00:05 Hello and welcome. My name is Allison Horrocks and I'm a Park Ranger at Lowell National Historical Park. I'm joined today by Andrew Seeder, who created a visual about the enslaved labor process and its connections to the Boston Associates and Lowell.
00:21 Thank you, Allison, and thank you for this opportunity to communicate with you and the other people who are interested in this history. I'm visiting you virtually from New Jersey, but I'm based in Boston, Massachusetts, professionally, I'm a researcher and this is the first project of my research studio, Seeder and Partners, LLC.
00:43 So part of what we're talking about today is hundreds of years of research condensed into one graphic that will allow us to better understand different connections between Lowell and the slave trade. So I'm currently sitting in a building that is called the Boott Cotton Mills, which is part of the National Park Service presence here in Lowell. And this building is named after a man named Kirk Boott, who was the primary founder of the Boott cotton mills and financier Boott has a huge presence in the city of Lowell even today. And as Andrew takes us through His graphic, you will see names that if you visited Lowell are very familiar to they are names that are on the city streets, they are on signs names, such as Appleton, Moody, and Cabot which still populate a lot of cities in the northeast and beyond. I mentioned the Boott specifically because not just where I'm located today. But it also really gets at some of the key tensions that we'll talk about. Boott not only profited from the Atlantic slave trade, many of his co-investors were part of investing in various trades that were related not just to chattel slavery, but also rum, which is where a lot of their fortune came from, for the city of Lowell, but but was also directly antagonistic to ending slavery. That's an important part of our story as well. Kirk Boott in 1835, was among a group of people who put their names on a broadside or a public piece of paper, suggesting that they were fighting against the people who were anti slavery. And these kinds of fights would erupt periodically in Lowell as an anti slavery faction and a pro slavery faction really clashed against each other. So part of what we're talking about is this bigger global process by which cotton arrives in Lowell after lots of hours of enslaved labor in these bigger connections. So to get us started, Andrew, can you tell us a bit about where the idea for this specific project really came from for you?
02:49 Thank you for asking that. Um, so I have a habit of taking nonfiction books and trying to distill them into like, very short, readable, digestible summaries. And initially, I was interested in doing some research, sort of about, sort of, I'm interested in this in this question of quantifying reparations from slavery. And because I'm in Boston, I was walking around the streets of Boston, downtown Boston on the Shawmut Peninsula, and it occurred, it struck me that a lot of the ground that I was walking on, was filled in, and that 200 years prior, I would have been standing in the middle of the ocean. And it occurred to me that this large land making process, you know, where was the wealth? What are the wealth come from that that sort of pushed out the shores of Boston into the Atlantic, and I got to thinking about where where the rest of the source of wealth of New England's wealth came from, in the 19th in the 18th and 19th centuries. And originally, I was focused just on the customhouse in Boston as sort of an institution where these connections between New England and slavery and the slave camps in the south and the 19th century, that it was through the customhouse, that these sort of connections materialized. And then as I began researching the Custom House, I sort of went deeper into the literature of what you know, what's being called the sort of a new history of capitalism. So I, you know, Walter Jacobson's, the river of dark dreams, Edward Baptists, the half has never been told, spend backwards global history of cotton. And I thought I was originally going to write an essay that sort of distilled those three books in particular, and then the more I got to thinking about it, I thought it'd be more powerful if instead of a long form essay, that that was a summary of these books that I would create a visualization that tried to describe these connections sort of all on one page.
04:57 Yeah, so I think part of what we're going to do is we're going to actually take people through the different elements of the graphic that you created together with an artist. And including some of the decisions that you made in packaging this information to be one various listening to but very detailed overview of this process.
05:16 Here it is, this illustration is called 100,000 Days A Year. And before we go into each of these steps, sort of a couple caveats, the bail to bolt process was historically complex and dynamic. And each of the steps that I described here has its own history. And you know, you could spend a lot of time researching and diving deeper into each one of these steps. So this illustration, it has some omissions, it potentially has, you know, it definitely has a perspective, right. And to that end, you know, it is simplified. This is a very simplified version of the process. So with that said, I'll sort of outline this, if you if you see the here's the full illustration, you have the title 100,000 days a year, you have portraits of the so called Lords of the loom are members of the Boston associates who were these sort of wealthy merchant capitalists from New England who devised what became known as the wall fan local manufacturing system, and invested in the cotton manufacturing complex in Lowell. In addition to purchasing the land. You have further Lords of the loom text here. These are other people who invested in it, but sort of not as directly and some are secondary investors through other stock ownership in the Waltham Mills, I have a summary text description that'll walk you through and my sources, a map within a map down here that sort of describes the direction of the interstate slave trade and also the packet lines. On the left here this is there's sort of a subtitle here that says cotton harvesting. These are the steps again, the simplified version, steps of the cotton harvesting process, meaning what's what's actually happening on on the slave labor camps. And then up at the top is the power power loom. One of the workers of the looms often, if not, I believe exclusively women, and a physical description of what happens to the cotton fibers through the spinning and weaving process, landscape drawing of the local manufacturing complex that was part of the manual Merrimack manufacturing company, and then a line of the railroad here that linked the customhouse to each year in the decades before the Civil War, the cotton textile mills and Lowell Massachusetts consumed on average 15 million pounds of cotton. Historian Edward II Baptist estimates that the bales of cotton consumed in Lowell for the Merrimack manufacturing company took slaves a combined 100,000 days of labor per year to produce capital invested by a small handful of people. The Lords of the loom made this cycle of violence possible. 100,000 days a year shows a simplified version of this cycle, including the direction of the interstate slave trade, the land expropriated from the Chickasaw, Choctaw Creek and Seminole peoples, the long life long lat style of slave labor camps along the Mississippi River. The steps to produce bales of cotton by slave labor, the packet line between New Orleans and Boston, the overland shipment of cotton bales from Boston to Lowell and then finally, steps to transform cotton bales into textiles. By wage labor working for the Merrimack manufacturing company. One mill in a larger mill complex, the local mill produced course, so called Negro cloth and sold it to plantation owners. A slave who picked cotton could have had that same cotton returned to them in the form of a shirt manufactured in Lowell, the cradle of the American industrial below that text description here. In addition to sort of get the hopefully this description gives you a sense now why it's called this this illustration is called 100,000 days a year. And below the text description are the primary sources, mostly secondary sources that I used in my research, huge shout out to illustrator Madeline Dall, she made this come alive. It's really her artistry that makes this work take you through this illustration. And it's probably the smallest element on the page. And it's it's a map within a map. So if you took a sort of a far out view of this illustration, you'd seen mostly the eastern that the shoreline of of Massachusetts, and you can sort of see that, you know, see that the arm of Cape Cod as it were. And then on the bottom center of this map is a much smaller version of basically the upper south and Gulf Coast coastline of the United States. This solid arrow here represents the general direction of what's called the interstate slave trade, the domestic slave trade are all called the second great migration in the United States. So after 1807, the United States bans importing slaves from the International slave trade. And it's at that point that the domestic slave trade explodes. And you have people basically buying, selling and stealing people from slave camps in the upper south. So South Carolina, Georgia, and where they were producing, you know, tobacco, sugar for rum, they were producing one commodity and bringing them to the banks of the Mississippi River for cotton cultivation. Now, it's important to note that this was not empty territory. This was not empty wilderness here. And we have maps, sort of the shaded area on this map. These other territories are the territories of the indigenous communities that were there were living there at the time. And the map is very much indebted to Edward Baptists book, namely, the Chickasaw, Choctaw Creek, and the seminal peoples in Florida, that that land was was violently expropriated from these peoples and coerced from these peoples in order to the to build up the domestic cotton production process, right? This was for a young nation, right? This is a mere 20 You know, this, this starts wrapping up a mere 30 years, 40 years after the American Revolution. And the cotton commodities known as King cotton is basically the the commodity that is the foundation of, of the young, the young America's economy, sort of that the national economy, so huge stakes in producing cotton, the very small here you can sort of see these like little splinters coming off of the the white line here is the Mississippi River. These little splinters coming off here are the what's called the long lat style of plantations, which was, believe it, it has French origins, the sort of the, the style of the property style, as it were the property geometry. But the idea is to give as many different people, as many different companies and individual plantation owners getting as many people as possible access to the riverfront access to the river will also try to optimize for acreage. So you get these many like very long, long plantation styles so that every everyone who's harvesting, growing cotton and harvesting it can get to the Mississippi River and ultimately to the Port of New Orleans. And then finally, this red dot and then sort of the dotted red line here represents the packet line cycle of commodity production ramps up you get sort of standardized what are called packet lines, where you have basically the same ships more or less, going back and forth to the same places. Often, you know, it can be also known as the triangle trade. Where in one from one voyage, it's it's shipped, like one boat from the Port of New Orleans to New York City is filled with cotton. And then the cotton goes to Liverpool, the Cotton's dumped out of Liverpool, but then the ship is filled back up with cloth wares and other manufacturing goods to make it to the rest of Europe, also potentially going to Africa. But the idea here is that there's a you know, there's a trend shipment line that's constantly going back and forth. The vast majority of the cotton that is produced along the Mississippi River in this part of the South, it ends up in England in Liverpool specifically to be transformed transformed into cloth commodities for the European markets. But even so, you know, the 10% of that that doesn't get exported, that's enough to sort of build up the national economy and certainly build up New England's wealth. just the sheer volume of comments produced is astounding, right? The 15 million pounds of cotton that just goes to Lowell every year at its peak. Something they're like, I think by 1860 something like 45,000 plantations in the American South and I'm not sure how many along our along the Mississippi River but it's a gigantic scale. And then scaling out is sort of the cotton harvesting process. And one thing that we that we omitted here, slave quarters of where were where the slaves were residing and spending their lives. That said with without a mission, we have the top left sort of what's you know, known in American vernacular as the big house or sort of where plantation owners and other sort of company man are doing their business and even living That's, you know, has it's such a powerful symbol in the American imagination and also in American history. And then next to that, labeled one is the clearing of the land, right. And that's something that isn't addressed really much at all in the literature, let alone the connection to slavery, right from when you're reading about the cotton manufacturer in New England, slavery is rarely mentioned. And even in contemporary accounts, the cotton planting and harvesting is highly extractive from an environmental standpoint. So it's, it exhausts the land itself, doing this sort of monoculture, you're depleting the soil of its of its nutrients, you're destroying the ecosystems, you're clearing the forests in the service of producing this con. So you have this this land, it's cleared by slaves, the lumber from the clearing is often used to construct the big house, once it's cleared of stones of, of animal life, and you're left with just the top. So you have step two, which is the plowing of the top soil for planting the actual cotton seeds. And there's a an entire literature about whether you know, what species of cotton plant was most effective and what ticular time in this in the 19th century, this is, this is what's called I believe, upland cotton. The cotton grows it flowers into the sort of fibrous tusks that you're you're familiar with. And then it's, it's harvested by by slave labor. And people are picking, you know, hundreds of pounds of cotton a day. It's brutal. It's truly terrible conditions. And once it's it's harvested, step four, depicts the weighing of each slaves' harvest from that day. And this is something that Edward Baptist, in his book that has never been told, makes an argument about it about when you compare the slave regimes that exist in the West Indies. In the upper south, you see, you see a transformation between the the slave labor regimes that existed there, and what we end up seeing along the Mississippi River and these in these slave camps to produce the garden commodity. And what you see and it's actually depicted in Steve McQueen's movie, 12 YEARS A SLAVE is, unlike, each day, having its own quota. slaves are basically forced to compete against themselves to reach their, their their own personal quotas for how much they pick in the fields each day, so if a slave is out there, they pick 250 pounds of cotton one day, that next day, there's going to be slave owners or another laborer who's working on the on the slave plantation who isn't a slave saying, you pick 250 pounds today. What? Yes, you picked 250 pounds yesterday, what have you picked today, and they're constantly ratcheting up each individual person's quota to extract as much possible cotton from each person as they can, without and sometimes intentionally exhausting that the person themselves. So the cotton is weighed. And then it is it's ginned. And that, you know, there's a huge literature about the the influence of the cotton gin and the explosion of the production of the cotton commodity, which is an automated way or rather a mechanical way of separating the cotton cotton fibers themselves the thing that ultimately become cloth, separating seeds from that, and the ability to separate those seeds in in a more automatic fashion is is one of the necessary conditions for the explosion of commodity production in the south. Then finally, you've got the gin cotton, and it gets bailed or pressed into the bale maybe that that that is the raw what I would refer to as a raw cotton commodity. Meaning that you know, buyers on the other side of this are looking for a standard standard weight, standard size, more or less standard quality of the cotton commodity itself to be used in the manufacturing process. The bales are then you know, now that they've been commodified right into into these units, these bail units, they get stacked on these barges, these barges that float down that go down the Mississippi River, collecting bales from from the different slave labor camps London Mississippi River until finally they make their way to the Port of New Orleans. And from the port. Like I said most go to New York. Most go to Liverpool by by way of New York, most of the cotton goes gets exported out of the country. But the the cotton is bought. It's it's unloaded. It's reloaded out of these packet lines. And then it's off off to their destinations. This is the Boston Custom House, I was interested in the Custom House as an institution, which straddles both the colonial era and also sort of the early the early republic as something which is trying to regulate and standardize the operations of the mercantile and market economies. You know, you can walk to the Custom House in Boston, and it would have been the the shores, that the waves of Boston Harbor would have been laughing up onto the side of the Custom House in the 19th century, before the land was filled in, got a packet line shift, this one's modeled after the USS Ohio. And they get to the Custom House, they sort of register with the customs agents, and then sort of buyers and sellers are squaring their accounts, as it were. And then the cotton gets unloaded. And it's transshipped. Offer over the Boston and Lowell railroad, which is basically dedicated to just moving cotton, from from Boston to to Lowell, it makes its way to Lowell further picking are sort of removing debris from the raw cotton commodity carding, where you have these individual cotton fibers, and you sort of straighten them out, you sort of like comb them together, then you spin the fibers together into threads, you work together, the finer threads, the thicker threads, and then you weave together the larger threads into into cotton cloth. You know, a lot has been written about the what's called the wall fan Lowell system. And it is the first sort of vertically integrated manufacturing company in the world. It was designed, you know, that it sort of conceived of by this rather sort of mysterious historical figure of Francis Cabot Lowell, who I don't know if you would agree with his characterization. But he goes, he goes to, I believe in Scotland where he finds this but he goes any basically memory, he goes and visits a mill out, I believe it's in Scotland, but it could have been in England, likely in England. He goes there and what the way that cotton production was working in England at the time was through the putting out system so a bunch of people get, they get the con, they get the raw con commodity, and they sort of put out the cotton to all these peasant families. And the peasants are the ones sort of doing the picking in the cardigan and spinning the fibers into into usable thread for the manufacturing process. And Lowell goes and sees a version of the power loop. He sees an automated machine loom in action, he memorizes it, he, he sees it, he memorizes it, he brings it to the United States. And then he enlists his friend Paul Moody to reconstruct the machine based on his memory to then go and sort of launch their what's vertically vertically integrated process so they don't put up the cotton to peasants. They have all of the production under one single facility they have proven the success of the model in in Waltham, Massachusetts it sees incredible corporate profits again all using cotton from slave labor the people who are originally investing in Waltham say hey, this is this works. Let's do this on a bigger scale. And so they go and they find they find a place at the time is called East Chelmsford, indigenous territory but before European settler colonialism, expropriated it from those people. Turns out there were actually some pretty consequential battles and King Philip's War in Queen Queen Anne's war, not far from from where Lowell is today. So they identify East Chelmsford as the place where they want to set up this planned industrial city, a planned factory town. And one of the main reasons they do that is because the Merrimack River drops about 32 feet in elevation over what's called the Pawtucket falls over over the length of about a mile. And it's a very, very strong currents from the Merrimack River it's creating rapids and this drop in elevation makes it a perfect place for to to utilize water power. And in fact, there had already been a canal built in this section of the Merrimack River called the Pawtucket canal before the load before the Merrimack manufacturing company purchases the land. But the but more canal sort of smaller tributaries are built off of the Pawtucket Canal, and the gravity of the falling water is what powers the mills themselves. And you know, you can go in there and now and I visited Lowell, it's deafening. I mean, the inside of these places as these power power looms are moving, and all these machines are operating, it is deafening, that the scale of the operations are incredible. So the raw con commodity is making its way from the slave labor camps, it goes to these Mills, and it's transformed into various qualities of cotton cloth. Usually it's women, working the machines, but also children, many children. And it's Lowell has a long, proud history of labor organizing as well. And fighting for such things as the eight hour work day, as a result of some of the conditions. Although interestingly, one of the pitches to investors for the creation of this wage labor system among women and children was comparing it to the English textile mills, which were notoriously horrible for everyone working in them, they consider this to be more humane than what they saw on it. So you're looking at, you know, these these are, these are the components, the literature is, is, is not critical, for the most part about this, and you're looking at all this and you're like, millions of pounds of cotton, thousands of wage laborers, 10s of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of enslaved peoples indigenous communities destroyed for the production of this commodity for the production of cotton. And, you know, what is it that's animating all of this? You know, is it you know, demand in European markets? You know, I see a lot of sort of, like technological determinism, that describes the force of, you know, why this system lasted for for decades and decades before the Civil War. And like, you know, it's the cotton gin that didn't, you know, once the cotton gin was was present, then, you know, then the cell took off. And it's like, you know, that's just one piece of the puzzle. And if you look at the history, what's animating it is the investment capital from from the Lords of the loom. These these men, and they're mostly men. Were looking for profits. They were looking to make a lot a lot of money. They were looking for power. And this was an opportunity to invest to invest capital. You know, I thought it was important to name some of these folk Paul Moody, the engineer PT Jackson, Dudley Ting, Kirk boo Nathan Appleton, William Appleton and Daniel Bowditch. JOHN Lowell Jr. That's Francis Lowell sun, people for whom I was not able to find likenesses, Timothy Wigan, Ebenezer Appleton, Warren Dutton, these men were, these were sort of the original investors who sort of had conceived of, of,
27:51 of this sort of this this profit engine,
27:54 this this this, this calm production process. But you know, also, you know, I won't read all these names, but there are also quite a few people who were initial shareholders in the Merrimack manufacturing company, a lot of appletons. A lot of Jackson's senator, the politician Daniel Webster, Nathaniel Bowditch, and also a few women as well, the cabinet daughters are on here as well. But that in broad strokes is 100,000 days a year again, it's it's it's, it at least outlines the basic steps of of what you call Allison bail to bolt. While without turning a blind eye to the fact you know, all this value is being all this profit is being created through slave labor.
28:41 We talk about law as a planned industrial city and part of the distinction of the city, especially in relation to the National Park Service as being the first large planned industrial city in the United States of a certain scale. And I think something that could be talked about a lot more is the way that that plan, really in a lot of people's minds necessitated enslaved labor to make it function only the complications of our story here is you do have a male worker pictured a young woman who's working on a loom, and part of the plan truly, of creating the city of what becomes bold, named after Francis Cabot lol is recruiting women who are thought to be more compliant, right people who are thought to be more of a temporary workforce. And there's this huge gap between being a quote unquote, mill girl, which is thought to be kind of a temporary condition for women. And the way that women in the south who are part of the system have enslaved labor. That's a hereditary condition. Yet we have women in Lowell who call themselves slaves. And we have this whole dialogue that's happening in the country, you know, just almost 200 years ago where laborers who are in Lowell, Massachusetts are walking away from their looms, and protesting, and in earnest calling themselves slaves or white slaves. And this is something that happens over and over, where people are kind of picking up on that. But as you're showing there is a huge difference, right? People are obviously working very hard in these factories, but they're not part of a system in the way that enslaved laborers are in other parts of the country.
30:24 Yeah, I think that I did not know that that history, I think, was one of the reasons that I kept doing this research as I was sort of, I was struck by the fact that the mid the mid 20th century accounts, even some of the contemporaneous descriptions that I'm reading about, about the cotton manufacturing process for ASIC as an incredible industrial process, there's no there's no recognition. And there's no articulation of the fact that like, where does this cotton come from? It's picked by slave labor, like these are slave labor camps. And it when you say that, it makes me think that like, it's surely these, these these, these mill girls knew where their cotton came from, they feared becoming that they feared becoming enslaved perhaps as a way of perhaps that I guess that maybe that's what's being articulated is the fear of becoming enslaved. And is it is it the foremost of their, of their consciousness, but it's not something that's articulated and published, or, or the printed accounts?
31:27 No, and I should add, when we talk about Lowell, you know, we obviously put a lot of emphasis on the industrial laborers and the people who are making up. When we look at women, generally, let's say like 1830 1840, most of the women in the city are either living in the Irish community called the acre, or they are working in a factory, because it's still a pretty limited experiment. In essence, it's mostly people who are obligated to live in boarding houses, then the city grows and changes quite a bit. But we do have stories of people coming to low self emancipated people. And I'm thinking of something as a story about a man who goes by a different alias. But one of his names is Robert, and he actually was present, of course, for the auction of himself. So he was sold for $800 in New Orleans. And when you were talking about the packets, and the transportation of cotton up to up the coast, up to Boston, Robert is at his own sale for $800, Robert frees himself and travels to Ohio. And sort of Curiously, the way these things work, he ends up in Boston, you know, probably right into the Custom House. And he continues up to a town called Andover, which is very close to lol, and then actually takes the train to lol gets off the train and find sanctuary in what many people call the mill girl church St. Anne's Episcopal for a short period of time before moving on. And I think part of what's really extraordinary is we know unfortunately, far too little about people like Robert. And we do have other stories of self emancipated people. But someone like Robert also doesn't stay in law, he continues on he does not stay. And we know that as the numbers of immigrant laborers are soaring. As an example, there are very few French Canadian people here prior to 1850. Then the number jumps to close to 15,000. Within a short period of time after the Civil War, there are 11 people who are considered African American enroll in 1830. That number only goes up to 177 over 50 years. And I think that's not a coincidence. I think people are, you know, self selecting, as you were saying as part of this cycle of violence. And I think often, you know, people are generally rational actors. And if you have been wearing something called lol cloth, or there is this association, also these factories are segregated. For the most part, there isn't that same kind of opportunity. I think it explains that to a large degree why for the most part will becomes a huge landing spot for immigrant workers who are coming from places like the United Kingdom, but not for internal migration. The way a city like Chicago would, you know, in a few decades, incredible. I'll just say to a I think part of what's important about this project and for educators or people who are just curious in their local history. bowl is, you know, connected to a lot of different AMERICAN STORIES, a lot of different aspects of United States history. But we also have, you know, a lot of rich local history and people who are very interested in, you know, how things came to be named in their communities. And I would encourage people to look closely at the stockholder or the shareholder list I should say, of the Merrimack manufacture Answering company. Because if you walk or drive or take a trolley, that's part of the Park Service through roll, it is almost impossible to not see something named Thorndike. Right, we have the Thorndike exchange, our visitor center, its parking lot is located on Dutton Street, we could go on and on, of course, we have Jackson St. We have many things named after the Appletons. And so a lot of this city is really named in honor of people whose financial ties, they're not loose to this connection, you know, they're they're not loose, they're actually very intimately connected to the story that you've told,
35:39 they, that that's something that struck me as well, and sort of just walking the streets of Boston are like these, these men memorialize themselves, right with, with, with their plans, with their power with their money, it can give you the illusion that like that they're great men, and they may be great in the sense of like, of the wealth that they accumulated, but there is a, you know, there is a violent, ugly, immoral side of, of the wealth that they created for themselves. Or rather, I should actually correct myself, they did not create their wealth for themselves, right, their wealth is, is generated through through slave labor through the expropriation of land, through through, you know, course of wage labor practices. That's where their wealth comes from. Right.
36:28 And I think some of these histories, you know, a lot of people call them hard history, or they call them Hidden History. You know, it really depends on your perspective, what you want to call it, thinking about someone like Kirk Boott, actively intervening in the actions of people who are anti slavery. One of the things that the broad side does notice about this meeting for people to gather says is that they're not going to let people create mischief. That's the word that they use against their partners, shareholders, and basically, you know, kind of CO conspirators in the American South. And someone like Kirk Boott is very invested in telling wealthy Southern plantation owners that he, you know, won't allow his workforce to become part of anti slavery activity. There are many things named after boot. Recent research in Boston, particularly at the baker library, and Harvard done by staff here shows that it's not just the cotton but much of the timber, the leader timber that is added to this complex and others, as well as the pig iron was also harvested, and done by skilled laborers who were enslaved people. So a lot of that is literally hard to see, when you visit our property today, you mostly see bricks. And of course, bricks were also made in other contexts by enslaved people, but the pic iron the wood, of course, the cotton that came through the building, but many of these processes actually all connect. So it's the money, it's the materials. And this building would not exist without slave labor, so much like buildings from the White House to mansions in Natchez, Mississippi, this building can be counted on that list as well.
38:08 Yeah, I think I think if there was anything that I would, that I hope people would take away, again, like this is just scratching the surface. Right? I hope that that's something that people sort of take away, even from this sort of simplified for broad stroke version is that, you know, you hear I guess, there are sort of, there are two myths that I that I came across, right. One is that the Industrial Revolution, industrial capitalism, as it as it emerged in the United States, was something that was like, could to be to be compared against slavery as an economic system. Whereas, you know, the closer look at the history, it's, it's quite plain that the emergence of you know, the industrial capitalist American economy is is based on slavery, right? That kind of comes from the slave regimes in the south. And the other myth that I came across was this anachronism of projecting back this distinction between the North and the South, deep, deep into the night, you know, deep into the history, whereas, you know, to your point, right, like, the deeper that you look into the history, these are all interconnected. Right. And you can't you can't sort of divorce one one segment of the can't attach one segment of the American economy in the 19th century, or its legacy right from, from this history.
39:30 Now is the kind of final thought you mentioned that you started this project, in part as a way to think through what reparations might look like in the United States. And this is something that has been brought, you know, all the way to the highest levels of American government at various times as a proposal. What do you think in a city like lol reparations might look like either on a local, national or global scale? What would be something actionable that that might change? Wow.
