his life, “an edifice that produces
beggars needs restructuring.” I have tried to live a life
of courage like my father, and I have tried to
fight for the highest aspirations of society. Thank you. [APPLAUSE] NANCY NORTHUP: Good morning. It is so good to be here. And I want to thank the Pembroke
Center for always making sure that gender and justice stay
on the commencement weekend schedule by sponsoring
these commencement forums. So thank you to the
Pembroke Center. [APPLAUSE] So we were asked to talk
about ourselves a little bit, and why we became
activists, and if Brown had anything to do with it. And I’m a lawyer, and we also
don’t talk about ourselves. So I too found this
difficult to do. But I will give it a shot. So I would say Brown
had a lot to do with my becoming an activist. In fact, it had everything to
do with my becoming an activist. Because it was at Brown
that I became an activist. Now, I came here with my
values, and they were just mobilized when I got here. And my values, which came
from my religious beliefs– I was raised and still am
a Unitarian Universalist. And I grew up
around the country, and everywhere we lived
that was our one center. Always a new place– Texas, California, born in
Indiana, Western New York. But the Unitarian
Universalist Church taught me to respect
the inherent worth and dignity of every person. And the struggles that were
going on when I was growing up– the struggles
for racial justice, the struggles for
women’s justice– were ones that were
really important to me. But in high school I was a
cheerleader, and studying, and doing that kind of thing. But I got to the Brown
campus, and the issue that was really
gripping campus then was the issue about Brown’s
investment in companies that did business in South Africa. And the South African
solidarity committee– I think I joined, I don’t
know, my first week, maybe freshman week. And that became the central
point for my thinking about, how am I going to become
active on my values? And by mid-year, we were talking
about taking over University Hall, which we did. And the next thing
we knew, my picture was on the cover of
the Providence Journal with my other sit-ins
in University Hall. And that was the
beginning of activating my fundamental values. And I went on to do it a
lot with women’s issues. When I was at Brown,
I was lobbying down at the state house. And after college, I
worked for awhile– everybody has to
have a first job. But then I left it after
about 18 months– it was the ERA Countdown campaign. And I wanted to really
be part of that, so I volunteered to do work
on the ERA Countdown campaign with the National
Organization for Women, and also studied acting,
and did all those other fun things that you do when
you’re in your 20s. And that began what
was then 30 years plus of activism, which is
still part of my life today as the head of the Center
for Reproductive Rights. But the thing I also want
to know, the question they also asked us, was it
somehow inevitable that this would happen to us,
to become activists? And for me, the
answer, part of it was, yes, which is what I just
said, which is the values that have been central to my life. But part of it was really, no. And the no part is
about my personality and just who I am
as a human being. I am a fundamentally shy person. I was so painfully
shy as a child that I wouldn’t speak
to my grandmother for the first several days
when she would come to visit. And in even in college,
it was a panic to me to think about answering
a question in class. So forget about just
being called on, but if the professor
put something out there, and I thought, you
know, I think I have something to
say about that, the whole kind of physical
thing would start, with panic gripping me. And nine times out of 10
I didn’t put up my hand. So I’m conflict averse, which
is kind of a weird thing to be if you’re an activist. I don’t really
like making people uncomfortable on airplanes
when they ask me what do I do. [LAUGHTER] And I think I just push past it. Even public speaking– I don’t
really like public speaking, even today. Like, even today. [LAUGHTER] But what I have tried
to do– a wise person once said to me, whether
it’s about having a hard discussion
with a family member, or whether it’s speaking
up for your values, if you wait to get comfortable
you will never be comfortable, and you won’t do it. So I say those things
to give encouragement to the other shy,
conflict-averse, really preferring harmony
over disharmony people in the audience,
who nevertheless have good, core values
they want to stand up for. That, it’s OK, you just take the
first step, and you just do it, and someday you’ll be here
talking in front of audience about being an activist. So with that, I want to
close with a 60-second video that we have from the Center
