Liz Lane & Don Unger, October 2019
Change comes from power, and power comes from organization. In order to act, people must get together
—Saul Alinsky, Rules for Radicals, p. 113
When we circulated Spark’s inaugural call in July 2018, we asked contributors to consider how their work inside and outside classrooms represented individual, collective, and organizational approaches to activism. In addressing what was recent news about undocumented immigrants being thrown into detention camps (i.e., concentration camps) as a flashpoint for activism, we hoped some submissions would reflect work at the early stages of a powerful, nation-wide immigrants’ rights movement that could end these attacks.
In the call, Spark tried to support activist-scholars contributing to such a movement. The call also sought to connect those engaged in the immigrants’ rights movement to activist-scholars fighting other manifestations of oppression and inequity. However, we have not seen a powerful, nation-wide Immigrant’s Rights Movement emerge, and we have not seen connections develop between such a movement and the Movement for Black lives, #MeToo, the Women’s March, the Climate Change Movement, the Labor Movement, and others. In terms of the Immigrants’ Rights Movement, we have seen many powerful, localized examples of resistance, such as the July 2, 2019 “Close the Camps” demonstrations that took place in 184 cities around the US (“Attend #CloseTheCamps Protests,” n.d.) and the July 16, 2019 shutdown of ICE offices in Washington, DC (Movimiento Cosecha, 2019). We have seen donations dramatically increase for nonprofit organizations that provide legal aid for those interred and support for their families, such as the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES) and the Mississippi Immigrants’ Rights Alliance (MIRA) (Salmon, 2018). We know that a stream of politicians visited the concentration camps, from House Democrats visiting on July 1 to Mike Pence visiting on July 13. Yet, the camps still exist, and conditions in these camps have only gotten worse (Steib, 2019). Furthermore, attacks on undocumented immigants have escalated. Consider, for example, the August 7, 2019 raids in Morton, Carthage, and Forest, MS where ICE agents arrested and detained 680 people (Jordan, 2019). Still, we don’t believe that our call was naive or overly hopeful. It was necessary. It still is.
The truth is that conditions for centering activism in our academic fields and in our lives have not only ripened, they have begun to rot. There will not be a spontaneous eruption against oppression that leads inexorably to lasting change. Such change must be built deliberately and collectively. We believe that folks who study and teach writing, rhetoric, and literacy have important skills and resources to contribute to its construction. We have also seen how our students play defining roles in movements aimed at creating such change. Neglecting these perspectives excuses us from addressing how students use what we study and teach in our fields in their collective interests. Our narrow focus on preparing students for academic writing and for for-profit and not-for-profit industries has not only neglected their collective interests, it has neglected our collective interests in improving our lives and the lives of people in our workplaces and communities, i.e., contingent faculty, graduate students, and people who have historically been marginalized by academe.
Despite the dire circumstances in which we live and work, all is not lost. We find hope in the work that immigrants’ rights activists and organizations have engaged in despite insurmountable odds, taking on the government as it marshals state power against immigrants and their supporters. We find hope in the organizing that has gone on around the country and the world over the summer of 2019: the mass demonstrations in Puerto Rico and in Puerto Rican communities around the world to force the resignation of Governor Ricardo Rosselló after leaked comments in an online group chat exposed his corruption and hatred of women and LGBTQIA+ people; the ongoing recall effort in Alaska to remove Governor Mike Dunleavy after he used state budget negotiations to attack public education and social benefit programs for children and the elderly; the Communication Workers of America’s successful strike against AT&T for undermining their collective bargaining efforts; the ongoing protests at Mauna Kea in Hawaii aimed at halting the construction of a telescope and research laboratory on sacred, indigenous lands; the ongoing, student-led protests in Moscow spurred on when opposition candidates were barred from running for seats in 8 September elections for the City Duma. These are only a few recent examples of the kinds of activism that should inform discussions in our fields.
