At 10:30 a.m. on a Saturday, most students are recovering from a night out or getting ready for a relaxing day indoors. However, last Saturday, hundreds of people gathered at College Nine and John R. Lewis Colleges to consider tangible ways to challenge and change the world around them.
The Practical Activism Conference (PAC) was held on Feb. 25 at the College Nine and John R. Lewis College Multipurpose Room, and is an annual day-long event featuring speakers, workshops, performances, and activities centered around social justice issues. PAC is put together by students enrolled in the Practical Activism course and members of The College Nine and John R. Lewis College CoCurricular Programs Office (The CoCo).
Planning began at the beginning of the fall quarter as a part of the class’s curriculum.
“I’m feeling such a buzz of energy,” said Kate Battaglia, PAC co-lead, at the start of the day. “I’m just so excited to see everything take shape […] for so long, everything was just an idea, it wasn’t physical yet.”
The first portion of the day included activities like a Banned Books Table, social justice themed bookmark and button making, and more. Also featured is the Barrios Unidos Interactive Prison Cell, an interactive replica of a prison cell and visiting room that gives participants a sense of what it is like to be incarcerated.
While people had time to go around and explore all of the different activities, a keynote address was given over Zoom by internationally acclaimed activist and mixed-media artist Alok Vaid-Menon.
Vaid-Menon spoke of the struggles they have endured as a gender-nonconforming person, and how their struggles have shaped their framework of activism.
“I was told, as a young person, that you’re going to move to a big city, you’re going to find other trans people, and one day things will change,” said Vaid-Menon. “But that never changes the permanent structure of loneliness. Of being looked at like a spectacle and not a human being. That’s an emotion a lot of us in this room know — it’s an emotion that’s graphed around race and disability and caste and class.”
Vaid-Menon’s messages regarding radical self-love, self-acceptance, and self-validation struck a chord with many students, including Esmeralda Gonzalez, a fourth-year attending the PAC.
“I really resonated with Alok, and to have that validation of knowing that I’m thinking the same way as this person feels really good,” Gonzalez said. “Especially when it comes to moving in this world as an activist, I feel like you’re gaslit into thinking you’re crazy.”
Since 2003, PAC has served as a space for student activists to come together and aid each other by offering workshops in different matters they wanted to highlight.
This year, the first round of workshops addressed topics such as embodied leadership, hate/bias response in housing and residential life, representations in game media, disability justice in academia, and protecting Indigeneity.
Fourth-year Mitra Zarinebaf spoke about the impact that attending the workshop on protecting Indigeneity left on her.
“The Indigenous workshop was really heavy,” said Zarinebaf. “But to have that knowledge now and move forward, it’s nice to know because my family is from the Iranian region. So I think getting another perspective of how culture is preserved is cool, because I don’t personally know anything about my history there.”
Afterwards, people headed to their second and final round of workshops, which included topics like a beginners’ guide to activism, exploring racial imposter syndrome and colorism, sex education, and imagining abolition in the context of U.S. incarceration,
Fifth-year Montse De Alba spoke of her past and why it led her to attend the workshop on abolition as she wanted to hear about the school-to-prison pipeline.
“They had a policy at the middle school I went to, which is that, once a month, the whole student body gets a full search at random,” said De Alba. “I was 10, once a month getting searched.”
De Alba hopes to use the information to better the practices that she found harmful occurring in her hometown school district.
After the second round of workshops, attendees got more time to explore topics with more tabling, including a historiography table that reflected on controlled narratives. Additionally, there was a game of social justice lotería, a take on the beloved Latine card game.
The event ended with an address by three-time Grammy nominated conductor, music director, and vocal activist Melanie DeMore, who rotated between speech and song. She invited the crowd to participate by clapping, dancing, and singing along.
When asked to reflect on the conference, Shay Biggins-Capule, a second-year member of The CoCo and PAC team, spoke of her hopes for administration regarding the event.
“I want administration to come and listen to the issues that we present,” Biggins-Capule said. “Almost all of these issues can be addressed by the university and can be fixed on campus. Like we were talking about in our [disability justice in academia and beyond] workshop, we have students that are really suffering from a lot of the issues that we talked about.”