for Reproductive Rights, which explains the why of the
work that I do today, and a little bit about
the how that we do it. So with that, we’re
going to the videotape. [VIDEO PLAYBACK] [MUSIC PLAYING] – There are certain things we
expect to be able to decide– to have children or not,
whether or when to get married, to decide for
ourselves how we take care of our bodies and our lives. These are fundamental human
rights regardless of gender. Across the globe, we write them
into our laws as a guarantee. Yet women are routinely seen
and treated as less than equal, barred from participating
fully in their own lives, denied these fundamental rights. So case by case we
fight in courtrooms. Ally, by ally we build a
powerful network of advocates. Day-by-day, around the world
we stand up for these rights. And we will continue to fight
until every woman has autonomy over her life, her
body, and herself. NANCY NORTHUP: Thank you. [APPLAUSE] RINKU SEN: So if I
stand behind the podium you won’t be able to see me. And so, is it OK just
to use the handheld mic and stand over here? SPEAKER 1: Yeah. RINKU SEN: OK, great. I have a few notes. Hi, everybody. I’m Rinku. So excited to be here. Pembroke was the campus I lived
on when I first got to Brown, so anything with Pembroke
reminds me of my first year. For me, becoming an activist
was not at all inevitable. My family came to
the States when I was five and half in 1972,
and we lived in a white factory towns until I came to college. And so, I was essentially
surrounded by white people my whole growing up. And racial things would
happen, but there was no one to help me interpret them,
or understand them, or deal with them, so I put them way
over here so that I could you know get through life,
get through high school, graduate, and get to Brown. So I was so detached
from any sense of myself as a person of color growing
up or trying to detach, that I skipped the third
world transition program. I did not come. And I skipped it. So I was super lucky– I’m having something
weird happening– because I made two great friends
my first year in college– Valerie and Yuko. Valerie is right there. And in our sophomore
year, which was 1984, September, there was racial
violence incident on campus, and a whole campaign started. So there were rallies, and
meetings, and things happening. But I, of course, was
skipping them all, because I had decided at
the age of like six and half that that had nothing
to do with me. So we were in Val’s room
one night, and talking. And there was going to
be a rally the next day, and Val and Yuko said to me
that I should go to the rally. And I said, oh, why
would I go to the rally? That’s not for me. And they did an
intervention on me. And they said, Rinku– [LAUGHTER] Rinku, you’re not a minority,
you’re a person of color. It was first time I’d
ever heard there was some alternative to minority. And they said, and
you’re a woman now, you’re not a girl anymore. Which makes you think I was
about to lose my virginity, but that did not happen. [LAUGHTER] So instead, what did happen
was, I went to the rally. So it was a definite
“grow up message”. It’s time to grow up, take
the blinders off, deal, and kind of “be who
you are” message. And so I went to the rally,
and it was slightly straggly, the chants were not that great. I personally think
30 years of hip-hop has had a very positive
effect on protest chants. [LAUGHTER] Sorry ’68ers. But, you know– [LAUGHTER] So I went to the rally, and
it’s a little bit straggly, there’s 15 people
wandering, going in a circle around the quad. And yet, and yet, at
that rally, I thought– I didn’t even think it, I
felt, these are my people. Oh, there’s a way to
be an American that isn’t about trying to be
Marcia Brady or at least Jan. [LAUGHTER] And these are people
who are being Americans by investing in their
community, by getting with all the other
people around them and working to
make that community the most effective,
most inclusive community that it could be. So I left college. I organized all throughout
my college time. I organized in the
National Student movement. I left college and became
a community organizer, worked for 12, 14
years on racial justice and economic justice
campaigns around the country. And eventually, I went
to journalism school and added a set of
storytelling skills to my political, and strategy,
and organizing skills. And I want to tell you one story
about why those skills have turned out to be important. In 2011, the
organization I worked for at the time,
Race Forward, broke a story about what happens
to the children of deportees. And in 2011, we were
the first people to actually come up with
data of how many kids are in foster care, stuck there,
only because their parents have been deported, not because
of neglect or ongoing abuse. And that report, in 2011,