40:00 That that's a good question. I definitely do not have all the answers about that. And I'm still very much thinking about that myself and thinking about my own sort of personal privileges. From where I'm sitting as a researcher and from the, my own my own skills that I can bring to to this movement. Or to this reckoning, I think there needs to be on historical accounting, historical auditing, if you will, of as best as we can, right, as best as the material history can attest to as best as the records can attest to, who was it whose lives were ruined, whose lives were stolen on the banks of the Mississippi River to produce this? One of the challenges I found in doing this historical research was a lack of clear historical material connections between which plantations specifically, which slave labor camps specifically, did Kirk boots, and these other Lords of the loom, buy their cotton from? And once you have that answer, or at least as close as a complete answer, as you can get given the historical materials, once you know, okay, where did where exactly did the cotton come from? I think, I think then you're in a better position to potentially memorialize the tragedy.
41:19 You know, the Boott Cotton Mills, among other things has changed since the early years when it was first constructed, some of the bricks have been rearranged, some of the beams have been moved or have been fixed. But a lot of this building physically hasn't changed. And yet, the way that we use it is completely different than anyone could have ever imagined. And I think, you know, buildings exist, in part to serve the different purposes and the different meanings that we put into them. And I think a place like this as an example where, you know, people could come to work here over 150 years ago, and experience something they never had before. The Industrial Revolution completely changed the way people imagine their relationships to craft to work to the things that they put on their bodies and use their hands for. And I think it's a good reminder that things can always change again, you know, we, as storytellers do our best to tell the truth about the past. And part of that means, you know, understanding fully the different stories that we contain within a single building. And I think people who know some of these names, if they're from this area, or have heard some of these names before, think they'll look at these portraits or those street signs a little bit differently, particularly in our age that we live in now. The Thorndike exchange is being completely reordered. So talking about things that seem immovable that are actually quite open to change that that also is happening today.
42:45 Sure, hope so. Allison, I really appreciate the opportunity to talk about this work for those who are interested. I'm happy to talk more about this. The research studio that I created is called cedar and partners LLC, you can reach me at email@example.com. But I guess I just want to reiterate that this is just scratching the surface a future I'm able to go more deeply into each of these steps.
43:17 Thank you so much.
Jessica is a teacher, writer and education journalist. She's passionate about teaching, supporting and advocating immigrant origin students. She has been an Emerson collective fellow and a reimagining migration fellow. She is a contributing writer for a number of publications, including the Boston Globe, and Educational Leadership magazine.
Nicole Harrison was born and raised in Massachusetts, and is continuing her studies in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. She is pursuing her lifelong dream of becoming a marine biologist. When she's not studying Nicole likes to go to the beach, explore new places and kick back with Netflix. saying She hopes her contributions to we are America will help future generations stories be told.
Erika Penn. This is her bio. Ever since Erika started watching Criminal Minds also same at the age of seven, not. Along with the lessons her parents taught her she has been encouraged to help others. While she can't see herself as a special agent for the FBI, she's ready to jump into the world and career of child psychology. Her roots as a daughter of two Cambodian immigrants, inspire her to help children in the Asian community and break mental health barriers. She will be a freshman at Salem State University and plans to double major in psychology and social work.
Carla is an activist and aspiring politician. She is currently a student at Middlesex Community College studying criminal justice. For the past five years, she's worked closely with the national nonprofit Generation Citizen as a consultant, and chair of the 2016 National Student Leadership board. Carla has been awarded the Generation Citizen statewide democracy coach Changemaker Award for her work mentoring students in civics education and civics action. She is the co author of the nonfiction book Defining Diversity, a student-written book on key Supreme Court cases, federal laws and concepts essential to American diversity. She is the co founder of the We Are America project, working with students across the US to tell personal stories of American identity. I am impressed. Okay. So we are going to be talking with them today about some questions that we discussed a bit ahead of time. But first a framework, we consider this a kind of group dialogue. And like I said, these are programs for lifelong learners who want to share together. Something that does projects got me thinking about is this very deep, complicated question. What does it mean to be an American? Also, where does the term American come from? A historian Daniel Immerwahr recently wrote a book called How to Hide an Empire. It's a history of the United States. In an interview, he noted that the name of this nation, the United States of America, is kind of a mouthful. More than 200 years ago, people agreed, and they wondered aloud whether it should be called something else. Maybe Freedonia. It did not stick. America has, however, even though it's sort of a misnomer. Around 1898, the Imperial expansion of the United States made the name United States less accurate. Now states were together with territories. Enter Teddy Roosevelt who gets his fingers in everything. He embraces the shorter name America, captures a much larger dominion and Empire. It is with this president that we see the transition from United States of America go more towards America. So what does being an American mean? And who gets to decide? In the tradition of Langston Hughes, Emma Lazarus and many more great minds, these panelists have given thought and care to this question of being American. Their observations and work on diversity is exactly the kind of dialogue that we need to amplify and listen to today. In the past month, we've heard the words diversity, inclusion and equity, more and more. We've also been hearing calls to action, calls to reform calls for reckoning and calls for justice through the Black Lives Matter movement. This talk is an opportunity to think about what Americanness means to you and to others in your community. So to get us started, we're going to hear from our panelists about the origins of the we are America project, which I hear came out of a class that you took.
Unknown Speaker 6:01 Yes, the We Are America project came from a class I took in the second semester of my senior year called seminar in American diversity at Lowell High School in Lowell, Massachusetts. And of course, we've talked about a lot of topics, ranging from immigration to LGBTQ history. All these lessons were preparing us for writing this book and giving us a wider perspective and some possible ideas to write about.
Allison Horrocks 6:34 So how did the We are America project go from something in your classroom to a national project?
Unknown Speaker 6:41 So the project started as like the big final project of the class like this was like the big paper or big assignment of the year. And so after, after that one year where both semesters each class wrote a book we were, many of the students fathers, including me were like, how do we make this go International how do we teach the same lessons? And so on the last day of the 2019 school year, many co founders, many of the student co founders that worked with this project planned and were writing across the whiteboard and like trying to figure out many ideas. And what really launched our project was the connections we made and us promoting through like social media. We, the first semester class got to go speak on the radio, and it was also like our Harvard exhibit that it promoted our program to connect with more teachers.
Allison Horrocks 7:31 Jessica, did you want to add anything?
Jessica 7:33 I think Nicole and Erica said it really well. I mean, it really it was, as Erika was saying, it came out of our class and the sort of the final project. And it was it was a joint collaboration of exploring what it meant to each of us to be American. And when I introduced it to the first class in the fall, I had no clue of what it would become. I asked though, that I asked if my students be willing to explore this with me and see where we could go, no idea that it would expand into a national project within a year.
And it really was the power of the stories that the students told the great depths of care that they took to investigating themselves and being willing to be vulnerable with each other. And sharing these stories that made this powerful in our class and made us wonder whether it was something we wanted to explore and build past the class both in our community and outside of our community. So I very vividly recall this really growing out of the project and one of the last days of school last year of calling some of these former students together and do what
if we What if we made a national project what if we expanded this And it was after school one of the last days was hot and humid. And all of these students were no longer in my class, but they were all showed up. And we brainstormed on the whiteboard of what we would want and what it would look like and why we wanted to do this. I asked, do you want to be part of this because I can't do this alone. This is your work. And they enthusiastically said, Absolutely. And so we spent the summer figuring out how to put together a national project. putting together an application, writing I then took the whole curriculum and made it readable for anyone else, not me. And then expanding the sharing out the application to teachers all across the country. And it was really remarkable. We opened the applications up in early July, and within a week, we had about 20 people apply. And it just went up from there and the applications that we received were so incredibly moving of people who really got what we were trying to do and really wanted to be a part of this collaboration and this conversation with them and their students in their classes and communities. And so since then, as Erika was saying, we've been both supporting our teachers, but then also speaking and so the student founders of the We are America project have been speaking the Boston Book Festival last year, they spoke at UMass Lowell, last spring, speaking at Harvard, on radio, publishing a newspaper. And just it's, it's really mind blowing. We're thinking back to almost a year ago when this started as an idea of, let's interrogate this question of what it means to be American and see where it goes. And so, yeah, that's that's a little bit about the origins of the project.
Allison Horrocks 11:00 Yeah, I mean, you know, it's not a big question or anything, right? No, there's the core, the core of national identity, not not a big topic. But I love the way you've made it so manageable through specific, short stories. Now for the panel, could you talk about the goals that you had with this national project kind of taking this bigger?
Jessica 11:23 Yeah, I'll jump in for a little bit. And then let Erika and Nicole jump in. And Carla, I think,and Erika started to allude to this to have and, indeed, Allison in your intro of sort of thinking about what it means to be American. But it is sort of nebulous concept that has been defined differently by different people. And if we look back at history, who counted as American has changed drastically over the course of our history, who got counted to be American 100 years ago, looks different than it did. 100 years. Before that, then a different 100 years before that, and I think it's the work of every generation to expand on that and to reclaim and redefine what it means to be American. And so that's what we were trying to do in our class. And that's also we hope teachers and students across the country who are collaborating with us will do in their classrooms. That it is the role and the responsibility of each generation to really interrogate what it means to be American and define it for themselves, and hopefully, to expand that definition to include more people. But it's not something we should take for granted because we have throughout our history, not counted people and specifically excluded people from counting as being American. And so I think there's a real responsibility and work for my generation as teachers and my co founders' generation as the young leaders of the country to keep rethinking what it means and keep expanding and defining and growing that definition. And so a goal is to start having those conversations in classes and start claiming identities. And these stories that Erica and Nicole shared in our book, and that students are sharing on the website, really work to help push people to think of a more broad definition. But I don't know if Erika and Nicole want to add on to that.
Unknown Speaker 13:34 Definitely What the What you said was really amazing, but besides that was also to make others feel definitely included, as Miss Lander mentioned that many people have been excluded from being counted as American and definitely would today, and how diverse America is. People need. They need like a story to hear and they say, Oh, I'm valid. I'm American too because many stories are not published and have been published and like, look to be published make themselves feel that they are American too.
Unknown Speaker 14:08 Yeah, for sure. And, you know, our goal with this project, I think what's really powerful and unique about it is we’re taking the voices of young students, you know, high schoolers, sometimes older middle schoolers, but the just the amazing part about it is a lot of people don't don't exactly, you know, take us seriously because we're young, we don't have the experience, you know, whatever, you know, excuses. But you know, reading through these books, it's just, it's so like, our stories just have so much different meaning and like weight of value, that people just really need to see and they really need to understand, especially with today's you know, Each historical, you know, movement with today's protest, you know, the watch for our allies, all those major young movements are super powerful, and they definitely change the course of the country.
Allison Horrocks 15:13 So who's part of the national project? And can you talk a bit about the interaction you had with teachers and classrooms working with you? And will show there's not just these national partners, but there's classrooms all over as well?
Unknown Speaker 15:29 Yes. Well, everyone who participates in the Project is a part of this project from us student chat founders to the students currently writing or preparing their stories to the teachers guiding their students during this journey. Our teachers come from all over the country from as far as Alaska and Hawaii, to Texas, Michigan, Idaho, Georgia, Florida, right here in Massachusetts, of course. We are working with classrooms in rural Arkansas and you know, the heart of New York City. We have about 40 teachers involved in 25 states in our first year alone, which I think is very impressive. They are working with more than 1500 students in total, which means that we will hopefully have more than 1500 stories of American identity up on our website within the next year.
Allison Horrocks 16:33 So I think now we're going to talk a bit about your website and kind of how people can use it, and how teachers especially can or should use it.
Jessica 16:44 Quickly each class that Nicole was talking about that's working with us all across the country is working on a curriculum to explore what it means to them to be American. And that's through conversations and through explorations and different storytelling means. And then they of course then at the end publish their own book. And so we have this growing collection of we are America books. But in addition to that, we created a website. website link is right there weareAmericaproject.com. And it was created by our incredible co founder Cat, who is a now a rising sophomore at MIT. And I don't know how she does all amazing things she does on designing our website. But key to our website, and really central to it is the library of stories. And that is where each of the stories that these students are sharing across the country are sharing those stories on our website in a recorded form, so they're actually recording orally their story and putting it up on the website for anyone to go listen to. And our hope is, as Nicole was saying, that we have about 1500 Students that we're working with that there'll be 1500 stories up on this website. But as a teacher, something that I really wanted to think about for this website was how to make it a tool. And so this is both but both for our collaborating teachers and students to be able to share and elevate their voice in their community. But we also wanted it to be for teachers and schools and classrooms and students and other adults not connected to education. who hadn't heard of the where America project before, and so that they could go to this website and listen to stories of young people share their identities. And so one idea we had and displayed here is we wanted to group stories by themes. And each student chooses what themes relate to the story they're telling, but you can search on our website stories related to family or stories related to health and illness are stories related to migration. Or stories related to friendship or those appearance, or a whole list of other themes. And our hope is, is to help expand people's understandings of say what it means to be family, that each student has a different understanding a different definition of what it means. And by listening to all of these in really conversation with each other, will hopefully people listening will grow in their understanding of what it family means to them down. And that too, when they listen to stories, they might not share the same background as the student whose story they're listening to. They might not share all the same values or beliefs or come from the same state or the same, either rural or city. But that there's something in their story that connects with them that they see part of that story in themselves, in their experience, and that that starts to build empathy. And I think that's a key part of our project is building empathy across difference and really trying to highlight and see the connections we have. And now is more important than ever, to build those connections, and to build a broader understanding of what it means to be American. And so the website is supposed to be a tool, we really do hope that teachers will use it, the classrooms will use it and that others will just go explore. I mean, the stories are incredible. And it's they're really powerful to hear them in young people's voices. So that was a little bit behind the creation of the website.
Allison Horrocks 20:48 That's awesome. Thank you. And I really do recommend that people play with some of the tabs because you can filter by topic, you can filter by place and then get different stories. For you, Erika and Nicole, you know, as you've been part of this process, and you've been hearing so many different people's stories, what are a few that maybe stick out for you you really kind of especially memorable stories that have come through the project.
Unknown Speaker 21:16 I think one story that I found really memorable as I was reading it when Miss Landers was showing the previous semester's class was about someone's grandmother and how they came from Thailand escaping domestic abuse from and how she managed to bring all over her 12 children and just thinking about that made me think about my family and how about both my parents escaped camb, the Cambodian genocide and I was just, it was nice to see someone else's story escaping troubles and seeing how they were able to overcome and be and become stronger through it.
Unknown Speaker 21:53 Yeah, you're reading our, you know, the stories that are coming in. It's just amazing, you know, to see how far we've come and the, you know, based on, you know, the regions of the country and the types of stories that you do here, especially the ones that are really coming I have my students in Alaska, Juneau, Alaska. I never realized how many Filipino family immigrants are there. And I got a few stories actually about, you know, their experience, you know, going from a tropical place to, you know, the Arctic of Alaska. You know, the culture difference, the, you know, the, the community, you know, difference. So, you're hearing that Siena, you know, being a Filipino descent, it really hit me you know, deeper that you know, there's so much more especially you know, with Um, our students in Hawaii, you know, huge immigrant community. So I can't wait for that story to come in. And yeah, a lot of stories.
Allison Horrocks 23:14 So related to that, and I, I now feel like this is sort of like a, like an SAT type question, but I'm just so curious, you know, prior to working on this, what, if anything, did you think about diversity because that was kind of how this assignment started. And then you did the most and made a nationwide project. But how did that change for you over the course of this the way that you thought about that idea?
Unknown Speaker 23:43 I think a lot of how my perspective on what it means to be American definitely came from all the events I saw growing up. I think one particular event for me was the LGBT movement, especially in 2013, when the overturn Supreme Court case where they won and they had a equality To marriage and something that definitely resonated with me because even like in fourth grade when I heard about Oh, a man loving a man or a woman loving a man I didn't know woman loving a woman I didn't understand what's the big problem they have, they should be able to love to do and definitely seeing them finally make a step for equality made me super happy and want to promote the idea that people should be accepted for a sexuality and not be discouraged to hide who they really are.
Unknown Speaker 24:30 Yeah, and for me, I always grew up knowing that the US was a melting pot of you know, cultures and traditions and that no other place was really like America. When learning in the class, and reading my fellow you know, classmates stories I was truly moved. It's much different to hear about, you know, stories of struggle and oppression from online, third sources than from your classmates that you see in the next to every morning, it really changed something for me mentally and emotionally about diversity. And that's what I'm hoping we're able to do here is to give our students that first hand experience with each other, especially, you know, with space to have a big, large immigrant community. Hmm.
Allison Horrocks 25:22 So another question I had for you, and we will get to the chat questions very soon. We're really curious about your perspective, as you kind of watch the news or as you get information through social media. What's happened in the past month in terms of people pushing for social change, or not just reform but in some cases, overhauls of social systems How would you respond after doing this project to this idea that protesting is somehow anti American,
Unknown Speaker 25:55 quite polite in like, very American for them to protest. Definitely break down barriers are definitely aren't right and definitely need to be taken down. If we want to get better. I'm proud to see young adults, young Americans, even little kids go home with their parents to protest the system that's definitely wrong their ancestors. And yes, some actions may seem anti Americans, but maybe like looting or burning down buildings, but I can understand the want to change the society that has wronged them. And like, I fully support these protesters just peacefully protesting and trying to change for the better, especially since they're the ones who are building a new foundation for the upcoming generation.
Unknown Speaker 26:41 Yeah, I would say protesting in America is what made America today. Many of us look back, you know, at the Boston Tea Party, precursor to the American Revolution, you know, to reject that thought of protesting as anti American. We learned about you You know, that boston tea party all the time in school another example, you know, again would be the march for our lives. The gun control, you know, that ended up going international. It marks a turning point in America's difficult conversation about guns. So honestly, I would say protesting is actually a very American thing that you can do.
Allison Horrocks 27:23 We are creating a new cultural identity exhibit in the park. So I am currently in the Boott cotton mills museum where we talk about labor history and labor stories. And we also have the Mogan Cultural Center close to us, which currently has an exhibit called mill girls and immigrants. And one half of that building is being overhauled into a cultural identity exhibit. I didn't tell you this, but you're sort of helping me with my homework because I am part of a team that is putting together stories and lists of objects to be included in that museum. And we couldn't think of a better group to ask than you as far as what stories in your local experience do you think would be essential to see in an exhibit about cultural identity in Lowell, bearing in mind that people come from all over to visit our national park? And also about 40,000 students go through the park as well.
Unknown Speaker 28:25 So I think definitely one topic that I definitely advocate a lot about is about mental health. Besides that, I struggle for many, many Americans struggle with mental health, whether it be anxiety or depression, yet, the topic of mental health or suffering from it is seen as a taboo, or shh-shh, especially from older generations, I think, if younger generations are able to see that it's okay. It's a struggle and that it's okay to ask for help. I think it definitely breaks down the taboo and the barrier of asking for help, especially when it comes to like depression, and other like disorders that definitely need to be breaking in and not shown as. Like you're a horrible person, if you suffer from bipolar disorder or borderline personality disorder like something to show that it's okay to suffer and that you're not, you're not less human if you suffer from a mental health issue.
Unknown Speaker 29:16 I agree with Erika, that the story of like, struggle is huge for the city especially Lowell, for me, I think the stories of immigration would be essential in this exhibit. You know, as many of you know, it was the epicenter of the Industrial Revolution, you know, that had waves of immigrants from Ireland, you know, Poland, Portugal, and more coming for work. We have generations of these families still living here today, and I think it's crucial to highlight the stories of struggle to understand and learn our history to live a better future.
Jessica 29:53 Yeah, I would just add to that of like, Lowell is such a wonderful example of the beauty of what American can be in terms of all of the different cultures and all of the the different wealth of skills and experiences and religions and heritages that are all found in one city. And so I would say that any exhibit should highlight those voices. And I think particularly making sure to elevate voices that we haven't heard as much from in the past. Young voices are always a great place to start. But I'm struck every day when I teach of just how beautiful Lowell is in terms of all of the representation of the world in one syllable, say, big but in the grand scheme of things, one small city that's really just such a powerful example of what America can be. And so elevating and sharing those voices and stories and just diversity of heritages would be powerful if I was setting up such an exhibit.
Allison Horrocks 31:06 I listened to your colleague, and he said something that I thought was so elegant and perfect. He said, Lowell, a place made up of many pieces of the world. And he says, it seems like a place of pure diversity. I thought the whole world was like this. School has taught me otherwise. And so I really, really recommend his story, especially for people who are interested in Lowell and our stories, too, of course, but that that one really struck, you know, talking about his transition of coming to Lowell and becoming part of Lowell and also a reminder of this relationship that you have been one of co learning and co developing together, talking about his education. So this question is from Vichear, and he says, As a former student of LHS I just want to say I'm very happy to see students making a change. These stories are important and absolutely worth spreading, keep up the good work. Now I'm wondering, I'm curious about a kind of logistical piece of this, which is how you worked as a team to do all the elements of this because I look at this as a person who works on projects with groups. And I see such a beautiful vision and a cohesive vision. But I also see a lot of work. I see audio recording, I see photography. Could you talk a bit about that process because it's so daunting to take on something like this, but you seem to really have a system and have it together.
Jessica 32:41 I'm laughing just because yes, it is a whole crazy mishmash of a lot of different moving elements.
Unknown Speaker 32:51 I think one good role like one way that definitely makes this project work, it's a lot of communication. And the definitely the whatsapp group that we have And all the Miss Landers. Okay, guys gonna send out these emails. I sent out the template, make sure you get this done by today or tomorrow and I think that definitely makes a lot of project work, especially the whatsapp group chat. I know, I've gotten a lot of my work done through the notifications I get.
Unknown Speaker 33:19 Yeah, I mean, I don't want to say that, you know, Jessica is like the ringmaster or anything but like, she definitely keeps us in check. You know, like, she'll remind us, you know, to look at our emails and stuff and I'll make sure to respond, you know, the day and yeah, no, she's definitely has been a huge hub, but it's definitely just getting into a routine. You know, making sure you know, you do answer, you know, just questions and check back and then they say, you know, they're doing okay, they've been doing okay.
Jessica 33:53 I think Google docs are our friends. And as Erika was saying WhatsApp, I mean, so easy. We have 40 teachers and each co founder is partnered, and they are in charge of coaching about five or six teachers. Wow. And so they're checking in regularly once every two weeks or so with their teachers across the country. And so I think, Nicole, you have teachers in Hawaii and Alaska and in other states, and they're checking in and they're troubleshooting and they're hearing about stories as they come in. And then they're really the point person. We give the teachers the curriculum, and then supports throughout and then we have a really fantastic young man who's also an alumni of Lowell, who's part of our Lowell high, who's part of our team who is then laying out all of the books. And so he's doing all the design work on the back end. We then have some members our team, of course Cat, who's designing our whole website And doing all the troubleshooting on getting stories up. And so it's really just like, we are phenomenally rich in resources in terms of each co founder bringing incredible skills and assets to the team. And each carrying a really heavy load in terms of bringing their expertise and applying it to the work. It's from speaking on radio or speaking here to working with teachers to doing some of the backend organizing of managing surveys and managing Excel spreadsheets of who we have and where people are in the project because everyone's at a different place. And does this person need to see the proof for their story? Or does this person need help with the audio or the photos photos have been hard given COVID and of course, everything has been thrown up in the air given COVID. But it takes a whole team and we have 14 incredible young co founders and then me and so it's 15 of us working together. And it couldn't happen any other way.
Unknown Speaker 36:05 And definitely add on love with the co founder part. See on each co founder has a partner to work with the five to six different teachers that I think definitely having somewhat like a partner definitely makes the workload easier and makes getting work done. Like Personally, I know my partner has been great. I know one time I was literally getting off the plane from my vacation. And I have there's like something to do. And he had my back and was able to send out emails when I was at the airport. So definitely having someone to work with definitely makes the project easier.
Allison Horrocks 36:37 So another question that came in through the chat and This question is from Lisa, how exactly would you define an American?
We're going right for it with this one. So
Unknown Speaker 36:50 love it.
Unknown Speaker 36:53 I feel like you know, obviously we get this question, you know, a lot and it's our job, you know, answer that question. But, you know, it's, it comes from, you know, many different people, you know, they have their own definition. But I think what we strive for is, you know, I mean, like a sharing of a commitment to like a set of values or ideals, but you have to be American it. You don't have to be a person of a particular you know, religion or nationality or ethnic background. All you really have to do is commit yourself to like a political ideology. You know, that's centered around you know, like, liberty, you know, and equality. That's definitely huge. And it's open to being American is open to anyone who's willing to be an American so it’s really open to interpretation.
Unknown Speaker 38:05 Nicole definitely covered on I was gonna say, I feel I mean, suffering of others not turning your back on someone when someone needs help. And really just being there and accepting the good of everyone hope striving for the best and breaking down barriers that limit who is American and to make this make the word American be used by everyone.
Allison Horrocks 38:28 We also had something from Emily, I love how the project highlights the beauty of cultural diversity. I'm wondering if anyone has examples from their life at LHS or from the project about tensions and struggles that those beautiful differences can cause.
Unknown Speaker 38:45 One example that definitely pops up and what I've seen students protests about is wearing like a hijab and I definitely I kind of just like, let them wear this hijab. It's part of their religion it's part of who they are and I don't know why you should try to take that away. That's definitely something. I saw myself, people protesting like with the head wraps. And I'm like, they should be allowed to express their cultural identity and who they are, like, one of my close friend loves to wear her hijab and I would hate for her to have that taken away from her just because of a rule.
Unknown Speaker 39:20 Yeah, Erika really nailed it.
