Activism: May 2009 Archives

Social Justice Student Expo

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Chicago Youth Initiating Change, a local group composed of students and teachers organizing for social justice initiatives, hosted the 2009 Social Justice Student Expo at the UIC campus on Friday, May 22. I attended as a chaperon with a student group from Little Village Lawndale's Social Justice High School.

Throughout the day, several hundred high school and junior high students led or attended workshops and presented research about topics ranging from Renaissance 2010 to the foreclosure crisis. I attended a workshop about the controversial Willie Lynch letter and the unsourced Let's Make a Slave text that often accompanies it. Rather than using these texts as basis for a historical lecture, the students used them as a starting point to examine social power and oppression. The presenters and the audience handled the difficult source material maturely and pushed to make it relevant to their lived experience -- fulfilling the expo's goal of collaborative teaching and learning about social justice.

At the end of the day, students regrouped for a "talent show," sharing poetry, spoken word pieces, songs, and even some very impressive footwork, both from audience members and a Chicago footwork troupe, the FootworKINGZ.

The expo showed off the best qualities of Chicago youth -- creativity, intelligence, self-reflection, energy, and compassion.

El pueblo unido jamás será vencido

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May 1, 1886 marked the first day of a peaceful labor protest in Chicago, led by workers demanding an eight-hour work day. This event is commemorated around the world as International Workers' Day. Chicagoans engage by organizing an annual march and rally. This year some 2,000 people braved bad weather and the public health worries of swine flu to march two-and-a-half miles from Union Park to Daley Plaza. The organizers of the rally focused on issues of immigration reform, inviting speakers and organizations from many of Chicagoland's immigrant and progressive groups. Students from Kelly High School in Brighton Park and Social Justice High School in Little Village, members of the Coalition of African Arab Asian European and Latino Immigrants of Illinois, Workers United, Gay Liberation Network, and dozens of other groups came together to celebrate their shared history and common goals, and call for decisive politcal action regarding comprehensive immigration reform. One of the most-repeated cheers of the afternoon was a strong show of solidarity with the city's large Chicano and Latino immigrant population, "Obama escucha: estamos en la lucha" (Obama, listen: we are in the struggle).

From my place in line few opponents were visible, and the event was positive, peaceful, and productive. Chicagoist has a nice selection of pictures from the day, while Progress Illinois, the Tribune, and  the ChiTown Daily News repoort on the event.