changed an immigration policy debate from being entirely
about law and order– you know, you break the law,
you deserve what you get, nothing else matters, there’s
a border, there’s police– nothing else matters other
than that you broke the law. And what we wanted to
say was, actually, there are reasons people
break certain laws. They often have a lot to do
with preserving their families and being with their
families– preserving the unity of their families
and health of their families. And the Shattered Families
report that we did– this is the shape
of the report– it starts with a story. It then has a number– the number we came up
with– which was 5,000 kids. Then it has a story,
story, story, story. Then it has the
same number again. Story, story, story,
story, same number again. I’m standing here at an Ivy
League campus having learned to do research and being
devoted to producing data most of my life, but
one important thing I have learned in my actual
experience of making change is that you have to
step away from that data if you’re trying
to reframe a debate or change people’s minds. Throwing a bunch of
facts and figures at them is not going to
get that job done. So if you are, in
your activism, trying to figure out the
next thing to do, my recommendation is that you
get your story file together and you get your most
compelling stories into a one-minute,
two-minute, 10-minute form, and really use them to engage
people who don’t already think like you. Who don’t already believe
that there is something more to immigration policy than a
border, and a law, and a wall. Who don’t already
think that choice needs to be
protected– you know, birth control needs
to be protected, that social change isn’t
just a linear thing, that you have to keep
re-fighting for things. So for those people
you will really want to have your stories. Couple of last requests. Now, I mostly write and
blog at rinkusen.com. Please come and check it out. And at rinkusen.com, my
colleague Megan Izen and I have been on a mission
to get white people to stop calling the police on
people of color over bullshit. [APPLAUSE] There’s a great
little meme there, should I call the cops,
that you can spread around, hang it in your workplace,
give it to your neighbors. I don’t know. Whatever might work. And the last thing
I will ask you to do is support local
organizing, because nothing happens without actual human
beings going to the rally. And that work is the
hardest work locally to generate support
for, because, obviously, local philanthropists are not
that excited about funding things that are going to
challenge the powers that be and the status quo. So your local
organizations, wherever you live, they need your
money, they need your time, they need your support. And so, tell stories,
support local organizing, tell your folks to stop calling
the police over nothing, and thank you so much. [APPLAUSE] JAYNA ZWEIMAN: Hey. My name is Jayna Zweiman. I am class of 2001. And in terms of
this building, this is where I spent most
of my time at Brown. So I was a Visual Arts
and Economics major. I also did my pre-med, because
I’m a typical Brown student. [LAUGHTER] And in terms of activism, a lot
of the things I was doing here was really creating things. So the projects that I
make make a lot of sense. But I wasn’t going– I wouldn’t have called myself
an activist at that time. The other thing I did Brown,
which might still exist, was I was a resident councilor. And I was head of
resident counselor– I was a coordinator as well. So a lot of that was learning
about different people, understanding different things,
especially when you didn’t understand what it
was– so learning how to listen to what you
might not actually recognize. So this is a project that
you probably know about. This is Pussyhat project. And I brought a prop. There are more
out there as well. And it really formed from,
I wasn’t able to march, because I was recovering
from an accident. And I teamed up with someone
who was going to the march. I really like your pussyhat. Awesome. [LAUGHTER] And as part of recovery, I
was learning how to crochet. So after the election, we
were totally devastated, weren’t sure what to do. After Brown I was a
management consultant, then I ended up going to
Harvard for graduate school for architecture. But make sense as
part of who I am. And I came out to
Los Angeles, and it’s working at a startup that
was kind of like Pokemon Go 10 years before
Pokemon Go, and sort of taking things from there. So a lot of this all comes
from this idea of a design background and working
with people and community on kind of a smaller scale. So here’s a little bit
more of a close-up. I love that each–
so we had two goals. One was to create
this huge sea of pink. And the idea was so that
