by Amy Cooke, director - November 26, 2017

I just came across these tenets while researching JWS curriculum for a new business plan:

-Be honest: be who you really are.
-Care for yourself.
-Treat others as you want to be treated.
-Don't make work for others.
-Challenge yourself to grow.
-Make a positive difference in the world.
-If you have a complaint, suggest and work towards a solution.

As timely as ever!

by Amy Cooke, Director - March 1, 2017

I was among the 100,000 who marched in San Francisco’s Women’s March the day after Donald Trump’s inauguration. While enthusiasm for the struggle seemed high, an important question was looming: What’s the strategic plan, as we head into the Trump era? Although there’s no simple answer, I offer this 10-point plan — fully open for discussion and debate.

-George Lakey

1. Recognize that we represent the majority, not Trump. 

Three times more people participated in the Women’s March in Washington, D.C., than were present at the inauguration the day before. He lost the popular vote in the election. Many of his own voters admitted in exit polls that they consider him unqualified to be president. Furthermore, Trump plans to target progressive policies that polls find to be supported by solid majorities of Americans.

Trump does have strengths in addition to his brilliance in manipulating mainstream media. Key parts of the economic elite have decided that they can use him for their own goals. So, they will support him — as long as he can deliver acceleration of school privatization, for example, or the fossil fuel pipelining of America. His core voting base (the minority of a minority) may support him for a period, until his failure to deliver unrealistic promises becomes apparent.

Even before the inauguration, he alienated significant parts of the security state that he needs to depend on. He needs a vast professional bureaucracy to carry out his will, but it has many subtle ways of thwarting him. Harry Truman famously admitted, publicly, his frustration after he was repeatedly stymied by an uncooperative bureaucracy.

Trump’s bullying is both a strength and a weakness. His style alienates many, including among his own voters, and stirs opposition.

Stopping Trump is not a slam dunk, but it is possible when he is given his due as a cagey opponent. It also helps when we decide to be strategic rather than led by fear and moral outrage, jumping from whichever tactic feels good in the moment, but has little impact. Now is the time when we can identify his pillars of support and lay plans to undermine them.

2. Strengthen civic institutions and their connections with targeted populations.

Trump will continue to turn to the age-old weapon of scapegoating to shore up his working-class base, and he’ll feel more pressure to do that as his own programs for “making America great again” fail to deliver the goods to that base — even while enriching the economic elite.

Some sanctuary cities have already made a good start by declaring their resistance to anti-immigrant moves by the federal government. Activists can reinforce these initiatives with a range of civic and religious institutions, urging them to strengthen their connections with scapegoated groups like Jews, immigrants and African Americans. The civics may not by themselves always think of this, so it may take activists within or near them to alert them to their responsibility of solidarity.

Because we are the majority, we can make full use of Bill Moyer’s four roles of social change. Consider: How can advocates, helpers, organizers and rebels strengthen their solidarity impact? Training for Change organizer Daniel Hunter brainstormed some possible moves: Advocates persuade cities and states to give drivers licenses to undocumented people. Organizers create circles of solidarity in which citizens could physically intervene — when immigrants are in danger —and surround the vulnerable ones. (The New Sanctuary Movement in Philadelphia calls this “sanctuary in the streets.”) Helpers could insist that they provide food and healthcare to people in deportation centers, and if entry is refused, collaborate with rebels to break in with food and risk arrest.

3. Play offense, not defense.  

The last time progressives in the United States faced this degree of danger was when Ronald Reagan became president. One of Reagan’s first acts was to fire the air traffic controllers when they went on strike, putting into question national air safety. Strategically, he chose “shock and awe,” and it worked – most of the U.S. movements for change went on the defensive.

Gandhi and military generals agree: No one wins anything of consequence on the defensive. I define “defensive” as trying to maintain previous gains. U.S. movements in 1980 made many gains in the previous two decades. Understandably, they tried to defend them. As Gandhi and generals would predict, the movements instead lost ground to the “Reagan Revolution” and, for the most part, have lost ground ever since.

One exception stands out: the LGBT movement. Instead of defending, for example, local gains in city human relations commissions, LGBT people escalated in the 1980s with ACT-UP leading the way. They followed up with the campaign for equal marriage and escalated again with the demand for equality in the military.

LBGT people proved that Gandhi and the generals are right: The best defense is an offense.

I hear many American progressives unconsciously talking about Trump defensively, preparing to make precisely the same mistake as an older generation did with Reagan. The LGBT’s lesson is obvious: heighten nonviolent direct action campaigns and start new ones. Instead of defending Obamacare, let’s push for an even more comprehensive health solution, like Medicare for all.

direct action campaign is defined by a pressing issue, a clear demand, and a target that can yield that demand. Powerful social movements, even those that overthrew military dictatorships, have often been built in exactly this way.

These days, campaign design needs to take account of the recent impact of social media. Because many people have allowed social media to draw them into an isolating bubble, activists need to design campaigns that deliberately increase their base through building relationships “beyond the choir.” Increased use of training may be necessary to maximize impact.

4. Link campaigns to build movements.

Standing Rock is a current example of the synergistic and expanding effect of linking campaigns. Pipeline fights, indigenous rights, and even the role of Veterans for Peace — in raising questions about the U.S. empire — were all amplified through linking to the ongoing campaign in North Dakota.

The classic American example of campaign linkage grew from the simple act of four college students in North Carolina on Feb. 1, 1960, starting their campaign to desegregate a lunch counter. Students in other towns followed the example, and the wave of sit-ins became a movement. The movement helped grow existing organizations — for example, the Congress of Racial Equality, or CORE, which then started a new kind of campaign, the Freedom Rides. Multiple freedom rides were linked and further built the strength of the civil rights movement.

These campaigns did not have the American majority on their side, nor did they win all their demands, but their cumulative value forced major changes and eventually changed public opinion as well. The civil rights movement illustrates the crucial difference in mode of operation between direct action campaigns and political parties’ campaigns.

Democrats, for example, are hugely about polls and focus groups. Their power rests on current public opinion and its manipulation through electioneering and political maneuver. Even for progressive-inclined Democrats, the ability to act is tightly limited by the narrow range of current opinion (not to mention by what the economic elite is willing to allow).

Social movements, by contrast, can take stands that go beyond current opinion and wage campaigns that have transformative impact, such as women’s right to vote, gay rights and stopping pipelines. This difference helps explain why progressive Democrats habitually fight defensively, while movements are free to stay on the offensive and win. Bernie Sanders, for example, is now defensively fighting to save Medicare. By contrast, a social movement is free to launch a fight for single-payer health care. Such a struggle could threaten to split off part of Trump’s working class base and — even if it failed to fully achieve its goal – save more of Medicare.

5. Link movements to create a movement of movements.

When times are out of joint, a successful movement around one issue inspires campaigns on other issues to link and become new movements. That’s what happened the last time the U.S. took major steps toward justice. The civil rights movement begat the Berkeley Free Speech campaign and the national student movement for university reform, the draft resistance campaign and the anti-Vietnam war movement, and so on — energizing seniors, people with disabilities, mental health consumers, women, Chicanos, Puerto Ricans, auto workers and many more.

With so many movements developing, A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin catalyzed the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, hoping to start linking movements into a movement of movements. They glimpsed an opportunity to amass so much power independent of the major parties that the United States could develop a counter-force to the economic elite and bring about democratic socialism. Creating an independent movement of movements was the successful path taken by the Scandinavians, and both Randolph and Rustin wanted it for the United States.

