Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Building Bridges 2017: Uprooting Injustice

CGEE Student Voice
by Jenni Abere

A group of Hamline students and faculty devoted this past Saturday to attending the annual Building Bridges conference and workshop at Gustavus. This year's theme: Uprooting Injustice: Fostering the Growth of the Grassroots Movement. The Hamline contingent was comprised of Environmental Studies, Social Justice, and Women's Studies students (the perfect combination to get really excited that Winona LaDuke was sitting near us at dinner).

The conference started with a talk from Nekima Levy-Pounds, a lawyer and St. Thomas professor who has coordinated Black Lives Matter and the NAACP in the twin cities. She is also a mayoral candidate for this year's election in Minneapolis. She spoke about her experience as a legal observer in Ferguson, and then how she become involved in Black Lives Matter protests in the Twin Cities.

After lunch there were a number of workshops to choose from. I attended one on improv from the Theater of Public Policy. They talked about the format of their shows, and how people with different views can come together and laugh. Then we did several exercises and games that could help you on your way to acting and improv, or could simply help you improve the dynamics of your group.

The next workshop was a presentation about Implicit Biases, including the test created by Harvard. The audience got a little hung up over whether greeting a mixed gender group of people with "Hey, guys" is a micro-aggression. I think the conclusion we came to is that a male term can become a neutral or default term more easily than a female term could. Consider, for instance, greeting a mixed gender group of people with "Hey, ladies." This seems implausible. Yes, the term "guys" has expanded in meaning and I use it with my female friends, and will continue to do so — but the interesting point is to consider why this has happened with male terms and not female terms.

The featured workshop of the evening was from Naomi Natale, the artist behind One Million Bones. She spoke about that project as well as her other social engagement art. We were invited to consider what silence can mean, and to write about a time when we were silent and wish we hadn't been.

After dinner, the keynote speaker was Winona LaDuke. She spoke about her experience with DAPL and Standing Rock. She calls it the Dakota Excess Pipeline, which is some terminology I may have to adopt. One thing that will stay with me is a chart of declining profits for top American oil companies since 2011. Oil is becoming more difficult and more expensive to access. LaDuke shared success stories of small communities and reservations gaining energy independence from wind and solar installations. Her take-home point: "If they can do it, you can do it."

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