you could be better seen, you could be better heard. And so, if you could see
the sea of pink pixels, you’d see all these
different individuals being able to be represented. And then, anyone
could participate. So whether or not you were
marching, you could make a hat, send it to someone else with a
note about what women’s rights issue is important to you–
because we know there’s so many women’s rights issues
that are important– and it gave you a chance to
have a voice, have a connection. And then someone would wear
your hat in solidarity. So when I see these, I don’t
see just a couple of people wearing it, I see double. So it spread. [LAUGHTER] This is Swiss parliament on
International Women’s Day a couple months later. [APPLAUSE] Yeah, this was so awesome. And I kind of love the
green one in the foreground. So this is also that
idea of the sea of pink, of people coming together. So from above, in this drone
view, but also the individuals. There was this family
in Reston, Virginia– we have this whole
distribution pattern, and we knew we couldn’t get
a million hats to the march. It was just a small group
of people in Los Angeles. So as a last resort,
you could send it to this phenomenal family who
transformed their basement into this collection station. And the whole town got together. So this is them. This is my local knit store. People are coming in
for the first time. There are regulars. People came in to get hats. And this is one of the
examples of the notes. So as you read it– it
was a little bit longer. Some people would
write a ton of stuff. Some people would just kind
of send something along. But it was really just
so beautiful to learn. And from that house in Reston,
Virginia, one of the mothers told me that she had
this neighbor who just comes to help, because
that’s what neighbors do. She was pretty sure that
she had supported Trump, but she came to help out. And she’d go through these
notes, because they’d arriving, and so many of them would
say, Planned Parenthood saved my life. Planned Parenthood
saved my life. Thank goodness for this. Thank you so much. And this woman started to cry. It was like, I get it. I get what this is about. So this is an example of one
woman and all of her hats. So all of them– it’s just a rectangle
folded on its side, and when you put on your head
the little ears peak out. So each one is almost
like a thumbprint. So that’s Pussyhat project. And then, this is
my current project, called Welcome Blanket. So Welcome Blanket
takes the distance of the border wall,
almost 2000 miles, and reimagines it as a length
of inclusion versus exclusion. So it’s 2000 miles of Warm
Welcome for new immigrants and refugees coming
to the United States. So the idea is that a maker
or makers makes a blanket. And it also includes a note
about an important story to them about immigration,
migration, or relocation, and some words of advice. So here’s an example. The main design guideline was
that you could make it in a way that you wanted to receive it. So we had thus
16-square pattern. You could make it in any
color, or you could really just do whatever you want. And so this is another
example of a note. And it’s been
absolutely incredible. They were shown together
at the Smart Museum at University of Chicago. And we’re about to start
next week at MODA Atlanta. So you can still participate,
so get making on some blankets. And then this is a Smart Museum. So these are volunteers
who are coming in to catalog all the notes. You can see all the blankets. We’re working on putting
all the notes together in a really good, readable form. On welcomeblanket.org or
there’s a gallery space, and we collected over 3,500. So we reached our goal
the first time around. And here is what our catalog. And we started with
an empty gallery and just started stacking. So it was this incredible
space we just felt love. Incredible. People kept sending them in. So this was closing day,
and there were still all these boxes to go through. And here’s part of it. And I really like the stuffed
animal in the back corner. And there we go. Thank you. [APPLAUSE] BONNIE HONIG: So–
yeah, it’s working. So thank you all so much. We don’t have a long time
for discussion and questions, because your stories
were so great. I want to share one story
with you by way of transition to the discussion. Let’s see if I can just
keep my notes together here. What I was really struck by
that all four of our speakers shared, is how each of the
four view of our storytellers– a historian, obviously,
with the great story. Rinku, who actually
staged storytelling as one of the
contributions of activism. And then, of course, Nancy’s
film which put together a bunch of stories at the
end that were so moving, I was tearing up. But I’m an easy target. And then Jayna,
what you reminded me of that brings all