Substantial linkage, however, was not available at that time. For one thing, the U.S. economy was booming, and there wasn’t enough discontent in the white working class — let alone the burgeoning middle class — to create an opening. What’s more, racism was still too intense, although the United Auto Workers had successfully found a way forward by uniting black and white workers to fight employers in the auto industry. In the past half century, much has changed on both those dimensions.

My point is that multiple campaigns on the same or similar issues generates a movement, and that multiple movements provide the opportunity for a movement of movements. The closer we come to that point, the more pressure there is on the Democrats to co-opt us. The Republicans’ historic role is usually repression, while the Democrats’ job is to limit and control grassroots movements by pulling them into the party.

We saw that happen to the later stage of the civil rights movement and again with the Democrat-embraced health reform movement of 2007-9, when the single-payer option — and even the public option — was dropped to pass the medical industrial complex-friendly Affordable Care Act.

When a social movement is independent, it can force the Democrats to become allies instead of controllers. The civil rights movement did exactly that before 1965; we see what it can look like in the excellent film “Selma.” On a more micro level, Daniel Hunter — in his book “Strategy and Soul” — reveals how a neighborhood-based movement forced politicians to come to the campaigners, instead of the campaigners seeking help from the politicians.

Whatever our partisan sympathies, a quick look at political trends in the United States shows why movement independence is more crucial now than at any time in the last half-century.

Public alienation from the major parties – Republican or Democratic – has gone off the charts. Voters stay away from the polls, as if afraid of catching germs. The Tea Party gains more cred when it trashes the Republican Party. Donald Trump reassures his voter base by verbally attacking Congress – both parties, no less — in his inaugural address. Much of his voter base had long since left the Democratic Party because of its own betrayal of working-class interests. Black working-class voters also signaled their alienation by failing to give full support to Hillary Clinton, despite Barack and Michelle Obama’s entreaties.

Such a period of alienation is just the time for direct action campaigns that fight for progressive demands — like $15 per hour and Medicare for all — to signal independence from the politicians who bear so much responsibility for U.S. decline. Such independence appeals to the vast majority, including many Trump voters. A self-respecting movement of movements knows that the Democrats will then come to them and offer to be allies.

6. Avoid one-off demonstrations.

This political moment adds force to the sizable advantage of direct action campaigns over single demonstrations, however large. Protests are by their nature reactive. In these next years, predictably, Trump will act and progressives will react, then Trump will act again and progressives will react again. Trump, an accomplished fighter, knows that staying on the offensive is what enables him to win. Progressives, often led by people with a track record of loss, take the bait and react, over and over.

Simple protests, no matter what the issue, essentially signal to Trump that he is winning — he has manipulated us into reacting.

I realize that reactivity is a habit among many activists, and may take heroic self-discipline to avoid. An alternative is to organize a campaign, or join a campaign near you, even if the issue is not your favorite, and plunge in with full talent and energy.

7. Heighten the contrast in confrontations between the campaigners’ behavior and our right-wing opponents.

Many have noted Trump’s signals to his white supremacist and other allies that violence is an acceptable means to use against us.

This is an old story in the United States, and there’s no reason to let it throw us. Through clear nonviolent policy, like that of the Women’s March that urged against bringing anything that could be considered a weapon, we remain centered and able to attract large numbers. Some movements have made grave mistakes by responding to violent attacks in kind, losing ground on their goals as a result. Others have performed brilliantly, as did the civil rights campaigns that faced down the largest sustained terrorist organization in U.S. history, the KKK, often without protection from local law enforcement and even federal authorities.

The Global Nonviolent Action Database presents campaigns in almost 200 countries, including many nations where repressive violence was far worse than it has been in the United States. The database makes it possible to search for campaigns that faced repressive violence and to learn how they handled it. It is easy to find out, therefore, what worked and what didn’t, and to reinforce the lessons through training.

8. Aim to unite around a vision for justice, equality and freedom.

Individuals, campaigns, and movements all gain greater power and credibility through projecting a vision of what they want, as well as what they don’t want. They grow more easily, withstand attacks more easily, and have an easier time maintaining their boldness and creativity. “Protest movements” like Occupy are notoriously fragile and precarious; sustainable movements like the struggle for LGBT rights and equality have a liberating vision. The homophobes were right: We did have a “homosexual agenda!”

The good news is that on August 1, 2016, the Movement for Black Lives offered a visionthat can be a draft for dialogue for many campaigns and movements. Many groups have already endorsed it. The vision is bold, substantive and so different from the present that it is even in alignment with the best practices of the Nordic countries. In that sense, it is highly practical and backed by a half-century track record. Compared with the ever volatile and shifting Donald Trump act, a rough agreement on vision by a movement of movements could enhance our credibility and divide his base.

9. Make the vision more real by extending new economy institutions and coops.

These often fly under the radar in our highly politicized discourse, so two things need to happen. People who are active in campaigns and movement development need to honor the development of economic infrastructure that reflects the values of our united vision.

Second, the new economy institutions need to brand themselves as part of the justice movement, giving up the advantages of modesty. They may find new advantages and surprising opportunities for growth. After all, a majority of Americans polled have already said they like the concept of employee-owned companies.

10. See U.S. polarization as opportunity.

Donald Trump frames U.S. polarization in ways that benefit him, trying to increase the loyalty of his base. Many progressives decry the polarization, as if their upset at its ugly manifestations will make it go away. The reality is that the polarization is fundamentally linked to economic inequality and was growing for years before Trump came forward. It is not going away. The question is how to manage our fears and learn to navigate the stormy waters.

The good news is that the greatest polarization in Scandinavian history — Nazis vs. Communists in the 1920s and ‘30s — was also the time when broad people’s movements made their breakthrough, pushed the domination of their economic elites aside and invented a new model of economic justice. The polarization did not stop them — if anything, the movements used the opportunity.

Yes, polarization is dangerous. Germany and Italy polarized when Sweden and Norway did, but went fascist. Their movements made huge mistakes, mistakes avoided by the Swedes and Norwegians. Our most recent period of great polarization in the United States was also dangerous, but the 1960s and ‘70s was our period of greatest progress since the polarized 1930s.

In short, there’s good reason to see the Trump era as an opportunity not only to stop him, but to make major gains in justice and equality. It will help to learn to turn our fear into power. We’ll also need strategy, and the humility to learn from successes of other movements that have come out ahead during hard times. It is not rocket science. If we’re willing to shift personal habits and priorities, support each other through hardship, and come together on a plan, we can win. That is our opportunity.

by Emily Wheeler, Program Director - June 14, 2016

In April of 2012, I returned to Woolman for the first time since my Community Internship ended two years prior. I am not a Quaker and I rarely attended the Sunday Meeting during my time as an intern, but when Sunday arrived, I decided to go. I will never forget this Meeting, as I sat sandwiched between two women in their 90’s whom I will forever consider my elders and mentors: Lynne Henderson and Mary Jorgenson. Mary was undoubtedly wearing pink, the brightest shade of it, or perhaps that is just how she is permanently held in my memory. In the 60’s, Mary had been part of a group of activists who moved to Nevada City, California with the vision of creating a residential program for young people to commit to and grapple with their commitment to the values of peace, justice and sustainability – the vision of Woolman.

