Students cheered as keynote speaker Angela Davis launched the 10th Annual Practical Activism Conference, sponsored by Colleges Nine, Ten and Oakes at the College 9/10 multi-purpose room.
The day-long event on Oct. 20, which offered 10 workshops on how to change the world in areas including education, immigration, sustainable agriculture and budget cuts, was facilitated by a group of 30 students.
“The conference offers hands-on tools to make change happen,” said Wendy Baxter, the director of academic and co-curricular programs for Colleges Nine and Ten.
Ten years ago, Baxter, who defines activism as “the applied practice of being involved with social change,” created the concept for a conference that would develop skills for students to engage productively and know that being an activist is a long-term process.
For its first two years, the conference was called “Practical Activism: Tools for Local and Global Change,” and the name has stuck.
Since its creation in 2002, the conference has continued to evolve. Each year its topics are both comprehensive and varied, said College Nine fourth-year Sarah Shokair, one of the student planners involved in the conference’s organization.
The opening session crescendoed with claps and cheers as keynote speaker Angela Davis reminded the audience that being an activist is a lifelong commitment.
“In the ongoing struggle for democracy, activism is [not only] a way of life, but is life-sustaining,” Davis said.
Her speech was the springboard that launched participants into their chosen workshops. Davis also said not only that the world must be changed, but that the issues that concern us are all interconnected.
UC Santa Cruz writing lecturer Robin Somers underscored Davis’ statement in her workshop with Damian Parr, the research and education coordinator at the UC Santa Cruz Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems (CASFS). The workshop was called “Sustainable Agriculture: Think Global, Act Local.”
“Each food purchase is a vote either for a just and sustainable food system or a dysfunctional, toxic one,” Somers said. “If you look at the support the university offers in organic training, the union between activism and sustainable agriculture is very much in full swing, bubbling out like a wellspring, spreading its rivulets of higher consciousness.”
The main human rights issues that both Somers and Parr highlighted were the availability and affordability of locally grown, organic food. They aimed to provide students with the information and the tools to encourage them to become activists as students at UCSC.
“UC Santa Cruz’s apprenticeship program at CASFS organic farm teaches people from all over the world how to grow food justly and sustainably,” Somers said, with a bright orange carrot in hand.
The planning of the conference itself was an exercise in activism for the 30 students who began organizing last April.
“The planning of the conference alone is world-changing,” Baxter said. “Planning it allowed students to come together and meet others like them who are all working toward a common goal of shaping a world where they want to live in.”
Fourth-years Dylan Cureton and Shelbby Bambrick were the two student coordinators who facilitated the conference’s organization. Cureton said they learned how to achieve collective activism and find their own voices through a collaborative and creative process.
“In planning this conference with my peers, we got to express what was important to us,” Cureton said. “I have found my voice and I’ve helped others to find theirs.”
Cureton said planning the conference was fulfilling.
“I found a place to belong,” Cureton said. “Being an activist has become a part of my identity, which I didn’t know would happen when I came to … UCSC.”
Bambrick said College Ten shaped her future because of the annual Practical Activism Conference.
“When I came to College Ten and became involved with this planning group, I met people who understood — like me — that there were more important things to talk about than what we were doing Friday night,” Bambrick said.
The conference will continue because of Baxter’s belief that the Practical Activism Conference not only gives the tools for shaping a different society but also because, as she said, “students can and should make change happen … in a powerful way.”