of these together, is how ancient is the
practice of women’s weaving, and looming, and sewing as
a practice of storytelling. And the example that I thought
of is from the ancient Greek myth of Procne, which
you probably don’t know– it’s one of the
more obscure ones– in which Procne’s sister is
raped by Procne’s husband, who then also cuts out
the sister’s tongue so that she can’t tell
anyone about the rape. This is a kind of
ancient version of a nondisclosure agreement. And then Procne comes
to live with her sister in the house of the
husband who raped her, and the sisters live
together, and Procne’s sister finds a way. And she looms the story
of her rape into a fabric, and in that way shares
her story with her sister. And then the two sisters
team up and exact justice for his crime. I’ll let you look up the myth
to find out all the details, partly because
they’re quite gory. But I feel like what
you’ve all put on the table for us is the importance and the
power of storytelling to, what we would say political
theory, repartition a world. To make you just
pull back a curtain and see things differently,
or to feel empowered. So I just really want to thank
you all for your presentations. I would like to ask
you just one question to get us started, which is,
I’m sure there are people here, partly because not only
are they interested in you, but because they’re interested
in being more active or in focusing their
activism in certain ways, maybe new as a result
of the last few years of political developments
in the US and in the world. So I wanted to ask all of
you if you have any advice to give people
who are graduating or who graduated years ago that
are now interested in becoming more politically active? Are there any specific
challenges that you think are particularly important
to focus on right now? Because I think sometimes
people are not active, because they can’t
even imagine where to start because there
are so many injustices crying out for attention. So where do you think activist
energies would be best focused? And also, I’m just going
to throw this in there, do you think the political
parties offer a way forward? And if yes, how? And if not, what else does? So any of you who
wants to jump in. [LAUGHTER] RINKU SEN: My God, you started
with this nice, soft bit. BONNIE HONIG: That should
just take a few minutes. RINKU SEN: Now you want us
to talk about third parties. I can go first on
the first thing. I want I think a little
bit about the parties. You know what? The thing about organizing and
the activism that I appreciate, is that there are endless
issues to work on, and there are
endless things to do. So I don’t tend
to say, oh, today we all have to work
on climate justice, although that would be good. I think that as an individual
person trying to find a way in, work on the issue
that you have passion about– that affects
you directly, that is important
to your family. It doesn’t matter
what that issue is to be honest, in my view. And then, to find your
actual form of activism, you want to do the
things you’re good at and the things you
know how to do. It’s not to say you can’t
learn how to do something new, but whatever you do,
whatever you know how to do– you’re an account, you love
numbers, you’re a fast typist, you speak six languages– whatever you have–
you’re a great cook– an organization or a
movement working on an issue that you have passion
about needs that thing. Whatever you have to offer. And for it to be sustainable,
the things you do have to be things
that you enjoy doing. So if you enjoy getting
arrested, do a lot of that. [LAUGHTER] If you don’t, don’t. It’s not necessary. There are plenty of other things
to do, like bail somebody out who’s been arrested,
or be the lawyer. So an issue that is
important to you, that is an important
issue, whatever it is. And work that you can
contribute that you’re good, that pleases you,
and that doesn’t require the organization to
redo whatever you just did– like, learning is OK,
but don’t make people redo the thing you did wrong. If you’re learning, get
adequate instruction. But there’s a lot to do, and
you could all start tomorrow. BONNIE HONIG: Anybody
else want to take a shot? NANCY NORTHUP: I
will take a shot. Building on that– I’ll come
back to that at the end. The question about
political parties– I mean, first of all,
I’m sitting here, my husband, Jim
Johnson, is with me, and he ran for
governor in New Jersey last year in the
Democratic primary, so I certainly am
not going to say that working within
the political system is not something that
people should do. I think, related to
what you just said, if you are someone who is
willing to step forward that way it’s
important to do that, because if we don’t have
good people who are running for office, then we
