On Thursday at noon Neena Pathak and I gave a workshop / presentation at Brandeis University in Waltham.
The title was “Zapatismo and the Anatomy of Solidarity”
And the stated description was:
Ever wanted to do activism abroad? Fascinated by transnational social movements? Thought about power and privilege and how that plays into folks from the Global North doing work in the Global South? How do we navigate our privilege and travel in an ethical and reciprocal way? What is Zapatismo? Come join Neena Pathak ( ’08 ) and Josh Russell ( ’06 ) in a participatory workshop about the challenges and complications with doing “solidarity work” abroad, that draws on these two Jane’s and Karpf Grant awardees’ experiences with the Zapatistas and other indigenous rights groups in Chiapas, Mexico. We will use Theater of the Oppressed tools and other games, so come ready to move around!
About 20 students showed up. The games and involvement were interesting and I was really impressed with the depth to which folks wanted to engage these issues. Given the way Zapatismo and that movement is romanticized and idealized by people up North, people had a really grounded and serious approach. The issue of folks who have the privilege to travel abroad often go with the pretense of activism and “helping,” cuts through so many lines and legacies of imperialism, colonialism, racism, etc etc. Its only going to increase as neoliberal globalization pushes forward; more universities are going to find ways to give students grants, stipends, and fellowships to go abroad in the Global South, and unless we develop models to make that process look a lot more like solidarity and a lot less like charity, students will probably keep perpetuating the process of unconsciously taking a lot more than they give.
A lot of what we talked about were our own struggles in confronting these issues within ourselves; we certainly had our share of hypocrisy and embodying our own critique. A lot of these issues seem to be simply irreconcilable to some degree. We drafted a pseudo-coherent document of what we learned in our research called “The Anatomy of Solidarity” that shares some ideas, but not answers. I wish we were on top of our shit enough to have answers! (I don’t actually think there are hard and quick “answers” to these things). It may get published as a workshop manual later in the Summer.
For folks interested in this kinda stuff, my friend Bruin is putting together an anthology that deals with the contradictions and problems with being someone from the North going to the South. It’s called Less Than Settled, and feel free to email me if you’d like to contribute a chapter.
p.s. – a great scam: Dominoes Pizza has this giveaway where if you are a reporter they will deliver free pizzas. As long as the place you need them delivered is not a residence (i.e. an office or a school) you can just call up and say you are a reporter from anywhere and get free pizzas. We scored 4 free larges with toppings! Hott.