During Worship that Sunday, Mary stood to share about her value of non-violence. She began by reflecting on her history of organizing for racial justice and her many experiences being arrested while participating in peaceful demonstrations during the civil rights era – a time that people often recall when speaking about Mary’s life – but the ministry that day was not about her past, it was about her present. She spoke of non-violence and how difficult it is for her to truly live non-violently, to do so in her thoughts, words and actions. She noticed this most acutely, she said, in her own home, with her husband and family. Her ability to self-examine and self-reflect was inspiring and I believe her willingness to do so and share with others was one of Mary’s greatest gifts.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to meet up with the Director of my graduate program at Goddard College – another small academic institution, much like Woolman, working for peace, justice and sustainability. We met up for a walk along the Cape Cod National Seashore, where I am currently visiting old friends, and immediately started sharing about the past year, both at Woolman and Goddard. “It’s really hard work”, she stated, “to be constantly walking the line between our values and our actions”.

To this day, these values are central to the Woolman community: they adorn our marketing materials and the banners that we hang on stage at Graduation, but more importantly, the values guide our curriculum, they are the underpinning of our restorative practices and they inspire our commitment to land stewardship, producing organic food and providing high-quality, nutrient dense foods for all diets present at any given meal. These are just a few of the manifestations of peace, justice and sustainability on our campus.

This year, to a greater extent than I’d seen before, Woolman’s core values came under scrutiny. And the examination came from within our own community – staff, interns, students – with a strong critique of the ways our institution is not living up to its own vision for world based on principles of equity and social justice. Questions were asked: How can our campus become safer for marginalized identities? How can our staff and board explore topics of oppression and privilege to the extent that our students do in their classes? How can we become more comfortable addressing microaggressions in the moment and fostering dialogue that is both calling out and calling in when members of our community unconsciously perpetuate forms of oppression? We seek answers to these questions in order move through our challenges and into a more just, equitable and peaceful coexistence where all members of the community can thrive.

Throughout the Spring, I had been keeping up with some of the conversations happening on college campuses like Yale and Middlebury, and most recently a more nuanced illustration of this dialogue was published in the New Yorker about Oberlin College highlighting the paradox of institutions that are both welcoming (if not trailblazing) conversations around the greatest injustices of humanity today while simultaneously not fully acknowledging the manifestation of those injustices throughout the campus community. Upon reading this, I realized that I had been so immersed in the lives of the 50 some-odd individuals on the Woolman campus, that I had not paused to see where the conversations at Woolman were located in the larger context of activism in 2016. With a little space and time for my own reflection, it all makes a lot more sense to me now.

When I come back to the message that Mary shared that day back in 2012, I feel gratitude for the Woolman community, for the people who have created and will continue to create a space for deep reflection and discernment around our values. And whether the dialogue continues in Quaker schools, high school semester programs, liberal arts college campuses or even in our own families, I feel confident that the collective consciousness is shifting. “Student movements have an odd habit of ending up on the right side of history,” writes Nathan Heller in his article about activism at Oberlin, and this, I believe, no matter how difficult or painful the work is in the moment, is reason to continue.

by Carl Sigmond, Documentary Projects Teacher and Operations Manager - June 8, 2016

In an age where almost every smartphone can be a video camera and citizen journalism is becoming more relevant to the public discourse, it is even more necessary to teach the theory and technique of effective documentary making so that our students can bring their stories into the greater world in an effective and engaging way. 

The documentary project has been a central and consistent part of the Woolman Semester curriculum for close to a decade. Each semester, students form groups around topics that spark their curiosity and passion, and over the course of their time here, they team produce a short video documentary on their topic of choice. Students work in groups of 2-5 and collaborate on every aspect of the film-making process, from envisioning a narrative arc to shooting and editing footage into a cohesive story. 

In class, we discuss how to share and divide up tasks to ensure that every group member’s voice is heard and valued and work through group conflicts as they arise. We also confront key questions of the documentary genre, including: How does one person represent another? How do filmmakers represent themselves? How are power relations expressed and challenged through these representations? 

This semester, Documentary Class was the Global Thinking Project Class, and so the Global Thinking class theme of multiple perspectives ran throughout the Doc Class as students tried to answer these questions for themselves and in the documentaries they created. Students struggled with group dynamics, how to reconcile seemingly conflicting visions for where the documentary should go, but in the end, they successfully produced films on love and relationships, community life here at Woolman, the symbiotic relationship between animals and farming, and the stigmas surrounding mental illness. We had a public screening on May 12.

When I was a student in the Spring 2009 Woolman Semester, I was part of a team that created a documentary on the local food movement here in Nevada County. After Woolman, I studied documentary filmmaking and documentary as a tool for social change at Haverford College. Now, back at Woolman, I love teaching a tool that I’m so passionate about. It is my hope that I am offering our students the skills so that they will leave Woolman empowered with the knowledge to use this tool in their own social change work. 

by Lisa Putkey, Peace Studies Teacher - March 9, 2016

On Saturday, Feb 27th, Wounded Knee Liberation Day, Woolman students took action in solidarity with students across the country to demand clemency for American Indian Movement hero Leonard Peltier. Earlier this semester, a dear friend of mine in Albuquerque invited me to take up this national call to action. I was excited to learn about the National Student Day of Action for healing and justice and brought the proposal to the students who enthusiastically took up the call. 


Leonard Peltier was active in the American Indian Movement (AIM) and fought against oppression and injustice of Indigenous People in the United States. Over 40 years ago, he was wrongfully convicted in the death of two FBI agents on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Peltier is a political prisoner and a victim of the FBIs COINTELPRO program, which used imprisonment as a tool to silence radical movement leaders. Peltier’s health is currently failing and he does not have adequate access to healthcare. Peltier’s critical health issue paired with it being Obama’s last year in office makes now the time for Peltier to finally be granted clemency.

To prepare for the action we watched videos, read articles and letters, and discussed the importance of Leonard Peltier’s freedom.  Organizing started with a group of 6 of us one evening around a table in the dining hall. We decided to go to the state’s capitol of Sacramento to march with "Clemency Now for Peltier" banners, chants, signs, flyers, and postcards to Obama.  Some of us organized an art party to make signs and banners and listened to Free Leonard Peltier: Hip Hop's Contribution to the Freedom Campaign.

Thanks to a Woolman alumni, we learned of another Indigenous solidarity action happening in Sacramento that same day so we started the day by joining them. The Apache Stronghold organized a powerful Save Oak Flat march and rally in solidarity with the San Carlos Apache to protect their sacred ancestral homeland that is being threatened by an international copper mining company. After marching to the capitol and many powerful conversations with Save Oak Flat protesters, students headed to the Farmers Market to start demonstrating for clemency.  They then marched up J street with chanting: “One: We want justice. Two: for Leonard Peltier. Three: Clemency Now!” Check out this photo album from the day’s events.

At the end of the day we had collected nearly 60 postcards for Obama! In reflecting on the action, students were grateful for the opportunity to take action and learned a lot about themselves. They gained skills and experience with writing press releases, contacting news outlets, creating banners and signs, doing social media outreach, leading chants, and engaging people on the street to comment and take action.  I asked them to make connections between colonization at home and US imperialism abroad and to critically consider their own role as a group of mainly settlers taking action for indigenous rights.

One of the powerful observations students made was in their comparison of how they were received by different groups of people.  At the farmers market, people were generally not very interested in what students had to say.  At Cesar Chavez Plaza, however, students met many people without homes who were not only interested in what students had to say but appreciative for their action and offered material support for the cause. 

In organizing and taking action, students were able to directly apply the concepts of peace, justice, power, privilege, systemic oppression, violence, allyship, and collective liberation that we have learned about in Peace Studies class. The students are currently organizing their own actions around issues that they are passionate about and/or directly affected by such as mental health, justice for queer and undocumented people, and reproductive rights – stay tuned for updates on those projects. 

