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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 11. Articulating Activist Identities

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Vaga De Franx articulated her identity as an undocumented student and community organizer. She is committed to local organizing and involves herself with citywide coalitions of other self-identified social justice activists. She identified moments and situations of injustice, such as a lack of access to affordable higher education in New York City, to organize against economic stratification and exclusion. She located her activism in relation to her personal life and her learning. In doing so, she highlighted the importance of understanding our histories through international, independent sources and using the mainstream media against itself. She made deep inquiries into who produces information and policy positions around topics such as the War on Drugs and the NYPD’s Stop and Frisk. She positioned her own activist work in relation to international struggles, building off of international models while recognizing the unique makeup of her communities in New York.

As an organizer, she facilitated anti-oppressive learning around publishers, Marxists, liberals, and progressives through peer education, study groups, teach-ins, and workshops. In that context, she asked probing questions that ← 121 | 122 → focus on elements such as shared readings, generative brainstorms, collective experiences, and the creation of a space for stories. She dissected the importance of and challenges around creating safe space for nonsectarian educative sessions. At the same time, she troubled elements of ideology in relationship to activism, advocating for forms of neutrality that do not push immovable political positions.

For Vaga De Franx, to be an activist means to...

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