WHY IS QUESTIONING IMPORTANT?

Questioning is the core of the Encampment. We are teaching young people to go deeper as they grapple with complex social issues. Without that, we aren’t adequately preparing them to go forth as change agents, because the world is complex and filled with contradictions. It’s also important for them to understand the historical context of issues so we learn what worked well and what didn’t, and we are better prepared not to make the same mistakes.

”Teaching the questioning process lights the fire of curiosity and teaches a skill and a way of looking at things that can be applied to all areas of one’s life. There is power and energy in questioning, and that dynamic energetic process can serve as a motivator. Any effective social justice movement has to include questioning, internal and external. For instance, if you can bridge conflict or controversy — that is, two different points of view, ideas, perceptions, or experiences coming up against each other — then you have a different level of communication. In some ways, to have deeper communication, you have to allow for differences to surface.” – Margot Gibney

In our Week Two review, we look at how questioning was woven through the workshops and some of the controversy that came up.

“What does this phone have to do with social justice?”

On Monday, Jane Sapp led a discussion that demonstrates the power of critical thinking — a core part of EFC methodology. She began by holding up a cellphone and asking the group to wonder about the “who/what/why/where/when” of it. Encampers asked questions that covered the economic, political, social, cultural and personal context. A short list of their questions includes:

  • Whose labor helped to make it (and what are conditions like for them)?
  • What is the carbon footprint (and disposal issues)
  • Where was it made (and what is the political situation there)?
  • How does the phone affect the user — and the people around them?

Jane:  “Keep digging!”

Encampers:

  • What does your income have to do with the kind of phone that you have (and the stigma associated with not having an i-Phone)?
  • Are we complicit in the exploitation of workers who suffered to make the components in this phone (and do we become comfortable with that over time)?

Jane: “Is there something political about this phone?”

Encampers:

  • Can politicians use the tracking on phones/social media to change election results in swing states?
  • Who was in the testing group for this phone — was it diverse?
  • What about phone companies that have political affiliations we don’t agree with?

Jane: “You can use this questioning to unpack any topic or issue. You can think this deeply and critically about anything you are doing. It helps us when we are doing social justice work by making our strategies strong and helping us to understand the people we are working with.”

The group then had a spirited discussion of police brutality using this method. Jane led them through questions such as, “How did we get here? “Why are Black men and women being killed?” “Why are police the way they are?” “What started it all?”

The thread of questioning continued on Tuesday with Taylor Branch, EFC alum (1966DC) and author of the civil rights movement trilogy The King Years. He spoke briefly about his Encampment experience — including the mixed-race group being picketed by the Klan, and “endless sessions about strategy — it was fascinating to see how people from different parts of the country approach the issues.” He went on to talk about his early civil rights experiences in southwest Georgia, where John Lewis sent him to register voters in the summer of 1969. He felt completely lost: “All the preachers threw me out — I got arrested, I was terrified. Ultimately, I recommended three counties for voter registration projects, headed by women — midwives who had a natural authority in the communities where people were terrified.”

In response to an Encamper’s question about what made him turn away from his pre-med course and become a writer, Taylor said: “All the questions that the civil rights movement raised about the depth of religion, the depth of your civic faith, in equality, and what non-violence meant — those questions went much deeper in me than any commitment to medicine.”

Questions focused on similarities and differences in the civil rights and Black Lives Matter movements.  One similarity that drew more questions was about the power of images, such as Emmett Till’s battered body or George Floyd being suffocated.  “… the power of images that break through people’s resistance and their reticence to get involved … That’s a beginning. The question that I tracked through the books, through people like Bob Moses and John Lewis and many of the others around Dr. King, is you have to figure out a way to take those images and fashion them into something that can take root — a goal —that you can explain, that you can organize around, that you can move forward — and the answers are never easy. They argued all night for years about what the process should be, what the message should be, how they could get people to come out for their demonstrations, what the goal was. The similarity is we have issues and a readiness, a quickening, which you had in the civil rights movement around sit-ins and that you have around police demonstrations, around Black Lives Matter. They are similar in their beginnings, and where the Black Lives Matter movement will go from here is really up to you guys.”

Toward the end of the session, an Encamper raised this question: “There’s an important conversation happening, at least in my end of the virtual world, where people are talking about who gets to do anti-racist work and who gets to tell anti-racist or Black stories and should White people be able to profit off of Black people’s stories and stories about Black-led movements? I’d like to know, in regard to that conversation, where is it that you fall and when you were writing your books and your new book, why did you think you deserved to be the person to tell that story?” After Taylor’s reply, the discussion continued in the breakout groups.

