This past weekend, academics from all over the country filled Kalamazoo College’s campus for the With/Out ¿Borders? [un]conference hosted by K’s Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership.
Lisa Brock, Academic Director of ACSJL, and her sophomore seminar class, Nelson Mandela and the Anti-Apartheid Movement, kicked off the weekend on Thursday in the Red Square with an event titled K College Congress of the People. Members of the class proposed Freedom Charters inspired by Mandela’s own charter, wherein they made demands of the college regarding its accessibility and safety to all.
The [un]conference consisted of four plenaries titled Afrofuturism, Decolonized Knowledge, Sustainable Futures, and Next Steps. Each featured a panel of academic activists who held conversations about systematic oppressions and possible avenues for justice.
After each plenary, participants split into workshops to discuss topics ranging from human rights to black infant mortality rate in Kalamazoo. The [un]conference also offered films as an avenue for dialogue.
On Saturday evening, audience members packed Dalton Theater to hear Naomi Klein give the keynote speech of the conference. The social activist, journalist, and author guided her audience in a critique of the parallels between climate change, neoliberalism, and social injustice–as well as a witty sense of humor.
Klein opened by pointing to a photo of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau from the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, about which she joked, “That’s Canada’s hot new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. You might not recognize him with his shirt on.”
With more seriousness, Klein continued, “Is what happened in Paris this huge political breakthrough that we heard about or is it an ecological disaster? The case I want to make to you tonight is that it is actually both and this tension between what is seen as politically possible within our current system and what is ecologically necessary for human safety and survival–the gap between these two things really exposes the need for system change.”
Expanding on this tension, she explained that although the Paris Agreement is “the best [deal] that our respective governments have ever come up with…it’s still an ecological disaster.”
“We talk a lot in the climate movement about the need for climate justice. But I’m not sure that we talk enough about injustice,” declared Klein, shifting her focus to the intersection of neoliberalism, climate change, and social injustice. “We have to get out of our issue… all interconnected. And since these crises are all bound up, so must the solutions be.”
Klein concluded, “Enough of the drilling and dumping–we need an economy rooted in sharing and caring.” She closed the evening with a book signing for her newest work This Changes Everything in which she expands on the relationship between neoliberalism and climate change.
The last two plenaries, Sustainable Futures and Next Steps, and break-down sessions took place on Saturday morning.
The weekend concluded on Saturday night with Emergency, a one-person show by award-winning actor, singer, writer, and composer Daniel Beaty. The piece details the response of various characters in the New York City projects to a slave ship that appears in front of the Statue of Liberty. With this 2006 Obie award-winning piece, this year’s With/Out ¿Borders? [un]conference came to a close.
When asked why the [un]conference is an important event, Erin Polley of Indiana Peacebuilding responded, “As an activist, I really think that the intersection of theory and practice is really important. Our praxis needs to be grounded in history and political context…This is an interesting space because we have such a great mix of people who know how to do it both in practice and on the ground, and that exchange is really important.”
Student participant Paige Tobin ‘19 shared, “After the Without Borders conference, I came out of it with the realization that I know very little about the world around me–even since the last time I established that I didn’t know that much. It’s an extremely humbling experience to be reminded of that.”