If you are reading this, please take the time to email, call 202-456-1111, or write President Obama at The White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20500 to demand clemency now!  For more information about organizing for Peltier's freedom visit: and watch Incident at Oglala: The Leonard Peltier Story.

by Amelia Nebenzahl, Global Thinking Teacher - December 16, 2015
What a profound final Global Thinking class on Friday! The course came full circle when we revisited an activity that we did in the first week of the semester. This second version of the Web of Interconnection demonstrated not only how the causes and solutions to many global issues are intertwined, but also how much the students have learned and critically analyzed in the last four months. I am always elated by hearing Woolman students explain how globalization, the school-to-prison pipeline, the Prison Industrial complex, capitalism, corporate dominance, democracy, oligarchy, foreign aid, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, and the importance of hearing multiple perspectives show up in our society.
As a teacher I find that learning is most ‘sticky’ and concepts are best absorbed when the topics we explore go beyond the classroom. Our study of the Prison Industrial Complex is a great example of this. We began by reading a chapter from Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness in order to theoretically understand how the criminal justice system in the US is a modern day method of marginalizing people of color from society, particularly low income men of color, just as slavery and later Jim Crow laws did mere decades ago. 
We deepened our understanding of the systemic racism and classism inherent in today's Prison Industrial Complex during our Radical Learning for Change trip to Oakland and San Francisco. We met with Jerry Elster and Laura Magnani who work in solidarity with incarcerated people to implement Restorative Justice as a system of healing and to educate people outside the prison system of the injustices and harm caused by the Prison Industrial Complex. It was incredibly powerful to hear from them first hand about what it’s like to work at the grassroots level as agents of change. 
As part of the Global Thinking Projects Class, students made documentaries about a social justice topic of their choice. Three students made a documentary about support available to incarcerated people after they leave prison, and they interviewed Jerry Elster while we were in San Francisco to gain another important perspective on ways to decrease recidivism in the prison system.
If you’re interested in getting a deeper taste of Global Thinking class and understanding how racism and corporatism play into the Prison Industrial Complex, check out these two resources that we examine in class. The first is an interview with Michelle Alexander and the second is an exploration of how prisons are increasingly becoming for-profit entities. I am extremely grateful to this semester’s students for the incredible deep thinking, reflection, and intellectual growth that I have observed from them. Thank you for bringing your strength and your knowledge out into the greater world!
by Lisa Putkey, Peace Studies Teacher - December 7, 2015

In Peace Studies class, students have been learning about intersecting systems of oppression and organized resistance movements.  One of our focuses is to debunk the creation myths of the United States Empire, which was founded on genocide and slavery.  In projects class, students have been studying Native American rights, the impacts of continued colonization, and contemporary resistance movements centered on indigenous leadership.  Earlier this semester, we attended an annual Indigenous Peoples’ Day celebration in Nevada City organized by the Tsi Akim Maidu.  As Thanksgiving approached, we organized a banner drop in Nevada City to shed light on the true history of Thanksgiving.  While we deeply value family gatherings and giving thanks, we wanted to encourage fellow settlers to reflect upon the origins of this holiday and how it is a time of reflection and mourning for many.  With consultation from some Native American friends, the students came up with the phrase: “Happy Thankstaking! Ask Native Americans what they think” 


Despite pouring rain, spirits were high and students were full of passion and energy the day of the banner drop.  We were met with many supportive honks.  In addition to hanging the banner, students passed out the following article to passersby and local businesses: 6 Thanksgiving Myths, Share Them With Someone You Know by Vincent Schilling.  In reflecting on the banner drop, students felt powerful taking action and felt it was something they could easily do on their own with a sheet, paint, scissors and a friend.  In reflecting further on the message, we felt that “ask them” can be homogenizing and puts the burden on Native Americans to educate, and so we could have focused more on settler responsibility.  We also asked the critical question of who are we accountable to in taking action and how do we build deeper relations with local indigenous organizations to center their leadership in any solidarity work.

by Hilary Ellis-Lavigne, NVC Teacher & Restorative Practices Coordinator - September 24, 2015
Each semester, we invite students to intentionally create the community that they want to live in, and, most importantly, to create a system to respond to any conflict or feelings of disconnection that might arise within the community. To start the Fall semester, students were asked to reflect on and draw pictures of communities and systems that they have already experienced prior to coming to Woolman and to describe what worked and what didn’t. The result was an expression of dissatisfaction and images of triangles depicting hierarchy or scales tipped only one way. Then students were asked to envision what they wanted instead and what that might look like; we saw circles and most notably spirals, to represent open communication and understanding spiraling back into the community, thus “The Spiral System” was born. Last week at Community Meeting “The Spiral System” was presented by Jhanna and was accepted and endorsed by the community.
The work that we are doing now in the Nonviolent Communication class directly relates to and supports the creation and implementation of “The Spiral System”. It is a weekly opportunity to remind ourselves of what really matters to us. Together we learn important and necessary skills which provide opportunities for us to show up in ways that will allow the shared vision of our “perfect community” to emerge. We have been looking at why, even though we have amazing values at the core of our beings, we often make choices that are not in line with those values.
  • We have been asking: What happens if we call ourselves or each other wrong and bad when we do this?
  • We have been exploring what it means to listen to our feelings, name them and use them as guides to connect to what we are deeply caring about.
  • We have been practicing how to hear the feelings and needs of another person no matter what they are saying or how they are saying it, and in doing so to recognize and connect to the beautiful universal human needs behind every “should or shouldn't" thought that we might be having.
This is radical work, the ownership that the students are taking of their own experiences here, is palpable. I am excited and curious to see how this semester will unfold as we individually and collectively continue to live into our Quaker testimonies of Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equality/Equity and Sustainability, at the same time living more and more deeply into the beliefs that are the underpinnings of Quaker faith and practice: that there is that of Truth in us all, that we all have direct access to this Truth, that it continually reveals itself to us and that in coming together in community we may come to understand a greater, deeper Truth. 
by Emily Wheeler, Admissions and Outreach Director - September 21, 2015

Brian Gil-Rios is currently a senior at Big Picture Learning’s MetWest High School in Oakland, California. He is spending the fall semester at the Woolman Semester School, where students from high schools across the United States study social justice and environmental sustainability together while living on a farm in a residential community in Nevada City, California. We sat down with Brian to learn more about what it’s like to transition from the hustle of a metropolitan learning environment to one which, as Brian admits, benefits from a certain level of calmness.

1.   If you had one word to describe Woolman, what would it be?

Relaxing. I come from a city, Oakland, where there is constant noise from cars, construction and people. In Oakland there is never time where it's totally quiet, no silence. You can’t just go sit under a tree or walk through the forest. At Woolman, like in silent meeting, I can really focus on myself and that helps me not feel stressed. I see that I don’t have to worry too much. Plus, there are hammocks around!

2.   What has been most surprising for you at Woolman?

The people. Before I came, I was thinking okay – 15 students, interns, staff – I never thought I’d connect. I’m from Oakland, they won’t understand. But we’ve actually had similar experiences and I’m learning different things from everyone. We’re interacting from different backgrounds. When I visited Woolman before this semester, I saw the community interact, everyone seemed really close. Now I see that process working, people are getting closer.

3.   Do you have a favorite memory so far?

Finding the Crystal Tree [a famous but secretive spot on campus]. I explore the woods here two or three times a week, sometimes just for 15 minutes and sometimes longer. Literally, yesterday, I found it. I wish I could have just stumbled upon it myself, but there were some other people there and I could hear them so that’s how I found it. There are other places I might find myself, like the old structures that students have built. But you know, it’s like that phrase, “it’s about the journey, not the destination”.