Unknown Speaker 39:24 That was huge during our time at LHS was a head wrap, you know, we did have, you know, small protests at the school and, you know, a couple like walkouts and such and we did get the message across Actually no, like we won that. It was pretty, you know, ridiculous, you know, to hear from our administration that that wasn't allowed, you know, that's someone's identity, you know, and say that, no, you can't wear that or anything because of such such you know, saying it was just really wrong. So people the Students from you know, different backgrounds came out to support this one cause and, you know, we just nailed it.
Jessica 40:14 I think what strikes me and thinking back about the last year in terms of teaching is the amount of difficult conversations we had in our class, so that we, in addition to this work, as part of the work of writing these two books before the national project was even an idea. We were we were looking at the history of America and the fights for equity and justice. And every week after studying legislation and court cases and movements, we would gather together in a circle for 45 minutes to have a Socratic circle, Socratic seminar and I actually I'd step outside of the circle, I'd be sitting silently on the outside of it, and it was really my students were leading a discussion and I was always blown away by the the power of those discussions. And each student is coming from a different place with a different set of beliefs, different backgrounds, different ethnicities, and conversations like the kind that Erika and Nicole and their peers had are incredibly difficult sometimes. They're messy. They're ugly. They're hard. And I think back to my own schooling and I can think of very few times that I was as honest or as courageous or as willing to be vulnerable as my students were in those conversations that we had weekly.
And I think it in education speaking as a teacher, we don't create enough space to have difficult conversations, to be vulnerable with each other to push each other in a way that allows for growth and allows for greater understanding that it's hard to create those spaces, it takes time. And I wish there were more spaces to really explore and to be vulnerable with each other. And that's, I think, where the power of their stories came out. It just takes a lot of honesty and even in my adult life, how often do I have the types of conversations they were having. But I think it's on us as teachers to create those spaces and to do it very intentionally. And to also give students and adults the skills to be able to have those conversations recognizing that they're not going to be easy. And it takes work. And so I think, for me that those were some of the most powerful moments in this class in the lead up to this book was the willingness of students to be vulnerable with each other to bring their their different opinions, their different experiences, and to work through what it meant to be American. What it meant to disagree, and that it was okay to disagree. But to practice having those conversations with each other so that they work towards an understanding of each other in a much deeper way.
Allison Horrocks 43:29 I mean, I think what you're saying about trust and creating an environment of respect, I think that's kind of the billion dollar question. In our country and probably our world right now. And I'm just curious, you know, and you can speak from a faculty or you can speak from a former student perspective. How many spaces in the city do you think are actually like that? Like, how many places in your world do you think feel safe enough to have those kinds of conversations?
Unknown Speaker 44:00 Truth be told, I think the only place where you could feel vulnerable and feel like that was really Miss Lander's classroom like, never had, like, never in one of my classes where we'd had discussions about abortion rights or the right for a woman to vote. But in the space, we were able to share and respect each other's opinions like usually I'd probably get really angry if someone said something hurtful in this classroom, we're all able to listen and then respectfully disagree and be like, Oh, I think I understand why you think this way, but such and such and that definitely helped me grow and to understand more of understanding people's point of views and how they, like, understand why they think that, if that makes sense. It does.
Unknown Speaker 44:43 Yeah, that's a great question. Actually. Ones that haven't really thought of, but, you know, I do have to bring it back to Miss Landers class, to be honest, because I never thought, you know, zoom question she asked the third topic, we went over the ones that you never went over in your typical history class, you know, those classes vary, you know, like a strip that goes, that's a little bit you know, you learn this and so it's Miss Landers It was very much up to interpretation, almost like you're running the class, you know, with your you know, the the talking, you know, seminar circles hearing everybody's, you know, opinions, whether they be the same as yours or not, but you are respectfully and appropriately listening and responding. And to get that well rounded ness of coming from that class is just something so unique that which is why I think, you know, taking this, taking this class taking this project nationally is super important, because I do feel like I've definitely changed from just taking you know, a half semester class. So,
Unknown Speaker 45:59 definitely one more thing I just remembered what made this class so special is that every week when we were teaching a topic at the end of the week, on the usually Fridays, we have a group of students and they were bt different. They choose a lesson evolving to the topic. So when I taught it, we talked about LGBT and for that unit with my group we talked about OTP T and the rep is representation in media which usually You never discuss in like classes you ever hear about all LGBT movement in the in like the 90s or but like you never go in depth and like giving the students an opportunity to teach a topic relating to it especially one that's definitely not covered definitely makes you want to connect more and understand people's point of view.
Jessica 46:44 The both Eric and Nicole and sort of expressed throughout the last hour is just this work happens because of them.
That it is the the commitment of them and their peers to do this work both in the class and then after the class in getting on on panels on taking this book national. I mean, so much of the work they did wasn't for a grade. It wasn't for credit. It was because they cared and deeply believed in it. And the same way that they were showing up to seminar every day to our conversations once a week. phones were away. It was bringing yourself fully to that work. And that requires an individual commitment and willingness to be fully present. Until like all that credit goes to them in terms of their, their belief in the importance of this conversation. And in bringing this to other classes and their willingness to take this outside, as Nicole was saying, like, if it's not a semester class, it really grew into something much more than that. And it was done because they wanted to do it.
Allison Horrocks 48:01 We've had educators of many different kinds on this program, you know, since we started it almost two years ago, and I think part of what you're getting at is, there are not many spaces where you can actually reflect and think about the world and there's so much that you can spend your time answering messages, you know, you're inundated with kind of inane content constantly, and if your education is actually about your freedom and developing yourself, it's kind of worth not being distracted. It's not worth turning it off, if it's not changing you, right? So it's like when people are not paying attention when they're checked out, it's kind of a signal, like it's not doing much for them. And it's like, these spaces are so rare. Elizabeth was asking, you know, what's a 2.0 of this project?
Unknown Speaker 48:56 I think Jessica can definitely elaborate on questions, but I think what, you know, after the first year, but we're really going for is, you know, spreading this more nationally, you know, more states, you know, we're only halfway there, you know, out of 50 so we can definitely go farther with that. more stories.
Allison Horrocks 49:16 I love that attitude so much. half the country. We're only halfway there. We're only
Unknown Speaker 49:24 Exactly, exactly. Turns out to cover. Um,
Unknown Speaker 49:30 so yeah, so once we have, you know, I think, a large amount of stories, you know, to go through an idea would be to, to go through, you know, some, sorry some that are, you know, stand out and are powerful and really highlight those ones in a anthology. And see see it more from an entire USA point of view rather than, you know, just from Alaska or just from Massachusetts?
Unknown Speaker 50:00 Yeah, I think Nicole said it exactly right that we're in 25 states, but we 25 states we're not in. And so we are actually we're working right now as a team to open up the application for cohort 2 to support more teachers and we'll be opening that up in the next two weeks. So if you're on the call and you are a teacher or know a teacher, please consider applying. And and then as Nichole is saying the hope is in addition to this library that we're building this We are America collection of stories from many different classrooms. We would love to put together a national anthology that highlights stories from across the US from across all of these classrooms. So, as Nicole says, a lot of work still to do, but pretty exciting founders that I've got other work and other writing and teaching, but that this work is so powerful, and to be hearing from our teachers to see the book start to come in. We have 10 books published already from 10 different states is really inspiring. And so I'm really excited to open the application back up again, please apply, um, and just see where this goes. I mean, it's really, really incredible and such an honor to work with my co founders and former students to build this conversation, and
Jessica 51:31 I look forward I mean, last last year, we had a concept we had what what does it mean to be American? Let's, let's go on that. And a year after that it was let's start a national project. And so looking into the new year of where will it take it from there? I don't know. But I think for those on the call, or those listening after we very much hope you'll check out our website and you'll listen to the stories. There are more being added every week. And they're powerful, and they're raw, and they're honest and vulnerable, and courageous. And I think it's important for us, particularly now, but really at all times to be listening at the listening to the voices of young people.
And so it's it's exciting and we'll see where we are in a year.
Allison Horrocks 52:23 I know We can't wait to see it. And just, you know, from our perspective at the park, we're just incredibly proud that this is local, and that it's spread so wonderfully. You know, we have an opportunity here to talk to people who come from all over the world to hear the story about Lowell. And some people come for turbines. Some people come for trolleys, everyone gets labor history, and everyone gets immigrant history. So I think that's kind of the secret that gets slipped in. As I was thinking about all of the work that you've done, I meant it very seriously when I think this fits into a bigger canon of people who ask very hard questions about what it means to be of this country. And to think of someone like a Frederick Douglass like a James Baldwin, or Langston Hughes, who says, you know, America was never America to me, you know, that tension between something that could be great and something that falls so short for so many people. I like to end these programs often with someone else's words, because usually someone has said it better than I can in the last 30 seconds. But we do this kind of dialogue. And we do these kinds of things together, usually in the same room. But we do it because a historical Park is not just a place to think about things that have already happened. Just like your work. It's not a laundry list or a catalogue to flip through. As Baldwin says, The past isn't something to read. The great course of history comes from the fact that we carry it. It's literally present in all that we do. And I think history is present in you, but you're also very much the future. And I don't know that you can read a better history of recent Lowell than your project.
Jessica 54:47 So thank you so much, Allison, for having us on. Thank you.
Allison Horrocks 55:04 This concludes another edition of a recording of Lowell Talks. We hope that you'll join us next time and that you continue to have these kinds of conversations in your own life.
Robert Forrant 02:38 The real the origin of Mayday has an interesting history in the United States and actually the first sort of events that ultimately culminate in workers around the world celebrating May 1, as International Workers Day are rooted in a series of strikes and job actions to take place amid starting in the mid 1870s, about a decade after the end of the Civil War, and leading up to May 1886. There's a call for on May Day, May 1, 1886, there to be a general strike across the United States a work stoppage to support the eight hour day. And the idea is that from the workers that are organizing this, the Knights of Labor and other labor organizations, if we could bring the economy to a halt, employers would be forced into giving the eight hour day typical work day and 1880s is still 10, 12. In some cases, 14 hours a day depending on the kind of job you do. And so leading up to May 1, 1886 there are hundreds of strikes across the country in 1884 1885. People are organizing this in a really grand way and then on May 1, 1886 in across the country close to 350 400,000 workers are on strike in roughly 11,500 factories, and the economy slows particularly the transportation network is affected. So imagine today, the equivalent so the railroads in the country largely shut down railway workers are generally speaking in this period pretty militant. So imagine if Amazon and UPS shut down the crippling effect that would have on the economy in the 21st century, the railroads shutting down have a similar effect and the demand is really one based on this notion of eight hours for work. Eight hours for rest, eight hours for what we will, meaning recreation, picnics, you know, beside the river or walks along the river or going to the beach or the lake or whatever and that workers are feeling. These long work days and really oppressive working conditions are taking away their lives. In the, ihn 1886 in Chicago, on May 3, the third day of the strike actions in Chicago workers march to a factory that's been on strike works in Chicago and the police and and the state militia arrive at this at this strike at the McCormick works and they open fire on the workers and three workers lose their lives. There's a call on the part of workers in Chicago for a demonstration on May 4, 1886. To commemorate the loss of lives on the third and to also sort of talk about what what should happen. There is a vast meeting in this place called Haymarket Square in Chicago and lots of labor historians and people sympathetic to labor and involved in the labor which some point in their life make a pilgrimage to Haymarket Square there at Haymarket Square as this meeting is breaking up. People marching into the square the militia marches into Haymarket Square to break up the rally, a market even though it's already breaking up of its own volition, it's pouring rain. People are leaving and from somewhere in the in an alleyway as the police in the militia are marching and somebody throws a bomb into the ranks of the of the police in the militia and several of badly injured in three or four lose their lives. The police in Chicago use the US that event to round up most of the leading anarchists most of the leading 8 hour strike leaders in Chicago and put eight of them on trial for murder even though in the trial itself, it's never proven that any of them had anything to do with it. In fact, none of them are even in Chicago, when the bomb is thrown, but guilt by association. And in a way it cripples the labor movement. And so what what, what then happens moving forward is in 1889, there's a big meeting of labour radical socialists and others in Paris, and they declare in 1889, that May Day, May 1, May Day should be this workers holiday to remember the struggle for the eight hour day but also to carry on and continue that campaign. A little while later in the 1890s, there's a pretty serious strike up wave in the United States, homestead strike being one of them, the Pullman strike, and in that plays out in Chicago and elsewhere in the country, another one. And there's a lot of labor unrest in the country and the militia is brought in again, strikes really violently suppressed. And the president at the time Grover Cleveland, at the behest of Congress, signs and creates this national holiday Labor Day, on the first Monday in September, as a federal holiday and it's really done to try to deflect workers away from the more radical origins of May 1, and Labor Day pretty much gets the attention as it still does today around the world, most people still will commemorate May 1, but not not so much here in the United States. Some people do, obviously, but it's not seen as important as his Labor Day in the period that we're in now post, the 1890s. There's obviously a continuous wave of workplace organizing lots of reaction to workers. And I think these are some of the connections to today to unsafe working conditions, dangerous labor. The slide here shows young, obviously really young girls who are oyster shucking in oyster factory in South Carolina, this kind of really dangerous work. Once Massachusetts famous for the Bread and Roses strike. The Bread and Roses strike in large marks this really interesting insignificant moment, I think, sort of an inflection point in American labor history. And I think we're at another one now in 2020. And the strike is largely effective because immigrant workers figure out a way to band together, overcome the differences in terms of languages and such and work together. This is also a strike where women play a really major role in both the leadership and a lot of the activity. I this is one of my favorite all time quotes in labor history about women mill workers being cunning and full of lots of bad temper. I think it's an apt description from what I know the Bread and Roses strike... mutual aid, which I know is going to talk about in a couple minutes, but mutual aid really is one of the effective reasons why the strike works. People band together to feed strikers children provide all sorts of solidarity for strikers the strike when it ends in Lawrence, just to put a little low labor history into the morning, the strike shifts to low and for those of you that know low Belvidere is the Tony or neighborhood of low still to this day. You know, a lot of the more wealthy people in the city of Lowell live in this Belvidere neighborhood, and so I love this LOWELL SUN headline - strikers parade on Roger street on return from invasion of Belvidere. I find again sort of I like looking at that one. The stock market crash and everything that happens in the late 1920s provides a new inflection point in labor history in the United States workers. This time we're going to organize in massive ways across the country veterans from World War One who go to the nation's capitol in the summer of 1932 during an election year, demanding that their bonuses be paid, they will promise bonuses at the end of the First World War. But the checks wouldn't come due til 1945 and people were starving, couldn't pay their rent similar to circumstances of a lot of people today. The difference between now and then I've been thinking about this a lot in the 1930s when everything was happening. The possibility existed for people to be able to band together obviously this is the aftermath of a of a big event in Detroit. Hunger March Detroit factory of Henry Ford, and workers are shot, there's a lot of violence workers lose their lives. But people are able to rally together in a way that we can't necessarily right now and you can see in these sorts of workplaces and strikes is a very famous strike and Woolworths This is the equivalent of what I would think of as a Walmart today, but people are able to organize face to face. And it's much more difficult to try to figure this out now. And so we're sort of where we are. I think it yesterday there was a lot of activity at Amazon, Whole Foods, InstaCart, other places, to try to figure out sort of what to do and I think I want to read this just for clarity sake, when the health and safety movement emerged in the 1950s. Labor economist Brian Kolache, he has written pioneers like Tony Mazaki of the oil, chemical and atomic workers, rejected what was then called compensating differential, arguing instead that every worker deserves a safe and healthy workplace as a matter of right. And so it's an important point to keep in mind when now we're talking about well the way to deal with people on the frontlines either dealing health wise with, with with COVID-19, or distributing food or delivering food or delivering parcels or whatever it is, we'll give them an extra buck by trade off health and safety. And what we're, you know, again, I think what we're really the moment that we're at is how to how do we have that kind of conversation, my brother's a emergency and surgical room nurse at North Shore Medical Center in Salem, MA. And, you know, he said to me the other day, well, it's really nice when people ride by and clap and beep The horn, but I'd rather have, you know, personal protective gear that actually worked and function. That's it for me. Thank you,
Allison Horrocks 12:49 Elizabeth. Now, it's gonna tell us a little bit about some of her work not just in researching the radical origins of mutual aid but also the formation of LLAMA in Lowell and what maybe the past has to teach or inform about our current moment and the way people are getting together to form mutual aid.
Elizabeth Pellerito 13:06 So in understanding mutual aid, you actually have to at least the theory of mutual aid the as kind of adopted by anarchist societies, you have to understand really the the relationship between science and other kind of forms of thinking during the 19th century. So Peter Kropotkin, writes a series of essays in the 1890s on mutual aid, and it's called a factor in evolution. And I'm just going to read the first sentence, because it says so much says that of chapter one. So the conception of struggle for existence as a factor of evolution, introduced into science by Darwin and Wallace has permitted us to embrace an immensely wide range of phenomena in one single generalization, which soon and this is the key phrase which soon became the very basis of our philosophical, biological and sociological speculations. So, for 19th century scientists, the scientific was not we tend to think of it as kind of siloed. It's a different kind of knowledge because it's fully objective. It's measurable. And that is true. But I think that the 19th century, thinkers were much more adept at recognizing that science is never this, like, ideologically pure space. So and of course, you know, we're starting to have those conversations, I think, in really meaningful ways, as we see the way that you know, kind of the current administration is responding to different models of scientific thinking about how the virus works, and the best ways to present it. And but Kropotkin is saying basically, he's reacting against this notion of Darwinian struggle for existence. And when Darwin writes THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES in 1859, he's talking about nature, right? He's talking about plants and animals, but he's also very specifically extending that to humans. And he does that overtly, in his later works after the origin of species. So he's saying this isn't just a biological idea. This is also philosophical and sociological, this says everything about how we interact with each other, that it is a struggle for existence, that we're all competing for limited resources. And these ideas are not just Darwin's, this is, you know, turn of the century turn of the 19th century. You know, Malthus is writing the same thing that we're all competing for a limited amount. And the people who are the most successful are the ones who are going to survive and pass along their genes. So Kropotkin comes along and says, actually, I'm a naturalist I study nature. And that's not really the full picture. And we see so many examples in nature. Animals and plants actually cooperating instead of competing with each other. And he says essentially like solidarity is a method of survival. And he's very clear as well that this is not just scientific, he gives us tons of examples from the animal kingdom and the insect kingdom, but that this is also a model for human behavior. And that he's trying to stem the tide of this Victorian notion that comes in with the rise of the Industrial Revolution, about folks working for themselves working to make their own piece of the pot and then going home with that and he even goes so far as to kind of repurpose one of the like classic Victorian examples. So the Victorians loves to talk about bees actually and saying that bees are really good metaphor for the way that human society works because you've got right the queen and then you've got all these drones who are working for her and we should really attempt to be as much like bees as possible because they're really hard working. They're very hierarchical in that first chapter, Kropotkin is saying, actually, these are incredibly cooperative. And here's all the ways that they act as a hive to survive. And recognize that, you know, the organization of their labor is not each be working for him or herself. It's himself in the case of drones, but it is actually thinking of themselves as a collective, and that in order to survive, that's what humans have to be doing as well. And so his, you know, Kropotkin says, like, we have all of these examples of mutual aid groups that are working for each other trade unions are one example of this as banding together being a more successful really survival strategy, evolutionary strategy for human societies and this kind of capitalist notion that comes in, particularly with the Industrial Revolution. And so historically, the groups that are really relying on mutual aid are groups that are recognizing that the state has sort of passed them by like the Black Panther Party providing free breakfasts and health care, or the Young Lords in New York or, you know, one of the kind of classic examples from our generation would be Disability Justice care circles, so folks with different models of disabilities, forming these circles outside of kind of the formal healthcare systems who may treat them as kind of second class citizens, they may not have access to resources, they may not have health care, and saying we're gonna take responsibility and form a kind of circle and take care of each other. So groups that have really been marginalized groups that have been left out of, you know, the possibility of success, kind of the folks who are sort of left behind by the American dream, you might say, are really the ones who are organizing around very conscious model of saying we want to reject this kind of capitalist notion of individuals, you know, raising themselves up by their bootstraps. And we're going to take care of each other because we're imagining a different kind of community. So, you know, what we see in this pandemic in the modern crisis is this movement that's really spread like wildfire across the country of folks in their communities saying, we want to do that right now. We see the ways in which our government isn't quite prepared to spring into action. Our nonprofits are great, and they're important, but they aren't quite moving fast enough. And there's more need than any one of us can imagine this is unimaginable. And so we're going to try to figure out how to build structures that can do exactly that. It's not charity. I think that a really important piece of the the ethos is that it's solidarity. So what we're building right now is both meeting immediate needs, so getting food and money and shelter to people, so that they can literally survive from one day to the next. But it's also building something longer lasting. It's organizing and building for a model that really tries to correct some of the kind of deep rooted inequities that are built into the fabric of our society. So here in Lowell, Lifting Lowellians Assistance and Mutual Aid, and there is a partner group a sibling group called Vecinos, which is the Spanish speaking partnership of LLAMA and essentially, you know, this is not it's not hierarchical. There's kind of a group that's yours that is a steering committee. We're called herders, llama herders. And the idea is really to kind of both meet immediate needs, and to start building for the kind of level that we'd like to see. So there's a number of different ways that we're doing that. There's a way that you can donate money to help people out with emergency needs like food and medicine. In a matter of about three weeks, we actually build up a food pantry that is kind of supplementing the work of the nonprofit's that are completely overwhelmed right now. And the food pantries that do exist in Lowell. So they are delivering food baskets to families who can't get out of their houses and or who can't afford food right now. We're out of work. And it's pretty incredible that this massive infrastructure has come together so fast. There's a political advocacy group that's working on kind of communicating with different levels of government and pushing for reforms. There's a collection weekly of people who want to donate non perishable food and toiletries because there's a huge need for toiletries and cleaning supplies right now. And it's really a group of people who are joined by the fact that they live in Lowell, but I think a lot of folks didn't know each other before now and have really just built up this massive infrastructure. So if folks do want to get involved, I'll post a link to the form that you fill out if you want to offer help with something or if you want to request help with something and that includes, you know, food and money, but also things like companionship conversation, we've had just all kinds of things sort of run through that form, like somebody needs a vacuum cleaner, somebody needs a place to stay because they have bedbugs, you know, just all kinds of everything. Imagine when someone needs help filling out unemployment forms, and really trying to kind of imagine like this whole, it's not just money. It's not just food. It's really about the emotional health of the community as well.
Robert Forrant 23:01 I mean, one of the things in the history is we forget that there was a pandemic, at the end of the First World War 1918-1919-1920. And while that was going on, there was at the same time a massive strike wave in the United States. There was a, what started out as a shipyard strike in Seattle and ended up in a general strike to address there with 35,000 women on strike in New York City dressmakers, the police in Boston went on strike in 1919. So obviously we're, you know, it's 100 years later, but there are certain parallels - strike waves and worker unrest went on simultaneously with this pandemic in 1919-1920. And I think the other thing to sort of add to what what Elizabeth was saying is that in order to sort of think about where we're at now, the idea of mutual aid is is critically important. A lot of the workers in the in the occupations that are the most risky, the most dangerous right now, some of them are in unions, but a lot of them aren't. And somehow trying to figure out ways to extend solidarity from the existing unions, to those workers and also as well from communities and the last thing I want to re emphasize what I was saying before that the best example for me is a way the President has decided that he wants to keep meatpacking meat processing plants open by essentially forcing workers back to work and by maybe the employers give them people an extra dollar. That's not workplace health and safety. That's that's extortion and what they're also doing with it which I think when I've talked to people about this, sometimes people aren't aware what what these meatpacking plants want from the federal government is an indemnity if anything happens to anybody that works in these places so that they're not liable on the other side of it. Lots of work. Lots of unions representing those workers and unions more generally have been talking about actually there should be criminal liability against the employers for putting people into into unsafe working conditions. And we need to try to figure out ways to extend mutual aid solidarity, whatever we want to call it, and not leave those, those workers out on an island. And also, the overwhelming numbers of those workers or immigrant workers and or refugees and women to try to figure out how you intersect all of these things is critically important right now. While we're also castigating, at the federal level immigrants and trying to create new immigrant bans and all sorts of other things... would be interesting if for half hour, everybody that worked in Amazon warehouses and meatpacking plants, who was an immigrant or first generation walked off the job to see how quickly all of that would come to a halt. But I just don't think lots of people realize it just in see it in this in this bigger way. Yeah, and I'd actually like to add on to that, that, I think
Elizabeth Pellerito 26:00 The fact that the meatpacking plants in particular were chosen is very deliberate. It's not the coincidence -- meatpacking plants have been some of the kind of most horrific places for worker health and safety in the past 50 years. And as Bob said, they are absolutely one of the places that is a major employer of immigrants time and again, this notion of workplace rates, so immigration status and worker status being kind of intertwined as they are in American law, which to me, you know, a lot of folks I think, see that relationship as kind of a natural one, but it seems very arbitrary to me to say that your status depends on how you're classified as a worker. What we've seen over and over again since the 80s, is that these are the workplaces that are targeted for raids and the folks who are working there are terribly underpaid, they don't have protections for the most part in terms of health and safety. And as their workplace gets raided, they get deported. Charges pressed so that they can't reenter the country within five years or 10 years or whatever it is. And what happens is the employer doesn't face any kind of penalty for employing quote unquote illegal immigrants but it is the workers themselves who are punished and then the employer is free to bring in a new shipment of workers and then the workplaces rated once again and I mean we've seen that you know here in Massachusetts certainly in the the fish packing houses in New Bedford right. Very famously the sight of one of these workplace raids and we know that there are still just incredible problems down in the fish houses down in New Bedford. So I think the fact that that meatpacking plants in particular it's it's not because Americans need meat in some kind of like deep (laughs) and integral way. It's because those meatpacking plants are a symbol. They're a site of a particular kind of relationship, toxic relationship to immigrant labor that Americans have. And I would say that the decision to reopen and force those plants to open is as much as symbolic one as a practical one.
