Goodbye Theory, Hello Practical Activism

Practical Activism’s 14th year of creating local and global change

1050
A UCSC student listens during one of the speeches. Numerous workshops led by students discussed issues like environmental justice, Islamophobia and mental health. Photo by Stephen de Ropp
A UCSC student listens during one of the speeches. Numerous workshops led by students discussed issues like environmental justice, Islamophobia and mental health. Photo by Stephen de Ropp.

The 14th annual Practical Activism Conference inspired people to change the world. Around 400 people gathered on Oct. 22 at UC Santa Cruz to hear Eddy Zheng speak about his experiences with the prison industrial system. Along with student-led workshops and tabling, Terisa Siagatonu preformed spoken word poetry, and there were opportunities to develop the tools students need to practice activism in their everyday lives.

Wendy Baxter, the Colleges Nine and Ten co-curricular programs office director, started the conference in 2002 as a way to inspire students by creating a culture of engagement and living social justice, she said.

“One of the goals of Practical Activism is [that] we’re providing really tangible ways to take a next step on an issue. That’s a goal of all the workshops,” Baxter said. “You’re going to come here and learn a practical way that you can take an action on an issue.”

Preparation for the conference began in April when the 41 students joined the volunteer Practical Activism planning group. They enrolled in a fall quarter planning course designed to give the students the tools to become leaders in their communities. They were split into four groups — publicity, special sessions, logistics and tabling — and 10 workshop topic groups.

Every workshop was student-led and student-organized, and focused on topics like environmental justice, queerness and mental health, Islamophobia and other social justice issues.

Many participants appreciated the way the conference raised issues not normally talked about. The keynote speaker Eddy Zheng, an advocate for keeping Asian and Pacific Islanders (API) out of the prison industrial system, said the special sessions on women in science, technology, math and engineering (STEM) inspired him.

Eddy Zheng delivers the keynote address during the 14th annual Practical Acitivsm Conference hosted by Colleges Nine and Ten. Zheng is an advocate for keeping Asian and Pacific Islanders out of the prison industrial system. He spoke about his experience in the prison system, and how that influenced him to become an activist. Photo by Stephen de Ropp
Eddy Zheng delivers the keynote address during the 14th annual Practical Acitivsm Conference hosted by Colleges Nine and Ten. Zheng is an advocate for keeping Asian and Pacific Islanders out of the prison industrial system. He spoke about his experience in the prison system, and how that influenced him to become an activist. Photo by Stephen de Ropp

“It’s a space where we can really engage young people about their role into creating a space and future that they want to see,” Zheng said. “Because everything that we do in life in some way is tied to activism.”

In his keynote address, Zheng talked about his life experiences in prison and now as an advocate and explained why he advocates for the API community in prisons.

“It’s about activating something innately in each one of us,” Zheng said. “We’re fighting for social justice and equality. Just remember, this is not a race, this is a lifelong commitment.”

Terisa Siagatonu, the featured spoken word poet, spoke about her ethnic studies classes at UCSC, her identity as a Pacific Islander and a queer woman and her relationship with her family.

“[Practical Activism is] a reminder of how powerful students are — that they put this whole thing together by themselves and they led this movement,” Siagatonu said. “If anything, I just walk away with this constant reminder that students are the shit.”

Student organizers of Practical Activism gave participants a set of tools to continue activism in their everyday lives once they leave the room.

Spoken word poet Terisa Siagatonu spoke to students about the strength of their actions. In 2012, Siagatonu won the Champion of Change Award from President Obama. Photo by Stephen de Ropp
Spoken word poet Terisa Siagatonu spoke to students about the strength of their actions. In 2012, Siagatonu won the Champion of Change Award from President Obama. Photo by Stephen de Ropp

“[I hope] work continues beyond the conference space and that folks who organize this and participated and attended Practical Activism go home and realize that we still have a lot of work to do,” Siagatonu said. “I hope they go home figuring out what will continue to fuel them and not burn them out because we need them.”

SHARE
Previous articleGLOW
Next articleIndigenous Ties
Shinae Lee is Arts and Culture Editor for City on a Hill Press. She has reported for every desk at City on a Hill in her two years on the paper, but has focused most of her time until now as a campus reporter and editor. She describes her favorite reporting subject as, “in-depth stories about things that really matter to people.” Though she focuses much of her time on the newspaper, she is also a Feminist Studies major, vice president of the Korean American Student Association, print coordinator for Student Media and occasional babysitter. In her scarce and precious free time she can be found organizing her life artistically in her bullet journal, watching The Great British Baking Show or traveling on a budget.