Welcome new oral history & social justice participants…

The challenge of starting a new project is that it takes a while to get the word out; the happy news is that as people find out what is happening, participation grows. In the last couple of weeks several new people have joined the Listen for a change: oral history & social justice workshop. Welcome three new participants from ADAPT: Travis Hoelscher, Eric Clow, and Heiwa Salowitz; as well as Cynthia Waide of Austin Tan Cerca de la Frontera, Shannon Elizondo, journalist Lindsay Patterson, and Sandy Graham of the Texas Center for Disability Studies.

The challenging news is that my carefully designed syllabus is no longer evident (we recap what we’ve been doing each week, as though we’d planned a “drop in anytime” series); the happy news is that each week we’re invigorated with new energy and ideas. And who ever believed that learning was a linear process, anyway?

It’s so interesting to see the (unplanned) overlap and commonalities in interests. Heiwa has worked in prisoner rights issues, while Diana Claitor and Erica Surprenant work to reform Texas county jails. Both Rocío Villalobos and Matthew Gossage are advocates for immigrants incarcerated in the former federal prison in Hutto. Rachel Szemborski, graduate student in the UT School of Social Work, interns this semester with the Texas Civil Rights Project to assist immigrant survivors of domestic violence obtain legal permanent residence (and ultimately U.S. citizenship). Under provisions of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), people who have been abused by U.S.citizen or legal permanent resident spouses or partners, may seek immigration relief independent of the partners or spouses who’ve abused them, threatening that reporting the abuse would result in exposure, separation from children, and deportation. Immigrants, at least those from Mexico and Central America, and their advocates understand the connection between economic devastation in their home countries and immigration for survival. That’s why it makes so much sense for our group to make common cause with Austin Tan Cerca de la Frontera, which works with Mexican women labor activists.

Heiwa explained this week that he’d often felt frustrated that other ostensible social justice activists failed to see the connection between, for instance, prisoners’ rights and those of people with disabilities, many of whom also long for freedom outside of institutions. Even at ADAPT, with all its expertise in disability, we are learning about how to make the workshop more accessible and inclusive by attending to the needs of people with chemical sensitivities (see earlier posts).

The beauty of this workshop series is that as we learn and share skills, we’re also learning about discrete but intimately connected aspects of social justice. Just being in the same big room together (thank you, ADAPT!), we’re breaking down barriers.