As an incoming freshman, being at UCSA Congress is incredibly intimidating. There is no doubt that the ratio of upperclassmen to first-years is substantial. But I signed up for this to get some experience and dip my feet into the UC world of activities, so I’m opening my mind and energy to everything that’s going to happen this weekend.
I’ll skip the minor details and get straight to what I really want to write about—the workshop that I attended and the things I learned there that I want to remember.
First off, I’ve already met so many new people, and reconnected with even more. And it’s only day one. Most of them are older than me, but I think I see them as good relationships to have. The fellow first-years I’ve met are bound to be friends I will be seeing throughout the next four years.
So in the afternoon, for the second workshop of the day, I attended a workshop titled “Student Activism and Civil Rights for All.” I didn’t even intend to go to this one; I originally wanted to attend “The End of Affirmative Action…” but spontaneously got dragged the other direction.
The speaker for the workshop was stepping in as a replacement for someone else. Unfortunately, I never got her specific name, so I cannot credit her here. But I will say this: she was an amazing community activist and organizer with an almost natural ability to speak to students. Or to anyone, for that matter.
She began the first half of the workshop speaking about her experience with the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) and giving us a broad overview of what the organization is about and how it was founded. I first learned about the ACLU through my AP Government class. Her descriptions definitely put insight behind what I already knew. I guess I didn’t really realize how strongly the ACLU emphasizes civil liberties and protecting it, even if it means defending a group whose ideals the union may not agree with.
The students in the workshop shared meaningful stories about their own communities and why they decided to attend this specific workshop. I thought they were very thought-provoking, and extended the idea of civil liberties to non-conventional areas. For example, learning about how to use the ACLU to promote LGBT awareness, or encourage students of all ages to become less apathetic to issues.
My favorite part of the entire workshop consisted of the second half of the workshop that focused on our speaker’s own experience with mobilizing activists and her leadership training. A middle-aged, brisk and vigorous Mexican-American woman, she embodied a very strong spirit. She was the type who held onto her beliefs and stood for it. She doesn’t like to take shit from anyone. Past that façade, she was also a woman of understanding and listening. She built her career on that one principle: to listen.
Listen to her community, listen to her constituents, listen to what her people want and what affects them. She described “power” as obtainable by two things: either by money or by people, or both. With people, however, we can get three types of people: the selfish, the selfless, and the self-interested. Using humorous examples from her own life and Mexican/Chicano culture, she described why the selfish and selfless people tend to fall behind in obtaining “power.” Power, therefore, is invested in the self-interested people—those who pursue issues that affects them, their society, and their community. Those are the people who will present change.
Last of all—and perhaps my favorite—she talked about a method of communication simply called “one-on-ones.” Because frankly, all that we ever had with social communication has been lost, and we need this sort of interaction back. Imagine the sight of a group of people at a restaurant (friends, probably), who are dining out together. One glance at their table could tell you everything: faces down, eyes glued to their phones, and fingers texting away. Not a single word exchanged over the table, except when food arrives. Sadly, this is as common a scenario as it gets. I can recall countless times I go out to eat with my friends, and noticing that the entire table is glued to phones, while I sit there staring into empty space. Because there literally is no one to talk to. How sad is that?
Therefore, the objective of one-on-ones is simple. To regain that form of social interaction that we have inherently lost. Just 30 minutes with a person is all we need to get to know a person’s life story—what they care about and what they strive for. Their background and their beliefs. What they’ve achieved and have yet to accomplish. And most importantly, what affects them on a personal level enough to make them care. Because ultimately, if we can find what a person is personally connected to, we can rely on them to react to those issues. Naturally, a person whose uncle was subjected to mass incarceration would be more likely to participate in a campaign against mass incarceration than someone who isn’t. The theory is simple, but the results are obvious.
I can confidently say that if this woman was a professor at UCLA, I would have no problem taking her class. There’s a certain radiance about her. She speaks easily and feels widely relatable to students like us, yet she maintains the strongest dignity and commitment of anyone I’ve met. Her discussion on one-on-ones felt like a lesson in journalism: how to properly interview people and get the story out of them so that you can tell it.
And that’s just day one. Thank you, Mrs. Speaker, for making me think. I haven’t done that for two months since school ended.