will have other people running for office. But I think to do it with
a sense of understanding that political parties are not
like moral agents in the world. And they do organize
around sets of platforms, but they essentially exist,
whether in the United States or anywhere, to get power. And they are people
who come together for whatever reasons around
things to have power. And power is important,
because someone is going to make those
decisions for society. So I think it’s just important
that people not mistake that a party
necessarily is going to have the same sort of moral
core that activists will have, and so to keep that straight. And I just want to
say, I always like to carry with me–
both my husband I do– this quote from
the theologian Howard Thurman, which goes to
your point, which is that, “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you
come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs
is people who have come alive.” JAYNA ZWEIMAN:
That’s really good. [LAUGHTER] And I would also add
that a lot of people that I’ve talked to have
been very overwhelmed. And I spend a lot of
time in knit stores, and a lot of people come
there to kind of do something that they love,
or learn something new sort of within the context
of, failing a couple of times is totally cool with a hat. And so I think also
remembering that there are a lot of different
kinds of personalities, and there’s not one
way to be an activist. So being an activist you
can be a complete introvert, and that’s fine. There’s space for everyone. And it takes all
different types of people. And one person came up to
me who had done a lot of– he was not yet an
American citizen, but he wanted to do
a lot of canvassing. So he didn’t feel comfortable
going door to door, so instead he cooked for
like 10 people every night. So when they came back, they
had all been canvassing, and they came home to
this nourishing meal that allowed them to go back again. And it’s so easy to
just think that you have to be the one
at the protest, or you have to be the
one writing the letters, or you have to do this or that. But really, it’s, as Rinku said,
finding the thing that you love or the thing that makes you
come alive, and give that. I’ll also give you a lot more
energy to keep going too. BONNIE HONIG: Johanna. JOHANNA FERNANDEZ:
I was thinking here that when Trump
was elected, there was a sense in the country
that what we do matters. And I don’t know that that
urgency has persisted. I think that part of
what the country needs is not a conversation
with activists, but I think that as people
who live in the United States and as citizens of the world
need to redefine democracy. What does it mean to
be part of a community? What does it mean to be
part of a city, a country, and the world? And are we going to let
things happen to us, or are we going to happen to
what’s going on in front of us? History suggests that all
activism, all movements, are local. And if you think of movements,
and activism, and organizing as local, then that
changes the sense that some people are activists
and some people are just, what? BONNIE HONIG: Hangers on. JOHANNA FERNANDEZ: Hangers on. I agree that we should
do what moves us, but you can do what moves you
if you are afforded the luxury to do what moves you. There are some people who
are fighting for their lives because they don’t
have another choice. So my advice to everybody,
whether you consider yourself an activist or
not, is to consider what democracy means to you and
whether it’s important enough for you to defend free
speech, et cetera. When we talk about activism
and what you should do, I think that the question of
what do you want to achieve is critical. I think it’s important to shift
consciousness ideologically through stories. In fact, one of the books I
brought for you to look at is story-based strategy how
to win campaigns and change the world. So I kind of feel
that we need to build a culture of resistance in this
country that’s going to shift consciousness and ideology. And that can come in all
kinds of different forms– writing, et cetera. But if you want to produce
change in a definitive way, we have to build
social movements, and social movements are
built by organizations. It doesn’t happen without it. This gathering here,
which is not a movement, took a lot of work. [LAUGHTER] So in the United States, because
of the history of McCarthyism, the notion that you should
join an organization is anathema to your
identity as an American. But if you look at any change,
from the American Revolution, to the Civil Rights Movement,
to the movement of the 1930s– the labor– there would not have
been a Martin Luther King without the Southern
Christian Leadership Conference. There would not have
been a Malcolm X without the Nation of Islam. The Student Nonviolent