4.   How would you describe the Woolman community?

As a whole it seems like Woolman functions because each individual is a part of what makes it whole. If you miss something, like Shared Work, we might actually have trouble filling that hole. And if someone is having a hard time, we communicate with each other – we’re united. And it is united, we have meetings to talk about our ideas or to work things out. Everyone has a voice and the community will try to meet their needs as well as the community needs.

5.   How do you see yourself in that community?

If something arises that I’m passionate about, I’ll speak about it. For the most part, I agree with the things that are happening, so I don’t always speak. My nature is to be quiet. I know it might sound like I’m contradicting what I just said about community, but I think my voice feels represented here and if it doesn’t, then I share.

6.   Can you talk a little bit about the classes at Woolman?

I came to Woolman already knowing about types of oppression. But here I’m able to go deeper, share what I know and help facilitate. In Peace Studies, I facilitated an activity from my organization Bay Peace, and students asked where I had learned that; which was cool! Peace Studies is helping me think about justice and injustices. The homework is hard, some of it is grad school level! That on top of SAT’s, math, work from MetWest – juggling all of it has been a challenge. But I’m not stressed about it because I’m here.

7.   Have you learned any concepts that give you a new perspective?

My Global Thinking class has really opened my eyes to recent events. In each class, one person is asked to give an explanation of a current event with three sources. It’s the same issue, but from different sides. You really see how media portrays different things to make it look good or bad depending on what they want to show. You really see the bigger picture. The issues feel far away, but it’s good to have the knowledge of what’s happening all over the world.

In the first two weeks [of Global Thinking], our homework was to trace our clothes – how many miles they had come – and it was crazy to see how every part of our clothes comes from a different place. The zipper might be from Texas, the cloth from India or Bangladesh, then it might be assembled in China and finally shipped to the store where you buy it. You really see how the world is connected through one piece of clothing.

We’re also really connected through technology. You can literally talk with someone anywhere in the world through a screen. When I think about it, it’s cool but crazy.

8.   Why do you think doing a semester program is a valuable experience?

The reason I came out here to Woolman is that I wanted to be away. I’m not running away from Oakland or my problems, but I want to be independent. I want to be myself. Here everyone looks out for each other. It’s a different lifestyle. I never thought I’d be eating different kinds of food every night. We’ve only been here a month and it’s amazing to see that I’ve actually adapted to being here! I think it’s important to have an open mind and to live differently in terms of your daily routine. I came here thinking, “Okay, it’s going to be different”, and that mentality, being open, that was really important. I might have been shy at first, but I was just getting used to everything. I wouldn't say I changed myself to be at Woolman. I just got used to the change.

We invite you to learn more about what makes the Woolman experience special for students like Brian. For more information, please visit

by Lisa Putkey, Peace Studies Teacher - May 6, 2015


Last week was my favorite week of the semester: our Radical Learning for Change Trip (Rad Trip). I love to visit the Bay where I grew up and am thankful for the opportunity to introduce the students to incredible organizers, artists, educators and change makers. My internal fire was fueled with inspiration, and I grew closer to our students. The Rad Trip built upon the teachings of our Global Thinking and Peace Studies classes.

In Peace Studies, students have been challenged to look deeply at themselves and explore their multiple and fluid identities. This includes exploring how their roots, cultural backgrounds, and lived experiences inform their worldviews and values. Their self-reflection has focused on how power, privilege, and oppression manifest in their everyday lives and life spaces. A goal of the class is to cultivate critical consciousness in which students actively take part in anti-oppression work and see themselves as agents of transformation. 

We learn about systems of oppression with a critical, intersectional lens, and understand the story of the US to be rooted in white supremacy, heteropatriarchy, militarism and capitalism. We study grassroots resistance movements led by directly affected peoples. We seek out voices that speak truth to power and stories omitted from mainstream educational narratives. We celebrate the resilience, courage, and power of ordinary people whose deep love of self and community outweigh their fatigue and fear of violence and injustice.

Throughout the semester students have been studying and discussing racism/white supremacy, the school-to-prison pipeline, the prison-industrial-complex, the New Jim Crow criminal justice system, the Black Panther Party survival programs, and the Civil Rights and #BlackLivesMatter movements. From Oakland to Boston our students from around the country shared stories and photos from participating in #BlackLivesMatter protests in their home communities. Last week in Oakland we watched Fruitvale Station and participated in May Day rallies and marches protesting racist police brutality in solidarity with Baltimore. The following are examples of class activities and resources in the hope that you will continue to talk about how Black Lives Matter and push for systemic change.


One day in class students worked individually and in collaboration to create activist art inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement.  They designed screen prints, postcards, t-shirts, memorial posters, graphic art collages, and a performance piece.


We watched the following:


Each day in class we start with someone sharing a song that relates to peace and justice. These are some of the songs we discussed for this unit:


Theses are some examples of readings from homework and class:

Resources for Educators:

Many of these resources are from the following radical educational guides:

by Amelia Nebenzahl, Global Thinking Teacher - April 16, 2015

It’s sometimes hard to notice harmful systems in our daily lives, even though they make up the basic fibers of our society. Even when we do notice them these systems can be hard to name, hard to articulate. Or perhaps when we try to talk about them, it feels like no one’s listening. At Woolman we challenge this status quo: we not only analyze systems of oppression, we vocalize how our society treats people of different identities in different ways. We examine the prison industrial complex, food justice, and the continuous prevalence of racism across the country and world. We explore the intersectionality of systems of oppression and realize that in fact our democracy is really an oligarchy and thus there is a direct link between the corporatization of our economy, marginalization of disenfranchised people who are not represented by our governmental system, and the increasingly growing wealth disparity in the United States.

At Woolman we don’t hide from the fact that the world is in crisis and that we are far from true peace, sustainable peace. Instead we embrace the fact that we are at a point of immense opportunity which the radical author and activist Joanna Macy, whose work we read in Peace Studies class, calls The Great Turning. “It is a name for the essential adventure of our time: the shift from the industrial growth society to a life-sustaining civilization” ( We bring a critical eye to the structures and systems that govern our society not just to identify the problems but more importantly to craft alternative solutions. We think about how those who are disenfranchised by the status quo, particularly youth like those who are already leading the movement for a better future, can be agents of change, how we can build economic systems that allow people to jump out of the poverty cycle, food systems that provide everyone access to healthy and affordable nourishment, police and criminal justice systems that aren’t sending the message that young black men don’t deserve to be alive. Our inspiration comes from highly acclaimed authors like Naomi Klein, who enlightens us on how a commitment to green jobs could simultaneously solve our climate crisis and our economic crisis, and also from less known forward thinkers like Jonah Mossberg, whose film Out Here explains the intersection of food justice and queer liberation (

We realize that because systems of oppression are so interconnected, systems of liberation are equally linked. We also acknowledge that in order to achieve a truly equitable society we must listen and learn from those who are most affected by oppression. Australian Aboriginal Elder Lilla Watson stated that, “If you are coming to help us, you are wasting your time. If you are coming because you know your liberation is bound up with ours, then let us work together.” Looking deep inside our own identities and experiences, Woolman students learn how to use their privileges and positions in society to build the world that we all need: a world free of oppression and marginalization where all people are empowered and supported to live healthy and free lives.                    

Students brainstorming what empowering education looks like.