Allison Horrocks 28:27 We were talking a bit, you know, in preparation for this program about all the different ways that mutual aid has a long history in Lowell. And I think part of what's interesting about that is it both points to the consistency with which people have formed alliances and worked together. But it also points to bigger failures, as you're saying. There's an early early article in the LOWELL OFFERING where women are organizing, basically counter to the narrative that the hospitals the corporation, hospitals were designed to aid them. They were making an argument that you could easily be on a GoFundMe page in 2020, which is, yes, there is a system set up ... but they're not using the word bankrupt but it bankrupts people ... it upends people's lives and the whole notion that you're coming to a community to be a wage earner, all those wages and all that work can be undone with one injury. There's an article that was uncovered by Bridget Marshall about what they call "the liberality of mill girls." And it's how generous they are with their money. And I think that's such an important source because it is selective. They're not using it on everyone for everything. But there's a man who loses his arm to a piece of machinery and the operatives raise $3,000 for him, which is both astonishing in the context of 170 years ago, and also an indictment of the system that's been set up for them to get health care.
Elizabeth Pellerito 29:53 Yeah, if I can respond to that quickly. I think one of the ways that the legacy of mutual aid gets, there's an attempt to sort of rewrite that legacy. And again, it comes back to this Victorian idea that charity, and as you're saying, people are saying, oh, the mill girls are so charitable they're so giving. And it is sort of this attempt to say that charity is something that uplifts the human nature. And that, you know, if you are, if the government is putting like a social safety net in place, or what some, in some political sectors would call like a welfare state, then you're depriving people of this opportunity to uplift themselves spiritually by giving charity. And I think that that rhetoric gets deployed, certainly in the example you cited against the mill girls, and there's an attempt to rewrite these mutual aid societies are saying like, you know, we we're a very charitable and giving people we don't have to have government protections. We don't have to have regulations. We don't have to have things in modern day parlance like food stamps, or Medicaid, or what have you. And I see that someone is posting about the the neo-liberal drift. That's exactly kind of what I'm getting at here is like, there is the sense in which people are trying to rewrite that mutual aid network as well. People don't don't like or trust the government. And so this is the solution instead of government regulations. And I don't think you know, Kropotkin is really critical of the government, absolutely, and of the state's ability, but it really is a response to the ways in which the state isn't providing a social safety net for everyone in the same kinds of ways, and it is for those groups that have been kind of left behind, and not necessarily a criticism of the state as a whole, you know. Certainly there are kind of anarchist groups who are saying no, you know, that are kind of in that in sort of like anarcho-libertarian the people should take care of themselves. But I don't necessarily think that is true across the board. So it's something to kind of tease out and particularly the ways in which this, this rhetoric of charity sort of gets used against the very people who are trying to survive.
Allison Horrocks 32:27 We want to hear what people are thinking about, you know, yesterday was a huge day for labor, but in much the same way as 1920 or earlier decades, when the LOWELL SUN put out its Evening Edition on May one in May two in 1920, a big part of what they were talking about was a crisis averted, like once again, a fear that the city would erupt with mass action. And to Bob's point, some of that action was made far more difficult by a pandemic of 1918-1919. And in the wake of that people literally were not able to organize in the same way. And then this fear intensifies when the pandemic quells that people will join in mass groups. The entire almost front page of the LOWELL SUN 100 years ago today, is this issue exactly of whether people will perform a mass action and what the consequences will be. Bob, you had some great insights when we were talking earlier about unemployment that I think people would find really helpful to kind of give a longer frame about the way we're talking about unemployment in 2020, and what's changed in the past century or so with that.
Robert Forrant 33:42 So I think, I mean, the, in the the difference between the 19, the early part of the 20th century is that in most places, there's not any sort of compensation if you if you lost your job, there's no unemployment insurance, at all the way that we think about it today. And a lot of trade unions, particularly in the building trades, things that we think of today as craft unions, but also other unions as well created mechanisms to help each other out, which sort of fits the mutual aid sort of a conversation IUE LOCAL 206 we had a health and welfare fund. And if somebody got hurt or somebody was injured, or if there was a small enough layoff that, you know, we could take care of some of people's needs with the health and welfare fund and the membership would elect to give people money to help promote lots of unions in the same way for various societies as a way to try to figure out okay, how do we help people out and a lot of early trade unions built within them those mechanisms to where the shortcomings were, but the 19, the stock market crash, and sort of the subsequent unemployment and we're we're we're closing in on what those unemployment numbers were in the late 1920s, early 1930s I'm now referring I'm when I was teaching my class the other day, I was calling on what were in the Great Depression 2.0 because I think we're there. The there was no way to help people out and it was agitation in the 30s that forced the Democratic Party. Once Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt got elected, to begin to put these things in place, they never went as far in the implementation of some of these of Social Security and other things, as a lot of the workers movements and whatnot were pushing for. But they didn't do it willingly. They did it drat. They, they were kicked and screamed and pushed to do it. And like things like Social Security, right? There were people in the 1930s arguing for a guaranteed annual income. So very much like Andrew Yang's presidential campaign on everybody gets a certain amount of money a month there was this guy, Charles Townsend in California. We had this thing called you know, the old age clubs, and everybody over 65 was going to get a significant amount of money once a month. And the pledge was they had to spend it in the next month. And then they would get another check. And all these things sort of then lead to things like unemployment insurance, Social Security, eventually Medicare, and other things. But they they're not something that's willingly given and Republicans are doing everything they can do. While this is happening. Every piece of significant social legislation that gets passed that does these sorts of things to help people out is contested in the courts, in almost every case ends up in the Supreme Court, upon the courts, and I suppose to be political. We all know, you know, 2020 about that. But I think what but what we're seeing now in a way is the failure. The unemployment system, as we know it now is incapable of the waiting period. The numbers of people that aren't collecting the numbers of people who were disqualified. I was talking to people yesterday from the International Institute, and lots of people who have come in as refugees, if they don't have a long enough work history, if they haven't earned $5,000 yet they can't collect. There's whole categories of people, a goodly number of the people that are that that need help, or people that could collect or should be able to collect but have been denied and Amazon and Instacart and some of these other things, Whole Foods Trader Joe's, all these things that that we've been seeing for the last several days are going to really be important. And so the question earlier about the neo-liberal state and whatever I think that that's, that's somewhat chickens come home to roost, privatizing health insurance, privatizing hospitals, consolidations of hospitals, hospitals being run lean and mean, like, you know, like they're making widgets or whatever, don't have too many more beds than you actually need. Because it's it's not cost effective. That model is really been exposed as well in in what we're seeing right now. If you run close to the edge, and then there's a catastrophe, this is what you get to the same thing in education. The public school systems in lots of cities, where for years parents have been complaining that their schools are under resourced. Now, everybody's shocked that the schools are under resourced, and not every kid has a computer. And not every kid has x, y, and z, right? All these things that really, I think, if we can seize the moment, I guess these things are laying bare that inequality, what we do with it, that's a whole other story. But we can't any longer say, we didn't know if we ever could, but we certainly can't anymore.
Elizabeth Pellerito 38:47 I think for me if there's a limitation to the mutual aid model there is an issue with thinking about a city of Lowell as a community separate from the city of you know, Westford or Somerville or Cambridge, or, you know, wherever, because what we do see is, cities have very different models. And we're seeing that, as Bob said, like laid bare in the public school systems where certain school districts are getting, you know, incredible resources sent home and students have access to everything they need. And a lot of times those, those students aren't facing the kinds of struggles that less resource school districts like Lowell are seeing where, you know, even if you send home a computer, there's no guarantee that students are have internet access or a place to sit at home that's quiet and you know, I've, I'm sure you have to Bob I've seen from my students at UMass Lowell this semester, like not everybody has the same, you know, not everybody has a desk in a corner with solid internet access and a laptop and a webcam and all of the resources that they would need to be successful at home. They're working, they're doing care work. They're, you know, caring for siblings and elders. And all of these other things. And it's just not realistic. And we have to think, bigger than city boundaries when we think about who's in a community. And we have to think about redistributing some of that aid across the kind of artificial boundaries that we've set for ourselves. Where the city of Lowell, you know, has large immigrant and refugee populations is more working class and really needs more resources.
Allison Horrocks 40:29 So to take us back to where we started, in some ways, I wonder if the two of you could give some kind of summative remarks about what this day has meant to you at different stages of your life, either when you've been involved directly with organizing here or elsewhere or in your role as kind of community spokespeople or leaders, what May Day has meant to you and the way that maybe you've seen transformations in recent history.
Robert Forrant 40:57 As I you know, growing up in whatever it was never, I mean, it was Labor Day. I mean, my dad was a union meat cutter for 40 years, and I never heard him talk about May Day. Um, you know, May 1 was maybe a day you went to Fenway Park to see the Red Sox or something, but it wasn't. It wasn't. It wasn't until I got in college and started reading and studying labor history more, and I started thinking whoa, I got thinking this actually the roots of this International Worker's Day are spawned in these activities inside the United States. And so, you know, it started making me realize how much of that history I had never been exposed to. And so I think that it's, you know, only much later in life that I actually really more fully appreciate the notion of what Labor Day was. And I think the other thing I've seen, because they also teach immigration history is that a lot of workers who, who emigrated from countries with a with a richer labor history, socialist tradition, or whatever would come and they would bring those politics with some people from, you know, Central and South America, people from European countries in the early 20th century that ended up in large and were very militant and fully engaged in the Bread and Roses strike and I got those things helped me think more about solidarity. I do think in the last few years, it's become like the for people in the US to raise issues around like to fight for 15, or stuff around fast food workers, well, fast food workers or thinking, you know, thinking about these sorts of broader issues, you know, made a few years ago, there was something called a day without immigrants, where immigrant workers sort of withdrew their labor for a day. So everybody could see what would happen, you know, if they weren't involved, and I think so all of those things, sort of, you know, spring to mind in terms of thinking about this. I was thinking Also, we're thinking about back to the health healthcare and the nurses issue and my brother in such. I mean, last year, we went through this incredible political campaign about whether hospitals should be able to give nurses more patients. I don't know if that. I mean, that was like a valid question. That was a really contentious issue. And nurses unions and you know, across the state, we're all you know, talking about how you know, we can't, you're giving us too many patients here. You're cutting too close to the bone, you're doing whatever. And it that all sort of came back to me again, since my brother is one of those, those folks that was involved in all that, but here we are. And if you want to look even more carefully at these issues and so maybe a 2020 could could very well being one of these interesting launching pads for people really connecting across all these different issues, which would be from my way of thinking it would be great.
Elizabeth Pellerito Yeah, I think for me, I'm absolutely what Bob says. It goes with me I didn't grow up in a union family didn't know much about made his real origins until later in life. And have really appreciated seeing the shift towards thinking about Mayday here in the US specifically as a day to think about internationalism, think about anti colonialism and think about about kind of the issues that face immigrants and immigrant workers. And it's been really inspiring. Last night, I was at a memorial service for an activist Jose Solaire from New Bedford Fall River area, who, you know, dedicated his life to the labor movement. He is the former director of the labor center down at UMass Dartmouth. And he was also a dedicated activist to Puerto Rican causes and thinking about the ways that those two things intersect and are really inseparable. And it has been incredibly inspirational and helpful for me in thinking about the ways in which, you know, traditionally in the US in the last 40 years, let's say, maybe longer or you arguably longer, the labor movement has really siloed off from other social movements and and then it Not antagonistic towards them, let's just say there's been a complicated relationship. And, you know, the environmental movement is a really good example of that and sort of the turmoil that talking about like the green new deal has has caused in the labor movement in the last, you know, decade. So, for me, you know, taking this moment to think about labor as a movement, encompassing so much more than kind of the bread and butter, worker issues, wages and benefits, right, and a health care plan, a dental plan that folks maybe think of when they think of the labor movement and really investing it back with that energy that has to do with kind of bringing the worker as a whole person back into the labor movement and thinking about labor's relationship to immigrant rights and to you know, decarceration. All of these other things that we don't normally necessarily think of as labor issues. So, um, you know, a really moving artifact that keeps popping into my head. Today, I was in a thrift store in mid Michigan a decade or so ago, and I saw a Bible that was in this beautifully turned wooden case. And I opened it up and it was, um, it was a carpenter from his union, to the family of this worker who had passed away and it wasn't clear if it had been a workplace accident or if it was just he has was a retired member and had passed. But thinking about, you know, Bob had mentioned like burial societies and things like that, and unions definitely functioned in that way a lot of the time, but also thinking about this kind of like, family connection that like, you know, this is such a meaningful thing because it encompasses this worker, as a whole as a spiritual person. As a physical person, as an intellectual person and also his family and sort of brings that in.
Allison Horrocks William Morris is a person who I think is great evidence that we can all change and the importance of beauty. William Morris is best known today for wallpaper, of all things, and his designs, but he was also a rather prominent socialist. And he adopted a poem that was written by Shelley and sort of reversed the phrasing but the idea was among workers in the working class, he said, you know, you are many there are few, meaning the people that rule you are few and you are many. And for him, agitation, education and organization was largely not just about making work better, but making life better making life beautiful. So we have this very reductive understanding of him today as the person who made beautiful wallpaper, but she did that He's also a person that reminds us that, you know, the purpose of these movements was not just to make work easier, but to make life worthwhile. And this is why it's Bread and Roses, not just one or the other. Thank you once again for joining us for a recording of one of our virtual programs. The song that you heard at the beginning and the song that you're about to hear more of is called eight hours and it became a rallying cry during the strikes of 1886. It sets forth a mandate for eight hours for work, eight hours for rest and eight hours for what we will thank you for spending some of your time with us.
So before we get started and talk a little bit about the future of Earth Day and climate change, we wanted to go back very briefly to what Lowell was like 100 years ago. As you can probably imagine, or as you are experiencing right now today, people's relationships with nature change all the time. Sometimes these changes are something that we choose, right. You can choose to take on a different relationship with your environment. But a lot of these changes happen because of things that are outside our control. When you think about what's happening in the world today, largely because of a small and nearly invisible force called a virus. Our relationship with nature is different than it was even a few weeks ago. This is where Lowell, I think, has a lot of lessons that it can teach us. A lot of people think of big national parks as one of the best places to think about nature. And to think in nature. Lowell also has a lot that it can teach us in terms of its story. If we go back 100 years, Lowell was already pretty well known for being not so prominent in the textile industry, but unfortunately for being a very prominent polluter, or being a force that was doing damage to the environment. We bring this up because it's all part of our story and part of those changes. In the 1840s, there are two things I'll talk about briefly to kind of get us thinking about how these changing relationships with nature can maybe help us think about the world we live in today. When Henry David Thoreau and his brother went on a long canoe trip on the Merrimack and Concord rivers, let's just say Henry was not impressed by Lowell. Henry is not going to be writing any glorious travelogue about Lowell. This is a person who likes to spend more of his time in nature by himself. Once the Thoreau actually passes through Lowell, and he puts out this wish, which you can see on the slide, which is a hope that most factories will basically be leveled, so that fish can run free again, and fish can be part of the ecosystem in a healthy way again. What Thoreau was responding to was the intense pollution and toxins that were released into the environment, even in the 1830s and 40s by industry. His world was changed by industrialization, and he was responding to that. Thoreau is not the only person to be writing about this in the 1840's. In that same period, we have women starting a magazine where they talk about their relationship to nature. One of the very early essays was called "Lessons of the Forest." Some of this might feel very relatable to us today. A woman who is used to living on a farm, or used to having a lot more time to be outside, who starts working in a factory 14 hours a day has a different relationship to nature. So when people are going through a hard time in the 1840s and adjusting to this new life in Lowell, something they might do is retreat to nature. That's what Thoreau was trying to do on his canoe trip and came in touch with a lot of pollution instead. I mentioned these two different stories because Thoreau, the authors of the Lowell Offering and even Lorraine Paquette wrote this essay in 1970, young people have been at the forefront of pushing change with the environment. And were recently pushing dialogue about what is to be done about climate change for a long time for at least 180 years. When there was the first meeting of Congress to discuss the formalization of Earth Day and 1970 Lorraine Paquette of Dracut was one of the people who was quoted in the Congressional Record. And she was just 14 years old. And she doesn't have anything really very nice to say about Earth Day, or about her hometown. What she had to say is that pollution was human made. She's asking for help, but she's also saying it could be cleared up. We just have to try.
Earth Day came about partially because young people by the millions were forcing a social movement, responding to the kind of changes that had begun long before their lifetime but that persisted into their moment. They were frustrated by the fact that their environment was not healthy. They were frustrated by the soot that was still filling people's lungs, and they wanted something to do about it. Steven Levine was quoted in the Lowell Sun shortly after the first Earth Day, which they called E-Day in many places. He was saying "This was a failure." He was really frustrated. He was saying not enough has been done, because the earth is still dirty and people still remain arrogant. What did actually happen on the first Earth Day? When we understand that young people had been fighting for a better environment for a long time, and it makes sense that in 1970, while there's a lot of other political problems, and people are protesting the war, young people will mobilize by the millions for a massive movement of cleanups. And these are just some views of what happened in Lowell almost exactly on this day 50 years ago. You had students from Lowell Tech, you had students from the high school, you had young people very young being mobilized out for cleanups of the Merrimack River. And obviously that can't happen literally today because we are inside and social distancing, but we wanted to make sure that we had the next best thing, which was to hear from a new generation of environmental activists. Michaela, do you want to start us off?
Michaela Hi, I'm Michaela. I'm an 11th grader at Lowell High School. Some of my interests include science, chemistry, chemistry specifically, and climate activism as well. That's why I'm here today. And I like to spend time with my friends and family.
Ava Hi, I'm Ava. I'm from Marblehead. I go to Pingree school and I'm in 10th grade. Some of my interests include I also love science, I play field hockey. I love to spend time with my dog and I like to read.
Allison Kate and Michelle, do you mind also just introducing yourselves on camera and telling us a bit about your connection to Global Co Lab and Trees, respectively.
Michelle Sure so. My name is Michelle Pizzillo. I live in Bedford, Massachusetts and work at the park. I'm also part of the team at the Tsongas Industrial History Center. And my connection to Kate in the Lowell Parks and Conservation Trust, and Michaela and Ava. I've been working with Kate for the past couple months. We've formed a partnership between the park and the Lowell Parks and Conservation Trust, working with Trees, and we're thinking about and brainstorming ideas to put forth an Environmental Action project this summer. So it's a really exciting opportunity. Folks, such as Michaela, can get interested in it and through that connection, we got connected with the Global Co Lab which is Ava's group
Kate Hello, everyone. My name is Katie from the Lowell Parks and Conservation Trust. I'm the stewardship and Education Manager at the trust. And what we do. We're in nine local public schools doing environmental education, and STEM base. And I have the privilege of working with the high school students, the Tree students, as well as the freshmen Compass students. So I've been working with this after school program Trees since last January. And it's been a lot of fun doing some environmental projects with them.
Allison To get us thinking a little bit about relationships to the outdoors and to nature we asked Ava and Michaela to think a little bit about their favorite places in their communities to feel connected to nature, and also to ponder a little bit if that's changed in the past month or so. Ava, do you mind getting us started.
Ava Yeah. So when I think of a place where I love to feel connected to nature, I immediately think of the beach. I love going to the beach, whether it's by myself or with my friends to hang out. Taking my dog on a walk on the beach. I think it's really peaceful and calming. And I always come back happier and calmer.
Michaela When I think of a place I feel connected to nature I think I feel connected really easily like anywhere I'm outside, whether I'm like walking home, or I'm at the park in Lowell, just anywhere where you can get like fresh air and, I think, nature, like anywhere outside where you can clear your mind really easily is definitely where I feel connected in nature.
Allison So we wanted to showcase a little bit of the work that you've been doing as exceptional environmental stewards. So you could each tell us a little bit about some of the projects you've been working on since you've become interested in climate change activism or environmental activism.
Michaela Working with Trees, I've helped plan two environmental youth conferences, where we've invited students and organizations from all over Merrimack Valley to Lowell High School. I think what I really like about planning these is that we have people from all over Massachusetts and some places in New Hampshire coming and seeing people from all over and of different ages. It's really inspiring to know so many people care about your cause. And you get to hear a lot of different perspectives. So that was, that's one of my favorite things that I've planned with Trees.
Ava Um, one of the most recent projects I've worked on with the Global Co Lab was we created a PSA video highlighting Earth optimism and that's going to be shown at the earth optimism Smithsonian summit this week. And so we asked teams from all over the world. Mostly, we mostly got responses from in the US how climate change impacts them, and why are they optimistic about the future of climate change? And I think it was really cool to hear from people all over here, everyone's perspectives.
Allison So let's examine an inspiring stewardship. You know, good care for the earth are two aspects of environmental awareness that you both work on. What are some others that have been part of your work? And what does stewardship kind of mean in your life? So what comes to mind when we talk about that for you?
Ava Yeah. So when I think of stewardship, I think on your own when you if you see like litter on the ground, you just pick it up even if it's not yours. I think that environmental stewardship is spreading awareness and inspiring others to help out the environment as best they can. And I think it's being like a self advocate for yourself and saying, Yeah, I want to be able to help the environment any way I can, and inspiring others to do the same.
Michaela My answer would be a lot similar to Ava's. I think environmental stewardship personally is just being responsible for your own actions. And just even making small changes in your daily life is an easy way to feel like you're helping. Just like . . . just like simple things at home, like saving water, turning lights off when you're not using them. Like reducing your own personal waste is, I think, a really easy way to practice stewardship.
Kate The environmental youth conference that Michaela brought up she was being very humble about it. They run this conference entirely on their own from their ideas. They decide who the organizations are that join us, who the students they want to reach the projects that they want to focus on. And they had a conference plan this year and the theme was inspiring action and inspiring hope. So this conference was unfortunately, delayed because of what's going on right now. But, they didn't lose hope. And we were able to put their work online, and they are also going to be showcasing part of their work through the earth optimism summit that Ava's also a part of. So I just thought that was a really neat connection that these youth are such leaders right now. And despite even everything that's going on right now they're still pushing forward. And they're still following their action plans and continuing to inspire hope.
Allison We want to talk a little bit about some of the challenges that you think are facing your generation specifically. And part of why we ask the question this way is the first Earth Day was really a mass movement of people who felt as though the earth that they inherited in some ways was not the earth that they could pass on to the next generation.
Ava I think there are so many youth activists in our generation today, which I think is amazing. But I also think there are challenges. So I think that here in the US, it's harder to see the impacts of climate change because it impacts like smaller Island communities such as like Fiji or the Bahamas a lot more heavily. So it's harder to see the real impacts here as much. So I think it's hard for people to know, the full, like scope of climate change and why it's important to, you know, help the environment. So I think that's one of the challenges that we're facing. But a solution can be spreading more awareness and advocacy around that.
Michaela As Allison said in the introduction, she mentioned a lot about how youth have been at the forefront of climate activism for a long time. I think one of the biggest challenges for our generation is just getting politicians and those empowered to listen to, to pay attention to climate change, and endorse climate activism. And I think that's because a lot of who's worried about climate and the environment, our youth and it's just hard to get the attention of politicians a lot.
Kate As I was working with the Trees group and Lowell Parks and Conservation Trust to put together the environmental Youth Conference.
Ava You know, I think there's a really good point and it is hard to reach out to the politicians, but what I saw from the planning and the strategizing that that was being done for the conference, they were able to garner Laurie Trahan's attendance at the, at the conference. And I think that really sent a powerful message. I mean, it's fired me because I was even just taken back that. Wow, you know, this politician thinks that this is important and is going to be coming. And I just said that's going to be such a huge impact to these young people to give them that motivation. So, yeah, I mean, I think Michaela's right, it is hard to reach out to folks but I think when they can show up and it could really send a really powerful message and inspiration that their voice is being heard, which I think is really important.
Kate I have something to add to that as well. I think our youth right now are doing a really great job at getting creative, but how to get the higher ups' attention, for lack of a better term. One of the things again, they had planned on doing at the environmental youth conference was painting these mosaic tiles. And they were made out of recycled cardboard. And this idea would turn into a giant whale mosaic through our climate, which is an organization that works on political action for climate, climate action. And these tiles that all the students would be participating in painting together would be then displayed outside the statehouse on Earth Day so that they haven't given up on that idea yet, but I will say that, you know, Ava, and Michaela and other youth in and around their age group are doing an excellent job at thinking outside the box that Okay, so this didn't work, what can we do now? And I think that's really inspiring for my generation and others before and after that, you know, they see something that isn't working and they say, Okay, what can you do? You don't just give up.
Allison I just want to ask your vision for the Earth Day 100.
Michaela I'm thinking about the 100 Earth Day, I'd really like to see obviously, like reduced carbon emissions and harsher restrictions on corporations that are high polluters. And I think another great thing to see would be a reduced endangered species list or species taken off that list. And just like, overall as as like, like, how do I say this like humanity, incorporating environmental protection in just to their everyday culture and lifestyle?
Ava Oh, my answer is definitely similar to Michaela's. Thinking back on how Earth Day started there is lots of pollution and youth really wanted to make a difference. And then now it's the 50th. And there has been lots of improvement in society regarding climate change, but also I definitely agree with Michaela on in the future. Definitely more improvement.
Kate Yeah, you know, those? That's a really great question. By then I will be maybe in my 80s. So, oh, I think, you know, I'm definitely I echo what Michaela and Ava mentioned. But, um, I would also add, I think there's been a bigger push for, you know, more literacy and education based on climate change and things that we can be doing to reduce our impact. So, I would . . . I would hope that Maybe by then, you know, another 50 years from now, there might be more. Or maybe it's going to be the norm to just know what you can do to be, you know, reducing plastic use or, you know, everybody has a household compost area, you know, in their yard or their apartment or wherever they live. Um, and maybe there's just more of a standardization of, of sustainable practice and understanding.
