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.
“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.
“[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.”