My Experience at the National Student Power Convergence

“If there is any group of people I would want to start a student revolution with, it would be with the very people in this very room.”

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National Student Power Convergence 2012

Website || Agenda || Facebook || Twitter || Videos from Convergence || Photos

“If you haven’t checked out @studentpower12, do. These young ppl aren’t just hosting a 5 day conference. They are sparking a movement.”

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Conversation at the end of Day 4:

Me: “Coming into this convergence, I knew a lot of things were already messed up. But after these past couple days, I’m realizing things are even more messed up than I originally thought.”

Student: “Yea, but you know what, look at us all here. Look at what all of us are doing individually to do something about it. Yea things are f!@#ed up, but we are all fighting everyday to make things better. That’s what makes this convergence incredible because we all have the chance to remember that.”

I have to be completely honest, I’m a little nervous starting this blog post. These past 5 days have been something I know is impossible to convey with just words and a few photos, but I know I have to at least try. From the people I’ve met, lessons I have learned, a new set of lens I have to look through, this blog post could go on for days.

No doubt, the internet interaction has taught me infinite lessons, but this past week has reminded me that nothing can replace face to face interaction. One of the workshop leaders said, “The revolution cannot be retweeted or reposted,” and another said, “Sure, we can start the revolution over the internet, but we’re going to end it face to face.”

If you’ve been following me on Twitter, you’ve definitely seen me mentioning how much the convergence has changed me. I called one of my closest friends around day 3 mentioning how concerned I was because beliefs I held so close to heart prior to the convergence were seriously being challenged. And not by others, but by myself. I was being introduced to information and ideas I have never encountered, and I was definitely brought out of my comfort zone. But I’m happy I was.

One of the things (of many) that made the convergence really interesting was the different level and types of activism every student there took part in was so diverse. I believe my blog (especially with its recent posts) is an important type of activism. After all, “knowledge is power,” and that’s my aim with this blog. But, I have to admit, I was a little discouraged and let my old habits kick in by comparing myself to everyone else. I mean, talking with other students, I was definitely intimidated. Speaking for myself, I didn’t feel as good as many of the activists because I am not necessarily an organizer, nor have I really taken part of a large direct action. One of the students\new friend said to me on our way home, “Before I met you, I thought you were a huge activist! You have so many followers, thought you were famous” (hahahahaha). And I responded, “I know, I feel like a huge disappointment to everyone.” He said, “No! Not that at all, it was just weird to hear you say you’ve never done this stuff before.”

At this convergence, it was the first time I felt hesitant in answering when other people asked me, “So what are you involved in?” While many were involved with activist groups across the country, I was not. But, like I said, the people here didn’t care as much as I convinced myself in my head they did. They were very accepting, and whenever I told them I was here to learn and become more engaged outside of my blog, the common response was a smile and a, “Well what better place and time to learn than right here and right now?” I definitely did feel like a child in the group admitting I didn’t know much about capitalism, that I never took part in a direct action, and that I was a “new” activist, but I had no reason to be. Reflecting now, it’s a little frustrating knowing I didn’t stand confidently behind my blog as I should have. One of the other students there who knew about my blog said, “You can’t keep ignoring the fact that you write a kick-a** blog.”

Confidence and self-esteem, clearly I’m still working on it.

Moving on, I think what made this convergence so unique and meaningful for me was the people who were there. Not only were they absolutely brilliant, brave, inspiring, and passionate about what they did, but their hearts were all in the right places. On our last night, we did a workshop that really dipped into our personal lives. And like one of the students there said in regards to workshop, “So many people who come into activism carry so much pain.” This statement could not be anymore true. The stories shared were enough to bring almost all of us to tears. We all know pain, and I think that is why we strive to make this world better. I strongly believe that what has almost killed us all is a fire that burns to keep us doing what we do. I often thought to myself at the convergence, “If there was any group of people I would want to start a student revolution with, it would be with these very people in this very room.” I have never, in my whole entire 20 years of living, been surrounded by so many people who hold such similar moral values like myself. Sure, I have 2-3 friends back home who do, but having over 200 people from all over the world in one room who are comfortable with stating their gender pronoun preference, creating a safe space for all, willing to acknowledge one’s privilege and step aside (and these are just to name a few) would be considered something unheard of prior to this past week. The type of people I was surrounded with is a snippet of what an ideal world (for myself at least) would consist of. And one last quote I’m taking from one of my (kinda-new) friend at the convergence, “None of us had to be here, but we are.” And that statement speaks volumes. It’s true, some of us traveled over 10 hours to be here. No one paid us, no one made us, we received no extrinsic award for coming to the convergene, we were all there because we believe what we have the potential to do is important. Every person who chose to attend speaks a lot for who they are, which is why I believe in every single one of them…in all of us.

