Practitioner Support Network

Activists, organizers, cultural workers and oral historians who engage oral history as a method for movement-building and social change often confront challenging ethical and practical dilemmas in our work.  The Practitioner Support Network (PSN) seeks to create a safe space for practitioners to explore these challenges and get feedback and support from others who share similar values and commitments to a liberatory politics and praxis.

Our goal is to facilitate opportunities for peer learning, exchange and support among practitioners engaged in social justice oral history/storytelling work through our three PSN programs: PSN Video Chats, PSN Problem-Solvers, and PSN One-to-One.

For more information about the Practitioner Support Network sessions, contact Shefa Nola Benoit at

Upcoming PSNs and PSN Reportbacks

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Sep. 12th PSN: Resettled: Oral Histories of Refugees Beginning (Again) in Appalachia

In this online Practitioner Support Network session, we discuss Professor Katrina Powell’s upcoming project, Resettled which explores the displacement, trauma, and community integration experienced by refugees in an area not typically known for its resettlement efforts: rural Appalachia. Developed in collaboration with the oral history nonprofit Voice of Witness, Resettled counters “the refugee narrative” and the “Appalachia narrative” by placing these stories together. Joined by Voice of Witness staff members Dao Tran and Ela Banerjee, Katrina will discuss the project’s editorial process and ethical considerations, including how to navigate potential “insider/outsider” dynamics and build trust with community members.

To register, click HERE.

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Nov. 27th PSN: Fighting Words: Oral Histories from the New York Sanctuary Movement

In this online Practitioner Support Network session, Janice Amaya and Jon Earle share their experience recording oral histories with members of the New Sanctuary Coalition of New York City. Their volunteer group has recorded 25+ oral histories with people facing deportation and their families. The recordings are 60-90 minutes long, in Spanish and English, and cover a wide range of experiences, from detention stories to accounts of everyday life “under the radar.” (You can listen to snippets here.) Janice and Jon will talk about the challenges they’ve faced, what they’ve learned, and how they’re turning oral history into activism

To register, click HERE.

Oct. 23 PSN: Sanctuary!

On June 19, 2018, Abbie Arevalo-Herrera made the decision to move into First Unitarian Universalist Church of Richmond with two of her children to fight her order of deportation. Abbie came to the United States seeking asylum due to a long history of domestic violence that would only have ended in her death at the hands of her abuser.  Join Abbie Arevalo-Herrera for our Practitioner Support Network session titled Sanctuary! on Tuesday, October 23rd from 6 pm to 7:15 pm to learn how she is sharing her story and using her platform to lead a movement in Virginia and beyond! The Sanctuary Movement is unique in bringing together a broad spectrum of activists, from moderate faith communities to the far left. Abbie will be accompanied by Lana Heath de Martinez, who spearheaded the Sanctuary movement in central Virginia through distilling stories, policies, and theology. 

To register, click HERE.

PSN Reportback: Immigration Law for Oral Historians

Last month, Groundswell's Practitioner Support Network Working Group teamed up with colleagues Patrick O'Shea and Shiu-Ming Cheer from the National Immigration Law Center (NILC) to offer a special PSN chat: Immigration Law for Oral Historians. Check out some key takeaways and listen to the full audio!

August 4 PSN: Tweeting, Posting, Sharing: As activists and storytellers, how can we effectively and ethically engage with social issues on social media?

During this PSN, we will take a look at the most popular social media platforms–Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram- and how each provides different types of opportunities for storytellers and oral historians, but can also raise ethical questions about the sharing of information.

June 26 PSN: Working for Change: Listening to Workers’ Stories

In this fractured time, how do we listen to workers’ stories? This PSN is a chance for workers, oral historians, activists, and anyone else who considers listening essential to advancing economic justice share ideas with one another about how we listen to workers and what we do with what we learn.

May 31 PSN: What are the roots of your radical oral history practice?

Oral history is not just something that historians do to create sources for archives. As part of a larger collective research project to document the radical roots of oral history and begin a process of decolonizing oral history practices, we invite you to join this video chat to share the roots of your radical oral history practice. What inspired you to do this work? How did you learn? Who are your oral history ancestors and mentors?

March 25 PSN: Storytelling and Fundraising

This PSN explores the role of storytelling and listening for activists and organizers who are, want to be, or need to be involved in fundraising. The chat will examine the various roles narrative can play in working with individual donors, volunteers, boards, grants, and foundations -- as well as the ways utilizing storytelling might support, or perhaps undermine, the social justice work of our organizations.

Reportback: E-Security for Social Justice Oral Historians

On February 3, a group of us met via video chat to discuss "E-Security for Oral Historians in the Age of Trump." Here is a reportback from our conversation, and some resources we collected. Thanks to all who participated!

Feb 3 PSN: E-Security for Oral Historians in the Age of Trump

As people using oral history for social justice, we often collaborate with and record the stories of people, such as undocumented immigrants or queer and trans people, who are particularly vulnerable to potential harm if their stories are shared in ways they did not consent to. And as activists, we may be targets of surveillance. What do social justice oral historians need to know about cyber security? Where do we draw the line between being paranoid and being naive? In this chat, we will share strategies and skills for managing electronic security for oral history projects.

Feb 21 PSN: Oral History and Decolonization: Reclaiming Stories and Ancestral Wisdom

Indigenous-led movements like that to protect the water at Standing Rock highlight the power of ancestral wisdom in transformative change. As movement-oriented oral historians and practitioners, how can the process and practice of oral history help us root ourselves in the wisdom of our own traditions and ancestors?

Nov and Dec PSNs Now Open!

Learning from our Elders: Interviewing Activists from Past Generations: November 17, 3-4:15 PM EST

Oral History, Art & Activism: A Radical Mix for Social Change: NEW DATE & TIME: December 2, 2016 3-4:15 PM EST


Fall 2016 Practitioner Support Network Video Chats are Starting!

Fall PSNs start Oct 20 with a conversation about how to talk about money in an oral history interview.