Skip to main content

Teach-in aims to re-envision 'community'

February 08, 2010

Arizona State University is conducting the 9th annual Local to Global Justice Teach-In Feb. 26-28, on ASU's Tempe campus, to encourage discussion about issues of social justice, share knowledge and work toward a more just and sustainable community.

“Re-Storying Community” is the theme of this year’s teach-in – a free, public event that focuses on imagining new possibilities and telling stories through film, theater, music and workshops to restore communities and social networks in this challenging national and local economy.

“We want to emphasize people’s stories and their direct experiences through an array of creative formats,” said Beth Blue Swadener, professor of education policy, leadership and curriculum with the Mary Lou Fulton Institute and Graduate School of Education. “We need more narratives to draw from. We need more options for creating a viable future – both locally and globally. It’s a way to envision community.”

Harking back to days of student activism and social movements in the 1960s, Local to Global Justice is a student organization at ASU with strong ties to community activists in social justice, human rights and environmental issues. The L2GJ group formed in 2001 following the tragedy of 9-11 and held its first teach-in in April 2002 with 150 participants who were working on issues of globalization and connections between local issues and global struggles, as well as addressing concerns about civil liberties in the post 9-11 policies.

In recent years, the teach-in has been a social forum attracting 400 to 500 attendees sharing their knowledge and networks to form grassroots efforts of social activism.

“The teach-in has been a springboard for organizations to jump off from,” said Matt Besenfelder, program coordinator and ASU alum in nonprofit leadership and management. “I really see us as an organization that creates a space for people to discuss a wide range of issues affecting us both locally and globally. We link organizations and individuals with common commitments to social justice.”

The event kicks off at 5:30 p.m., Feb. 26, in Neeb Hall with the Arizona premier of the independent film “Mountains that Take Wing,” a documentary featuring 13 years of conversations between Angela Davis, a professor, and community activist Yuri Kochiyama. The film was co-directed and produced by ASU faculty Helen Quan, assistant professor of Justice and Social inquiry in the School of Social Transformation, and C.A. Griffith, associate professor in the School of Theatre & Film.

The discussions between the internationally renowned scholar-activist and the revered grassroots community activist offer insight into their profound passion for justice, the role of women in social movements as well as community empowerment, war and the cultural arts. The evening culminates with a Q&A with the filmmakers and Karen Leong, associate professor of Women and Gender Studies and Asian Pacific American Studies at ASU. The event also serves as a fundraiser for victims of the earthquake in Haiti.

“This film is about community activists who seek justice and have rich stories we can learn from,” Swadener said. “We all have stories to share, and the Teach-In is a place where people can share those stories.”

The ASU School of Theater and Film was instrumental in bringing in keynote speaker John O’Neal, artistic director of Junebug Productions in New Orleans. In 1963, O’Neal co-founded the Free Southern Theater as a cultural arm of the southern Civil Rights Movement. He will lead workshops called “Story Circles” on Saturday and Sunday, which will prepare participants to play an interactive role in his keynote address on Sunday afternoon in the Education Lecture Hall.

The topics discussed, such as rain harvesting, alternative vehicles, the lack of human rights for immigrants, racial profiling by local law enforcement and the rebuilding of New Orleans Ninth Ward, will be woven into O’Neal’s keynote on Sunday, maximizing local relevance.

The teach-in’s free youth program features a musical keynote by Songcatcher, a youth music ensemble from the Tohono O‘odham Nation that inspires Native American youth by giving them a voice. Their music deals with issues of coming of age on the reservation.

“Kids have voices, too," said doctoral student Kim Eversman, L2GJ president and teach-in youth coordinator. "We want those voices to be heard in this overarching teach-in. The youth program discussions will include what it means to be an activist and how to deal with the challenges of being a little voice with a lot to say.”

The teach-in serves as unique annual gathering, which brings together campus and community groups and individuals of all ages and backgrounds.

“We are right in that sphere of public pedagogy, providing education that’s relevant, engaging and free. It is interdisciplinary, making global connections about issues of justice and sustainability, which are emerging themes of the new Fulton Institute and Graduate School,” Swadener said.

The teach-in is sponsored by Local to Global Justice, and co-sponsored by more than 12 departments and organizations, including the Graduate and Professional Student Association, Undergrad Student Government, the Fulton Institute and Graduate School of Education, School of Social Transformation, and School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning. Healthy vegan food, catered by the local restaurant, Green, is provided free of charge for participants.

For more information about the feature film and schedules for the workshops, featured presentations and youth events, go to