The guest writer of this piece is Elsa Hollyer. She grew up in Vermont, and is a junior transfer student from a college in Southern California. She’s majoring in Music Therapy, and minoring in Peace and Social Justice. When she graduates she intends to apply my passion for Social Justice work into the field of Music Therapy
“All…are therefore involved in this oppressive system, and none of us can control whether we participate, only how…” – Allan Johnson
It is not difficult to see all the problems we face on a global, national, or local level in society, if you know what you’re looking for. It is pretty easy to learn about the problems, but it is much harder to actively be part of the solution. As Johnson articulates above, you are either complying with oppressive forces, or you are working to undo them; there is no such thing as neutrality.
As a white woman, it is simply not enough to understand racism and the structures that maintain racism; I have to do more. Knowing about racism is half the battle. There is always more to be done and there is more than one right way to work against oppressive structures. However, the actions we take should be guided by an understanding of the problem we’re combatting and the actual needs of the individuals who are marginalizing, as blind action can actually be incredibly harmful. A recent article entitled “Accomplices Not Allies,” describes some of these individuals as “Floaters.” Floaters are self-proclaimed allies who do not take responsibility for their actions, even when they are detrimental to a social justice cause, and put others in danger. Despite good intentions, these individuals are not great allies. As Dr. Grant says in Jurassic Park, “Some of the worst things imaginable have been done with the best intentions.”
I did not know what to expect from the Social Justice Retreat, but I was hoping for some direction on how to effectively participate in actions that dismantle oppressive structures. For a long time I have been struggling to find avenues to create change. And without much direction or tools for action, my skills were not effectively being used to combat structures of racism and other forms of oppression. My experience at the retreat surpassed my expectations and was more valuable and transformative than I had hoped.
At the retreat, pieces of the puzzle started to fall into place. One activity involved breaking into group discussions and planning specific projects on campus. Prior to the group discussions, there were smaller info sessions that gave us practical knowledge on making change. The group I was in discussed ways to work both inside and outside the system to promote change, and from this discussion I realized how much power students have. We as students are in the perfect position to demand progress. We are the tools for change, and it is vital that we realize our collective and individual power.
I am incredibly grateful to have met such inspiring people, learn from passionate mentors and teachers, make connections, and be part of a kind and inspiring community with shared commitments to social justice. While there are still no easy answers, quick fixes, or a simple, “How To” step-by-step plan to follow, I have a little more information, and a whole lot more motivation. And if the Jurassic Park movie quote wasn’t enough, here’s one more from Sucker Punch: “You don’t think you’re strong enough? You are. You’re afraid. Don’t be. You have all the weapons you need. Now fight.”