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Saturday, January 23, 2010

Seeing the Light: Social (Media) Justice Camp

Seeing the Light
Originally uploaded by Regina Holliday
When I was in sixth grade, I had the pleasure of attending a newly constructed middle school. It was designed to create the best learning environment. Nothing would distract us from the written word; and so, they created a building without windows. Oh, there were these thin light aperture areas at the top of a wall. (We needed to get some sunlight after all.) But we had no view of the outside world. It felt like a prison. Children really like to see out. They will climb on top of tables or shelves to see the world around them. As adults, we often let the world grow narrow and only see what effects us directly. Thank God, there are folks among us who open windows in the prison of our life. I met some of those folks at Social Justice Camp DC last weekend.

Social Justice Camp DC was a two day event. The event was created to bring together artists, activists and advocates. It was promoted on Social Media sites such as Twitter. The first night 16 presenters spoke on a wide range of topics. Each had 5 minutes and 20 slides. I was one of the 16 presenters. The energy in the room was amazing! We learned from about adult literacy rates in DC and how adaptive technology can serve our citizens. We learned what food insecurity really means. We discussed Aids/HIV and teen pregnancy. Homeless issues were on the fore-front with three speakers addressing the topic. We learned about valiant people who fight everyday to uphold policies and safety nets for our most troubled and endangered populations. DC Urban Debate League was there, promoting debate as a way to overcome barriers in society. David Hale gave a great explanation of the meaning of social justice using Japanese characters. Everyone in the room was there to spread the word. Everyone came to help create social justice.

Why was I there? Of course, I wanted to speak up about art as advocacy. I also wanted a large crowd of people to focus on the patient as a person. The most import reason for being there was to open windows. We are all interconnected. We all effect each other. Just like organs in the body, if one part stops working the whole can fail. How can I promote access to the written medical record, and not try to address literacy? Could I have communicated the need for patient access without a background in high-school speech and debate? If I were not aware of adaptive technology, would I have been as offended at the archaic systems hospitals use? For that matter, if I and my children were food insecure, could I "waste" my time fighting for change?

Social Justice Camp was amazing in another way: it was social media in real life. We were not only brought together via the internet, we behaved as if we were online. The second day was an unconference. We suggested panel topics and went to any topic that interested us. People were free to contribute ideas or just listen. Any one could come or go at anytime with no offense taken. It was like tweeting in person. Due to this informal organization, I got more out of this conference than any other I have ever attended. I learned so much I really cannot explain it all in a blog post, so please visit the Social Justice Camp Site at

On Monday, I will go back to sixth grade. I will begin working with students at Deal Middle School on series of murals addressing social justice issues on six continents. I hope to open a few windows through art and advocacy. These paintings will placed high the walls of the school hallways. They will be "light apertures." They will shine, as they make us hope for a better world.

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