As we close our first volume and consider what has changed since we began circulating our inaugural call, we believe that the next step in developing activist rhetorics and building connections among people fighting different aspects of oppression lies in interrogating the relationship between resistance and building power. For academe, it also lies in shifting how scholars consider the relationship between their classrooms and how the people in their classrooms are affected by the Trump administration’s ongoing attacks on immigrants, people of color, women, LGBTQIA+ people, people with disabilities, and working-class and poor people as well as the attacks on democratic rights (e.g., the rights to vote and rights to organize organize our communities), the environment, and education, among many other issues.
We believe that this shift “challenges us in postsecondary positions to think like organizers rather than academics” (Goldblatt, 2005, p. 282). While we employ the term activist rather than organizer, we agree with Goldblatt’s characterization of the task at hand. We must shift to and “invest in an intersectional understanding of oppression and . . . help build coalitions” (Walton, Moore & Jones, 2019, p. 4) where “we learn from, support, and…challenge one another to organize” (Lane & Unger, 2017). And, Spark’s first volume lays some of the groundwork for helping readers make that shift, from academic to organizer or from scholar to activist-scholar. The submissions that we have published in our first two issues offer various approaches to activism in writing, rhetoric, and literacy studies. These submissions help readers consider how this shift relies on reconceiving of our relationships to one another, to our disciplines and institutions, and to our service, teaching, and scholarship. Broadly speaking, each submission focuses on:
- Helping others see an issue from a particular perspective in order to rework the dynamics of our relationships; or
- Engaging in direct actions in order to provide participants with a collective or relational sensibility about the issue addressed by that action; or
- Changing organizational and institutional structures in order to make the relationships supported by those structures more ethical or reciprocal.
While these approaches overlap and complicate one another, they inexorably lead to a common end: they describe ways in which activist-scholars in writing, rhetoric, and literacy studies resist oppression and exploitation with an eye toward building power.
We present this coda as a concluding moment for Spark’s first volume. However, this coda is not an end in itself. Rather, we publish these submissions as calls to action for readers who face similar circumstances in their communities, classrooms, and lives.
Our second issue features columns, scene reports, and a media review. These submissions reflect the frameworks addressed in our first issue. Each one describes an individual, collective, or organizational approach to activism in a particular context:
Lehua Ledbetter and Nate Vaccaro’s column, “Cultivating Intersectional Awareness through the #performanceartselfie: A Creative Multimodal Pedagogy,” details how a feminist, rhetorical art project provides an activist platform for participants when other methods are untenable. Their column features narratives from each author that illustrate how selfies can be used to affect viewers. The column offers a sample assignment and course schedule with readings so that readers can implement or build off this approach.
Craig Wynne’s column, “‘Awww, You’re Not Married?’: Why We Need a Singles’ Rights Movement,” examines labor conditions for single academics. Wynne addresses general perceptions of singlehood and singlism, that is to say the cultural and institutional stigmas attached to singlehood, and calls for further examination into how single academics’ time and relationship status is valued within the academy.
Erica M. Stone, Erin E. Backhaus, and Abby M. Breyer’s scene report, “Simultaneous Storytelling: A Reflective Analysis of the Women’s March Archive,” explores the relationship between storytelling and activism as key tools that inspired and maintained involvement in the 2017 and 2019 Women’s Marches and beyond. The authors offer readers insight into collaborative, feminist research methods involving faculty and undergraduate students and how these methods can extend activism by drawing from archives.
Amy J. Wan’s review, “Using Your White Voice: Raciolinguistics, Social Satire, and Magical Realism in Boots Riley’s Sorry to Bother You,” illuminates the relationships among capitalist labor structures, race, and language use. Furthermore, the review extends the film’s argument into academe and educational power structures. Ultimately, Wan frames the film as a call to action, discussing the importance of solidarity and the power of language in activist movements.
Sarah Bartlett Wilson’s scene report, “Developing Allies Out of Public Ugliness: Reflections on the Struggle to Incorporate Non-Tenure-Track Faculty into Shared Governance at the University of Mississippi,” offers a first-hand account of non-tenure track, full-time (NTTFT) faculty fighting for and winning representation on a university’s faculty senate. Her reflection offers advice for others grappling with issues of institutional representation and the divide between tenure-track and non-tenure track faculty.