I like to think of Earth Day 50 years is that right now we're at the turning point led by this youth. And, you know, for lack of a, I'm trying to wrap my head around explaining this, but I like to think of it as you know, we're 50 times better in 50 years at a minimum and we're at that perfect 100. So with this youth, leading all these hopeful action projects that we can just keep improving and keep improving, and we'll be able to look back and like Michelle said, it will be the new normal. Just . . . just to be more mindful of ways that we can make a difference.
For me being, you know, in a position where I'm working with the public and working with these young people, and, you know, having met Ava more recently, you know, it gives me a lot of hope that I think we can do this. You know, I think we can get to a point where we have, you know, a really sustainable planet and yeah, I guess um, it's just kind of like a gratitude point where I'm grateful that there's young people who are motivated and interested in doing . . . in doing this work. You know, and I think it takes a lot of leadership and courage and and a level of maturity too from both Michaela and Ava to step up and say, Hey, you know, this is something that is important to me, and I'm gonna do something about it. And I think they're, they're making a really good example for . . . for the younger generation.
Allison I mean, I'll just echo too we have been getting to know each other through this process and talking a little bit about, you know, the challenges of Environmental Action right now. And really, truly the more that you dig into environmental history, you start to see that it's not maybe the people who you think are leaders, it's often working class people. It's often ordinary people who come up against a problem. And it's a problem in their lives that kind of moves them to action and still In the 1970s, in a lot of these industrial or post industrial communities, you have people confronting places and landscapes that become a problem because they're unsafe to them, or unsafe to their children, and part of what we see then 50 years ago, or even now, is people who put, you know, maybe their own interests aside and work for a cause. And I think it's awesome to hear that people are doing that right now. There's also another piece of this, which we've talked about a lot, we did a program last summer about the just transition and what it would mean to have a greener future and a better future combining sort of labor and green energy interest. And part of what we talked about was, we have this kind of cultural iceberg of apathy and fear, right, not just that people don't care or do know, but, Ava, you were mentioning to us that when you took a trip to Fiji climate change became a lot more upfront to you became something that you saw a lot more readily or that was like very clear to you. I wonder if you could tell us a little bit more about what inspired that trip and then some things that you've come back with in terms of tools to talk about climate change?
Ava Yeah, so over the summer, I went on a trip to Fiji when we learned about how climate change affects marine environment specifically. So we did a lot of snorkeling in the reefs, and we did a lot of learning. And the trip was led by three marine biologists and we learned a lot about marine biology, how the reefs are being affected by climate change, and it was really eye opening to me. How much Fiji you have an impact by climate change, even though they really aren't the ones who are contributing to climate change as much, it's mostly the big countries that are the big industrial countries, but the all that are the biggest polluters. And I went because I always had some interest in climate change. And I had been on the, on the green team at my school, which is like the environmental club. And I had always had an interest in marine biology. So I thought this trip was the perfect combination of my interests. And I came back and I shared all this information that I learned on the trip with my friends and my family on how to be more sustainable. We started using reusable bags whenever we go to the grocery store reusable straws. I stopped eating meat and I know Yeah.
Allison Along those same lines, Michela I’m wondering if you could tell us a little bit about some of your experiences, you know, being a Lowell high student or just being part of the community in Lowell, maybe some of the particular things that led you to be more interested in the environment.
Michaela I think one . . . one thing that really motivates me to care about the environment is just that like the anxiety that comes with not doing anything like I it feels wrong in a way to not want to help the earth. And I think being from Lowell like, when I was little, I would always hear about how the . . . the Merrimack River used to be way worse, way more dirty. And that Lowell came together and they cleaned it out. And I think that's inspiring and it just shows that if there is a problem there is there's always a way To fix it and you just need to put an effort and gather people in your community to cooperate and to find a solution.
Allison That's awesome. Thank you. And you bring up a really important point, which is, you know, the state of the Merrimack, let's say 50 or 100 years ago versus today, Kate in some of your work that you do with Lowell Parks and Conservation Trust, whenever they tell us about some of the very real challenges that Lowellians and other people in this watershed are facing when it comes to the rivers now, like what are what are the some of those challenges look like?
Kate I guess the challenges that I've noticed from working with Lowell Parks and Conservation Trust
I think it's more that the folks that were around when the Merrimack wasn't as swimmable or viewed as safe even they kind of have a distrust for connecting with the river. But I've noticed that that through Lowell Parks and Conservation Trust and our partnership and the after school program with Mass Audubon Drumlin Farm, we've been able to open up the public's eyes on . . . on how . . . how beautiful the river, the both rivers that we have the Merrimack and the Concord. Some of the things that we do are our whitewater rafting program, which, unfortunately, has been canceled for the year because of what's going on but it's in Lowell in these folks' backyards. I've got a birds and dogs going on. Back here. But, but that's just something eye opening to get the people in the river to experience it. I think that's really important with . . . with putting aside these fears and uncertainties to help the people experience it. With Mass Audubon, we bring our students down to the water's edge and sample for macro invertebrates and the pH balance of the river and just inspiring the youth as well as the public that it's okay to be curious and ask questions about the health of the river and putting aside those uncertainties I think is really helpful for you know, the health of the river in the past.
Allison Here again, not a huge point, which is, you know, there are generations of people who grew up with a really different understanding of the Merrimack River. I think that many people would have today, and unfortunately, it's not that uncommon that people can live really close to a water source and have almost no way to access it safely. We see that going back in world history where a lot of people had access to promenades and walkways, or they could be adjacent to the human made canal or close to the Merrimack River, but often didn't really have a way to access the river safely. And so their relationship with it as you're saying that kind of fear or not knowing or distrust. We do also have through the park, different opportunities where we bring people out onto the water, whether that's in the canal system or actually on the Merrimack River. And something that we hear all the time is that people can't believe they're still in a city within 10-15 minutes. Traveling on a canal towards the Merrimack River, you feel like you're in a very different kind of environment. So Bridget, who's joined us for the chat asks, "Do you feel your schools are supportive of your efforts to be activists, either with clubs, curriculums or other school wide effort?”
Ava Yeah, my school is very supportive, in my opinion, of our efforts to be more environmentally friendly. So we have a an environmental club. We did a lot of projects a couple years ago, before I went to the school, they started the composting system. So now in the cafeteria, when you put your dishes away, there's a trash bin Recycle Bin and compost bin, which is really cool. And a couple years ago, we also got solar panels. I'm not sure how student-led that was that might have been the school did that on their own, but that's also good. And they're very supportive in our clubs initiatives. So last year, we had you raise money during Earth week to pay for goat-scaping. I'm not sure if any of you know what that is, but it's when goats they brought this company brought their goats to school. And there's lots of invasive species in like the land around my school. So the goats like, will eat anything. So they ate a bunch of invasive species, which helped the land and it helped the goats and yeah, so we thought that . . . that's one of my favorite projects we did last year because it's really fun and you can go and pet the goats and it was really cute. Um, yeah, so they're pretty supportive of environmental efforts.
Michaela For Lowell High, I think they're definitely supportive of any clubs or activities we want to have. There's several environmental clubs, there's one that's focused On freshmen, it's with the Lowell Compass program. And then there's a few for any eighth grade, there's the Trees club at Lowell High. There's also a recycling club that I've heard of. And Lowell High is kind enough to let us host the environmental youth conference at their school. I'm not completely aware of other school wide efforts. I know we recycle, but I, I don't know about compost or anything like that there. I could be wrong. There might be programs, but I'm just not aware of them.
Ava At my school, there isn't any curriculum involving environmental activism or sustainability, but I think that it would be really good to have.
Allison That's, that's awesome. Thank you. So we have Jean from Lowell asking if Michaela and Ava can talk a little bit about visions for your future.
Ava I'm personally I've always been interested in science and medicine. So I, I, my one of my dreams is to become a doctor and go to med school. But I also in the future, I definitely see myself pursuing more climate work and kind of advocacy on the Global Co Lab. And maybe more work outside of that. I'm not really sure yet.
Michaela For college, I planned for a while to go to college for chemistry, and but I have a lot of other interests like neuroscience, and also climate activism and environmental studies. So I think no matter what I go to college for, I think I'll always want to come back to Lowell and just work with the Trees group, even after I graduate and maybe work with other organizations that involve use for climate activism.
Allison Kevin is asking what is probably the billion dollar question in climate change, research and environmental activism, which is, you know, what will it take to get more people engaged in global environmental stewardship?
Ava One way to engage more people with global environmental stewardship is spreading awareness about climate change. I guess I know I already talked about this a little bit, but spreading awareness of how badly it can impact and what might happen if the future in the future if we don't do something about it now.
Michaela I agree with Ava, I think a big part would just be spreading awareness and creating cooperation between different people to engage them because everyone has different perspectives. And but all perspectives are important and getting everyone in different groups of people aware of what needs to be done, I think would just help with global engagement towards this issue.
Kate Just to add to the youth voice here is I think it's important for . . . for those of us that aren't in their position to support them and have their back and listen to their asks, because they, they are the ones that will be more affected by things that don't happen or the things that could happen. So I think if we hear them out and listen to their asks, then, and we are a good support system for them. I mean, they have the action, they have the drive, and if we can have their backs on that, and I think that we'll be incredibly successful.
Allison Now, Michelle, kind of had a similar question, which is about how we get people to adopt more sustainable practices or get involved in this kind of activism. And, you know, these questions are pretty similar, but I think there's such good and important questions. If other folks want to chime in with Comment or just something that they want to share, they should feel free to do that in the comments. And maybe you're talking a little bit about your school. But maybe if you could just share something about how there's been a sustainable practice that you've taken on and how you've encouraged other people to do it.
Michaela I'm building off what Katie said about how my generation and those in the future will probably see the biggest first, the initial effects of climate change. And just getting people aware of this. And I think like, even just spreading information about organizations in your community, to your friends or family, like getting more people involved with compost programs in your community, or just like little things like telling your friends to bring their own reusable water bottle instead of a plastic one, just like small things I think can make a big difference.
Ava I agree, I think if a lot of people make small little changes like that in their daily lives can make a big difference. Also, if you if someone wants to get involved in environmental activism, but doesn't know where to start, you can always either join like a group in your community or your school, or even start one if there isn't one. I think that's helpful because everyone started somewhere.
Allison I can imagine even Rachel Carson probably had to talk her friends into behaving differently, right.
Michelle I've definitely noticed just on a personal level, like I noticed like, it goes both ways. Like I see other people bringing like a reusable bottle of water bottles like a meeting and then at lunch, I'll see people like with their own spoon and fork and utensils and things like that. And I think It's like an osmosis, like, Oh, that's a really good idea. And I, you know, I know I've, I've kind of jumped on the bandwagon for certain things that way. And I feel like I've inspired other people that way. So I definitely wanted to echo and resonate with what Ava was mentioning. You know, in my, in my previous Park Service positions, I worked with young people and a lot of these young people, they, you know, they really conceptualize their, like open space and a park is like a basketball court and, or like a ball field. And those are open spaces. And I think . . . I think there's a big education component, I think, just an exposure kind of piece to it. So yeah, I mean, I guess like I think a lot about, you know, how can we get more folks like a younger generation to be similar thinking is to like what Michaela and Ava are doing. How do we expose them more to these open spaces? How do we make them more accessible? And I think that's something that definitely like local parks and Conservation Trust, it seems like you're making places in an urban area accessible. So I just wonder, curious to hear from . . . from other folks that are participating.
Kate I just wanted to add really quick that I think these are all great points and like Ava and Michaela said, it's all about one small action and because we're such social creatures like I mentioned that we learn from each other. You implement one small action in your life. And it can add as a domino effect for such social and emotional creatures that it's hard to care about something if you don't have a personal connection to it. And I think that Ava and Michaela have had the wonderful opportunity to have these emotional connections with it in their personal lives. We’re able to part of what the Lowell Parks in Conservation Trust, does, in partnership with mass Audubon in our after school program, from the first grade through high school help make these personal connections. You know, an open space doesn't have to be a giant forest or the entire ocean. It can be your school playground. And how can we instill in them that . . . that this is this is part of your life. And if we make these connections with them at a young age, then they turn out to be these amazing inspiring leaders. I think as social creatures, if we keep, if we keep building this personal connection, and we keep hearing them out and what they have to say, and things, things can be a lot different.
Michelle So Michaela and Ava, like from when you were growing up, when do you think your first like, interaction with the environment or like connect your the connection you felt? I mean, you're thinking about what Katie was mentioning with, you're having, you know, from a young age, you're, you're getting outside and you're appreciating that, you know, you're developing this appreciation for the environment. Like when do you think that started to happen? Like,
Ava um, I kind of had, I was gonna say something similar. I just grew up, you know, in time outside. Most days where I grew up in Minnesota and even in when it was snowy in the winter, I would go outside with my neighbors and my family and we'd go like ice skating or playing snow and I just spent most of my youth growing up in outside in nature, not necessarily like in forests or anything, but even just spending time outside I think that helped me build a connection.
Michaela I think my early connections with nature a lot like Michelle's just like exploring outside with your friends or alone. bike riding, I didn't grow up in like super, like nature, like there wasn't a ton of nature but just like outside fresh air, like seeing examples of nature. Things like that. Just exploring I think really exposed me to nature and led me to appreciate it a lot.
Allison What can the adult, the older people in your life? What can they do? And how can we be held accountable to make things change? You know, people who can vote people who do have different levels of power in society.
Michaela As you mentioned voting, I think a really important thing is nowadays, you have to like look at candidates and their, their views and their . . . their agendas when it comes to the environment and climate activism. It's a really important thing to pay attention to, I think, if you have the ability to vote, and I think everyone should vote if they can, to just pay attention to that. When . . . when voting. If if you're going to change one thing about a lifestyle, I think you should use that power when it comes to elections.
Ava I agree and that's also why I think it's really Important that multiple generations are coming together about climate change and Environmental Action, because the youth have lots of ideas, and they really are pushing to make changes, but then the older generations are the ones who can vote and have more power. They're the ones who can actually make the changes. So I think it's really important to recognize that connection.
Michelle Yeah, I was just gonna say, I think the older generation has to do a better job of listening to the young people. Um, you know, I think, as we as I think an older generation can . . . can kind of get set in a certain mentality and I think, um, you know, that's just natural with it . . . with it with different generations kind of rising up and I think we just need to do a better job at listening.
Kate Yeah, I agree with the whole aspect of the older generations. . . . generations before the youth to listen more, and I think for the older generations to think back to when they were younger, and they would go out and ride their bikes and they wouldn't be expected home until someone flickered the front porch light and, and just remembering that time when that when you could be free and experience nature and try to make a connection that we don't want that to be taken away from, from the future. So if we can support our youth who are living this in this critical time period, as advocates to just back them up.
Allison Now, something that's been kind of interesting in putting this together, you know, the way the world is this week this program would have felt really different if we did it back in February, right before the pandemic - before people were living apart. And it got me wondering, you know, just how different is the natural world this month? And it turns out that the answer is - it's very different than it was even a few weeks ago. There are estimates that even just with the reduction of assumption, the reduction of emissions, that upwards of 77,000 fewer people have died in China, because of the pandemic, forcing people to stay home, which is really very staggering. I think a lot of us are probably thinking right now about loss, obviously, what we're losing because of this pandemic and the real human cost of it. But the world has also grown tremendously quieter. It's gotten a lot less busy. There are seismologists who are telling us that they have been able to track natural occurrences like earthquakes better because the earth is quieter, we have made less noise. Mammals who are living in oceans are less stressed out because we are quieter and making less noise. I am one of probably a billion people to Google: "Did birds get louder?"` Because we hear birds now more, but I didn't say I was a naturalist here. Though I did feel the birds in my backyard were louder than they've ever been. And this is a phenomenon that's happening all over the world. So I wondered if people wanted to use this space, either in the comments or if you wanted to talk a bit about that. I read from that 1840s article about the mill girl who says you know there is peace for her in the forest, there is peace for her among the trees. And today, if you are going out and looking to connect with nature for whatever reason, you are finding a lot of places are literally quieter than they were a few weeks ago.
Ava I've seen a lot of articles about how air pollution has gone down, air quality is getting a lot better at a really fast rate. And I just think we should use this as inspiration for the future of why we need to take action. And I think we should use this as inspiration to make improvements in our future. Because no one really is driving their cars right now. No one's like flying an airplane. So that's why they're improving. So I think we should Yeah, just use as inspiration to make more changes in our future.
Michaela I agree a lot with Ava about using this situation as inspiration. For the future, I was on a call the other day with our climate organization. And someone mentioned how this is a really good example about why we need to listen to scientists, because scientists, and those in the medical field are really pushing that we stay home, because hospitals can't handle much more. And I think listening to the educated and the scientists just kind of mirror how we need to listen to scientists when it comes to environment and climate change. I think it's a good example. And maybe in the future, when this hopefully clears up, we'll look back and we'll realize that listening to science and paying attention to the earth will inspire us to listen the science when it comes to the environment and climate change and what we need to do.
Michelle Yeah, I would echo that and, and just add that in. See, you know, there's a lot of there's a lot of reasons why this pandemic, in some ways, has given me hope that we've done this massive shift to get folks to stay home and follow certain practices. And I think, you know, with young people like Michaela and Ava, you know, coming up from another generation, it gives me a lot of hope. I'm like, I think we can do this. I think we can reduce, you know, our impact, but I think we have, I think we have a lot of long ways to go but, um, it's definitely given me some hope and some thinking time about, you know, how I can make my own personal changes for being more sustainable or just being more conscious about my environmental impact.
Allison We had a question from the chat, which comes from Kevin, for you two Ava and Michaela. And the question is about the global walkout that started last year and that were continuing up until very recently. And the question is about how that activity affected you and your classmate, and particularly because you touched on this a bit earlier.
Michaela Um, personally, I think witnessing and hearing about the walkouts and how it got attention, it got on the news. I think it just showed me how it does get people's attention. And it also showed that there are more people that care about this cause than you realize sometimes . . . sometimes, it's hard to, it's easy to feel alone and that like no one cares about climate activism, but seeing walkouts like that shows that people do care. I'm at school, I feel like there was sort of an attitude that, like an online like, I would see things about how like, why are we going to school if we won't, if the earth is going to change so much because of climate change that I don't know how to word it, but like life will be so different. Like, why are we going to school and there are so many bigger things to worry about with our earth. And I think the walkout sort of created that attitude that we need to pay attention to it. So I think it inspired other youth at my school, to pay attention to it once who didn't really pay attention to it before.
Ava I agree. I had a similar experience at my school and I also agree that it did give me hope that there are so many more people out there that do care about the same cause that I do, and that if so many people like this huge amount of people care about the environment. Then I think it's a lot. It's more easier to make changes. If more people are caring and doing their part.
Kate I was just thinking of emphasizing Ava's point earlier about, wouldn't it be great if there was climate change and in the school system education, would that? Would that make things easier for not maybe having these walkouts if it was something being addressed in the schools and not just in the after school programs? I know a lot of teachers at Lowell High School have been brainstorming ways to connect their curriculum to climate change. And I just think that, you know, looking towards the future Would these walkouts need to happen if we listened and we made this education even more accessible?
Ava Um, I think that it is really important to have climate taught in schools. Um, going back to the Michaela's point earlier about how this should make people believe science more. I think that being taught climate literacy in school, would help people, I guess, believe it and support the cause more. I also think the school strikes are gonna need attention of like, more powerful people like it was on the news. And that's what, that's what the change makers are, because they can actually make changes. So I think the school strikes were important, I guess, if there were to be climate literacy taught in schools. Um, I think if that got the attention of more powerful people and not make changes. I think the school districts wouldn't have to happen as much. But I think they're both important for making changes.
Allison I want to make sure that everyone on the panel has an opportunity to leave us today with either a closing thought or a call to action or something that you think everyone can do to be a better steward.
Kate My call to action would be to listen to the voices of those who have come after us and learn from those who have walked before us. I mean, going back to the first Earth Day this has been on the youths' mind and everyone's mind in to an extent. So if we can just, we can take a step back and go back to even if it's our first connection to nature or a simple connection to nature. Just remembering That we are all together and a part of this world and in order to help heal it, we need to have this, this new idea where maybe what we're doing isn't enough and we need some young ideas to help . . . help make some real change.
Michelle My call to action will be to get outside and get involved. Whether that's spending time just more time outside and appreciating it and then finding a way that I can, you know, give back or encourage others to also get involved and give back whether, you know, that say environmental is an environmental group, you know, doing a cleanup somewhere or signing a petition or you know, there can be small little actions I can do to get . . . get more involved.
Ava Um. my call to action It also be similar to that definitely getting involved in whatever you where you can. And like just making simple changes in your life to have a more sustainable lifestyle and inspiring your friends and family to do the same.
Michaela My call to action is a lot like Ava's. I think just getting involved in small ways of any . . . any small step is a big step and just being mindful of your lifestyle and trying to live as sustainably as you can. And I think that will inspire it in other people and that can make a big difference.
Allison We hope that this provokes some thoughts for you some questions, and if you want to look any further into this program, please be sure to visit our firstname.lastname@example.org/lowell
Christa Brown wears many different hats in the community. She's the founder and executive director of the Free Soil Arts Collective, an arts organization based in Lowell, with the mission to create and support artistic works that amplify and strengthen the voices of underrepresented communities. As if that is not enough, Christa is also the Content Manager for Entrepreneurship for All or E for All, a Lowell based nonprofit with the mission of strengthening communities through inclusive entrepreneurship. She is also the host of the Choice 2 B Happy Podcast. That's with a two and a B, which recently featured our park Superintendent Celeste Bernardo. To get us started Christa tells us just a little bit about what's behind that name Free Soil Arts Collective.
Christa 2:16 So um, we launched about January of last year. And all I remember thinking was like, I really want our name to be something that's tied to this area, and did some research and found out that there was a slave name Nathaniel Booth who came to Lowell seeking freedom fugitive slave, and there was a group called the Free Soil party that advocated for him and his well being and protect want to protect him. And they had this motto that was like free soil, free labor, free men. If you work the soil, you deserve to be free. And our kind of twist on that is, if you come from an underrepresented community, you have the right to tell your own story. So our hope is that people see the name they're like, they can kind of get that that tie in. And I think also just a lot of times any stories that center on people who, whose narratives just aren't the norm in theater, our hope is that they have the agency over their voice. So instead of me stepping in saying, we're going to write a play about, I don't know, this immigrant community or this, it's more so like, what do you want to say? What do you think is important? So giving the power to the people telling the story? Yeah.
Allison 3:22 So a great example of that is a project that you were heavily involved in, I think, led last year called heritage tales. And one really fascinating connection is we've been working with Bridget Marshall did a Lowell talks back last September, a little bit about hair culture in Lowell. And the fact that women one of the ways they would express friendship, or memorialization of each other, was gifting one another bits of their hair. So there's this kind of fascinating connection that you chose to write a play with your friends and colleagues entirely about hair and what that means and that over 100 years ago, Women in Lowell were doing very much the same. So why did you choose that as a vehicle to be for storytelling?
Christa 4:06 Yeah, I think so my experience as a black woman, hair is like paramount. It is like it like, ever since I was a little girl the way you wore your hair spoke about, like whether or not you came from a good home, it spoke about how much money you have, even how beautiful you are. And I remember at the time, I was working on another play, and we were just meeting the other actors. We're just hanging out and we just start talking about hair, and all these dramatic stories of like getting your first perm and like the burning and like, why did we suffer through that for straight hair or like, the first time I got a perm, and I was really upset that my hair wasn't like blowing. I was like, come on. And like just really speaking with friends about that and finding out even I'm almost 30 we all still relate to this. We all still have these these struggles with hair. So I reached out to women in the community and asked them if I could interview them and ask them all these questions having to do with hair. Like, when did you first realize that your hair texture was different? When did you first embrace your natural hair? has it affected you in the workplace? And all of these stories were coming out that I kind of synthesized into a play where all of these women were able to share their stories. And we had a staged reading at Merrimack Repertory Theatre, and how to talk back. And it was just a really beautiful dialogue about I think, a part of life that a lot of people may not know if you don't have somebody in your life who is a person of color or if it just hasn't come across your path. So I think throughout the process, we were bonding and connecting and learning about each other and for the audience's a lot of people said, Wow, it was like I was sitting in on this private conversation and just opening up my mind, a world I didn't know. So I think using theater as a tool to talk about things that people don't know about. I think it's beautiful because you're kind of forced to sit in a room with the lights off and just listen. I think theater has been a really cool vehicle for us to explore storytelling. Yeah,
Allison 6:02 Christa also was responsible for co creating another play very recently, which debuted just a few weeks ago with the collegiate Charter School of Lowell and hosted at the Hellenic school in the Acre. And this was a play called Lost in the Museum. We hope is not part of your journey with us today. But thinking about how she just described the other play that she co created people she knew this was a way of centering young people's experiences and really giving them a vehicle. So if you could just describe kind of how that process worked a little bit more about what you mean was co creation versus, you know, simply leading students on a project?
Christa 6:41 Yeah. So I think part of the mission of the Arts Collective when we say underrepresented voices, that really just means like narratives that aren't amplified as much so I part of me thinks that people of color but also young people, so we launched this pilot with a collegiate charter school back in September, The only caveat being that they wanted it to be During Black History Month, and they wanted it to tie in somehow, and it can be anything you want, it just has to somehow relate to black history. So okay, so I had this group of maybe 20 6th-8th graders. And in the beginning, it was really conversational. Like, when you hear black history, what does that even mean to you and I were just jotting down ideas on the board. And then we took the top suggestions on like representatives of that, like, I feel like cliche but the typical kind of like your Rosa Parks, and your Martin Luther King but we dug deeper and had the kids do improv skits based on what they knew about these figures. Then from their favorite skits, they decided who they wanted the play to be about. And then later on, we decided that Oh, what if they're gonna Black History Museum and all the statues come to life? So the way the play was, it's like, you go into the play, and then Rosa Parks is standing still. And then all of a sudden she starts moving in the kids like, ah, and then you're learning you're learning. You're acting, you're having fun at the same time. And I think the part that was we say, Co Create because it really was up to them. I was like, What do you think about? Who do you want to feature? What do you want to say? So some kids wanted to rap, some kids want to sing. And I was kind of there to give, like the structure like it should be this long, things like that. But they came up with the script for the most part, I just went in there for some grammatical help. And I really believe at the end of it, just watching them because it was about six months, I was working with them. They were empowered. Like there was these shy kids who didn't know a lot about theatre weren't comfortable sharing their voice to the end, like going on stage and just owning it. And I think that was that was incredible. So that's what I would like to do is more like co creative work with children.
