Reportback: The Next Step

The Next Step: Promoting Social Justice and Solidarity through Oral History

December 12th, 2012

Amy Starecheski, Associate Director, Columbia University Oral History MA Program
Sara Jacobs, student at American University, project: L@s Desaparecid@s no desaparecen: testimonios de familias desgarradas

The PSN videochat on December 12th focused on the next step after collecting oral histories and how we can effectively and creatively advance social justice and solidarity through sharing stories. The chat covered the following questions: Once we have collected oral testimonies, what are the best mechanisms to share them? How can we best use the stories we are told to advance social justice? What does solidarity look like? What are we asking of listeners when we share others’ stories? How can we make sure that we, as historians (or activists, artists, documentarians, etc.) are doing the most effective thing for the community we are involved with?

The group encompassed a variety of different experiences, perspectives, and projects including Brían Wescott’s work with Cante Sica, Manissa Maharawal and David Spataro’s project on gentrification in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, Jill Anderson’s work with Los Otros Dreamers in Mexico City, Amy Starecheski’s experiences in her work with squatter movements, and Sara Jacobs’ oral history project of desaparecid@s family members in Nicaragua. This range of experiences made for a great conversation that touched on important themes and questions. Some of the topics discussed and questions generated were:

1) How we get stories out? Ideas included posters, theater pieces, video productions, presentations, reading testimonials, projections, interactive interfaces, and designing participatory/community-driven ways of sharing.

2) Who is the audience? Audience determines the form and nature of the work and how we share it. Is our audience the community we interview or external, and how does this change our methods and approach to oral history?

3) Testimony as a conversation-starter and healer. The interview process and sharing of stories advances social justice in different yet interrelated ways: it can build community and start conversations and also promote healing in fractured communities.

4) The consent process. The process of obtaining participant consent can facilitate conversations about the future and big picture, commemorate relationships, and build the shared aspect of oral history. How can we apply the consent process to groups of people (like Native communities?)

Many PSN participants’ projects are still in development and this conversation brought new ideas to the table and proposed questions to consider as we move forward. The call created an important and useful space for working together and sharing ideas. Hearing opinions and ideas from a variety of perspectives is crucial not only to our individual work but also to creating sustainable social change overall.