On Wednesday, February 23, 2011 law students from UBC Professor Margot Young’s Social Justice course came to Thursdays Writing Collective to write with us. We don’t usually meet on this day but because the law students were available at this time we held an extra session. They were a willing bunch and very open with their writing. We will be announcing the second half of our experience with them when we have settled on the date of the public reading to be held at UBC this month.
Below is what we did during the session. All the prompts can be done as continuations or leaping off points, in any format or form. The goal is to get the author writing rather than to produce any expected answer or effect. Most of the exercises were timed at 10 minutes.
Prompt: He said, “Money is the main yardstick.”
Discuss: Social Justice: “the idea of creating a society or institution that is based on the principles of equality and solidarity, that understands and values human rights, and that recognizes the dignity of every human being.” Wikipedia.
Writing Exercise: Without knowing or caring what these words mean, invent definitions for them:
- (P)regnant lawyering
- interjurisdictional immunity
For example, pedagogy is the name for the sound a foghorn makes when it is sunny out.
Read: Freire handout (as below)
A Culture of Silence
Silencing isn’t just personal, though it can feel that way. The Brazilian educator and liberation theologist Paolo Freire wrote about silencing and social justice in The Pedagogy of the Oppressed. His work shows how people in what he called “the culture of silence” take on the thinking of their oppressors and fear to speak their own truth. It explains why university students repeat their professors’ ideas even when they have new and better ones of their own. It explains why activists find it hard to write about things not already covered in the media and why people who think differently can’t make themselves heard. It explains why all of us have so much trouble saying things powerfully in writing – to the point that sometimes we don’t say them at all.
Freire wrote that oppressed people often “house the oppressor” inside themselves. In his view, the oppressor lives inside the oppressed in the form of negative self-images.
But silence isn’t limited to people denied their rights. Freire insisted that highly privileged people, too, could be victims of silencing – though they’d find it even more difficult to acknowledge. Polite, educated, privileged citizens could be filled with the thinking of the oppressor and could actually fear freedom.
The word “silence” stretches way beyond oppression. It also describes something we seek and treasure. It’s in silence that we gather our thoughts, centre our energy, feel the love, and understanding the need for taking action. Quakers, Buddhist meditators and others use silence to connect with forces larger than ourselves. Silence, which we often see as empty, can represent great activity. “I can spend one hour silent but totally alive. I can speak a lot in silence,” he told a crowd at Harvard University.
–Undoing the Silence: Six Tools for Social Change Writing, 2007, Louise Dunlap, p.15, edited by Elee Kraljii Gardiner
Writing Exercise: choose a phrase, word or theme from the Freire handout that sticks out for you and write about it in any way.
Writing Exercise: “plain English”
Writing Exercise: What you see depends on where you stand.
Writing Exercise: What is legal is often not just. And what is just is often not at all legal. Use this idea or the words “just/legal,” as a prompt.
Bonus Writing Exercise: You find a scrap of paper with these words on them: “… in the exact same places where injustices are found, joy, hope, inspiration and love are found.” Imagine who wrote it and why.