Allison 8:43 So the last question before will all be in conversation with each other is kind of a hard one, but that's okay. Um, so we talked a little bit about projects you've already done. And in our last month's conversation, we invited some folks to come in and talk a little bit about about different connections between Lowell's industrial history and the history of the Atlantic slave trade. And we talked a lot about commemoration conversations that need to be had and what a physical representation of that might look like. So a question that I thought might get us started with thinking broadly about storytelling and those kinds of histories is if we had a blank check that we could hand to you to make any kind of public art piece about resistance, underrepresented stories, what would that look like?
Christa 9:31 Yes, I thought about it was very hard. But because of I went on a Lowell Walk, and that's when I first discovered that the Underground Railroad like is here in Lowell, like understanding this church and cried my eyes out and thinking about a way to kind of memorialize that I was thinking about having wherever you I don't know what the right term is for this, but any spot that had an underground railroad, possibly having like a rocking chair, like some sort of way rocking chair that's like fixed. I don't know the art terms, but you know, and says something like, May you rest or something like that, because when I thought about the Underground Railroad, you know, you picture like just fear and running and, and I like to think that today it could be this kind of like, I don't know, like sit down, have a rest and kind of memorialize all the lives that went by. So I think it'd be really cool if every stop maybe there was like this cement, I don't know, rocking chair and like a tree over it. And then language that explains like the whole purpose behind it. A lot of our conversation at this point moved to a discussion of audiences. Christa shared some of her observations about a recent production of the play Nina, about Nina Simone and Lowell. I spoke to the actors that are in the show at MRT right now, Nina Simone. And they said in Chicago is the same issue. People are like, ooh, Chicago, you must have the audience's must be so rich and diverse and they're like Nope, it looks like it looks like Lowell looks like the typical audiences. And I know some people I've spoken with, it's been like barriers to the financial aspect, like a lot of these huge theaters. The patrons are majority people, not of color people. And I would also say what I'm seeing we've only been around for like a year is I just think there really needs to be like a targeted outreach, like something like we were trying to get the word out best we could, but there is not one engine that's really pushing like, Come on people. Let's go to theater, like come on. So it's, it's, it's been a struggle. Somebody else at MRT had brought that up and said, like, how do you feel that there are It was a full house? And there were like three black people there? Like how do you feel about that? And I was like, I don't like it. But I think the the reasoning behind it, I think is a is a big question. And I think if folks aren't intentional about wanting certain people in the audience, I don't think it's going to happen. organically, I think it really has to be some sort of intention, whether it's from the theatre, or higher level government, I don't know. But I think it like has to be an effort. And it's something we're dealing with too. But I do think too with us, just to kind of you were talking about the people don't really want to understand don't want to like, you don't want to rehear the trauma. Like even myself, I don't watch certain movies, because I'm like, it's going to make me sad and depressed, and I don't want to sit in that space. Some people don't mind it, we try to focus on like empowerment. So that to me, just gives people the vehicle to spread their story, which may or may not have struggle in it at all. But I totally I can relate to your friends a bit because I do sometimes it's something where I have to distance myself from certain narratives for my own sanity.
Allison 12:47 For this portion of our discussion, we actually returned again to a conversation about monuments and different ways that we selectively remember stories in a city.
Christa 12:58 Without the Lowell Talk I wouldn't have known The Underground Railroad was here. And that was last year. And I was like, why is there no monument? Why is there no? Why don't people know about this? Like, I would have traveled. Like I'm from here, but I've lived in Connecticut. I lived in Virginia and I've never gone to I've never consciously gone to a place where there was an underground railroad stop. I would have traveled here and other people. I tell my friends in Virginia, like come to Lowell, I will show you the spot I tell everyone and I think if we don't like we could ourselves become very insular, like just with our friends groups or our work groups. But you have to share the stories o they die?
Allison 13:38 I kind of wonder what would be our first topic if we had teenagers leading Lowell Walks.
Christa 13:42 I would love to take them to the St. Anne's church explain that and even I don't know the best spot for it. But the connection between the cotton and the South. Hey, this is awful. I not saying I didn't make the connection. But I literally it's like cotton and textiles. It's just here being weaved. And you don't think about well, where did the cotton come from? And how did it get here? And, you know, the engine of slavery that kind of kept it going and it's just the truth. It's not It's not something it's just part like you're saying it's equally part of the story as the mill girls as everything else that happens. So I think as a people, I mean, I think it's just hard to hear it's negative. It's you know, it's awful the connection, but it's the truth and it's the story. So I think the young people would definitely eat that up. And I think even with the storytelling itself, like the collective almost didn't happen, because I literally was waiting for something to happen. I was like, No, like the city of Lowell. Someone's gonna realize that there's no Theatre Company here to focus and people of color, they're just gonna do it. Or like, I just really I was waiting and waiting and waiting and waiting and I was just like, no like, with the analogy I like to use a lot of people talk about When they talk about inclusion, like welcoming everyone to the table, like everyone can have a seat at the table. And then I'm like, but sometimes you have to build your own table. And sometimes you have to craft your own chairs, you have to get the word you got to, you have to do it yourself. So even with, with whatever little power I have, it's like, so what are those stories? How can we how can we tell them in a way that's authentic? and kind of just figuring it out as we go? Because I think if more people either just like sit on the stories or sit on the curiosity, it doesn't get pushed out.
Allison 15:36 I'm wondering if you could talk a bit about the impact of hair tales, because it's not going away. You are doing more with it. And kind of the importance, I think, with that project and with something like Nina, both of which just fully centering back women's stories, if you could just tell us a little bit more where that's headed next because you are still working on it.
Christa 15:56 Yeah, so it was a staged reading. So that's very low key. So we had binders. The script was in front of us the whole time, small blocking, and we're looking to restage it in October, so a memorized piece, and but still a documentary, documentary theater. So first time, I'd interviewed five women and schedules have changed. So it's going to be new stories and new women. And we're looking to have it at the theater at Middlesex Community College in October. And the feat that I mean, it's, I feel weird, because I mean, my context is being a black woman, but I don't speak for every every black person. But um, it was a very humbling experience, because of course, these are interviews with people. So we were very comfortable. We let it all out. And there were moments where I wanted to censor it. I was like, we can't say that, or that's too much truth, or I don't know if I don't know. And then some of the feedback from the cast was like, Well, do you want our truth or not? I was like, Okay. And I was I was a little nervous about I was little nervous but the end result and if because they were examples of like being discriminated against in the workplace because somebody had a wig one day and then had an afro the next and what it feels like to constantly ask questions be asked questions at work and constantly having to explain and educate and the labor of all that. But the feedback we got was so positive It was like I had no idea this existed you let me into your world Lowell needs more stories like this it was really positive. And we got a lot of schools that were interested in bringing the show to them like other communities that were like Oh, could you perform this in Connecticut? I went to the school in Connecticut they reached out and like can you bring it here and so now i'd love it to be something that that has legs. Haha. Fun Fun has legs I can travel. But also I think the long term goal of the collective is to have like a season so maybe we do three shows a year and come up with some process where input is from the community on what they want to see.
Allison 18:01 In this portion, one of our audience members asked, how do you get started as a storyteller, even in your own family? Where do you begin?
Christa 18:08 I really think it just starts asking the questions. I typically like to think if you're talking to somebody, even just at the grocery store, Dunkin Donuts, if you come with like a genuine interest, people love talking about themselves. Even now that the Arts Collective is Comic Con, this nonprofit where I have to hobnob people have told me like, don't go into thinking about what you need or what you want, just ask questions. And then they will tell you what they want. And I think give people the space to tell their story, get people to space to talk about themselves, themselves, and I think you'll get you'll get a lot of knowledge. So I do that professionally, and personally. Really just try not to go in there with too many expectations but give people the space to talk.
Allison 18:53 So have a project where you interview from Lowell about their life experience. And it's a deceptively simple title. It's the choice to be happy podcasts. It's really about people's whole lives. Like you said, you learn so much in these half hour episodes just kind of opening up into people's experiences. Can you just tell us a little bit why you chose to make kind of happiness the core of that?
Christa 19:19 Yeah, so my stepmom Kathy is a little bit part of the story. But I had a childhood that was rough. My I have a twin sister, we moved around a lot and was very unstable. And when I came to Lowell, it was a time where I feel like I could finally like, get my feet on solid ground. And I remember being in college and just going through all this stuff and like, not knowing where I was going to live, not knowing what I was going to do. And just thought, like, I'm just gonna choose to be happy right now. Like, I know all this stuff is going on. I'm just gonna make a conscious choice to like to seek joy to focus on joy and just see what happens. And that's the goal of the podcast really is sitting down with people like Celeste from the park, who a lot of people on the outside I feel like they've got it together. Like they know, they know this life thing. They know how to do it. And then what happens is after talking to people, you peel back all these layers and find out that almost all of us have gone through some sort of negativity, something challenging something problematic, and made the choice to kind of just keep going. And to kind of hold on to whatever that dream was. So I really hope it just takes away the idea that we all have to have it figured out because I've interviewed people. There was a woman who ran in the Summer Olympics, there was a woman who owns her own business, Celeste from the park and Lydia who used to own sweet Lydia is just getting them to and getting other people to understand that. We're very similar. We all go through these these these struggles.
Allison 20:49 So we talked a little bit about you know, kind of needing to fill in certain gaps, right, like their stories that are not being told and something when I was reading the description For this that I kept struggling with was, when you say that a story is underrepresented, you're kind of letting yourself off the hook. Like somebody did that on purpose. You know, and it's it's kind of akin to, if you only speak in the passive voice, or you only say that cotton simply arrived in Lowell makes it a lot easier to not talk about slavery, because you don't have to talk about the people who picked it or how it possibly got here, which itself was part of that system. And I'm wondering, like, what are different ways for us, even in the language that we use to talk about that? Because I think when we use words like underrepresented it presents it as a neutral fact. When it's not. And I noticed too, between the description we will and and some of the ones you use that was in quotes, and I thought that was important because it's not as if these things just happen, right. Like stories aren't being told for a reason. So
Christa 21:56 hey, okay. Ah, so when we when we first launched, I actually got pushback from friends because our tagline which has since changed, said, like, we're telling stories for underrepresented communities. But if it's me, my friends, people that look like me, we don't refer to ourselves as underrepresented. I'm not like, hey, underrepresented, homie. Like, it doesn't. It's like a to me. It's more like language for a grant, like I would put that in a grant. But we are not underrepresented. Like, we're not so it really is. You have to I almost feel like sometimes it forces you to be a little bit more specific, because I couldn't explain to you why a lot of the plays that I see, don't center around experiences that I can relate to like, I don't really know. Again, it might be powers. I don't really know that behind that but I do think it's important to say What the What does underrepresented mean, really, and I think it's funky. I really don't feel like I have a nice answer. It's just it's something that I've taken out of what we say. So now it's something more like, we focus on telling stories that reflect the richness of our community. Take that as you will, or something like we focus on telling stories that are often underrepresented in the arts, which might not be good. Um, but something that lets people know straight away like, about empowering the artists than we are being concerned about what the audience walks away with, if that makes sense. And I love that you said you added underexplored because I think that, to me makes a lot of sense. Like the stories have been here.
Allison 23:39 Anyone who's planned an event knows that you really never have a sense of who is going to show up. But the question of who shows up for what kinds of stories is especially important to a group like Free Soil Arts, it gets at bigger discussions of whose stories are represented and who's there to see them. That's where we headed next.
Christa 23:59 I think I mean, it's something I'm still working on. And just in terms of outreach, like I feel as though even sometimes sharing something on Facebook for me isn't enough. It's when I am emailing somebody, or texting them and saying, like, I need you to show up to this thing. That's when people will, will come. So sometimes if I'm like, life is hectic, and I'm putting it on social media, back in my mind is like Christa, you're not doing what you should be doing because there's some people who they need the thoughtfulness to show up. And they need to feel need to feel valued. Well, I don't know if it's the best example with the school. I want to say the 25 kids get a K through 9 school. This is their first play. So a lot of people showed up just because of that. And then all the connections that all the kids had, it was kind of weird because my marketing hat was coming on. I was like, oh, children, children have families, big families, by people like it was it was phenomenal, but I So I think there's something about partnering with an entity or multiple entities that have that involved people that consistently enjoy these type of events. And not saying that, like, you need to put out a call for all these nonprofits every time you do something. But there is something I think a little bit about women's week committee, like there's something about engaging with people who are very community community oriented, talking to them kind of saying, like, what would it take for you to show up? What do you value? Again, the question asking people like what would make you engage and kind of trial and error and figuring out what you what you can do and how many people show up? Because I would even say there's something you said earlier that I was thinking about was like, I was a part of a play in Boston. That was called an education in prudence and it had it was about the first integrated school in America which is in Canterbury, Connecticut. It was written by a white playwright and had a cast of like majority black women. And we, he had wanted us to break out in song at one point. And it's this play that goes back and forth between present day America and the past and like, has the school system changed? Has it not changed? And he wanted us to break out and sing Amazing Grace. And me and other actors. We looked at each other. We're like, no, like, it doesn't fit. Like we immediately like no. And we literally like, we got together, we talked it out, we basically we're going to talk to the playwright, we're going to tell him, we don't feel comfortable. We're gonna do it. And we did it. And we met with him. He's like, I understand your point. He took it out. But it was in that moment that I realized the power of the narrative like he was pushing forward something that his research supported. He had done tons of research on this school, and in his, his mind, he's like, and naturally they break out into song, and we were like, No, I'm so I think even if he had had somebody part of his team who could bring a different perspective, it would have changed everything. So I think with events you have to make like who is with you who is at the table with you. So that decisions don't become this whole vacuum thing where like, your narrative is being pushed, and you're good, but you can't see that what you're proposing might be, make people uncomfortable. The theater world is very different. And I think it's because it's gone. And we think about where funding is going, like people are just thinking about the money. And it may not even be a negative thing they want to survive. I care about the audience's enough to be like, I don't care. Do what I'm trying to say. Like, I think you can almost cater too much to people and also say something that's come up is like, initially with the Arts Collective. I was thinking, we were constantly just going to be talking about art, you know, just art. How's the show? Great. We've had a few panels at MRT where the conversation just flips and people want to ask a lot of questions. about race and they want to ask, like, I literally had somebody say, Well what can we do to help people of color and I was like, Um a like, I I honestly sometimes those questions makes me feel uncomfortable because then I feel like all of a sudden I'm the voicebox for for everyone. And I was really honestly feeling a little a little awkward about it like feeling I didn't have the words or I didn't have the the intellectual language to explain things. And I had a girlfriend of mine who came and said, the fact that this dialogue even happened is a beautiful thing. Like they're not many spaces where you can talk about race talk about all these everything with like, with no judgment, just talk let's talk and and now I'm it's kind of switched my perspective a little bit because I don't I don't want to become an educator in that space and be like, let me break down to you why this is offensive. Let me you know, but the fact that even in this room we're making a space so we can talk about things that in and up itself is an accomplishment, I think. Because again, like, if not for that library for some people, like you need to think about our lived experiences and how it's so much influences just how we how we see the world. And sometimes those, you need to experience something that can open you up to different things.
Allison 29:23 So I wanted to wrap up because I kept thinking again, about, you know, how we can connect this to International Women's Day and kind of where do we get that origin story? You know, is it 1917? Should I be looking at Russia? Should we look at New York City, and again, just finding visual after visual of certain groups of women kind of marching out and protesting, and this exact time of year in 1912 is when the Bread and Roses strike was really at its height. It would end on March 14 1912. But this really is a hugely galvanizing moment and people come together. And I think part of why that strike as compared to others has stayed with us and it did come to Lowell as well is that they had a good story, right? You can never underestimate the power of being able to tell your story well, or the story that you are telling as a group. Part of why we remember that strike as compared to others, is it had a tagline they had a narrative that they were telling. Some of the attachment of Bread and Roses too does come a bit later, but Rose Schneiderman, who's an organizer in New York is one of the people with the longer quote saying, you know, women don't want to just work for bread, they want roses, they want beautiful things in their lives, not just things but they want time. They want to be able to relax to kind of recuperate with each other. We look back at 1912 was a very, very cold year very much unlike this year. There are people who were pelted with frozen snowballs with fire hoses who had to walk out and to try to organize. That's a hugely critical moment a turning point. For women realizing that they have bargaining power together, more women had staged walkouts in 1834 1836. Other times, but we're talking more than 70 years later, they're fighting the same fight to people who work together who form a block and have a story. Can they win something with Bread and Roses, part of what happened is people realize that they share the story together. People who were very different had very different backgrounds realized that they shared something, and that they could marshal that to be successful. I also mentioned that because if we only put those kinds of photos of working women, we should also again think about one of the largest work stoppages 1881, fully orchestrated by black women after reconstruction. A complete work stoppage of all laundry basically shut down Atlanta. This was an actual crisis at the time. This was a huge workforce that fully stopped working. Part of how they knew the power of a work stoppage. during slavery, people break tools and stop working. So there's all these different legacies where people learn strategies. They learn the power of a story. And when we choose to look for them changes how we think about a day like International Women's Day. When we're thinking about our slate of events, we knew that we had someone coming to tell the story of Harriet Tubman, portraying that as a character. We have someone coming on Tuesday to talk about Lucy stone. We thought it's also important to make sure that there's a space to talk about storytelling today. What's been going on in this city in the past few years. We've had a walk around downtown yesterday of different important spots about women's activism. We tried as much as possible to make it all be new stories, new information for people to see their teeth into. And my colleague Rosie, who did a lot of the research said at the end, you know, I've been talking with Christa, what would new black history tour of Lowell look like? And I said, Well, we go to all the same places, you just center that story. It's not about finding some new planet to go to explore. It's about looking at City Hall differently. Looking at the first black woman to run for office in 1979, talking about the fight that they had about proportional representation, almost nothing is new under the sun. So talking about these things as just as important as anything else changes that.
This concludes another edition of a recording of Lowell talks. We hope that you'll join us next time and that you continue to have these kinds of conversations in your own life.
Maya 1:31 I am Maya Gamble Rivers. I am the manager of programs and public engagement at the Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice. I first got involved with the center while I was getting my master's in public humanities. I was selected as the graduate fellow at the Center, serve there for two years before being hired full time when I graduated. And one project in particular that I did was create the slavery and legacy Walking Tour, which is one of our biggest public programs at the center right now. It kind of came about because The dean of the graduate school had asked if there was something some kind of program that we could put together and do for incoming graduate students to think about Brown's history in connection to the transatlantic slave trade for graduate students. The first year was super successful, that it now has become a permanent fixture for graduate school orientation. And it's a good way for students coming in to learn about the center in the work that we're doing and the different programs and be a part of that work that is happening. From there. We found that a lot of K through 12 educators were like, how do I teach my students about slavery? It was very difficult. My first group was actually a group of fifth graders, super intimidated. And it's very difficult to talk to them even something about resistance. How do you make resistance accessible to 10 year olds? And one student was just like, Well, why did the person do this to their master and trying to break that down to a 10 year old I was looking for help but we managed we got through it. And then from there, we found that there was a lot of interest from parents, so usually you don't hear about. You don't get a lot of students but family weekend and commencement weekend, are two biggest weekends at Brown like the university shuts down. We are planning for commencement in February. And it's not until May Memorial Day weekend. So it's usually we get a lot of families during these two weekends and parents bring their students on this tour. So those those sellout even though it's free event, right, they sell out pretty quickly. And there's so much interest now that we starting this month have now instituted two open tour days, so it's the general public can sign up and take these tours twice a month, if they'd like. So some tours some stops on a tour that I think is worth mentioning is the first stop is where the tour begins, which is the Ruth J. Simmons quadrangle. So Dr. Simmons is the former president of Brown University and was the president who formed the steering committee to look at Brown University's roll in connection to the trade This site is interesting because it allows us one to give them that background information. But Dr. Simmons is the first African American president of any Ivy League institution or black female president. She also is the only president in Brown's history to have a green space named after her. And it's just in walking distance from where the center is located. in that space to start the tour, we ask participants, what words come to mind when you hear racial slavery or plantations, we get the general responses the south, cotton fields, and I think this is a point where it kind of troubles or challenges the idea that slavery was a southern phenomenon, right? Does anyone in the audience know the full state name of Rhode Island, State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantation and it's still on our like degrees throughout the state. And so breaking down what plantations looked like in the north for us, it looked like farms, lots of farms. There were producing Rhode Island pacers, which is a specific horse that was bred for plantations in the Caribbean. You have cheese you have the Rhode Island hen you have material goods for ships, so that sails that's rope. The wood itself is all coming out of the state of Rhode Island that most people don't know or think about. And so then from there, we moved to University Hall, which is the oldest building on campus. It's the first building. All of the university was once housed in this building on campus. And it's significant because we know that both indentured, free and indigenous labor was used to construct University Hall. However, there is no acknowledgement of these men and their labor within the building. also challenges guests to think about what does it mean to be loaned out on your own or to be paid for your labor and construct a building that you don't even have access to? Right, and one man in particular at the time of the construction was 62 years old when he was forced to construct University Hall.
Another question that I think is a pivotal moment during this tour is that when we're walking to University Hall, we ask guests to think about At what age did you first learn about racial slavery? And what were you told? And it is a question that stumps people across all ages. Some things that come up, is thinking about the woeful ignorance and like how it was just like completely removed from the curriculum, that it was skimmed over in one unit one week. And I think something that comes up a lot with participants is shame, right? Not just what does it mean to be an educator in the shame teaching that history but also a student, and the shame that you feel learning that history. So even thinking about my own experience as an African American, growing up in this country, I didn't want to talk about slavery, and also thinking again, specifically about Providence, Rhode Island, where most of our teaching force is white. What does it mean to be a white educator and teach this history to a student body that's predominantly Students of Color. And so one more. Two more sites that I think are interesting to think about is the Slavery Memorial which I will talk more in depth later. But that's one site that we visit on the tour before heading to Paige Robinson Hall, which was recently renamed in 2018. And it coincided with the black alumni reunion that took place that year. And during that year, they commemorated the 1968 walkout of black students on campus, which is interesting when you think about commemoration because at the time that they were doing it, they were not well liked. And so students of color essentially protested in front of University Hall demanding more students of color demanding Africana Studies. A space which is now called the Brown Center for Students of Color at the time was a third world center. It was a space for students of color to meet and address issues on campus. But the hall was recently renamed after Inman Page, which was the first black graduate from Brown University. He graduated in 1877. So Inman Page was enslaved in the state of Virginia, lived through the Civil War made his way north, went to Brown University and graduated and his class during his class. He was actually the class orator and it was covered widely by local newspapers. The second graduate is Ethel Robinson. And so she graduated from Brown University in 1905. She's the first black female to graduate from Brown University. She ends up moving to DC and becomes a teacher in literacy at Howard University and actually mentor is the founder of AKA which is the first black sorority in the country. So I think seeing just the response that we've gotten from participants, especially professors on campus, our local educators, I think that is something that drives us to do this work and I think we have great support from a lot of educators. So initially was just me giving the tour and I did not have the capacity to meet the demand. So we have an entire team of undergraduates, some who coordinate some who are like lead tour guides to help sustain the program.
Rogers 9:10 My name again is Rogers Muyanja. And thank you for the overview and presentation. I think my perspective is going to resonate with my experiences mostly. I migrated to the US in 2009. October so last year, I made 10 years and when I moved to the US, I came and settled right in Lowell. I tried leaving Lowell, but I think I got addicted to it. So I went to be Billerica and came back two years later. So I've lived here since then. So when it comes to slavery, and issues of race, I, the country I grew up from is Uganda. And we we had no experiences in, particularly pertaining to race. So we had read about it, but on the surface and see, so when I come to this country in 2009, I totally had no experiences of that sort, which puts me or people like me in a different situation, because then when I get here, I start hearing this rhetoric, you know, this conversation, you speak with people. And what you hear is, okay, the first time I, somebody mentions or makes a statement and says, oh, you're not like them. And then to me, I wonder what does that mean? So, these experiences kind of lead me into doing what I am doing right now. What do I do? I work with the African America Association, African American Alliance, which is an organization that engages all people who identify as black in this community. We thought it was important to come together and see how we could engage one another, not only particularly to discuss about the challenges that black people face or those who identify as black face, but also to have conversations and find ways we can engage stakeholders within the community to foster conversations that can actually address or initiate policies that are can address these challenges that keep you know, coming up. So when we came together, we realized that all individual community members who identify as black have different backgrounds. There are those who identify as descendants of slaves, then there are those who are just immigrants. But you know, when you can't tell the difference a lot of times, and so we figured that It would be important to engage all those of various backgrounds so that we can find ways because there are a lot of things that always unite us and things that seem to be labeled as differences. And so based off of that, we first started with identifying the leadership of the organization that meant establishing the leadership that represents all these different identities. And make sure that because when you're having conversations, you want to make sure they are representation of the positions you're talking about or situations you're discussing. But also, when it comes to let's say, engaging stakeholders, if some voices are not represented, then what does that feel like? So, based off of that, we we initiated this in DC, we initiated the aspect of revitalizing the organization that had already started some time back. We had initially in in 2014, the organization itself had taken on the Nelson Mandela monument, because, in part, this would be a symbolic for the presence of the African American population within Lowell. Because at the time, we realized that there wasn't anything symbolic of our presence in this community. And we thought that by erecting this monument of somebody who is known to advocate for social justice, for equality and equal representation, it would be one of the ways we would be communicating not only to those like us, but also the community that we are part of. Why do I do this? I decided to do this because I realized that when I migrated to the United States first, I came on a green card after playing a diversity visa lottery, which also manifests possibly that I'm lucky that I am going to have to raise my family here. And which makes me part of the community. When you're going to be a part of the community there, it is natural that you want to contribute to it in a lot of ways, different ways. However way, however much you can. And for me, because I am part of the community, I'm going to raise kids that are going to grow up here, I felt that the best way I can contribute to that is by figuring out how I can engage my fellow community members block and unblock and see how we we may be able to create an atmosphere, an environment where our children are going to thrive and do better. And for us, that's, that's that was the core of why we initiated that.