Taking notes off the whiteboard isn't common in radical education. Instead students' ideas bring notes to the board.

by Jasmine Rosalbo, a recent graduate of the Fall 2014 semester - December 16, 2014

When I think of intersectionality,

I see a venn diagram of overlapping social categories

I see colorful pasta intertwined to make mutually constructed identities

I see runners on a track

I see obstacles set in front of them

On the basis of their race

and gender

I see privilege and the power to oppress

I see multi layered oppression of people of color

I see gender, race, class, sexuality

a checklist of categories that place us within the patriarchal hierarchy we call our world

But when I translate this to to world around me, and to feminism

I see a huge part of the media portraying white middle class heterosexual cisgendered ablebodied men and women as humanity

I see politicians claiming neutral politics

That serve this fictional majority

I see a public space filled with institutions

That were built to serve the hegemonic masculinity

and oppress the other

I see the center of knowledge production operated by white men claiming objectivity

Where are the people of color?

Where are the colonized?

Where are the disabled people?

Where are those who lie outside the recognized boundaries?

This is what needs to be seen

This is what needs to be made visible

These are the voices that need to be heard

This is the call that can reshape economic structures of oppression and exclusion

Which can unmask the identity of the “neutral” citizen

Which will show that his privilege is built upon the exploitation and discrimination of the marginalized

But how can the concept of intersectionality be more than just a buzzword?

More than a checklist of static identity categories

And instead something that is used to really take into account

The complex forms of discrimination

Shaped by history

And social structures

As a white middle class cisgendered woman

And a bearer of privilege,

I am trying to understand the ways i reproduce systems of oppression

So that i may be apart of deconstructing them

I am not humanity

I am not women

I am not objective

I am a standpoint in solidarity with,

and recognition of society's many unique and complex identities


In other words, I hope for solidarity.

I hope for understanding, gender starscapes and fluidity

I hope to bring compassion for the unknown

And recognition of the need to listen, I hope for humility.

by Lisa Putkey, Peace Studies Teacher - December 2, 2014

“All Oppression is Connected” –Staceyann Chin

One of the most inspirational and exciting experiences for me all semester was co-organizing and co-facilitating the Global Issues and Peace Studies (GIPS) trip.  Our goal in designing the trip was to give our students the opportunity to see models of activism and social change in action in order to empower them to see themselves as agents of change.  We have been studying themes of peace, violence, and systemic oppression and wanted to present students with examples in the Bay Area of ordinary people making extraordinary efforts to challenge the status-quo and create just communities.  Being from the Bay Area, I was excited to collaborate with many friends and organizations whose work I admire and respect. 

The theme of our trip this fall was inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King’s 1967 Beyond Vietnam speech in which he states:

“I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin—we must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism and militarism are incapable of being conquered”

We wanted to highlight the intersectionality of systemic oppression and violence as it manifests through the giant triplets of racism, capitalism, and militarism.  In class this semester we have been working with students to not only develop a critical consciousness of these intersecting oppressions in their daily lives but to envision, discuss, and act upon the change they want to see in the world.  From community murals and gardens to meditation circles to FOIA requests to nonviolent protest to creating alternative institutions, we wanted to provoke thoughts on different organizing styles and challenge students to examine which models of change resonate most with their own passions and communities.  Below you will find the schedule of activities from the week and a reflection piece by one of our students, Flannery Raabe. 








- Tri Valley CAREs presentation & perimeter tour of nuclear weapons lab

- Oscar Grant mural at Fruitvale Station

-Visit Canticle Farm

- Generation Waking Up workshop

-Political activism talk at Oakland City Hall

-AFSC presentation on the prison industry


-LLNL presentation at Discovery Center with weapons researcher

-Lunch and mural tour with 67 Sueños

-AORTA Solidarity Economics workshop

-Iraq Vets Against the War presentation

-Beehive Collective workshop/exhibition


-Watch Fruitvale Station


- Berkeley Poetry Slam

-Open house dinner

-East Point Peace Academy Nonviolence training & exchange w/ Youth Spirit Artworks


The GIPS trip was inspiring and educational. I was constantly considering the theme of our trip, the giant triplets of militarism, capitalism, and racism, and the idea that fear could be the root of all of them. One of the coolest parts of the trip, for me, was the nuclear and anti-nuclear places because they combined both environmental issues and human issues. On Monday, we talked to a group called Tri-Valley CAREs, an anti-nuclear community watchdog. Marylia Kelley, one of the two staff that the organization has, talked to us about the work her organization has done and about the work done in the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. She told us that as part of Tri-Valley CAREs, she has helped workers from Lawrence Livermore get compensation for injuries from a variety of things, especially exposure to radiation. Marylia’s organization helps provide the community an alternative to the militaristic nuclear lab through their work to expose the negative effects of the lab and provide paths of resistance. What really struck me about this organization was their willingness to work with the community, rather than hiding things from the community like the lab seemed to do. The collaboration seemed to be an important tool in community organizing.

After talking to Marylia, we talked to a few people who have spent almost 30 years working as part of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Our group asked questions that were perhaps a little too attacking, but we were straight to the point and asked what we wanted to know. However, she seemed to evade most of our questions. Her answers were vague, and it seemed like she was often just repeating the question. We asked follow up questions in some cases to try to get a clearer answer, but she dodged even those. Overall, I left the lab feeling disappointed and suspicious of what she wasn’t saying when she avoided our questions. Maybe she just didn’t know the answers, but even that would cause me to worry a little bit. It’s also possible that she wasn’t allowed to disclose the answers and was trying to appease us best she could, but that would mean there is something to hide. Either way, the way the talk went made me suspicious, or at least uncomfortable. I’m wondering now how I would have felt if we had gone to the lab first and to Tri-Valley CAREs second, but, honestly, I’m not sure it would have made much of a difference.

When we were visiting the lab, I felt like militarism and capitalism definitely influenced the work they do. Without the militaristic society we live in, we wouldn’t need the lab to keep the nuclear weapons we have fully functional. The tour guide admitted to being motivated by fear and it seemed to me that the whole lab’s militaristic ideology is motivated by fear and capitalistic values.  A lot of the values of capitalism we talked about in the AORTA workshop on Wednesday were present in the work of the lab. They seemed more interested in self preservation than things that are beneficial to the whole.

On Monday night, we watched the movie Fruitvale Station. This movie documented the last day of Oscar Grant’s life. Oscar was a young, black male living in Oakland, California. He had a girlfriend and they wereraising a daughter together. On the night he was murdered, he was taking the BART subway home from a New Year’s celebration. He was stopped by the police and ended up being shot. The inherent racism in our police system was clearly at play here and after hearing so much about police brutality in class and in the news, it was powerful to see a real story of the affects of racism in our police system. In addition, it seems to me that the “security” of the community is similar to the “security” of the nation through nuclear weapons — motivated by fear. Both nuclear weapons use and Oscar Grant’s murder were horrendous side effects of fear.        

