Last week, Sara Agate and Xiomara Pedraza attended the Ella Baker Institute for Organizers, Activists, and Social Justice Believers hosted by the Social Justice Initiative at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) and Ella’s Daughters. The purpose of the 6-day Institute was “to explore the organizing tradition of Ella Baker, women of color feminist histories and theories” in order to build the organizing skills of participants. There were diverse participants that came from an array of different organizations, academic institutions, community struggles and geographical locations around the country, which brought a range of issues from gentrification to a free Palestine.
We were welcomed on the first day with an artistic workshop by Climbing Poetree. A talented duo and feminists of color, who travel around the world performing poetry and other social justice oriented creative art projects. Their workshop provided a space for spiritual healing and creative energy. Before we knew it, we were sharing our experiences, frustrations, triumphs, knowledge, and critical analysis of our involvement with social justice work. Collectively, we contributed to the S.T.I.T.C.H.E.D Project and concluded the day by enjoying lunch at a local neighborhood restaurant.
There were two central themes throughout the Institute – coalition building and inclusiveness. In this light, the program focused on understanding theory, skill- building, strategy, and organizing in the tradition of Ella Baker. There were opportunities for engagement with local Chicago activist communities, like a mural tour of Pilsen and the Pop Up JUST Art (PUJA) Center and a special tour of the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum. Each day we were developing a bond based on respect, love and struggle. We explored current and historic issues and the ways in which they are interconnected by institutions, corporations, policies or unjust practices that operate within global systems of oppression. Each day was filled with workshops, discussions and laughs as each of us, in our own distinct yet united ways, were growing and healing.
On the last day we examined the power of trans-national solidarity for collective liberation. In this session, guest facilitators Chandra Talpade Mohanty and Linda Carty spoke about their experience with Trans-National Feminist Solidarity. In short, it reaffirmed the importance of collective process and spoke to coalition politics. The following quote best describes the impact of their discussion, “acknowledging differences and becoming fluent in each other’s histories” is important because solidarity “cannot be assumed on the basis of shared identity.” Rather, it is created and nurtured within the collective where multiple levels of accountability can exist. In the end, all of the participants brainstormed next steps in continuing efforts for the Ella Baker Institute and ideas of how we may stay connected and work together. In harmony, we closed with Ella’s Song by Sweet Honey in the Rock.
By grappling with new ideas, imagining FREEDOM, redefining our fluid identities and acknowledging history we developed a higher level of consciousness. As two Latina scholars and activists, we feel empowered with the knowledge we gained and the camaraderie we felt throughout the Institute. We are fortunate to have participated. In the spirit of Ella Baker and all those who live with us in struggle, we will carry the momentum and share it with others. In the coming weeks we will be discussing how we can take the principles of the Ella Baker Institute and apply it to our work and future projects at Great Cities Institute. We extend our gratitude to those we shared the experience with and to UIC’s Social Justice Initiative and team members who made the space possible.
Xiomara Pedraza & Sara Agate
About the Authors:
Xiomara Pedraza, GCI Research Specialist, is pursuing her Master Degree in Urban Policy at the New School in New York City.
Sara Agate, GCI Research Specialist, completed her Master of Public Health in Health Policy and Administration in May 2014.