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Monday, December 20, 2010

Social Justice Camp II: On Water Ripples and Spider Webs

Social Justice Camp II: The Empowered Are Back is less than a month away. It will be on two weekends. It will have two locations. These two weekends will bookend and support the work of some amazing local activists and artists. On January 15 and 16, the traditional social justice group will meet. On January 21, we will collide worlds, and social justice will meet health at 7:30 pm at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, located at 4900 Connecticut Avenue. There will be an ignite speech session. These speeches will only be five minutes long and will ignite the passions of the diverse audience. The next day, on January 22, we will start at 10:00 am in an unconference and do many breakout sessions about health and social justice topics until 3:00. We shall build an amazing web of advocacy.

Have you ever truly stared at a spider web? Have you seen it glistening with dew at sunrise? It is a thing of beauty. It is amazing that such a small creature could create something so immense, so beautiful, and so connected. The small spider may seem to work alone on this, dutifully extruding the silk that shall become the web; but all would fail without supports, without connections. Would there be a web without the branch, the shed, or the fencepost to provide a purchase? The web does not exist without a network of support. The web is an amazing tool; it catches sticky thoughts and activates people, and it grows. P1040893

I was invited to attend Health Camp DC by Mark Scrimshire (he is part of my Twitter web) on November 12, 2010. It was a wonderful event. It was hosted in an unconference format and the participants were from diverse health and tech backgrounds. I went to several breakout sessions, and in each session people began to focus on what health services were available to the poor, underrepresented, or disadvantaged within our community. As the conversation went further, I realized most of the people had never worked with the activist community in DC. They had few contacts with those people already making a difference in the public health within community. I was amazed. I asked if anyone had attended Social Justice Camp. I learned that only one attendee, Cindy Throop, had. I decided at that moment that Social Justice Camp must meet the Health 2.0 movement.

What is Social Justice Camp? It consists of an ignite session of short speeches and an unconference. Last year, I was invited to attend Social Justice Camp DC on MLK weekend by Aaron Ginoza. He read about my work on Twitter and thought I would be a good addition to the ignite session of Social Justice Camp. I went with my friend Cindy Throop. It was an amazing night! I met so many empowered and energized activists like Greg Woods and Kelli Shewmaker. They were so inspiring. Then sixteen people gave rapid fire five minute speeches with twenty slides, and I got a very fast immersion education about public health, homeless causes and the power of social media in Washington DC.

I left that meeting energized and made so many wonderful connections that would dramatically affect my life in 2010.

I met Chai Shenoy and Shannon Lynberg with Hollaback DC. They would inform me of the dangerous impact of sexual harassment on the citizens of DC. I would agree to work with them on a mural project, and at this point we are waiting for a wall on which to paint our vision. I would present with them at a Chispa event and blog talk radio.

Save Our Safety Net:  Super Hero Banner

I would meet Joni Podschun and Greg Bloom with the Save Our Safety Net campaign. They would invite me at attend city council meetings to show support for keeping city services intact for our poorest citizens. They created a branding campaign where our council leaders who supported the safety net were depicted as super heroes. So I painted a large banner for them of all the council members who had supported the concept. We then stood arm in arm around the Wilson Building supporting the safety net and holding up the banner.

Due to my work with Greg and Joni, I would talk with Lance Kramer, who would ask me to work on the healthy food in DC schools campaign. Lance and I came up with a great arts action but would not get to complete it due to a city council decision, but Lance would contact me over the summer to place a show of my advocacy art in the local coffee shop Modern Times in the Politics and Prose bookstore.


I met Eric Sheptock at Social Justice Camp. He was recently profiled in The Washington Post, and would learn firsthand of his homeless advocacy while being himself homeless. He would become a good friend on Facebook and would inspire me to host several events at my church St. Paul’s, that would fund our homeless shelter and homeless causes in DC.

Deal Social Justice Murals

In February, I would begin working with the 6th, 7th and 8th grade artists at Deal Middle School on a series of six social justice murals. I would get to talk and work with fifty youths as they focused on, discussed, and then painted about social justice issues throughout the globe. These six paintings are on permanent display at the school. They look so pretty when you just glance at them, but if you take a moment and truly look at them, you can see the sadness they convey.


I would meet Amanda Jones from Out of The Boat Ministries, and she would alert me to the homeless youth who must couch surf from home to home as they do not have a safe place to live. Then during the blizzard in February, I would see a tweet from Amanda saying that she would need a place to stay once she came home via Union Station as none of the over-ground Metro stations were working. I replied that I was only five blocks from Van Ness/UDC, so she trudged over four foot drifts to come to spend the night. She played for hours with Isaac and filled our house with joy as she couch-surfed into our lives. In March, she would rally with me for patient’s rights. In May, she would come back to help me run a rummage sale at St. Paul’s Lutheran to help homeless ministries.

Isaac and Ben at the Diner

I would meet Ben Merrion who works with the non-profit DC Learns adult literacy outreach at MLK Library. I would find out that Ben was on the board of Hollaback DC. Ben too would rally with me in March for patients' rights. He would also attend my gallery show at Clinovations in July even though it meant missing a church choir practice. I would find out that in addition to being an activist, he was as geeky as the rest of my friends and family. He would come over and watch long Doctor Who marathons with Will Kemp, Michael Wenthe, Rebecca Boggs, and our little family. He helped bring back joy and laughter to my boys and me, and I can happily say that we both have Facebook profiles that state we are in a relationship. I think of the "trouble" we can cause together.

So, I can rightly say Social Justice Camp rocked my world. I made so many contacts that opened my eyes and sent me into new directions of thought. So, I would like all my health friends to meet all my activist friends so we can create some great ripples together. That is why I have teamed up with Social Justice Camp.

I would like to throw a stone in the water and watch the ripples grow. I would like to see what happens when we get such amazing people together and create an intricate web. I hope you can join me…. You can register to attend at here.


  1. This sounds like a great confluence of empowering communities! The images of spider webs and water ripples are very evocative.

    These images remind me of a book by Paul Hawken I read and wrote about several years ago: Blessed Unrest: Environmental and Social Justice for all ... or Bust! As I described the book at the outset of my review:

    ''In his latest book (and video), environmentalist, entrepreneur, journalist, and author Paul Hawken achieves a remarkable balance between breadth and depth in arguing that in order to restore environmental and social balance on this earth, we must strive for both, or we will achieve neither. Noting that "we are nature", and thus however we treat the earth affects its people and however we treat one another affects the earth, Hawken presents a systems approach in which recognizing our interrelatedness, taking advantage of our interconnectedness, and acting with greater consciousness may allow us to save ourselves and our planet from the brink of disaster.''

    I was unaware of the Health 2.0 movement back then, but reading how you frame it in this post, I can see how patients' rights fits into the broader notions of social justice. FWIW, I highly recommend Hawken's book for anyone working on grass-roots social justice movements.

    I won't be able to join you at the upcoming Social Justice Camp(s), but I wish you and your compatriots all the best as you build an amazing web of advocacy!

  2. Joe, that sounds wonderful! I can't wait to read it. I am sorry you won't be able to be there! Maybe next time....