Reflection by Flannery Raabe
Photos by Gray Horwitz

by Mishel Ramos, Student - November 9, 2014

This poem was performed Wednesday night in Berkeley at a Slam Poetry event. (Click on the image to see the Video).

by Mishel Ramos, Student - October 15, 2014

One December, 67 Suenos took a trip to Stockton, home of seasonal work. And those that work in the fields often make cardboard homes. The group had previously visited the forgotten city as they call it. My folks live in cardboard homes under a bridge, cold nights warmed by fire, surrounded by people with the same struggle. We were inspired by how much people made with what they have, and we came back with the idea to help out, build homes and give food and clothes. But when we finally got to the forgotten city, we were hit by their reality.  Stockton police remembered the forgotten people, and a week before we arrived enforcements raided their home. There was one family that stayed behind with nowhere to go, but they were not willing to talk to us, afraid of what might happen. In Peace and Conflict Studies: An Introduction, by Ho-Won Jeong, he says,“If human beings are denied decent education, housing, opportunity to work and freedom to express themselves they become marginalized. Conditions for social fragmentation are created by a lack of equity and freedom” ( pg. 21 p5). What happened to the families in Stockton is a perfect example of both how they were treated as insignificant, and not respected enough to be given the right to build their own homes out of scratch in a country that is so rich and has enough resources for everyone yet poverty still exists. Structural violence is when certain people, genders, classes and nationalities hold more power as opposed to others, more resources and opportunities than other groups. This unequal advantage is built into the very social, political and economic systems that govern societies, states and the world. Since the system was built with the goal to keep classes and races believing that they are less than, then the system has not failed because it was never intended for us, people of color, to succeed. Hence poverty, hence the multitude of people that got stolen from their right to build their way up. You hate us in the streets but you love us when we are working for your companies.

I come from a community full of hard working people, from working early mornings to midnight shifts all to take care of bills and feed their children, East Oakland is where I reside. My community is one of the many targeted communities, from trying to pass curfew laws, to gentrifying the city that black and brown immigrants already occupy. Gentrification is a part of capitalism.  Capitalism relies on some areas of the world being underdeveloped so that they can be cheaply invested in, "developed," and used to make profits. This happens across countries, within countries, across cities, and within cities. Gentrification is one way that capitalism develops “urban” areas.  Capitalist landlords let certain neighborhoods get run down and refuse to do repairs.  Once the neighborhood is devalued, landlords and capitalists can then invest, fix things up, and sell for a higher price.  The difference between the value of a property when it's run-down and devalued and the value of a property that's re-invested in is called the "value gap."  The difference between what a run down property can charge for rent and what a fixed up property can charge for rent is the "rent gap."  The rent gap is what motivates landlords and capitalists to invest in run-down neighborhoods . . . the potential profit that they can get once they fix things up. In Oakland Jerry Brown, California Governor, came up with the idea that to fix violence he needed to bring in 10,000 more new residents into our city. A city that already has high incarceration rates due to “legal discrimination” – housing: rent, location, condition. Employment and education: built to keep us eating right out of their hand. Public benefits: what is that? We have none. – My community has a lot of racial profiling and targeting so many youth in school. I come from a district that uses a lot of our schools budget that should be going into our education, yet they use a lot of our funding for school police. Our youth are being targeted in and out of school. From the book The New Jim Crow, author Michelle Alexander states, “.. National Advisory Commission on Criminal Justice Standards and Goals .. No new institutions for adults should be built and existing institutions for juvenile should be closed”. In 1973, there were 350,000 people held in prisons nation wide but today there are 2 million humans incarcerated in the US alone. Over the past twenty years, the State of California has built twenty one new prisons, added thousands of cells to existing facilities, and increased its inmate population eight fold. Nonviolent offenders have been responsible for most of that increase. The number of drug offenders imprisoned in the state today is more than twice the number of inmates who were imprisoned for all crimes in 1978. California now has the biggest prison system in the Western industrialized world, a system 40 percent bigger than the Federal Bureau of Prisons. The state holds more inmates in its jails and prisons than do France, Great Britain, Germany, Japan, Singapore, and the Netherlands combined. There is overwhelming evidence institutions create crime rather then prevent it.

I am a part of a youth group called 67 Suenos, 67 came out of the 67% of the youth that weren’t going to benefit from the Dream Act, the Dream Act “This bill would provide conditional permanent residency to certain immigrants of good moral character who graduate from U.S. high schools, arrived in the United States as minors, and lived in the country continuously for at least five years prior to the bill's enactment. If they were to complete two years in the military or two years at a four-year institution of higher learning” says Wikipedia. This bill off course did not benefit more than half of our youth, they were viewed as either valedictorians or criminals, but most definitely left out the real part the human part of our undocumented youth. The ones that had to stop pursuing an education because ICE enforcements struck them with deporting a mother or a father and now our youth had to take care of siblings or even have to look for help to provide economic help, we are not criminals but we all cant get straight A’s when we have to worry where our next meals will come from, recently we found out that also from the immigration reform 67% of our undocumented families are being left out of an important conversation, our future. What 67 Suenos does is hold a safe space for youth to learn and get informed with what is happening in the real world struggles and what media is always leaving out. We hold a healing circle for our youth to talk about the things that we have to carry around, it provides us with a space to heal each other and ourselves by communicating and using medicine we call sage, sap of the tree. We go on protest to fight the many things that affects us and our communities. In a letter from a Birmingham jail, Martin Luther King says “we know through a lot of painful experiences that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed… justice too long delayed is too long denied”. And we have to fight the system and unjust laws, like closing Wells Fargo because they are the main source that is investing in the detention centers of our people, boycotting Mi Pueblo a super market that ran background checks on its workers and fired so many workers that worked there for years when the owner was once undocumented himself, protesting Pacific Steel a company that fired a lot of their workers one a week before Christmas and left them without pay. “There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope sir you understand our legitimate and unavoidable impotence,” writes Martin Luther King in A letter from a Birmingham Jail. I strongly believe in my heart that there comes a time when people get so tired of all the injustices that they see around them and just have to lash out to the main cause of their oppression, people have to wake up at some point because even sleeping beauty woke up from a spell. Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever.

For years my people have been taunted about what we “do not have”. Put in our faces pictures of what real beauty is, and that what we look like isn’t. Live in third world countries that have gorgeous landscapes, and yet we have been convinced that beauty is cities full of skyscrapers, city lights, and traffic. Migrated from beautiful lands full of grass and delicious crops in search of the American dream, the one that doesn’t exist. We come from humble communities full of culture and tradition, introduced to busy streets full rushing citizens. Locked into a system that doesn’t want to see us shine. Structural violence tries to keep us shut down yet we look for all ways to break free whether under the system or concrete we will break out of the oppression and set ourselves free. “Peace ultimately has to be obtained by changing social structures that are responsible for death, poverty, and malnutrition” – Martin Luther King. Change is gonna come.

by Izak Lederman-Beach, Student and Aspiring Weatherman - November 3, 2013

The Catalyst Project is an organization that teaches white people how to help stop racism, which is a really great thing to do. I learned that anyone can make a difference in society no matter how they have been affected. The woman that came to talk to us was an incredible person who is really changing the world- which was inspiring to me and my friends. She has been involved in activism for a long time. During the workshop, which was about five hours long, she spoke of the history of racism in the United States, providing us with varying definations of the concept. She taught us about its orgins as something instituted by the wealthy to divide poor whites and blacks for the purpose of preserving and increasing their wealth.

We went on to talk about more recent examples of whites resisting white supremacy. These activists realized that just because they benefitted from the system in place did not make that system just. They understood the imprtance of solidarity, another word we talked about.

Martin Luther King's wise words, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere," were really relevent to our discussion because they summed up what we were learning: even if a problem doesn't directly affect you, it still matters because it directly affects someone else. It is in the interest of white people to end white supremecy because we want to be to be surrounded by different cultures and traditions. When this happens, we all benefit instead of one race benefitting from the domination of others. We benefit from the diverse viewpoints that different cultures bring forth. I hope that our society can rise up and become one where no single cultural story subordinates others. 