Patrick Danner and Chris Scheidler’s scene report, “Getting There: Reflections on Community Engagement and Activist Support,” describes their experience coordinating the Cultural Diagloguers, an after-school club that offers a safe, creative, and activist space for middle and high school students in Louisville, KY. The authors offer perspectives on how to navigate the often challenging path of maintaining a community-university partnership in a public, secondary school environment.
As we conclude volume 1, we are emboldened by our contributors’ work; the submissions published in our first two issues present a complex idea of what activism looks like and, taken together, they offer a polyvocal definition of what it means. They remind us that resistance takes many forms. In the spirit of moving from describing resistance to building power and addressing the relationships between these two key concepts in activism, we announce two exciting new projects:
Spark volume 2, the 2020 call
For our second volume, Spark celebrates the 50th anniversary of the first Black Studies departments in American institutions. This call, co-edited by Spark Editorial Collective members Sherri Craig, Khirsten L. Scott, and Karrieann Soto Vega, asks contributors to examine the lasting impact of Black Studies as a discipline as well as the lasting impact of the Black Power activists at San Francisco State, Berkeley, Cornell, Columbia, and Harvard who fought for the discipline and won in 1969. Alongside addressing this important legacy, the call raises questions about how Black Studies has shaped adjacent fields, including writing, rhetoric, and literacy studies; how it has challenged power structures in academic institutions and the state of such struggles; and how it has informed subsequent activism, including contemporary student activism. Look for the call in mid-October 2019.
Spark & Teacher-Scholar-Activist
We are also thrilled to announce our partnership with Teacher-Scholar-Activist (T-S-A). Beginning in December 2019, Spark and T-S-A will co-publish a blog featuring political, social, and cultural commentary from activist-scholars in writing, rhetoric, and literacy studies and adjacent fields. We will publish this blog once a month leading up to the November 2020 US general election. Authors have been invited to comment on election campaigns, the election process, and any issues or events that they feel need to be addressed in order to grapple with the state of US politics.
In their own words, T-S-A is “a place where all of us bear witness to the work educators and students are doing in and out of the classroom to hold up our democratic and humane values.” T-S-A’s mission is akin to Spark’s, and we are excited to be working together on this blog feature. We encourage everyone who hasn’t already to check out T-S-A.
We invite you to read the pieces in volume 1, issue 2 and to check back with Spark for our forthcoming 2020 call and blog feature.
Special thanks to Michelle Bright, University of Mississippi, who served as Editorial Assistant for this issue. Also, thanks to Angela Green, University of Mississippi, who served as an additional reviewer.
Alinsky, Saul. (1971). Rules for radicals. New York, NY: Vintage.
“Attend #CloseTheCamps Protest Tuesday, July 2.” (n.d.). Close the Camps Now. Retrieved from https://www.closethecampsnow.org/event/close-camps-now/search/.
Goldblatt, Eli. (2005). Alinsky’s reveille: A community-organizing model for neighborhood-based literacy projects. College English, 67(3), 274–95.
Jordan, Miriam. (2019, Aug. 7). ICE arrests hundreds in Mississippi raids targeting immigrant workers. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/07/us/ice-raids-mississippi.html.
Lane, Liz & Unger, Don. (2018). 4C4Equality: Writing networks for social justice. Constellations: A Cultural Rhetorics Publishing Space, 1. Retrieved from http://constell8cr.com/4c4e/.
Movimiento Cosecha. (2019, July 16). Activists shut down ICE office in Washington, DC. Latino Rebels. Retrieved from https://www.latinorebels.com/2019/07/16/iceshutdown/.
Salmon, Felix. (2018, July 23). How Is RAICES handling its $30 million windfall? Slate. Retrieved from https://slate.com/business/2018/07/immigration-nonprofit-raices-took-in-usd20-million-from-a-facebook-donation-drive-what-now.html.
Steib, Matt. (2019, July 2). Everything we know about the inhumane conditions at migrant detention camps. Intelligencer: New York Magazine. Retrieved from http://nymag.com/intelligencer/2019/07/the-inhumane-conditions-at-migrant-detention-camps.html.
Walton, Rebecca, Moore, Kristen R., & Jones, Natasha N. (2019). Technical communication after the social justice turn: Building coalitions for action. New York, NY: Routledge.