Just a quick side note, it was really awesome meeting students from my List of 2012 U.S. Student Protests in person :)

Furthermore, it made me happy that different issues were represented. Not only were there students who were fighting for education, but there were students there who were fighting for LGBTQ rights, the environment, undocumented youth, racism, police brutality, war against women, and much more. Even more incredible was the international students present, we had students from the UK, Canada, and Mexico (let me know if I missed one!). Although we all have such different passions, we are all fighting for the same thing. We want a just world, a world of unity, of equality, a world much better than we are being forced into right now.

Alright, I’ll stop the rambling and try and go into some specifics. I just can’t get over how incredible every single one of them are. They taught me more in 5 days than some people I will know my entire life will ever teach me. I’m going to go day by day and list a few take-aways I got. Also, along the way I found that if I were to list all the notes I got, I’d be writing this for another five days. There are actually a lot of great notes on Twitter, and if there’s anything in specific you want to learn more about feel free to contact them through their website, or shoot me an e-mail.

Oh! And one last thing before I move on. A few people texted me and tweeted at me yesterday questioning my ultimate feeling about the convergence.

Here is my answer: We are on the verge of something big.

There were definitely bumps in the road at this convergence, but this was only the beginning. We have collectively set a tone of what we are capable of doing. If you’re interested in being a part of this movement (which you should be!), please get in contact with them through their website, leave a comment on this post, or simply shoot me an e-mail. There’s a lot of things in store for the future, and no matter who you are, you have a place in it. With that being said, I’ll leave it at this:

“We are unstoppable, another world is possible.”

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Day 1 – Friday, August 10, 2012

“Student movements start at gatherings like the National Student Power Convergence.”
– Naomi Klein

“Youth are a window for the rest of society. Youth create an alignment to shift society over.”
– Joshua Kahn Russell

En route to Columbus, Ohio! With almost 600 miles in distance, myself and about 50 other students had 10 hours of a good ol’ bus ride. Majority of them were from New York Students Rising (who are amazing x a million, highly suggest you check them out and send them your solidarity), with a couple others like myself who came alone. I have to say, I was pretty intimidated being alone seeing majority of the students knowing each other already.

Arriving around 5pm, we came in just in time to catch Naomi Klein’s video of solidarity to us. Then came the icebreaker (required all of us running barefoot), and settling in the churches we were going to spend the week sleeping in.

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Day 2 – Saturday, August 11, 2012

  • Large Group Training: Story of the Self
  • Workshop: the Fight Against Corporatization in Higher Education and Beyond
  • Large Group Training: How Did We Get Here and Who is Responsible?
  • Workshop: Developing a Unified Message
  • Large Group Training: Power and Strategy

 

“There is no better time to be an organizer than now.”
Stephen Lerner, Large Group training

“Early takeaway from #HereUsNow: Folks with dramatically divergent approaches to organizing don’t talk face-to-face nearly often enough.”
- Angus Johnston, @StudentActvism

The first large group training focused on the importance of the connection we must form with others by using the “story of self.” A way to portray to others why you do what you do. “People want to follow you when they have a connection with you, they want to know that you are leading them somewhere.” Here are a couple notes I took down:

    • Story telling of self
      • Story consists of: Challenge -> Choice -> Outcome
      • There has to be a time of uncertainty in story
      • Why tell stories?
        • A way to teach life lessons
        • Motivate others
        • Make people see where you are coming from
      • Through Head & Heart, tell them both how and why
        • Head – Portrays the How
        • Heart – Portrays the Why

I really enjoyed this activity, something that definitely hits home.

Next, I chose to attend the workshop,
“The Fight Against Corporatization in Higher Education and Beyond.”

