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Popular Education

Connecting Movements through Education

by Diana Abellera

The Mecca of popular education, the US Social Forum allowed practitioners to share techniques, challenges, and opportunities that different movements are utilizing internally to build leadership and overcome oppression. Building a movement requires people power. Building people power involves connecting individuals to –isms.  Connecting individuals to –isms opens the door to liberation, and here we have the essence of popular education.

The most effective workshop I experienced at the US Social Forum followed this path. Oakland based non-profit Leadership Excellence held a workshop entitled, “Engaging Black Youth.”  The organization’s curriculum framework debunks internalized and interpersonal oppression as a critical piece of individual leadership development.  Participants continue to work on overcoming systemic oppression through sustained support and training.  In two hours, we got a snippet of how this plays out.  First, a presentation broke down commercial hip hop roots in sexism, racism, and capitalism.  Analyzing mainstream videos and lyrics allowed participants to think critically about the underlying messages black children and youth are exposed to daily. We then processed the difference between who we are and what we do: oftentimes our actions are reactions to emotions driven by our environment, but essentially we are free and open to what awaits us in the world.  All of these exercises set us up for a 15 minute activity that would flip our worlds upside down.

While most participants engaged in the presentations and analysis with Executive Director Dereca Blackmon, a handful of women and a handful of men stepped outside to prepare for an activity called the “Walk Through.”  During this section five women lined up on the stage, while five men waited outside the room behind a closed door.  One at a time, the men were released and instructed to slowly walk on the floor in front of the women.  Conjuring up raw emotions and harsh words that had been inflicted upon them in the past, the women verbally attacked each man in the same way they had been treated by other black men. 

“I guess you’ll do… I’ll put a bag over your face.” 

“I didn’t think you really meant no.” 

“That can’t be my baby; we only had sex once… I mean twice.” 

A hard, cold stare accompanied the abrasive sentences.  After all of the men walked the line, we listened to both sexes’ thoughts and reactions to the exercise.  Emotions flooded the room from both the participants and the audience members.  Anger, apologies, tears, and promises to change emerged.  We could have processed what had just occurred for days.             

Understanding that Leadership Excellence’s primary principle acknowledges that leadership needs to come from within the community, I initially hesitated to attend.   However, I’m glad that I went as I found a way to actually achieve the purpose of the US Social Forum.  As a space designed to connect movements, the Forum offered us an invaluable opportunity to learn from each other and see how all of the pieces fit together.   We as a movement need groups like Leadership Excellence at the core of our work to guide individuals and work with them to build strength to truly tackle the systems that we all are fighting.  

Other pop ed resources:

Project South- published curriculum including Critical Classroom, It Ain’t Just about a Vote, Today’s Globalization, etc.- Atlanta, GA

Brecht Forum- New York, NY

Massachusetts Global Action Center- Boston, MA

Center for Political Education- San Francsico, CA

School of Unity and Liberation (SOUL)- Oakland, CA
Global Justice Center- Mexico

Theater of the Oppressed Laboratory- New York, NY

Environmental Justice and Climate Change

Selected workshops on Popular Education

--Critical Classroom: Education for Liberation & Movement Building
--Popular Education for Movement Building: Consciousness, Vision & Strategy
--Popular Education for Social & Economic Transformation: Case Stories from Around the Globe
--The Coalition of Immokalee Workers: Fighting for Fair Food
--Educating for Another World: Political Organizing and Movement Strategies

Excel worksheet below with times and locations. 

Office spreadsheet icon pop ed workshop list.xls17.5 KB