We closed the workshop with a query asking us to reflect on this exact idea: why do you want to work to end white supremecy? How is it in your interest? When listening to my peers and teachers say what was in it for them, I realized something. I realized that as I have progressed in the educational system, starting at inner-city public schools and now at a social justice-centered semester school in Nevada City, California, I have been surrounded by more and more white people. It is in my interest to end white supremacy because I want to be surrounded by many cultures and people from all over the planet! 

Ever since this workshop, I've been looking through a really clean pair of glasses. I am now able to identify racial injustices in our world and that is half the battle of defeating them.

by Jennifer Stone and David Dean - November 3, 2013

For our combined Peace Studies and Global Issues trip, students spent a week in the Bay Area exploring social justice issues and activism—focusing especially on education, race, the prison system, and global interconnection. Highlights of the trip included a "Wake Up" with Generation Waking Up, in which students discussed the unique challenges and opportunities facing their generation; a presentation by Laura Magnani, author of Beyond Prisons and director of the American Friends Service Committee's Bay Area Healing Justice Program; and an incredible conversation with Jeff Duncan-Andrade, a veteran public school teacher and founder of the initiative "Roses In Concrete." In addition to discussions and presentations, students saw the movie Fruitvale Station, attended and performed in a slam poetry performance, and participated in Canticle Farm's East Oakland community meditation. Magnolia Neel, a Woolman student, remarked, "This trip was so inspiring—I have so many new ideas about what I want to pursue in my future and how I want to live my life."

For more on this wonderful trip see the photos below that were captured by Woolman student Izak Lederman-Beach, or read blog posts from our students and staff about our shared experiences and new friends.

Wait a minute, white people can help solve racism? - By Izak Lederman-Beach
A frank conversation about disability with our own intern, Carl - By Valentine Purell

An inspiring afternoon with Mia Mingus - By Carl Sigmond, Media & Technology Intern

Waking Up to a Wake-Up - By Genna Kules

The Starry Plough - By Emily DePol

Jeff Duncan-Andrade - By Cait Mazzarella

Fighting for Justice Beyond Prisons - Samara Rosen

Reflections from the Peace Studies/Global Issues Trip - By Jennifer Stone, Peace Studies Teacher

The Generation Waking Up Experience - By Holland Bressler

Our Talk with Jeff Duncan-Andrade - By Jasmyn Atsalis-Gogel

Beyond Prisons - By Jordan Newhof


Students read Assata, the autobiography of activist Assata Shakur, in an Oakland park.


Woolman student Ethan Bronstein described listening to Jeff Duncan-Andrade as "being in the presence of greatness."


Veteran urban educator and community activist Dr. Jeff Duncan-Andrade speaks to Woolman students about rethinking the purpose of education in our communities.


Pancho Ramos-Stierle tells Woolman students about Canticle Farm and La Casa De Paz, a hub of urban farming, community revitalization, and spirituality in East Oakland.

by Carl Sigmond, Media and Technology Intern - November 1, 2013
Mia Mingus describes herself as a "queer physically disabled Korean woman transracial and transnational adoptee,… [working] for community, interdependency and home for all of us, not just some of us, and [longing] for a world where disabled children can live free of violence, with dignity and love." She focuses her work and activism in two areas: 1) She is an active member of the Bay Area Transformative Justice Collective, an organization that supports transformative justice responses to child sexual abuse. 2) She works to raise awareness of physical access and ablism issues.
We invited Mia to speak to our students during our recent Peace Studies and Global Issues Trip to the Bay Area. We asked her to facilitate a conversation based on her essay, "Access Intimacy: The Missing Link." In it, she presents access intimacy alongside other forms of intimacy - intellectual, emotional, sexual, etc.. For her, access intimacy is the "feeling when someone else 'gets' your access needs.  The kind of eerie comfort that your disabled self feels with someone on a purely access level.  Sometimes it can happen with complete strangers, disabled or not, or sometimes it can be built over years.  It could also be the way your body relaxes and opens up with someone when all your access needs are being met."
We had a vibrant conversation about access in our society. She shared with us some of what she goes through as she lives with a physical disability. In fact, she identifies herself as a politically disabled person. As someone who has a physical disability but who doesn't identify myself as disabled, I questioned her on this. She responded by noting that women or people of color identify themselves as such, so she does the same, in an effort to own her disability and to fully acknowledge the discrimination she faces so frequently. For me, my disability is a part of who I am - it doesn't (and I don't let it) define who I am and/or how I interact with others. This dichotomy sparked interest among the students for a conversation about my own disability and what I face as I go through life. You can read about that conversation here.
by Valentine Purell, Fall 2013 Woolman Semester Student - November 1, 2013
After a discussion with Mia Mingus, a disabilities activist, Carl Sigmond, the Media and Technology intern and co-teacher of our Documentary Class, led us in a conversation, or a discussion about how what we had just spoken about affects him. Carl has cerebral palsy, which affects the nervous system’s ability to communicate with and control muscles. He generally uses a wheelchair to get around, and his speech can be difficult to understand for the unfamiliar listener. We started off the conversation about how people interacted with Carl on BART, and how we noticed Carl interacted with BART. Students noticed that other people on BART had reactions to Carl that we weren't used to. We have a more or less isolated community here at Woolman, so everyone has gotten used to Carl’s mode of speech, and we’ve gotten to know how brilliant he is. But not everybody has had that experience, and there are prejudices that people have that make initial introductions difficult. Students found  that other BART passengers were unaccustomed to hearing Carl speak, and were giving strange looks. A student brought up the fact that they started to feel defensive when they saw the looks that Carl was given, that they started to feel protective. Carl brought up that it was something that was part of everyday life, and that it was normal.  Students also noticed more about how the wheelchair accessible routes seem to be difficult to navigate, and that they are not as straightforward as the other routes. An example of this that was brought up was how students could just have the straightforward path of going up the steps, Carl needed to go around circuitous path to find an elevator. 
The conversation then lead into about how we tend to think about Carl. Something that was brought up was that quite a few of us associate Carl extremely closely with his wheelchair. So closely were the two related in our minds, that a few of us were surprised by Carl being out of the wheelchair at all. That lead us to an interesting part about language. Carl says ‘ I use a wheelchair, but I am not in one.’ which is an interesting language thing to think about. When that was brought up, that Carl was in a wheelchair rather than using on, he challenged us to think if he was actually in a wheelchair, and then proceeded to loosen the seatbelt, and get out of the wheelchair. As he sat on the floor with us, the talk turned to other aspects of language, and how Carl identifies himself. Carl said that personally identifies not as being disabled, but instead has a disability. As it was put, ‘It’s a part of who I am, but it’s not who I am.’ 
by Emily Wheeler, Admissions and Outreach Director - May 6, 2013

Mary Jorgensen, cofounder of The John Woolman School, joined students in their newly created outdoor “student lounge” prior to her recent documentary interview. This semester students are producing documentaries on a variety of subjects. Mary was interviewed by a student, AJ Sunmonu about her experience as a Freedom Rider during the civil rights movement. It was an exceptional opportunity for students to meet someone who participated so fully in an historical civil rights event.

During her walk across campus, Mary was especially excited to learn that over 100 trees have been planted on the land this year. Mary’s visit was topped off by a visit to our 1.5 acre organic garden that is named in honor of her and her late husband Russell. We are all very grateful to Mary and Russell fortheir extraordinary contributions to the success and sustainability of Woolman.
Mary Jorgensen, co-founder of the John Woolman School, talks with students
Haley Jackson and Jack Walsh on a beautiful day in April.