    • Corporatization: Conversion of institutions, resources, or authority to corp. ownership & control; major corps getting something
    • “It’s not just simple greed, they have an agenda.”
    • Globally students facing the same problem
    • Student Loan Debt greater than Credit Card Debt
    • Referred to corporatization as “organized theft”

The next large group training was facilitated by Stephen Learner,
“How Did We Get Here and Who is Responsible?”

Crowd During Stephen Lerner’s Group Training

Notes:

    • “They [those of higher power] make it so complicated because they think we won’t understand it.”  We as students need to demystify it
    • “How do we combine different groups? We need to unite our battle…We’re all against the same folks.”
      • In regards to the diversity of tactics, “We don’t want to exclude our families.” Must find a way to include everyone.
    • It doesn’t help if we think we’ll convince them, they want stability, security, and predictability
    • Think of existing campaigns, and how we can bring them together?
    • Problem for whole country, not just student debt
    • “We need to take direct actions that actually make our targets lose money, not just symbolic actions.”
    • “Difference between feel-good civil disobedience & civil disobedience that is about disrupting the machine.”
    • We want to be horizontal, but we want to make sure we can hold others accountable
    • Learn from each other
    • Always be analyzing
    • It’s about conversation (stars were put around this one)
    • If you call things out, make sure you offer a way to make it healthier
    • Find different ways people can get involved
      • Avoid “You’re not committed enough”
      • Everyone can contribute in a way, every part is important
    • **Challenge yourself, take a risk, it makes you vulnerable but you have to challenge it. Further down the line it’ll better us in the end.

Workshop: “Developing a Unified Message”

This was also one of my favorite workshops. Kind of relating to the earlier workshop on “story of self,” this focused on the message you want to get across to others. One again, there was the emphasis on the need of a story.

In developing your message, look at your problem in 3 points:

    1. How does it relate to me
    2. How does it relate to audience
    3. How does it relate to the world

Also, think of 3 main points of your message you want to get across. The facilitator (who was the one who had the petition on Change.org against Bank of America’s potential additional fees), gave advice on when press\interviewers talk to you. “Spin it, relay it back, worst thing you can do is play on their levels.” When they try to get you off track, it is best to simply say, “That is not the issue here.”

Large Group Training: Power and Strategy – Keron Blair

    • “We don’t win by being right — we actually have to have enough people who are right with us to have the power to do something.”
    • “We won’t have a movement until we actually have people moving.”
    • Targets: always a person, never an institution, and someone who has power to give you what you want
    • “The ability to get media coverage is not power if your target doesn’t care what the media says.”

Students Volunteering to Cook Lunch

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Day 3 – Sunday, August 12, 2012

Workshop: Managing Your Lists

  • Best way to talk to people is face to face!
  • Takes 5-8 times for people to hear your message
  • If you want people to do something, e-mailing is not the best way
  • “Everyone who signs up to e-mail is a person, not an e-mail address.”
  • Only 10% of people on list actually open e-mail
  • E-mails to group
    • Ask yourself, what makes your e-mail more important than others?
    • No one wants to read long e-mails–no one!
    • Good content always wins
    • Play to self-interest of mass, add personal touch to e-mail–people like to feel special

Large Group Training: One-On-Ones and Relational Organizing

“Organizing isn’t about getting people to do what you want them to do, it’s about helping them do what they want to do.”

This was a great training, brought to light the importance of knowing people in your organization on a deeper level. You see what motivates people, creates stronger relationship between organizer and members of group. Definitely challenged a lot of my previous thoughts. I mean, I’ve definitely thought of them before, but I usually just brushed them off. For example, the idea of charity and “empowerment.” Charity is good, but may not be the best. Rather than giving hand-outs, think of giving them the knowledge required to help them challenge their oppression. Reminds me of that quote that goes along the lines of, “Give someone a fish, they can eat for a day…teach someone how to fish and they can feed themselves for a lifetime.”

Anti-Oppression Training by Nayantara Sen from colorlines.com and the Applied Research Center


Video

 

  • We cannot just remove incidents of oppression, we must remove systems of oppression
  • “Both your privilege & your oppression are assets in your social justice work.
  • To dismantle oppression you must also expose privilege
  • School to prison pipeline is a good example of structural oppression because it shows how institutions intersect
  • Implicit bias Test at http://projectimplicit.net 

Large Group Training: Non-Violent Direct Action

 “A lot of times we’re way more powerful than we think.”