Coordinating Committee was critical to the
anti-war movement because there were
organizations. So organization, and
discipline, and commitment is critical to change, because
change happen through struggle. I mean, history, think about– and I’m going to
end in a minute– Black Lives Matter. Black Lives Matter– the
issue of police violence has been longstanding
in this country. The most depressing
struggle in the world. People took to the
streets, rioted, and now everybody is
talking about the cops. Social movements change society
and change consciousness. We need to join organizations. And we need to be committed
to change in organization, because struggle is hard. And you need a community
of like-minded people who share your values and
your vision of a new world to sustain you. [APPLAUSE] BONNIE HONIG: So,
incredibly, time flies, and it’s five to 12:00. We can go a couple
of minutes over time, but before I ask any more
questions, I want to make sure, do people have questions
in the audience that you would like to pose now? We can collect a couple
and then give everyone a couple of minutes
for a closing response. If there are such people, there
are microphones in the aisle, and I’m waiting to
see you approach them. I’m giving you about
10 more seconds. [LAUGHTER] And there’s our first one. AUDIENCE: Hi. Thank you so much for
coming back and gracing us with your wisdom and presence. What I wanted to ask is, sort
of, how you all have seen– I mean, some of you, during your
talks, have alluded to this, but how you’ve seen your
activism change over the years. And how that’s manifested any
other thoughts and reflections on it. I mean, where you
see yourselves, I guess, moving forward? BONNIE HONIG: Can I
just say that that’s a great final question. It is. Thank you so much. And IT partly really does
have to do with something else that we were going
to talk about, which is just whether
you’ve encountered any things during your work that
made you shift course at all or that you learn from in terms
of a criticism or something that you encountered. And most importantly,
where are you going to be tomorrow,
or the day after? Are you continuing
with what you’re doing right now, which
is a great place to be, or do you have plans
to shift in the future? So I hope I didn’t betray,
but just recapitulated your question. And I invite each of you to
give us a response, please. And then we’ll probably
end up closing. So final words. JOHANNA FERNANDEZ: You
want me to go first? BONNIE HONIG: Sure. JOHANNA FERNANDEZ: OK, I
didn’t mention Students for Aid and Minority Admission, a
massive student movement here at Brown. 1,000 students took over
at University Hall in 1992. And I was one of the leading
members of that movement. And that was a movement
for need-blind admission. Prior to recently, Brown’s
policy was need-aware. And by the way, I
found an artifact from that period, this
little flyer that we created, that says, you’re invited
but you can’t pay. So I started as an activist. And I don’t know what I
think about that term. I’d rather be an organizer,
because organizers are consistent. But my life is not conducive
to being an organizer. I’m part of an organization,
and I work on campaigns. But I think that what
changed from Brown to being in the world was
organization and consistency. So for me, this is what I do. This is a way of life. I am involved every week in
some kind of event strategy with the same organization. We’re working toward a goal. The more I live, the more I
feel that we need revolution in this country
and in the world. I’ll just end by saying that
the reason why I started talking about my father was
because my father had a near-death experience
in the last six months because of the poverty of
health care in the United States in the Bronx. And that very reality that
he lives in the Bronx, but I just talked to a friend
of mine with whom I studied at Columbia where I got
my PhD, who’s father– she’s a money person– went into the hospital and died
because of the US health care system. So we are living in a world
and in a society that cares nothing about human beings. We’re living in a moment when
environmental devastation is before us and war seems
to be around the corner. And we’re sitting in the
lap of luxury here, today, but the world is in
crisis, and capitalism is in pursuit of profits and
exploitation by hook or crook. And it’s going to use
racism, homophobia, sexism, and kinds of divisions
to keep people from seeing and understanding
their common humanity. So the more I live, the
more I am a revolutionary. [APPLAUSE] BONNIE HONIG: So
thank you each of you. If you want, anyone who
wants to say anything final to start to close out. Then I’ll say a
final, final thing. JAYNA ZWEIMAN: Sure, and
just a quick rephrase of what the question was. BONNIE HONIG: Are you today
