Students' Insights on Radical Learning for Change

December 22, 2015
by Lisa Putkey, Peace Studies Teacher

Every semester the Global Thinking and Peace Studies classes take a weeklong trip to the Bay Area called the Radical Learning for Change Trip (Rad Trip).  The intention of the trip is to connect classroom themes to real examples of people working for peace and social justice as well as for the students to recognize themselves as agents of change.  This Fall we were honored to have trainings, visits, presentations, and engaging workshops with East Point Peace Academy, BAY Peace, Youth Spirit Artworks, American Friends Service Committee, Beehive Collective, Iraq Veterans Against the War, Tri Valley CARES, Casa de Paz, and the Berkeley Poetry Slam.

The following student testimonies were gathered from reflection essays the students wrote for Peace Studies:

“Each student here at Woolman is unique in that they have tapped into their deepest desires to learn, to ask questions, to be vulnerable, and to put themselves in uncomfortable situations in order to understand something bigger than themselves. We practice that here everyday, and it was a truly amazing experience to see that other people are practicing it, too. […] We made our way through the city in our van packed full, learning about Kingian nonviolence, about spreading awareness through art, about the power of youth as changemakers. Each day we became more hopeful of a future we thought we were alone in desiring. In each moment I witnessed my classmates changing before my eyes, saw their fists clench tighter, as if in preparation to fight off all injustices. I wonder if they saw a change in me.” –Sophie Merrill

“Hearing the stories of the organizations we visited really made me value the effort these people put into their work. I think the main thing that I learned on this trip was that the stories are what drive passion. Everything from Casa de Paz to Bay Peace wouldn’t exist without people who care. People whose voices were heard and incited change with art, vigils, acting, and most of all, stories.” –Lena Connolly

“Overall, the RAD Trip filled me with a sense of family, comfort, discomfort, inspiration, grief, empowerment, enlightenment, fatigue, energy, analytical-ness, perception, and an overflow of emotion all at once. This trip was just another milestone of Woolman that has, is, and always will, change my perception of the world, life, justice, and me as a person.” –Victory Amos-Nwankwo

“Going back to my home town and talking about social justice movements made me proud to live in a community that’s about change. This is important to me to acknowledge the importance of how we affect the lives around us and to take action in making that first step to a brighter future.” –Stephon Brewster

“It made me realize that, me as a youth, I have the power to change the systems that oppress people. […] I not only heard people talking about oppression, I got to see it in different forms. I saw it through artivism, I watched it through films, I experienced the feelings, and most inspiringly, I heard it through the stories of those who have been or are victims of oppression. Nothing is more powerful than being exposed to the real side of oppression here in the U.S. Through this experience of the Rad trip I learned there is hope because the power of the people is stronger than the people in power.[…] Throughout the whole Rad trip I’ve collected so much passion, wanting to be the change I want to see in the world by being nonviolent and just being involved. Albert Einstein said, “The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything.” This is the generation to fight for peace and we can't sit there and watch the world go by because that’s saying it's okay for the privileged to oppress the oppressed, and it's not. If we fight, the worst that can happen is that we might lose, but if we don't fight we’ve already lost. The Rad trip really sparked the passion in me to want to fight (with peace). It gave me the passion to want to open everyone's eyes up because we have so much power as the people, we just don't know it.” -Isolde Harpell

 

Here are student reactions to a few of the specific organizations we visited:

“One of the stops that was the most memorable to me was the East Point Peace Academy, where Kazu, Sima, and Stephanie taught the students and I a new perspective on nonviolence: the Kingian nonviolence. Apparently, when you take the hyphen out of ‘non-violence’ you get ‘nonviolence’, which has a completely different denotation. ‘Non-violence’ is simply the lack of violence, the abstinence from the violence; whereas, ‘nonviolence’ is the action of taking measures to prevent or rid the world of violence in general. This really resonates with me because everyday, there are many who everyday, decide to take the ‘non-violent’ route in life; perhaps it is because that way is simply easier, perhaps it is out of fears. I have also been a part of that crowd that simply stands in the background and who does not engage in the violence, yet makes no move to prevent it; because “if we express any emotion while talking about it, we’re tone policed, told we're being angry”, and society does not accept people being ‘overly’ passionate about what they believe in.” –Victory Amos-Nwankwo

“Later that day, Woolman visited my art program called Youth Spirit Artworks that works with homeless youth from ages 16 to 25, Youth Spirit Artworks is a place where you can come and do art and have the freedom of expression in an artistic way. Youth Spirit Artworks works with different groups such as Black lives Matter and Mural project. I was filmed for a documentary that’s called lost in America that talks about homeless youth in america and how it impacts their lives. In the process of getting filmed I felt sad having to repeat some of the hardships in my life but at the same time I felt a kind of liberation from my sadness to be able to talk about what my truth is being homeless in America. This experience had given me a voice to express my true strength for what it is and knowing other people was doing the same made me proud of the action I was taking. Being at Youth Spirit Artworks has made me more of a self aware person as far as being able to express myself through art and sharing that with my community makes me feel like an inspiration for others.” –Stephon Brewster