Allison 15:00 Thank you so much. I think it really helps to know kind of who we're going to be talking with today and all the many things that you do because a brief introduction never covers it. Now, my next question for you, Maya would just be about some of the ways that Brown has tackled exposing the connections between what some people would think of as the industrial north and the larger world, the Atlantic slave trade. One of the first things that came to mind for me was Moses Brown, so he's one of the four brown brothers who helped to found and start Brown University. And there's one voyage in particular it is launched the same year that the university is founded in 1764.
Maya 15:43 One of the first things that came to mind for me was Moses Brown, so he's one of the four brown brothers who helped to found and start Brown University. And there's one voyage in particular it is launched the same year that the university is founded in 1764. The brothers hire Esik Hopkins who was also brother of Steven Steven Hopkins, who is a multi time governor of the state of Rhode Island. And both Esik and his brother owned enslaved Africans, but nonetheless Esik Hopkins goes to the west coast of Africa to secure 197 enslaved Africans. On the voyage back 109 die. And that is the first voyage. And the state of Rhode Island alone launched over 1000 slaving voyages. So if you can lose 109 in one voyage, how many were lost in 1000? Right? put things in order. Moses Brown is interesting in particular, because it's this voyage that he says, Oh, no, I don't want to be a part of this. He actually steps away from the family business and involvement in the slave trade, and becomes a Quaker and also becomes a prominent abolitionist in the state of Rhode Island. There's actually a private K through 12 school named after Moses Brown. But what Moses brown actually does is that he pushes for the industrialization of the state of Rhode Island. So you start some these textile mills in the state. What he doesn't account for is where he's getting his cotton from. So while he thinks that he is absolved, he's very much implicated in the trade. Yes, he does go on to do amazing things like actually funds the first African American church in the city of Providence. And even after it was burned down, he offers up land and has it reconstructed, and it's just in walking distance to Brown University. It's called the Condon Street Baptist Church. It might be 200 years old now or almost 200 years old. So thinking about the contradiction of the brown brothers one alone and the many important prominent, wealthy men who are involved in this trade, who have street names after them who have schools named after them. We still have a middle school that serves a student body that's predominantly Latinex and students of color is named after Esik Hopkins. They do not know that who he was. I recently did a panel when we had a 1619 event, where students were one student in particular, who learned this on a tourist talking about it. And another panel member who's now a teacher at one of our local high schools, stops the conversation and says, Oh, I didn't realize that that to our school was named After and I went to that school, right. So even as an adult, she never knew that her school was named after the slave ship captain. And you can trace this history and these individuals just walking around Brown's campus, if you look at all the street names. Very much all these men were involved in the trade and implicated the naming of some of our buildings, the evidence is all there. And so I think the walking tour becomes very important because it makes this history visible. It's through the landscape that you have to engage with every day. Another thing that came to mind was thinking about the work that we do specifically at the center. So every year we produce about three to four exhibitions. And in the year 2017, we curated an exhibition called makers unknown. And one thing an archivist that we were working with, we had found that like, in a lot of the archives, she was finding that a lot of African Americans, whether free or enslaved, whose labor was used to produce certain goods like ironwork or furniture That's coming out of state of Rhode Island is listed as makers unknown, right, so not being recognized. So that exhibition in particular was looking at a lot of goods that were coming out of the state of Rhode Island and the hidden labor behind a lot of those goods and items.
Rogers 19:16 So when it comes to tracing the history, a lot of us are grappling with a lot of how do we come across this information? You see, like I mentioned, they, you see, there haven't been a lot of representations of the slavery within Lowell except through some of the stories we hear. So and part of what we are doing is through the Africa America Alliances, how do we get to the stories and how do we share with the kids in a more positive way and so that they They are able to appreciate that history or that story. Because when we when there hasn't been anything that is been said defined, sometimes it's challenging to figure out how you are able to tailor that information. So, part of what we are doing is we would want to, to see how we can tap into what is there that is, that has been told through possibly engaging entities that are here and be able to see how we can share that. Maybe the other aspect is through the welcoming week Lowell. They open the community of Lowell thought is relevant to create a sense of welcome. There is an initiative that is held every September. And through that initiative, we engage one another stakeholders within the community of Lowell, to foster a sense of welcome within the community cause challenges when it comes to immigration, refugees. As you might, as we might have observed through the political process, we realize it's important for the community members to engage one another and foster conversations through which we are able to get to know one another.
Allison 21:34 So you've mentioned in a few different instances, the 1619 project, which came out last August in time for the commemoration of that first arrival, and part of what that project I think was aiming to do was to present a lot of information that might be new to the general public, but also I think, to set out a different origin story. 1620 is going to be a big year for thinking about the arrival of the so called pilgrims in Massachusetts. A lot of people might think of that as their origin story for part of the United States 1619 I think changed that. It was trying to say that there are all of these other very critical moments. And there's been debate ever since about some of the specific content some of the meaning. So before we open it up to everyone I would love if you could just talk a bit about what you see as the value of that kind of project.
Maya 22:28 I read a lot of the essays that came out when the project was announced to the New York Times. I think, while the project was an incredible endeavor, and made sources digestible and accessible to a large public. I think a lot of compromises were made. I think the one that is most noted is that in commemorating this history in this date, 1619 that it disentangled African Americans from the indigenous population and African Americans are intrinsically tied to indigenous folks, in the same way that my ancestors arrival. My ancestors arrival is very much tied to the genocide and removal of someone else's ancestors. And so I think these two histories cannot be disentangled. That was my first issue. Um, I think, again, one. I feel like because I've done talks that like slavery in the United States has become. . . what's the word . . . has become like the critical, most important site or history that is recognized, but racial slavery was an international global system that transcends borders, nation states, right. And so I think, at the center in particular, we're always trying to think about slavery, racial slavery as a global rights history, not just the United States and the project. By focusing on 1619 we miss other important dates within the black experience, and particularly the history of enslavement. I think another way of thinking about the question is that you poses, what does commemoration offer us? What does trying to institutionalize it do? Does it just become a permanent acknowledgement? And by who? And what does it What does commemoration absolve us from right i think before we started, we said, okay, this monument is up now what? And so are we just simply trying to validate the nation state? redeem America from its history and its past? If we move the date to 1619, where do we move next as a nation, I think is my question. And what does it mean to commemorate forced arrival versus resistance? I think at the center, we're always thinking about how both free and enslaved black folk have resisted. It's not just a history of subjugation but immense resistance. And so what would it look like to commemorate that?
Rogers 25:16 When we discuss these aspects when we talk about them in, in openness, we have the opportunity to learn, and also have the opportunity to not only for the individuals like us who have not had the opportunity to get the real stories.
Allison 25:36 This segment came in response to an audience question about education and more specifically about curriculum. What are people learning in school today about slavery? And what are institutions like the Center for slavery and social justice doing to change that?
Maya 25:52 So starting in 2018, we're very fortunate to have a donor approach us to create some kind of educational curriculum resource for high school students, and so we are now in the work of creating a curriculum resource titled racial slavery in the Americas: freedom, resistance and legacies. So we're working closely with choices, which is a program that's housed at Brown, but not a brown department. But it's through our history department, where they work with our history department to produce this resource that is going to within the first year, be free digitally, and then also offer professional development for teachers on this curriculum. And one thing that we did differently with this curriculum in particular, is that we kind of flipped the hierarchy on its head. So we first started conversations with high school students. We didn't talk to any teachers, any scholars, what do you know? What is missing? Trying to figure out what the gaps in what do you want to know? From there we worked with based on the recommendations of students then invited teachers into the conversation. Okay, this is what students are interested in. How do we make this practical in the classroom? What do you need as an educator to then teach them this curriculum. And now, we're at the point where we are about to pilot it with both educators and students where we've invited local educators to then I guess, try out some of the activities in text with actual current students in the Providence public school department. So that will happen May this year before it is released publicly, we're hoping in August this year. And also we're thinking about ways that we can then find funding to make it available for the second year completely free to educators. In addition to that, thinking about again, going back to education, the Oh, there were brochures, but no, they're still over there hidden in plain sight. So that is actually coming from a much larger exhibition that we curated in 2016. The Center hosted a conference with the Smithsonian's museum for African American History and Culture as well as the Gilder Lehrman Center at Yale University. And so that was that conference was called the global public history of slavery. And so that the exhibition that we curated was called Black mechanics making of in a nation and a university, right? So thinking about racial slavery in America, like racial slavery as the foundation of this country and some of our prominent institutions like Brown University. And so from there, the president actually saw that exhibition decided the section of the exhibition that specifically focused on Brown University and its role be permanently housed in University Hall. So when guests do come on this tour, all that content that is in that brochure is permanently housed within that space. So if folks make their way to University Hall, they are forced to think about and interrogate this history.
Allison 28:49 As you've probably noticed, a lot of our discussion was about education. But we also spend some time on something called unlearning. In the work that each of our panelists does they don't just educate people about topics that might be new to them. They're also doing some of the social justice work of unraveling some of the untruths that people have also been taught.
Maya 29:10 In terms of myth making and teaching the classics, I think through the work of the center of a lot of undoing what people have been taught. And I think, particularly when we were thinking about content for our 1619 event, I moderated a panel on education. And so one of the things I was thinking about in terms of moving the date to 1619 Is it a matter of just history and curriculum are tied to one another, right? And that base, the history that you teach, is meant to preserve America. But one thing that I've experienced in terms of working with young people in the city and actually learning true history or a more complex history, it leaves a lot of young people frustrated and angry, right? So then how do you tell a more truthful history that doesn't just that ultimately will not create young people who love and want to save and redeem America? Right? That's, that's the first conflict, like you learn the history. And then you don't want anything to do with the country. But also like, because we haven't had any honest conversation, I also think, how do we equip educators to do that work? And also, how do we equip young people to take because I think through my work with the civil rights movement initiative, you know, students, meeting activists from the movement hearing firsthand, so this is not, you can't write over or like make it pretty. They're telling you the raw, the good, the bad and the ugly, and it has completely blown students away like cry upset, like they go through this. It's a wave. It's like pure anger. By the end of the trip. There's like hope right? But even thinking about Esik Hopkins what would it mean for me to then show up to students at middle school and say, Oh, your school is named after the slave ship captain, he did X, Y and Z. I can't just drop that on them and then and then expect them to continue to go through like, what does it mean to then attend a school that is named after this man or has been named after this man? So I think there definitely needs to be a conversation about how we equip educators to do that work, but also how do we prepare students for that knowledge? Because so much of our education has been about preserving myths and preserving this country.
Rogers 31:35 But But also, I think when it comes to having these conversations, sometimes it's it becomes a little tricky, because what language do you utilize? Okay? Because how how you share it, depending on how somebody perceives it. A lot of times we are struggling with that. When when I'm talking about slavery, given my experience of little experience about it, I'm going to say things in the presence of somebody who may have the experience about it, and they will assume differently, right? So now, even when we are sharing these stories amongst ourselves, I think it's critical to initiate conversations like these. Because in so doing, we get to align collectively about what we are able to share, and also be able to possibly utilize that to find ways we can communicate that make that that matters. Makes make sense to to all of us. The other thing I wanted to add is when it comes to my involvement with the Africa America Alliance, I think that one of the things we've noticed is the involvement of the communities or local groups within Lowell when it comes to like the exhibit in different initiatives within Lowell. You'll see when when we are different groups are made part of these processes it fosters a sense of acknowledgement, but also that participatory approach which which sometimes people could say was lacking through through. Individuals or different community groups. For example, if I come to Lowell or when I migrated to Lowell in the beginning, I, there wasn't that opportunity to see things that represented me when it comes to places, things that represented me and I was always struggling to find Okay, where do I fit in the community? Because I believe that there are people that come actually before me. But so constantly trying to find that connection was challenging. And I see that if something of this sort is event is worked on, if we collectively are able to identify ways we can create these representations, and make connections, through not only stories, but through other representations, we are able to communicate in ways to those that will come after us in a more respectful way, but also in a more representative way.
Maya 34:40 I think something that you both said that I think is resonating with me is a count, not accountability, acknowledgement. Right. I also think there's an accountability. So thinking particularly about Brown University, yes, there was this very public acknowledgement of its role in connection in the trade. But there's still a a lot more work to be done. And so thinking about our report, particularly, there was a list of recommendations that came out of the report. One was the creation of the center so that this research around this history and topic could continue. It was also the creation of a post doc, which is named after Dr. Simmons, creation of a Master's fellowship, which is I was very fortunate enough to have and not pay for grad school. Yes, it was nice to save $80,000. But also a lot of initiatives around education, which still have not been fulfilled. One was to create this million dollar endowment that would like was called the fund for children that was supposed to give students money towards universities, four year institutions. One thing that we found in the, I guess the last almost a decade is that many students who were receiving these funds from the university we're not being accepted to the University. So thinking about the The young people that I work with that Hope High, so it's my alma mater. It's literally a five minute walk up the street, a student from Hope has not been accepted into Brown University in almost 10 years, and it is walking distance. Hope High is surrounded by a cluster of private institutions. So just across the street, you have Moses Brown, then you have Wheeler, then you have the Lincoln all girls school, and then you have Brown University. So students are confronted with the privatization of education, every time they leave, and head to school. Within the recommendations, we were also posted, we were also supposed to include a freshman orientation about this history. That doesn't happen. We were supposed to designate an annual Day of Remembrance on the academic calendar. That hasn't happened. Students can actually go their entire career at Brown not knowing that the memorial or the center exist because of where it's placed. And as I mentioned, it's usually the parents that are just like come with me to the center and that's how they find out recruiting and retaining data. Student Body, we just all got lumped into the black category. So while there is a huge number of black students, a lot of them are coming from the continent or from the Caribbean, but doesn't actually represent or reflect African Americans within the student body. We don't have any professional development for Rhode Island educators. And it's not a secret that last year, Johns Hopkins released a report about the state of Providence public schools and has deemed it failing and ultimately led to a state takeover. A lot of students teachers don't know what's happening, what's coming next. And if you actually look at the report, there's very little there was no room or voice of students. It mostly focused on the disorganized administration, unions and a bunch of other stuff but not student voice or experience within the classroom. So that's one thing I think in terms of thinking about monuments and whether to remove or add, I'm thinking about the Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam which has a intense colonial history. And a lot of the black Dutch residents found this colonial museum super problematic. And so one could have easily just taken down everything and curated a new exhibition. I mean, it doesn't change the fact that a lot of that stuff is stolen, it is what it is, right? So what they did was they invited community members to then create an alternate alternative storyline that ran alongside the exhibition. So it was these bright yellow panels right next to the problematic text and images that then told a more honest interpretation of what folks were looking at.
Rogers 38:42 So where some of the areas we were discussing about through the organization, engaging the different stakeholders like academic institutions, and I think that academic institutions within the community of Lowell play critical role. Middlesex Community College UMass Lowell. And I think that they those institutions can can create momentum or generate momentum within the community to foster a sense of support, through a lot of ways. It could be through addressing curriculum like Professor David mentioned, probably revitalize or figuring out how best these conversations can be communicated through academics. But also I think that even the other stakeholders, you mentioned the National Park because it has a role a great role it plays within the community in telling these stories and representing them. So I think that too works, but also other stakeholders like the city. It's When it comes to Lowell, I think one of the biggest challenge that we see is the the imbalance when it comes to representation, it is significantly highlighted and, and I and I think that when you come to a community that is extremely diverse, that doesn't reflect that, there is a sense of disempowerment and a feeling of Oh, we are not part of that. So, all these forms kind of communicate a message and I think that we could be able to utilize all the platforms that we have to be able to not only communicate but be able to imply, cuz it does, it just doesn't make sense to just talk about something's done, because action always speaks louder.
Allison 40:56 In this segment, Maya responds to an audience question about maps. What are some of the visual resources that people can use to teach the history of slavery? Along the way, she provides us with some other tools for teaching a more complex story.
Maya 41:11 I'm not sure if there's any maps that come to mind, or schematics or modules of slave ships in particular, but because Brown University's involvement in the trade was very much a business. They kept very good records of everything. And so even the voyage that I shared earlier about the slave ship, Sally, so the slave the log that was kept by Esik Hopkins, and there's one particular page that I think causes everyone to stop and pause. It is a log in which it starts in August. All goes all the way to September, but just in that timeframe, you just see a listing like one slave girl, one slave boy, one slave woman, one slave girl, and then died like, and you can see the numbers increase on the right column of that page. So those are the documents, I think that we have and use to tell these kinds of stories. But I'm pretty sure if I asked the right librarian that I would be able to find something. Because John Carter Brown library and the Hay library have john Carter brown in particular, was very interested in the Americas and just collected tons and tons of books, anything that had to do with the Americas. Oh, a map did just come to mind. Sorry. So there's one map of the French who are thinking about abolition. And there's one schematic and when you roll it out, if you look very closely, each figure has its own identity. And in the corner of one of the ships, there's actually an enslaved woman giving birth, which is very interesting because you think, again, paralleling it to or contrasting it with the, the log that is accounting for death on the ship, but then to think about birth on a ship, right. These are sites of death. for black people, right, but to think about life on a ship and what that looks like. Those are two things that came to mind.
Allison 43:08 I think one of the more important insights of today is we did focus the conversation partially on slavery and connections to the slave trade, but that every time we talk about that there has to be the history of civil rights and resistance. Or we're only centering one kind of story. If you've ever seen the TED talk the danger of one story, if you know one story about a person, a culture, a people you don't know their story. One of the ways that we can access what actually happened here, aside from building materials aside from product is run away ads. Lowell did not exist yet This land was here but the concept of the city of Lowell did not yet exist when enslaved people who lived on this land were either sold, captured or ran away. One of those men who did that his name was William Thompson. And he lived in Billerica. When you read the advertisement, as you said, capitalists keep very good records, just as they did in the Boott Cotton Mills. It describes what William is wearing. It describes it down to the intricate way that cotton and wool are put together bound onto his person. It describes the buttons that he's wearing, how tall he is, and how much he weighs. We don't get to know other things about William, because the records are interested in him in one very specific way. But by coming here today, by thinking about William as a person who appears just in this record, William Thompson ran away, and Jonathan Stickney of Billerica Massachusetts, was willing to pay quote, very handsomely for his return. William Thompson made a very difficult choice which was to try to Escape the world that he was kep in. So when we think about slavery in Lowell, Billerica, Westford, all these places that exist before East Chelmsford becomes Lowell, we have to think not just about the product that comes here. But people who are forced to live here and people who took that life and changed it for themselves. We call those people fugitives we call them freedom seekers. Slave is centering one kind of story, not the full human story.
Thank you for joining us once again for a recording of Lowell Talks. We hope that this discussion illuminated something new for you and that you'll continue to share it and start conversations in your own life. Until next time, thank you
The first question that I was able to ask of Professor Mendoza was about this idea that the United States is a nation of immigrants. Where does it come from, and what kind of work does it do?
Mendoza 1:31 interesting about the phrase nation of immigrants historically, we have to be careful there’s a historian in the audience will correct me if I'm wrong. The phrase itself was was not used as as a phrase of, you know, appeal is not embraced. In fact, when people originally used the phrase nation of immigrants, they meant it as a kind of warning. They were it came out of the xenophobia of the second half of the 19th century. The politicians or anyone who talks about immigration say, we have to be careful, we're becoming a nation of immigrants. We don't want to become a nation of immigrants. Because the nation as we tend to think of as states or countries, nation is a people. And nations are supposed to have this, this connection to territory. They come from the volk, in this German sense, they come out of the territory as attachment of the territory. And so what do you do? When you have come to the Americas and you want to start a nation, you have to kind of tell yourself a story develop a narrative about what it is to be the United States as a nation. You know, I won't get too much more in history. But if you look at the Gettysburg Address, that's part of what like Abraham Lincoln is doing. He's trying to give you a story of, of the American nation. If we always were a nation of immigrants, as is often said, one of the things you might want to ask is why is our issues of immigration completely missing in the constitution? There's really no mention of immigration, the only thing that comes close and we should be careful not to conflate the two is there is there's a little clause that says, and we will not look at the importation of people again until like 1808. And the only reason it was there is because we're punting on the issue of slavery and the slave trade. But really, there's not much that the issue of immigration doesn't come up. And part of the reason is because back then you had the opposite problem, you actually wanted to have more people come in, as opposed to keeping people out. And so when, when people start worrying about immigration, it's closely tied to the notion of whiteness, and who counts as white. In 1850 people of African American descent did not qualify for US citizenship, people of Native American descent do not qualify for citizenship and people of Asian descent do not qualify for citizenship. So why were people so concerned about the fact that the United States was going to become a non-white nation? They were concerned about that because folks from from Ireland, folks from Southern and Eastern Europe were not considered white, they were considered alpine and Mediterranean races which the best science of the time considered to be degenerative mongrel races not truly white. And so when you trace the phrase nation of immigrants, you begin to trace this idea of American whiteness. So when does this phrase transform? When does it become a positive thing? It becomes a positive thing. After about the 1930s, when the Irish and the southern Eastern Europeans are becoming white, they get sucked into whiteness, because of this fear that the United States was going to become a minority majority country, that we're going to have more non-whites than whites. So what's one way of avoiding this, you can segregate non white populations, you can eliminate non white populations, but you can also take some of those borderline population sites, the southern Eastern Europeans and the Irish and bring them into whiteness. And now you have to change your narrative. Now it's not we're going to become a nation of immigrants. Now you embrace it, and it's a double move. See, we're not racist, right? Like those Nazis. We're a nation of immigrants. We embrace everybody. Right and people who can't be part of the melting pot, it's not our fault. We're a melting pot. Those who don't belong in the melting pot have probably done something they probably have a bad culture, a bad upbringing, there's something that makes them not want to be part of, of the melting pot. Now, the danger of using the nation of immigrants phrasing is because it kind of covers over that history. The other worry I have we'll talk about with crimmigration is it lends itself to the good and bad immigrant narrative. So the so it quickly lends itself, hey, we're a nation of immigrants. immigrants are good and we tend to focus on the good immigrants, if you look at the dreamers are kids who kids or even adults who came to the United States, as children were brought that states they probably didn't even know that they unlawfully entered some of them find out at the age of 16 that they don't have status because they try to get driver's licenses. They find out why they don't have status, what happened and usually folks who they call them the dreamers because that there's a dream act that the tricep been around for almost 20 years now trying to regularize their status. One way to make this argument is talking is typically focusing on the valedictorians like the most perfect of these folks. And it's hard to argue against these folks. They've done everything right. What I'm going to try to talk a little bit about today are folks who maybe haven't done everything exactly right. And I still think those folks deserve to have their status regularized. And I think it's just kind of dangerous to fall into the good immigrant bad immigrant narrative, because we tend to play up the good immigrant. And it's great for those folks. But then in some ways, we kind of sell out these other folks. And then that's why I think the phrasing, I've kind of gone on a rant but the phrase itself nation of immigrants, when you start unpacking these things, and looking at them historically, you start to see all these things play out.
Allison 6:46 Thank you. Yeah. And that gives us a great opening to talk a little bit more about what this phrase means and where it comes from. And something you mentioned, just to give folks the backstory on where this event came from. This summer, we did a screening The film 13th, which is about the 13th amendment, and the ways that that has actually really opened up the United States to putting more and more people in the carceral system. So in prisons, under parole, probation and all these things, and immigration was covered, actually extensively in that the way that all these things are tied up together. So how is it at immigration today is part of the criminal justice system? What are those connections?
Mendoza 7:28 One of the first immigration laws we passed, was in 1875, called the Page Act. What we wanted was we wanted labor, we wanted labor that was vulnerable. But after the Civil War, you can't have slaves anymore. So they went for what was called quote unquote coolie labor. This has a whole long history, that trace that goes all the way back to the Opium Wars with with China, we basically cut up China into four different quadrants. And one of the deals was the British could export quote unquote, coollie Labor from China, to the United States. And so this was you started seeing an increase in that labor, especially in places like San Francisco, you had a gold rush. You had people from China coming and doing the work. What folks didn't want was to have these folks as part of the nation. So one way you keep folks from being part of the nation is you prevent their women from coming. Now, you could just absolutely say, well, we don't want women to come. Or you could say, look, we don't want women because they're prostitutes. So if you trace the origin of exclusions, they actually tend to be very gendered. And they tend to focus on morality, and they tend to use things like well, these these women would not come to the United States for any other reason than to be prostitutes. And so you just want the men. That's all you want. Turns out, that wasn't enough. You had the men come and even keeping the women out some of the men were staying. So we passed the Chinese Exclusion Act for for speaking in the 1800s 1880s. These acts though had to be constantly renewed So not only were you excluding folks, but you had to renew them like every 5-6-7-8-9-10 years and they would add things every time they renew them. The first version of these acts gave you a kind of voucher, which said, Look, if you're already lawfully admitted to first really took away people citizenship made them legal, permanent residents, and then they said, Look, we'll give you a voucher. If you want to go and visit your family in China and come back. You've got this like, exit come in voucher. This guy Chao Che Ping was literally on a boat back from China to the United States. With his voucher. They changed the rules on him. He gets to San Francisco and this guy's like detained for weeks in a Port of San Francisco cannot be administratively disembarked? This case goes all the way to the Supreme Court. It seems like a pretty clear cut case. You can't just change the rules on you. And then you know, ex post facto, what the court argued was that immigration is different. It's a different kind of power that the Federal Government has. It's a power that it has unconditionally, and cannot be reviewed judiciously by the judicial branch. It can exercise it in any way it sees fit. And so just because they changed the rules of the game, that was no big deal, because he had no real Chou Che Ping had no real standing in court. You can't sue the federal government to change its immigration policy. The policy is made by the legislative branch and the executive branch and the judicial branch stays out of this. This is going to be important for crimmigration because what that means is that immigration courts, this is going to be weird. immigration courts are not part of the judicial branch. immigration courts are part of the executive branch. And in this way, when it comes to immigration, the federal government is judge, jury and executer of this of this rule. Now, this is an insane amount of power. It's called the Plenary Power doctrine. It's been upheld, it's still upheld. So we've taken away the racist provisions. But that's been Congress did it. But the actual justification is still on the books. So plenary power can trace itself back to this racist immigration case. Lots of other cases went before went after they all kept failing. This guy Geary with I think has a street named after him in San Francisco passed an amendment to the Chinese Exclusion cases. In 1892, it's 1892 passes an amendment, it just puts all these gross things into the Chinese Exclusion Cases. It says that if you are Chinese, you cannot serve as a witness to court to to witness for trial cases. So you have cases where the only witnesses to a murder are people of Chinese descent. They come and say this person did it. And that's inadmissible because you cannot be a witness. In these cases. They add an amendment that says if you are illegal permanent resident of Chinese descent, you must carry with you proof that you are here lawfully. It's the first "show me your papers" amendments in the United States. Wong Wing is caught without his papers.
