Oakland Every once in awhile if you are searching for new paths, you are going to have to change directions in order to find the way. At least that’s what I thought in agreeing to go to a day-and-a-half conference in Oakland on art and activism, organizing and culture. An invitation from old friends and comrades, Gary Delgado and Gina Acebo, was too good to pass up since I needed to be in the Bay Area anyway, and it was a fascinating day.
Jumping to the bottom line, despite meeting a great bunch of talented, committed, and razor sharp artists and cultural workers, there is still no denying that there is a huge gulf that would have to be bridged to create genuine dialogue much less fruitful collaboration. Nonetheless there were scintillating hints time and time that it could be worth the effort.
It was also fascinating to just be a part of the process and get a sense of the many ways that all of us as blind people are still groping at the elephant. Listening to Jeff Chang of Stanford and a great panel of folks talk about the impact of Culture Strike on the immigration reform efforts around the DREAM Act and SB1070 in Arizona was significant, but essentially in their attempt to evaluate the impact of their contribution they were describing one room of a giant house without fully understanding the rest of the architectural layout around them. It was also struck me as interesting that understanding the cultural process and how it evolved and created change, they were oblivious to the similarities of the same evolution and development on the organizing and political process believing it was simply marked by court solidarity events and feeling that cultural change preceded social changes rather than being inextricably linked together. As I said, this was too short a meeting for people to really be able to learn a common language and see the linkages, but an education regardless.
Among the highlights were seeing how guerilla artistic interventions had been so effective in the demystifying the Japanese experience at the Asian Art Museum, listening to a digital games designer who developed games that looked at gender roles and change, hearing the passion of labor photographer and journalist David Bacon for his efforts to effectively tell the stories of organizing today, participating in what seemed a hokey exercise that turned very powerfully into a lesson about how different experiences and work could connect in the same narrative, and more.
Big props to the organizers who pulled the pieces together with nothing but their own commitment and the willingness of all of us to come together (what a relief not to have outside funders involved or in the room distorting the discussion!). This is the way conversations start and changes in perspective – and direction – develop.