On Thursday, Nexooyet Greymorning, (EFC staff 1978–80) led the Encampers in a series of questions exploring indigenous issues. It was a powerful example of EFC’s teaching approach starting with: “What do you think it is like to be indigenous?” Answers from Encampers who identified as indigenous and those who didn’t led to the next question: “If justice was crafted for indigenous North Americans, what would it look like?” Again, answers ranged all over the spectrum and there was a discussion of educational, political, even religious issues associated with justice for Native Americans.

Nexooyet continued by asking, “How many people were here before Columbus?” The answer: Numbers vary but probably around 48 million. “How many are alive today?” Again, numbers vary but around 4 million. “What happened to 44 million people?” This led to discussing what is genocide and what is ethnocide. The Encampers, staff and fellows read aloud from the powerful “The Unraveling of a Colonized Mind,” written by Jana-Rae Yerxa, Anishinaabe from the Couchiching First Nation (https://twitter.com/janaraey?lang=en). The discussion then focused on one of her points — that Native Americans have been taught that their language is unimportant and have internalized this belief, leading to more loss of culture. This has become a crucial piece of undermining Native American sovereignty and treaty rights by the U.S. government, motivated largely by greed for the large deposits of natural resources under many reservations.

On Friday, Faya Ora Rose Toure’ circled back to civil rights history, the power of images to motivate people, the sit-ins and voting rights. She gave an in-depth look at events, particularly focused on Selma, Alabama. Here are just a few excerpts: “People here in the South saw those horrible pictures that were exposed in Jet magazine because the White press would not publish the pictures. Emmett Till’s mother insisted they be shown because she knew that her son would just be another dead Negro boy thrown into the Mississippi River. She was courageous and showed those pictures and young people throughout the South … said, ‘We are not going to take it anymore —we are not going to be treated as sub-human in a place that calls itself a democracy’ … they insisted that democracy is a part of what I have a right to.’

… So the sit-ins started in Greensboro, North Carolina, but it happened in other places that you’ll never hear about … they took risks that we do not even think about today. That’s why I always say that things did get better after the civil rights movement — but it was mainly because of the courage of young leaders who dared to be agents of social change when there was very little protection from the government. What’s happened with George Floyd is highly unusual — someone arrested within a week of killing a Black man—that is almost unheard of. Young people back then risked their lives literally each time they sat at a lunch counter to challenge discrimination….

And the same thing happened here in Selma, but the most-valuable contribution came when the students decided to protest about voting rights because people couldn’t vote in this place called a democracy. You have to understand the hypocrisy of the system to understand what it takes to be an agent of change. In 1963-64-65, there were less than 100 voters here in Dallas County. Next door in Lowndes County, there was not a single registered Black voter on the rolls in a county that was 7580% Black. And you had the elders like Sam and Amelia Boynton and C.J. Adams, a veteran, who long before Dr. King came here, laid the foundation for this movement. When Bernard Lafayette from SNCC came here in 1963, he began to organize young people —you know why? Because old people were too scared excepting a few people. Bernard Lafayette trained the young people (and some elders) in non-violent protest. Young people from the surrounding counties began to join the movement — silently — there was no national coverage at first … Then more elders joined a meeting at the Tabernacle Church, and that became known as the first mass meeting of the voting rights movement.”

Jane Sapp played a recording of Faya Rose Toure’s song “I’m Gonna Lift My Sister Up” for the Encampers as an example of arts activism. View the 2018 Encampers in Raymond, Mississippi singing this song.

2020 Encampment InterGen with featured speaker LaTosha Brown

Friday, July 24, 3:00 5:00 p.m. Pacific/4 6 Mountain/5 7 Central/6 8 Eastern

Featured speaker, LaTosha Brown presenting on the work of Black Voters Matter & open discussion related to Ms. Brown’s presentation and the question “What has given rise to the current movement?”

Saturday, July 25th (2 sessions)

9:00 11 a.m. Pacific/10 12 Mountain/11 1 Central/12 – 2 p.m. Eastern

2020 Encampers share their ideas for and questions about their post-summer-program action plans in intergenerational Social Justice in Action break-out groups.

1:00 3:00 p.m. Pacific/2 4 Mountain/3 5 Central/4 6 Eastern

Encamper Final Presentations, Intergenerational Discussion & Closing.

Register Today—If you cannot participate in all three sessions, let us know which one(s)you will attend.

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