who you were yesterday, and who would you
like to be tomorrow– in your activism work. JAYNA ZWEIMAN: I think,
in terms of my work, I’ve had the full kind
of journey through Brown, post-Brown, in terms of
different industries I’ve worked in and all of that. But it all comes together in
that, I’m really a designer. And from management consulting
I know how to organize things. I’m an architect. I know how to design stuff– I’m an artist. And so, a lot of my work– and
I think it will continue to be– is part of my practice. So the projects I showed,
those are architecture. And I continue to think about
that in a really broad sense. And to me, architecture is
about creating spaces for people to truly be together, and to
truly grow, and to truly meet. So I see that continuing
in the future. And then, Welcome Blanket– it’s a big pitch– continuing to try to create an
American tradition where people are welcoming each
other and welcoming the new people who come here. Because I think it is very much
about who we are as a people, and creating those
types of spaces, and creating those
types of symbols to really show
that type of care. BONNIE HONIG: OK. Thank you. I can offer you just a couple of
minutes each if you don’t mind. NANCY NORTHUP: So I would
say, what has changed– I’m not taking over
University Hall anymore. I am an attorney. I do run a global
nonprofit– an organization– through which I am
now 15 years there. And I agree with
what’s been said about the need for organizations
for sustainability, for being able to
move things forward. One of the things that we’ve
been doing powerful network of lawyers around the
world who work with us. And we now have 500 attorneys
from 37 different countries working on 150 matters for the
Center for Reproductive Rights. And that’s the kind of
thing that you can’t just do overnight. It takes time. And they are making
change in their countries and with their work. And I would say,
the other thing, because I have been out
of Brown for a while, I’m now a person that I do
have access to levers of power, and I understand that. And I use that. And I think one of the
things that’s important, and I say to my
staff, is we work on behalf of people who
are disenfranchises, who are marginalized, but you
can’t marginalize yourself. If you are a person that has
power and access to power, you need to use that
to advance things. So that’s a big– from the only power I have is
to put my body into University Hall to I have access that
I can use, is a big change. BONNIE HONIG: Thank you. RINKU SEN: For me, I
think what has changed the most is that my movie– the movie in my head about
how social change happens and what happens
after it happens– is much more complicated now
than it was when I was 18. And I understand now,
through experience, that no victory is permanent. Neither is any loss, though. So victories and losses
are not permanent. If you win, you can’t
like decide it’s over now, and we can just
sit and enjoy life. Although that would be nice. And if you lose, that
doesn’t necessarily mean that you won’t get a chance
or that you can’t open up, you can’t create, an opportunity
to try again, to fight again. And that time, you might win. We ran Drop the I-Word,
which is a campaign to get the Associated Press
to take illegal immigrant out of their style guide. And people had tried in the
80s, and couldn’t do it– weren’t able to do it. But enough things had changed
by 2010 when we did it, and we read the moment
appropriately to try again. So it’s a very squiggly
kind of process. It’s not a straight
line going up. And given that, what
has happened for me is that I’ve really focused
less on winning and more on the process. And what I consider myself
to be in the process of, is I take it from the
epitaph of a woman named Carmen England, a
Caribbean communist who was buried in Highgate
Cemetery near Karl Marx. And her epitaph says,
“She caused her people to realize their beauty.” As in, to see their
own beauty, but also to create their beauty,
to realize, as in create. And that’s what I
consider myself now to be doing, causing my
people, which includes myself, to realize our beauty, much
more than winning or losing on any particular issue. BONNIE HONIG: That’s beautiful. [APPLAUSE] Thank you. That was lovely. All of you– thank you so much. I would like to note in
closing this all-woman panel for Pembroke, that sister
sideways spells resist. Really, it’s an anagram– same letters, different order. So with that, I would
like also to thank again, Martha Hamblett for organizing,
and Faith Baum for staffing this event. And please join me in thanking
our panelists for their vision, their dedication, and hard
work to make our world a better place. [APPLAUSE]

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