Ø Threads is a multi-racial, intergenerational leadership and organizing school. We began our second session in March 2010 with a focus on economic justice. Through workshops and field visits participants learn from each other: economic human rights organizers in Louisville gleaned lessons and strategies from immigrant rights organizers in western North Carolina; the youngest participant from New Orleans talked about the catastrophic BP Gulf Coast Deepwater Horizon oil spill which resonated with organizers from southwest Virginia as they fight against coal companies to end mountain top removal; and all participants shared devastating and hopeful experiences of working and organizing in these economic times by learning how they might influence policies and create alternative economies.
Ø Seeds of Fire (SOF), Highlander’s program for youth organizing and leadership development celebrated its 11th year this year with 40 youth and adult ally participants. This year SOF concentrated on land, food, wealth, migration, education and juvenile justice systems within the context of an economic justice analysis. In a 2-day site visit to eastern Kentucky, rural and urban youth learned about environmental destruction and economic devastation that occurs because of mountain top removal. On a misty July morning, youth related to what was happening in KY to other communities across the South where the criminalization of youth is on the rise and access to quality education remains minimal. Youth and adults also participated in Theatre of Liberation workshops and grassroots fundraising trainings.
Ø Highlander conducted a We Shall Overcome cultural organizing workshop during Labor Day weekend with over 50 cultural organizers and their family members, sharing best practices and challenges from work at the nexus of art/culture and social change as it manifests in the South and Appalachia. Participating artists and cultural organizers addressed such issues as Gulf Coast restoration, immigration, the economy and the environment.
Ø We have just completed the pilot of a cultural organizing residency project. Named for Highlander’s first cultural organizer, the Zilphia Horton Cultural Organizing Residency Project matched two teams including a cultural organizer and documentary filmmaker with groups in two local communities working on social justice campaigns. The first residency focused on youth from the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition organizing for the Dream Act. This project resulted in immigrant youth planning and implementing a march down the streets of Nashville to the state capitol where the youth delivered a coffin that symbolized the the death of their dreams as full citizens. The second residency worked with the state wide organization Kentuckians for the Commonwealth on their collaborative campaign to restore former felon voting rights. The team created digital stories that documented the barriers to the electoral process and paths to restorative justice. KFTC plans to shown the digital stories to citizens and state legislators during the 2011 session. We will continue to engage in residency projects with new communities and campaigns in 2011.
Ø Highlander has intensified its economic justice work. In October, we collaborated with the Center for Popular Economics to hold a five-day popular economics intensive residential session here at Highlander. Participants learned the roots of the current crisis and explored ways that communities are building a more just and sustainable economy.
Ø In partnership with the Solidarity Economy Network, we have held workshops in the region, including the North American Students for Cooperation conferences as well as the US Social Forum. Goals include mapping the region for current economic alternative models to network them together, and to share new economic strategies with other communities.
OTHER EDUCATIONAL HIGHLIGHTS
Ø We conducted our second Workshop Work Week, where in the morning participants learned about popular education and organizing in workshop sessions, and they spent the afternoon in service to the land of Highlander still in a praxis that continued learning exchanges. Participants spent each evening in cultural exchanges through movement songs, stories and dance. Nearly 50 people have attended Workshop Work Week over the last two years, and follow-up evaluation and documentation have demonstrated particularly how people are using the methodologies of popular education and cultural organizing as useful tools for their local community work and how their understanding of land as both a vital educational and practical resource deepened.
Ø Highlander is an active part of the Central Appalachia Regional Network, and helped organize an Appalachian Summit in August. The Summit focused on creating policy and networking in the areas of Health, Education, Environment and Economic Development. STAY organized a young leader’s track and held a ½ day pre-summit session for policy education and strategy development. Young leaders were strategically placed in working groups and on panels to ensure their needs and voices were heard and integrated into goals and plans. Through a participatory process, summit participants prioritized three policy areas of focus: broadband, green jobs and local control of assets.
Ø In order to meet the challenges before us as an organization and for more effective work in the region, Highlander is engaged in a racial healing/racial justice effort called New R’s of Education: Recall and Remember, Record and Reflect, Repair and Recommend. Most Southern communities have had little opportunity for much needed healing of the experiences deeply rooted in the fight for racial justice. For example, the education system is a current site of racial struggle, and today’s efforts cannot simply use historic victories as inspiration or gloss over ground lost. We have to open up history in order to better understand and address our racial story. Our starting point will be ourselves. The process will include: internal institutional engagement as well as engagement with three local communities co-designed with participants and including participatory research, story circles and other tools that can elicit and communicate “racial stories” to a wider audience; moving these stories out to a broader circle, where communities will begin the reflection and integration needed to tie history to current challenges; and, translating the power of these now collectivized stories into recommendations for institutional change and community transformation.
Ø Over the last year, Highlander has been instrumental in founding a new nation network of white anti-racist activists called Let’s Build a U.S. for All of Us: No Room for Racism. The network was initially developed to advance white people’s response to escalating racism used to undermine efforts for progressive change. With the distinct purpose of reaching new people through this effort, the network developed a collective call to action and commitment statement, established a website and signature campaign, conducts two learning and information sharing calls a month, conducted multiple activities at the US Social Forum including a workshop and reception, and has supported on-the-ground work against AZ SB 1070.
Wild and Wacky, Witty and Wonderful Workshop Work Week – Take 3
May 31 – June 4, 2011
Come to the mountains of east Tennessee and spend one of the best starts to your summer with Highlander staff and people from around the country.
Cost: Sliding scale $350-500. Some partial scholarships available. Register at 865-933-3443.