While working on Utah’s Freedom Riders earlier this year, KUED producer Nancy Green realized that most people today have a romanticized notion of the 1960s Civil Rights movement. “The reality is that it was a tumultuous time,” says Green. “We see it as the pinnacle of student activism, thinking that everyone spoke in unison. In reality, it was far more divided. ”
Her experience got Green thinking about what has happened to student activism today, which led to her follow-up documentary, Freedom’s Promise, airing Tuesday, November 8 at 7:00 p.m. on KUED.
“I started looking at what is going on in Utah now,” she says. “What’s interesting is that we probably have more student activism today. The problem is there are so many issues and so many people clamoring to make their voices heard that activism is not attracting the kind of focused attention it got in the 1960s. Today we have social media, the internet and a thousand different news stories coming at us. How are students navigating that? How are they carrying on the tradition of activism in the 21st century?”
She found that today’s students are concerned about immigration, the environment, sexual orientation issues and many other topics regarding discrimination. “At the core of all of it, it’s really all about inclusion,” concludes Green. “It’s a struggle for those who are disenfranchised and underrepresented to find a way to make their voices heard. Activism is a way for people to affect change. It’s really about the democratic process.”
Getting any traction in the mainstream media has become more difficult. Some students are using social networking, others are using old-school tactics like rallies and marches. Others are saying the answer is to educate younger people about the political process and ways to alter the system. Some are resorting to civil disobedience.
University of Utah student Esther Kim, who was one of 1,000 students chosen to go on the re-creation of the 1961 Freedom Rides, focuses on education. To her, conversations are her activism. Esther, an Asian American and westerner, struggles with the question of what it means to be a citizen today. The most cathartic experience of her Freedom Ride was learning about an original African-American Freedom Rider who said that in 1961 he wasn’t enough of a citizen to be able to ride on the front of the bus, but he was enough of a citizen to be drafted into the Vietnam War. “Even if you’re born in this country, what marks you in or out?” she asks in the film. “I mean, that’s a really painful piece about living in a country that celebrates all these ideas about being free and being equal, but it’s not.”
Melodia Gutierrez embodies a more traditional concept of activism. Using Facebook, she organizes rallies and protests against immigration legislation. While admitting that rallies may not do much, she says they did at least let legislators know there is opposition to their bills. Guittierez also talks about the personal toll of activism. Even though she lost friends and had a hard time keeping her GPA up, she still feels it’s “something I have to do.”
Some students opt for civil disobedience. Green includes interviews with Tim DeChristopher, who gained notoriety after being arrested for making illegal bids during a BLM oil and gas lease auction. He says he tried the normal avenues -- the protests, petitions and lobbying -- and found they didn’t work. He took the next step, and became a lightning rod for environmental issues around the country.
Finally, Green speaks with Kilo Zamora at the Inclusion Center and attends one of the center’s Anytown camps designed to help students explore social justice issues. A young student who attended Anytown was shocked that a blog she created was met with hate speech and vicious racial expletives.
Says Zamora, “We’re finding the place where the movement belongs, which is in the place of inequities. As we speak out more and more, we’re inviting resistance. In that resistance, in that space of friction, is where change occurs.”
Freedom’s Promise will be followed by a rebroadcast of Navigating Freedom: A Utah Youth Perspective at 7:30 p.m., in which eight Utah high school students express what freedom means to them in four very personal film essays.
|Larry S. and Allyson Smith Challenge Fund|
Please visit our website at www.kued.org/jobs for information about job opportunities at KUED.