The other thing they added though, was not just that you will be deported if they would give you a year hard labor. So not only would you be deported, but they would give you what's essentially a criminal punishment. Now this is where it gets interesting. So this goes before the Supreme Court. Wong Wing says you can't do this to me without a trial by jury. You're doing you're gonna deport me and you're going to have me serve a year of hard labor. I should have a jury of my peers or a jury in general convict me. Supreme Court agreed with him half the way he still gets deported. But they don't give them the one year hard labor because this is the interesting point. They said well, the heart one year hard labor that is a criminal punishment, and the only way the federal government is allowed to exercise so much control over this one particular area, namely immigration is because immigration itself is not a crime. So being present unlawfully is not a criminal offense, and you cannot use it. But here's the other Flipside. They can't give you a one year. hard labor, hard labor, but being removed is not considered punishment. It's called it's just an administrative procedure. So there is a weird balance here, which is in the area where the federal government has this much absolute power. It can't therefore exercise these kinds of criminal punishments and where it can exercise, criminal punishments I give to your hard labor or put you in jail, then you're entitled to the the amendments, that you have a right to a jury, right to an attorney, or you're supposed to be a nice little bounce. You have this much power. You can't do this to folks, if you can do this to folks, then you'd have protections in these ways. Crimmmigration messes this up. And we've allowed it to slowly creep in. It's got three aspects. And typically they're not seen as coming. When you see each of these by themselves. You're kind of like what's kind of weird, but if you see them functioning as a system, it's actually very scary. in one respect crimmigration is when these criminal convictions you're convicted of a crime, then have immigration consequences. The second one is kind of the opposite where immigration violations come to have criminal punishments. And the third aspect is when tactics that are allowed to be used for either law enforcement or for immigration get muddled together, and so you can use one for the other. You can, for example, if you if you are part of a part of one of these secure community programs, and you're a police officer, you can stop someone on suspected immigration violations. And then if you find something else on them that then you can use it for criminal prosecution. You see, this creates this kind of way of circumventing a lot of your protections. You said, Well, here I'm act, I'm acting as a proxy as a kind of deputized immigration enforcement agent. And in these duties where I have these rights to stop anyone asking for their papers, I found this other thing, which I would have not been able to find if I was just acting as a regular police officer. A couple things really quickly. Here's some of the troubling statistics about that first aspect, criminal convictions having immigration consequences. Well, the first hundred years between 1875 pay jacked up until 1980, you had only 70,000 immigrants deported for criminal offenses. In 2013. Alone, you had over 200,000. Now what why is the case because the laws have been changing the rely on really vague terms such as crimes involving moral turpitude? What do you think that means? Whatever each of you think it means. That's what different judges thinks there is no real defined definition. aggravated felony. It sounds terrible. But it could be it turns out to be very much anything else. And the worst part is it started getting used retroactively. So you had folks who would not have been who there was, there was a case of a man who was a Cambodian refugee from Cambodia. Come to United States at the age of one or two. Does something stupid, hangs out with the wrong folks, finds himself in a shopping mall. He's about to get jumped by a rival gang. He takes his gun shoots it in the air doesn't shoot anybody just shoots like a warning shot to get people away from him. That was stupid. Does six months of prison pays you know pays his dues to society at the age of 34 applies to become a US citizen because he hadn't done that yet applies become a US citizen. This law been passed in 96 He goes, he applies. I said, Well, you know what, 15 years ago, you did something really stupid. You are now removable. This this man who left Cambodia at the age of two gets deported back to Cambodia.
So what are some of the problems with this? And so if you look at the literature, and this connects back to 13, I'm not supporting this necessarily, but the but the first one is that it alters the process of procedures of how you get a trial. Unfortunately, the way things are set up now, close to 96% of all criminal cases are done by plea agreement, you plea out of them. This is the way it's set up between prosecutors and defendants, because it streamlines the the whole system, you go they accuse you of a crime. You say, Well, look, I'm poor, I can't fight this. I'm innocent. But I'll take the six months probation because I just don't have the time to be in jail takes six months. Now, that's fine if you're a citizen, but plea agreements count as convictions for immigration purposes. So now imagine if you're an immigrant, he I'm not even talking about an undocumented immigrant, if you're just an immigrant, now, the criminal justice system is much different. Because you can't take that play, you have to now fight it. And now the way the criminal justice system is set up, it's set up to punish people who don't take plea agreements, if you don't take plea agreements, they're gonna throw the book at you. And so you end up in this really bad catch 22 you end up with parallel and unequal systems of justice, for citizens and for immigrants. And again, I'm not talking about undocumented immigrants. I'm sorry about immigrants in general face a whole different system. So different rules. The second one I think is kind of obvious with the case of the Cambodian immigrants I told you about, you get basically punished twice for the same crime. You've paid your dues, right? We all do ?bonehead things. Right. But should you be deported for this? I don't think so. I think that's actually cruel and unusual. That's been an argument that other folks have made. And lastly, and this is another one that I'm iffy about, but when you think of, you know, President Trump's favorite, favorite gang, SM, 13, some other future, that gang started as a gang in Los Angeles and got exported to El Salvador, and now it's come back. And so there's a sense that what you do with your immigration policy is you force countries that are poor and can't sort of fight back, you kind of empty out your prisons in some way, by exporting some of those criminals, to those other countries. I'm iffy about thinking of it in this way. But there's been a lot of literature saying, look, there's a sense where you send folks to states that they don't have quite the institutions to deal with, with some of these more dangerous folks, you actually are exporting crime to some of these areas, especially when we're talking about people who, you know came to the US at the age of one or two. These are our folks. The second part, so, criminal punishments for immigration cases. So I told you this should already be disallowed. But beginning in 1929, what we started doing was we started making unlawful entry and especially unlawful reentry, a crime. It is now, if you are deported from the United if you enter the United States are caught and deported. If you try to unlawfully re Enter again, you could face up to 20 years in prison, which is which almost no one gets to that, but you could face up to 20 years in prison. But what this has done, so look in beforehand turnout, and this was not a crime. 1993 about 5% of all criminal cases had an immigration offense as a more serious offense. This more than doubled in four years got up to 13% by 1997. In 2010, it more than tripled almost quadrupled to 46% Today immigration law violations constitute the largest category of federal offenses. What worries me about this and should worry you about this is go back to that Wong Wing case. These immigration convictions are not arrived at by a by a by a court of the judicial branch. It's a court that is under the executive branch. So again, the executive branch has judge jury and executer in these cases. So it's so you get convicted as being unlawfully present by a court that's being done that is under the same branch that's going to exit it's going to execute the punishment. So it's, it's circum. It's able to punish you criminally, without having convicted you in a Judicial Court. And very last one.
I've already started talking about some of these tactics, but what should worry you are some of the things that we do. The Wong Wing case said we could not imprison anybody you could do paying somebody but not imprison them. We have, especially now dramatically increased the number of people we hold in jail like situations we had about five less than 5000 daily. Now we pay for 35,000 beds a night. Secure community programs have created this weird, you know, are police officers also the immigration agents? What about your school teachers? Do they have to report parents who are whose report parents who are undocumented who are bringing their citizen children to our schools? How about doctors do they have to report if they treat undocumented immigrants. The other thing that should worry you is these are two Supreme Court cases still in the books regarding Ponce and Martinez Fortin. Both of these cases. The Supreme Court has said you can't be racist when you're a police officer, but you can use race when it comes to immigration. So what this means is combine this one we'll see Your committee type procedures, if you're a police officer, and you're just sure that this person is is guilty, or you see somebody a person of color, like I just know that got something on them. I know I'm going to stop them because they look Mexican. And it's actually okay to stop them if they look Mexican, because you're performing an immigration check, which you could not do if you're just doing a routine a police check. And so all these things come together just to really worry you within 100 miles of the border, which includes water so includes like the ocean, the Border Patrol can do all kinds of things that if it was done by a police officer would violate your rights, but they can do it within these hundred miles. And what's weird is doesn't seem like a lot, right? Something like two thirds of Americans live within this hundred mile region. So in this way, is a how crimmigrations come to be why you should worry about it. And it's subtle. If you just look at particular cases and policies that have been passed, you can't see you have to kind of stand back to see the forest of what's being called crimmigration in these three aspects, they work together. And again, even if you don't have much sympathy for immigrants, you should worry about the federal government having this much power over over citizens.
Allison 24:23 So before we open up to a general discussion, one other element that we wanted to add to this, and I think that's been really helpful about everything you've said, so far is working very big picture, right? We're looking at how systems function. So another piece of this, as you've just introduced is the piece of racism and bias and prejudice. So one thing that you've written extensively about is what's called Juan Crow. And some of you may be familiar with Jim Crow, which was the system of laws and regulations that came after the Civil War, really as a social means of controlling people of color, but you've written about Juan Crow and what that means for our world today So can you tell us a bit about that?
Mendoza 25:03 So so Juan Crows kind of kind of tongue in cheek and kind of provocative writing because everyone should be against Jim Crow. You can't you don't know anymore these days. But, but but so Juan Crow's provocative in that way, what it, what it's pointing out is what you used to have a lot of folks come from Latin America and a good place like San Diego, Los Angeles, Texas, finding a lot more immigrants going to the old parts of the old confederacy now and with secure community type programs, and you know, see something, say something type programs, suddenly you have a lot of Latinex folks who are facing discrimination. And these are these could be folks who have been living it for generations face being looked at, it's not American. There was a very interesting book written by PD Thomas. It's called Down these Mean Streets. And in part of that book, PD Thomas, who's a New Yorican, and so we As a citizen people forget to Puerto Rico is, you know, not a state. But if you're born in Puerto Rico, you're a citizen he's New Yorican and goes, you know, Kerouac style traveling travels in the south, gets to the south. And what's interesting about this book is he doesn't give you much of a description of what he looks like. But he's actually Afro Caribbean and has a brother, his brother is white lope white looking white passing was he has black features, but when he's in New York, in the story, you don't even think about it till he gets to the south. So now him and his brother are in this bar in the south, and things are starting to go bad. So what is PD Thomas do? He starts emphasizing he's not much of an accident, such as he said, like I started emphasizing, like a Spanish accent in my in my English, and very quickly, that kind of defuses things like Oh, he's not really black. He's you know, Hispanic. Things have kind of changed now. So one of the things that sociologists have looked at in Places like fascinating places like Atlanta, in Atlanta, they've had immigrants from the DR come to Atlanta. And they've actually found that they are better off in this. This might just be particularly Atlanta, they are better off emphasizing their blackness over their latinus. They have more access to resources and things like that people don't suspect them of being undocumented. Right, the more the more you your language has kind of a Spanish tinge to it, then you start being suspected as maybe being undocumented. But if you pass, not so racially black, but the embrace the African American culture, if you understand the difference in race and ethnicity in that sense, so the racially Black will try to pass as African American and that's worked out better for them. immigrants from Guatemala, come to Atlanta, and again, they try to avoid their their Latinex Latin Latin American Heritage culture and start emphasizing their indigeneity they start emphasizing their native americanness. as they are, most of the folks who come from Guatemala are Native American back racially Native Americans, they embrace their native american backup, again, as a way to kind of shield themselves from being seen as potentially undocumented as not belonging. So my point of the story is, it's interesting how the more we have increased enforcement, both both of these things could be good or bad. But what I'm saying is that the difference in take a PD Thomas, the story I gave you before how in, you know, 50 years ago, 60 years ago, PD Thomas was emphasizing his Latin Americanness, to try to shield himself from the racism of Jim Crow. And now the aspect is, I want to get away from this Latin Americanness to not be suspected of being undocumented and I'll embrace these other races, which before would have been seen as a kind of social step down. Now you kind of embrace them as a way of covering. And so that's the phenomenon of Juan Crow. That's happened. So it's a it's more of a descriptive aspect and definitely the normative kick that's in most of my work. is looking at enforcement and all the ways that they those things violate our moral principles and our political rights.
Allison 29:06 Thank you. So for the remainder of the time that we have together we really like to run this as a community conversation and to hear from as many people as possible. And one of the things that kind of helps that is if everyone has a chance to speak at the very beginning and just to identify yourself and then if you don't mind sharing it, where you say you're from then you ask that and why you say that you're from that place.
Mendoza 29:31 Great question. Um, it's all context dependent. Sometimes I know what people are asking. So I say Mexico, but I'm not born in Mexico, not really from Mexico, but in certain context. I know what they're asking. I just tell them what what they're what they're looking for. But it normally I say San Diego, America's finest city.
Allison 29:50 Starting with this next clip, you'll be hearing Professor Mendoza's answers to audience questions. We've selected just a few to give you a sense of what the community conversation was like. This first answer addresses an audience member's question about the court case Korematsu versus United States.
Mendoza 30:07 As you I was putting this thing together, I promised to do three slides and quickly morphed into something else. One of the slides that got removed was the was gonna be a third case that's going to look at Wong Kim Ark, it does come up, what was decided was you cannot lose your birthright citizenship. So naturalization has its own deal. What so we, if I'm not mistaken, the Constitution got ratified in 1789. Every state had finally signed or it migh have been -79. Either way, the very first act that gets the very the very first act gets passed after that is a Naturalization Act. The question is, well, who's going to get to count as as as as a naturalized citizen? So we've got everyone who's here now you get it. And what they said then, and this was an effect until the 1940s, and it's only because of world war two and the Nazis have this change. Because people were pointing to us and say, aren't you like Nazis, up until the 1940s. To be a naturalized US citizen, you had to be a white person in good standing to be naturalized, but you could still be a natural born citizen. So that's why they got that's how people got retroactively lost their citizenship was they said, well, you're not you're not a white person in good standing. You were born in China, you can't be a citizen. But people who were born the United States kept their citizenship and this was this was especially important for the Japanese community, who would put a lot of their land in the name of their children. But then we quickly found out in 1944, that didn't matter because the federal government just coming you know, this was still this is the moment the most ironic things so when the Supreme Court said that the the Trump's Muslim ban was legal. One of the things that they finally retro actively did away with was the Karamatsu case, which was the Japanese internment Case it's kind of a weird sort of, it's ironic with the think of it so Karamatsu is now off the books. But up until about a year ago, it was still in the books. So, now I'm just kind of ranting, but yes, the citizenship issue came up, and the 14th amendment holds up. But but that holds up only if you're born in that is born to US parents. So for a lot of these folks, They were neither they neither had US parents, nor were they born in the US, but their children got citizenship and the Wong Kim Ark, that's when the government tried to take away Walmart citizenship, wonky Mark got to keep his citizenship. And that's that's I'm not gonna make any more predictions because my predictions have not been well with last year's I find it hard. I noticed they'll talk about I find it hard for them to go back on it, but Stranger things right. Also, the Karamatsu case was so Karamatsu was a US citizen. Born your natural born US citizen was put into an internment camp during World War Two sued and said you could not have done this to me. And Supreme Court said yes we could. And so that's that that case stood so what so even though presidents have apologized, Japanese community said lay what we did was kind of messed up. Turns out it was messed up. It was awful, but it was not illegal. And when in and justice just to kind of throw it in, when they when they ruled on Trump's Muslim ban, they explicitly they explicitly explicitly renounced the Karamatsu case. So now it's it's been overturned, which tends to happen. So like, like Plessy versus Ferguson, justified, separate but equal, it's not so you get the Brown decision that overturns that decision. Similar, Karamatsu. Karamatsu was was the law of the land, but it'd be hard to intern people now politically you would think but the the the recent case overturned that
Allison 34:02 from here, a lot of our conversation was about detention in the United States, both the legal basis and where people are actually being held today,
Mendoza 34:10 detain these many folks indefinitely. We pay for 35,000 beds every day. And they're almost all filled up. What we're now doing though, is so you can always you can always export these sorts of things, or you can externalize costs. We are it turns out that we are at a zero when it comes to immigration from Mexico itself. So there's as many people as many Mexican nationals going back to Mexico, as there are Mexican nationals coming into the knighted states. Most of the folks who are coming from Latin America come from Central America. And what we've done is we worked out a deal with Mexico, and Mexico is now essentially housing folks you have what looks like refugee camps. I was just I was just in El Paso in May that look like refugee camps along the border, but they're not on the US side. They're on the Mexico side. They're doing something that I think is funny. We're doing something, frankly illegal. If someone comes and asks for asylum, you can't then send them to a third country and have them wait for their case there. But somehow because we are we are it's happening. I think it's disgraceful. But if you push someone what they will probably tell you, we're not doing this. Mexico's doing it Mexico is the one is putting them in these, these conditions.
Allison 35:24 This portion of our conversation was about white supremacy. Professor Mendoza has written several papers on the connections between white supremacist ideologies and immigration policy.
Mendoza 35:35 What white supremacy is strange because a lot of the white supremacy that we're seeing now strength otherwise Mercy Mercy that was very nationalistic, right, Make America Great Again, you see, like the Brexit, it's got a very, so there's a there's a way of looking at white supremacy today. And think of it as just a very nationalistic project. Each nation has its own sort of white supremacy. But if we stand back, I think there is a system of Global white supremacy and protecting the goods for white part of of the globe. It's not a coincidence that the people who are being displaced by climate change are displaced by all these other things, war and so forth are people of color. It's not a coincidence that they're trying to get into countries that are predominantly white, because those ones are the ones who are protected from these sorts of things. And it's not a coincidence that when it comes to things like crimmigration, if you talk to a lot of folks who have never really thought hard about immigration, they said, Well, look, doesn't sound that bad, doesn't affect me. I walk around the street and I've seen no change. You know, I'm friendly to cops. When cops pull me over, I just I'm nice to them. I don't understand what the problem is. And it's because you're walking around as white so the the burdens aren't equally distributed. My theory is if we could design a system where the burdens were equally distributed through crimmigration this would end in an instant, in an instance if it was not people of color, but predominantly white folks who were fleeing from something like This, then you have a whole different narrative but Grapes of Wrath you read that and you're like these Okies, let's, you know, do it to it. The Grapes of Wrath are happening everywhere to folks and and and you know where's where's that story and then they're not seen as heroes they're seen as lawbreakers.
Allison 37:16 I have a question for you along those lines because as you were talking, the genre that kept coming up in my mind was Fugitive Slave narratives, and thinking about the ways that you know, 160, 170 years ago, people reading who hadn't experienced slavery up close for the first time people reading about what those experiences actually looked like, books like Solomon Northrop's, Twelve Years a Slave, it changed conversations it changd people's awareness, wondering like, what can we all be doing better as a culture to excavate out an understanding like where do we get those narratives today?
Mendoza 37:50 That's a good question. I'm a philosopher of the critical theory tradition. So I'm very critical. When it comes to, you know, what should we do? It's a hard question i. And I think I think I'm not answering your question because I'm thinking about it. This is this might be a bad example. Maybe that's what you're looking for. There's a book called The right to stay home by David Bacon. He's an activist, he writes this book. It's about 11 stories are very short. And then the each chapter tells a story about a global trend. And what's interesting is all these folks he's following are performing the same labor they have always been performing this guy's always been growing tobacco and working in, in tobacco, just growing tobacco, cultivated tobacco, but because of global forces, the jobs leave. I think he's I think he was from Nicaragua. They come the United States guy is still in North Carolina, working tobacco fields. But now he's undocumented, which makes him even more vulnerable. There's nothing exceptional about this guy it's just he's just doing his thing and following the the labor where it takes him so so I think part of it is talking about immigration in a way where it's not like idiosyncratic people making idiosyncratic decisions. Like I just sort of want to live here now. So I'm just gonna go, there are these like forces that push people away, it's hard to leave, like the place you grew up the friends that you have. So what's powerful to me was the title of the book, I was very provocative. The Right to Stay Home, suddenly losing that right to be able to stay home is disconcerting. And I think that's different than when you think of, or at least the way I think immigration typically gets framed is well get in line, take a number, do as though these were just individual idiosyncratic decisions, when really it's all these forces that are pushing and attracting you to certain places. And then you I think that if you're successful in telling that kind of story, I think people, if they have a heart are much more sympathetic. And the other thing to think about is just your citizenship, which, for me has always been we're both my parents were undocumented. Most of my family is still in Mexico. And yet I'm the golden child. Because of where I was born, I did nothing to earn the passport that I have, I did nothing to earn it. And for an academic, it's really disconcerting. Anytime you think of like all the stuff you have to do, and you get and then they're like, I have this thing that allows me to get into over 144 countries visa free. I feel like the kid that won the Willy Wonka ticket, I did nothing for it. I just show up. I you know, if I want to go to Nicaragua tomorrow, I just buy a plane ticket show up and say, USA, and walk right through and I've done nothing to earn this. And so I think with most Americans, their view is you know, well, I work hard. I've earned this. I worked hard on this. And yet the thing that has created all kinds of advantages for you, globally, is something you've done nothing absolutely to earn.
Allison 41:00 This last portion of our conversation is about a few different topics, including quotas and where they come from, as well as some of the larger contradictions that are bound up in immigration policy. Professor Mendoza also explains at length, how some portions of the visa system work, and why so many people end up overstaying their visa, often with serious consequences from the criminal justice system.
Mendoza 41:23 Yeah, I mean, after 1965, we set up so we had quota systems before were supposed to reflect the national composition of the United States. And they purposefully took the 1890 census when they did this, even though we had the most of visas in there when they had the quota system, but what they had in the Americas, and this goes all the way back to like the Monroe Doctrine and so forth. They had open borders up until 1965. So the border patrol in 1929 is set up mostly to try to catch folks from China trying to come up from Mexico. In 1965, they placed they placed these caps and so Everyone gets 20,000 visa say, Now, imagine if you are coming from Denmark, you have 20,000 visas that's coming from China. Everyone's equal, they get 20,000 visas notice that the equality here is unequal in some sense and this creates a backlog for a lot of places. So some places have almost no backlog. So you can apply and come in places like Mexico, India, all these other Filipino Philippines, all these places have huge backlog. So unless you have a close family member, there is no path for you in your lifetime, to do it the right way. And even with family members, it will be like a decade or so before you can uh where you could lawfully immigrate. So So anyways was that just add to your point it's a it's a weird situation where it's it depends on where you come from. The diversity lottery is another interesting aspect. It got brought in because the worry was we're getting too many non white folks coming. So originally diversity lottery was set up to bring in specifically Irish folks to come to the United States. Most people come with diversity lottery system now actually come from Africa, at least at least 40% of undocumented immigrants enter lawfully, which which which goes back to this crimmigration issue, because it's actually is not a crime, to be out of status to be residing, it's out of status that you can, then the they can deport you, because that's an administrative move. But it's actually technically it's still not a crime, to be out of status in the United States. And because in part of the reasons, because of what you pointed out, there's a lot of folks who have actually gone out of status and don't even know this now put in place or bars. So if you were undocumented, I think it's got to be under a year or maybe maybe six months. If you're undocumented for a brief time, then they might put you like on a one to five year bar, but if you have taken longer than that, they put you on a 10 year bar, which means you can't even apply for 10 years. So a lot of these folks who you know came they know they came they came unlawfully they know what they're doing, you know, they came on unlawfully had to felt the pressure came work, try to find ways to get their status regularized just don't have any they have no, no way of getting their status regularized. lawfully overstayed their visa, that's my, my mom. My mom never crossed a border unlawfully. She always had like a tourist visa, but she overstayed her visa became an undocumented immigrant, if she were caught and deported Now, now, she would be subject to a 10 year ban so she could not even apply for 10 years. Now what that means is, I can't even apply for her now she's gotten regularized become a citizen, but even I could not apply for and say, Look, that's my mom, close family member I want to apply for her. Okay, she has to serve her 10 year ban, and then you can apply and then you get put in line. It's unbelievably harsh. I mean in any other area This is What blows my mind? You talk to conservatives about how much power a government should have. And it's like, you know, rein those guys in, I don't, trust government. When it comes to immigration, it blows my mind how much power they want to give the federal government and how like vindictive and powerful it could be like when it comes to this thing. And this, again, this is going on rant. But this is what makes me think it's not the people these contradictions make their brain explode is that a lot of what's motivating This has got to be something like white supremacy, even at a subconscious level, because you can't hold these kinds of contradictions in your head. And the only way you can really make sense of this is if it's not really principles necessarily that are in conflict here. It's a system of white supremacy that you kind of intuitively understand and want to keep in place.
Allison 45:49 This concludes our recording of our December 8 Lowell Talks program. We hope that this provoke some thoughts for you some questions, and if you want to look any further into this program, Please be sure to visit our email@example.com/lowell Thank you