By Mark Schuller
HRSJ Committee Chair
Trainings—expanding the ‘activist toolkit’
The Human Rights and Social Justice Committee and our members have been active this year. We have an active and growing membership, with some great ideas coming from the membership about building on and expanding our activist toolkit: in 2010, we organized a workshop on working with the media. Last year was a roundtable on lessons learned through advocacy. This year we had a workshop on working with IRBs, attended by 14 people: “Beyond the IRB: Expert Advice on the Realities, Risks, and Benefits in Performing Human Rights and Social Justice Research” – Carla Pezzia and Cheryl McClary organized the session that included Barbara Rose Johnston, Bill McKinney, Mark Schuller, Susan Stonich, and Betsy Taylor.
We also had a lively discussion and planning session at the committee meeting. At the business meeting, people had some great ideas about topical sessions. The Committee will help promote the work of human rights and social justice panels. Some suggested also doing webinars for journalists on a particular issue. Someone suggested organizing a workshop on how to do research on your communities—to write technical reports, such as the UN Treaty Body reporting. It was also suggested that we organize a workshop on blogs and the new media.
A member suggested organizing fact-finding missions—inviting members to accompany them in investigating particular issues—for example, going to Arizona to talk with the school boards about the new law banning ethnic studies.
A couple of people suggested having travel money for the SfAAs to facilitate bringing in grassroots activists. The Society has endowed several travel awards for students; it might be useful to organize one for non-academic, grassroots activists. Several people also suggested bringing local activists into the meetings. For example, SfAA staff has already been in touch with former committee chair Peter Van Arsdale, who is in Denver, to activate the local community.
Given the context of the UNITE-HERE boycott, some of the conversation was about how to be proactive regarding union issues and what can the SfAA do to support the hotel workers given the situation (See story by Betsy Taylor in this issue).
The Committee also organized a roundtable discussion, “Mic check! Implications of #Occupy for Social Justice Advocacy and Roles of an Activist Anthropology.” The conversation swirled around local issues, the power of symbols and new language (e.g. the 99%), the organizing rhetoric, facilitating technology, and the roles for anthropologists in the movements connecting global and local, such as Occupy. Two journal editors (Peter Van Arsdale of Applied Anthropology and Mark Moberg of Human Organization) specifically welcomed submissions for articles discussing the Occupy movement.
Sessions at the SfAA annual meeting
In addition, members organized an active array of panels during the meeting. Here is a listing of some of those panels:
- WEDNESDAY 10:00-11:50 – Disasters without Borders
- WEDNESDAY 12:00-1:20 – Building Walls, Tearing Down Tents: Applied Research in Haiti’s IDP Camps
- THURSDAY 8:00-11:50 – Activism Beyond the Classroom: Student Reflections on Activist Work
- THURSDAY 10:00-11:50 – Applied Human Rights: Theory, Methods and Approaches for Disciplinary Collaboration
- THURSDAY 3:30-5:20 – UN-Documenting the Lives of Dreamers: Transgressing Borders and Boundaries towards an Engaged Activist Anthropology
- SATURDAY 10:00-11:50 – Indigenous Rights and Human Rights in the Americas and Nepal
We would also like to announce the second annual winner of the Human Rights Defender Award. The Human Rights Defender Award was made possible by a generous contribution from Michael Cavendish, a Sustaining Member of the Society who is a practicing attorney in Florida and a strong advocate for human rights. As a graduate student, he was first exposed to the link between applied anthropology and disciplines like law, journalism and social work.
We received many good applications, which bodes well for the future of human rights activism within anthropology. We are pleased to announce that Jonas Ecke of Purdue University is the recipient of the 2012 Human Rights Defender Award. Mr. Ecke delivered a paper, “Pentecostal Conversions in a Liberian Refugee Camp in Ghana” at the Baltimore meetings.
Students are interviewing leaders within Human Rights and Social Justice advocacy about the lessons learned, challenges, experiences, advice, and skills. The first interview has been transcribed and was published in the February SfAA newsletter. Student Member Carla Pezzia has been coordinating the student interviewers. As the project moves forward the group is looking for avenues for publication.
The Committee also commissions Issue Briefings: short, pithy, timely analyses of hot-topic items with an anthropological grounding. This is a service to members of the Society as teachers looking for materials and as citizen-activists trying to understand our world. They are on the website. The goal is to have many such materials that go on the website so that the Society would eventually be one of the groups consulted on issues. If you’re interested in writing an Issue Briefing, please consult the webpage to see two examples and contact chair Mark Schuller: email@example.com. The two that have been written so far have been by Josiah Heyman on Arizona’s immigration law and Hsain Ilahaine on the Arab Spring.