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Becoming Activist

Critical Literacy and Youth Organizing


Elizabeth Bishop

Becoming Activist is a revolutionary study of youth human rights activism and literacy learning. The book follows five urban youth organizers from the Drop Knowledge Project in New York City. Intentionally polyvocal, the voices of the five youth are featured prominently to highlight the shifting articulation of their activist identities in relation to social and economic justice. Becoming Activist explores critical literacy pedagogy beyond the confines of formal education. While it has been historically theorized within English classrooms, much existing research points to the limitations of conducting critical literacy in schools. In search of a space where critical literacy can be more fully realized, this book positions urban youth organizing as an alternative context for powerful community-based learning. A valuable read for educators, researchers, and young organizers, Becoming Activist offers insight into conducting literacy work to promote positive youth and community development. Ultimately, the idea of «becoming» is key to understanding and supporting youth activists as they grow to exercise their political power for positive social change.
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Chapter 2. Step One: Mobilizing to Disrupt the Commonplace

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In this chapter, I begin to map out the trajectories of the five individual youth organizers becoming activist. The present participle form of the word “becoming” is important here because it points to the continual shifting and deferral in defining one’s self. Likewise, “activist” is both singular and plural in acknowledging the individual and multiple iterations of activisms. I aim to explore both the distinctiveness of their lives and the plurality that emerges from their foci on collectivity and shared struggle. I start with Vaga De Franx and take a nonnarrative tour through our discursive exchanges, using interview dialogue data to guide our understandings. I repeat this cycle with Gentle Meadows, Green Strawberries, People’s Republic of Mars, and Awesome Woman. As self-reportage was key in keeping with the ethical-political schema of this study, participants are quoted at length to support the notion, well matched for research built around transgressive validity (Lather, 2007), that there is value in letting the data speak for themselves (Gould, 1981).

I focus particularly on the critical literacy praxis through which they engage in the work of activism and organizing. Data collected from each participant were organized first through the taxonomy of critical literacy. The ← 13 | 14 → five categories of this taxonomy are provided with varying subsection titles to reflect the differing themes that emerged in dialogue with each participant. The data from the interviews were coded through this taxonomy and excerpts that were selected for publication best fit the realm of these categories,...

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