“Aaron’s [IVAW] presentation intrigued me to no end. I liked how he didn’t sugar coat the terrors of war and tried to paint a pretty picture. No, he showed us the atrocities of war, the reasons behind it, the corruption of the entire military. We can’t call it a sensitive topic when people, not terrorists, are being killed by the thousands because of money and resources, or as they say in America “freedom and democracy”.  I understand the way he said things might have made people uncomfortable, but what made me feel uncomfortable wasn’t his language, it was the realization that our country has gotten away with so many murders and no one bats an eye about that. The military is so corrupt it takes up about $598.5 billion (54%) from Discretionary Spending. In all honesty Iraq’s Veteran’s Against the War had the biggest impact on me. I knew some of what he was talking about, but the way Aaron went into detail with things just got me thinking a lot.” –Brian Gil-Rios

“It was amazing how much emotion had flooded into my stomach from realizing that our nation's prison systems are completely unjust. Jerry, who worked for the organization [AFSC], told us a story about how he was in prison for committing a serious crime, and somehow managed to change his direction and become very “successful” in life. I was very inspired about his story, but then I began questioning the treatment of every other person in prison, who potentially could also be contributing to our world. The government and private corporations are throwing people in jail as a solution to an issue, when in reality, the prison system is the issue.” –Maisie Rising

“The final, most prominent theme throughout the RAD Trip was the power of youth intersecting with both stories and art. BAY Peace is a place that intersected all three: youth leadership, art, and storytelling. BAY Peace is a youth organization that studies social justice through theatre of the oppressed. They used artistic improv games to spread awareness of social justice and environmental issues.  By setting up in a park for a performance, they are giving onlookers free access to art and to education about oppression. We played many games relating to gentrification in the area of Oakland. After spending time in Oakland, in the downtown area I could tell that people felt as though their city had been stolen. Their town focused on tourists, on wealthier residents, but not on the people whose whole lives belonged in Oakland. I especially think this is important because several of my classmates here at Woolman live in Oakland. I have noticed the immense pride that they have for their hometown, and I hate that it could be stolen by wealthy people looking to add to their already huge collection of systemic privileges.” –Lena Connolly

 

Several students made commitments to the change they want to see in the world:

“The moment my passion filled up with rage, was when we came to my hometown, Livermore. The home of the Lawrence Livermore Lab and the Sandia Lab. We visited an organization called Tri Valley CARES that monitors the Lab to make sure it isn’t harming anyone and isn’t polluting our Earth. Also it is to make sure the lab isn’t doing any harmful testings. They are the organization that tests the water, soil, and air in my town to see if it has any harmful chemicals. So far there has been in the past. […] I can’t just go home and live my life day by day without a fear of my water, soil, and air being polluted. That’s why I’m going to join Tri Valley CARES and help end the nuclear testing in my hometown. I want a plutonium free future, so that’s why i'm going to take action with this group.” –Isolde Harpell

“My goal as I emerge from the Woolman cocoon is to continue to push through despair as I learn more about the hard realities of the world, as I strive to empathize with those who are not benefiting from the white privilege I benefit from. I vow to bear witness to and call out injustice even when it is scary, even when it makes me feel anxious or frustrated, even when I make mistakes. There are many ways to do this - maybe I will work through my despair by talking about it, making meaningful connections with people from different cultures or by connecting with nature - the ultimate non-judgmental mother. But I will definitely commit to find balance and not just focus on the negatives but also get in touch with the beauty of differences and culture and society. I will bear witness to and call out both injustice and beauty in the world, and use what I learn to make lasting change in the world.” –Sophie Merrill

“The Radical Learning for Change trip inspired me to find my passion and method in which I can make a change. My goal is to start writing more songs about issues I am passionate about. Sometimes when I am very passionate about something I get a feeling inside of me, nagging me to express this, and I choose music as my method of sharing my opinions. I also have been interested in art therapy because art moves me in a way that is very therapeutic. Art, music, theatre, these are all ways to catch people’s hearts and minds and connect them to the issues that are present in this world and need to be acted upon.” –Sophia Mueller

Responses

On Dec 23, 2015, Amelia Nebenzahl said:

So proud of all you students and how you've allowed yourselves to grow. You all give me great hope for a more just future!

On Dec 30, 2015, Meg M said:

Beautiful!  What a great taste of the Woolman experience, in the words of an amazing group of students. 

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