Man, this one was a lot of fun. I had no idea what was even happening. One second we are dancing in the back of a church, next thing I know we’re locking arms and pretend police are all over the place. A lot of what I learned here actually was reflected in the real direct action that took place the following day.

“In moments of crisis, we don’t rise to our highest levels of potential. We rise to our highest levels of practice.”

Courtesy of Sam Cooler

Courtesy of Sam Cooler

Planning for Direct Action

Like I mentioned, many things I encountered this week were really new to me. I never really thought of what it would be like to plan a direct action, but it is hard work. What is really amazing about it though is this was the first time many of us met. Our greatest challenges were our different opinions, and coming to agreements. We were simply trying to discuss from 11pm-1am, and were not able to start planning aspects of the action such as the topic points\speeches until 2am. As you can imagine, from an entire day of training, we were already exhausted, the room was crowded and hot, and staying productive and on task was undoubtedly a challenge.The morning of, was still pretty hectic. Many didn’t sleep at all to work on their speeches and the press release (so many kudos). Press-releases were sent, pitch calls were made to different reporters, and a practice-run of the action was put into play.

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Day 4 – Monday, August 13, 2012

The Global Student Uprising: What can we learn from other student movements?

Since I was helping out with the final tasks for the direct action this morning, I was only able to attend half of the panel. I’ll grab a couple notes of Twitter to give you an overview because it was incredible from what i was told:

#YoSoy132 students show a short video on the horrifying effects of media corruption in Mexico.

    • “We are inclusive, wide-ranging—disagreement doesn’t mean you cannot build a movement together with regular folks”
    • “Mexican election full of irregularities, ballot burning, voter intimidation. Candidate manufactured by Televisa.”
    • Corrupt, puppet presidential candidate visited Universidad Iberoamericana & students mobilized against him. #YoSoy132 was born
    • “We work on similarly to you: strategy, targets, messaging, these flow charts can be important.”
    • #YoSoy132 highlights the importance of social media in social movements. Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, all super integral.
    • “Art is really important. It’s the best way to reach out to people.”

DIRECT ACTION!

Press Release || News Coverage: Occupy, Huffington Post

Literally blown away by the passion that exploded from each and every single one of the students and student supporters out there for the march. One of the most exhilarating things I have ever done in my entire life. Of course, exerting my anger in a calm and collected way via Twitter and my blog is nice, but having the ability to genuinely express with others who feel the same energy is incomparable. I would not want my first direct-action with anyone else.

Gathering Before the March

Courtesy of Sam Cooler

Courtesy of Sam Cooler

Courtesy of Sam Cooler

Courtesy of Sam Cooler – International Student Yells, “We can’t do this alone. We, the international student movement, need the USA to stand up with us!”

Onlookers

Workshop: Bablyon System: Critique of Public Education

This was fun. We got to do an activity where each group drew their ideal vision of our education system, then a few select students were chosen as administrators\policy makers. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves. It was great hearing majority of the students walk out saying, “I had no idea that this was happening.”

Aftermath of When Administrators Have Their Say on Edu System

Exploring Our Identities

Definitely one of the tougher group trainings, and one of the most meaningful. In a circle were chairs that were labeled with different aspects of our identities. Such as education, race, gender, body\image, family, etc. And the facilitators would ask questions in which we had to go to the chair that was most relevant to that question. As I mentioned above, the stories shared were capable of bringing the majority of us to tears. The strength each and every one of those people had in there put me in awe. It also made me reflect on myself. How I could share my story with thousands over the internet, but could not build up any courage to share it in the room…which is why I admire the strength of all of the students who did share their stories with us.

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Last Day – Day 5 – Monday, August 14, 2012

Fellow students blocking our bus preventing us from leaving

Last Day :(

I still can’t believe how fast 5 days went. The last day consisted of one morning workshop, then spent the last few hours we had left in a large gathering and breakout sessions to plan our next steps. We plan to keep connections growing strong, and plan for regional convergences, followed by another National convergence.

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I know for a fact that I didn’t capture all that there was to capture, but there was simply just too much. I wanted to get at least something posted today, may be editing this as the days go by. We’ll see! If you have any questions or concerns about anything about the convergence, you know where to find me :)

9 thoughts on “My Experience at the National Student Power Convergence

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