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Drawing Inspiration from High School Youth at the MET

 

Bringing GRI’s message and the work of our partners to a public high school audience in Providence, Rhode Island is one of those things I wish we could be doing more of. So on Monday morning at the crack of dawn I got up, to lead an assembly or « Pick Me Up » as they called it, at one of the schools of the Met (Metropolitan Regional and Technical Center)–a unique state-funded public school K-12, that is structured around students individualized projects and skills development.

For the first half of my presentation I asked 10 volunteers to come forward to demonstrate an exercise developed by the social justice organization SOUL, aimed at demonstrating global wealth inequalities.

At first all the students sat in their respective ten chairs, a little timid and content representing a world of equal wealth distribution. By the time they had been shifted around and eight of them found themselves sharing 3 chairs while the other two were relaxing on seven it started to become more lively.

« How are you feeling? »

« Cramped! I have no space…move over! » was the overwhelming response from one end of the spectrum.

« Chillin! » was the response from the other.

« What would you all on the cramped end do? »

« I would fight for my piece. Maybe start looting, robbing? »

« Who would you be fighting with? »

« My neighbors over here. »

« Not the people over here who are chilling? »

« No, » another person disagreed, « We all need to be working together and sharing the little that we got »….and the conversation continued that way illustrating some of the dynamics and structural aspects of unequal power and wealth distribution in the U.S. and in the world.

We had begun the conversation by talking about wealth and what it means, so I picked that back up after the exercise to begin talking about some of the reasons wealth is unevenly distributed.

 

We looked at land in Mexico and the way in which free trade policies and changes in the land reform laws that Zapata had fought for in the early 1900’s, have led small farmers to lose land and sell the only thing they have left to the maquila factories at la frontera norte: their labor.

We talked about parallel trends at home and about people organizing to protect their access to land and right to sustainable livelihoods, using our partner CAMPO as an example.

In the « What You Can Do » section of my presentation I was unsure what to say but ended up talking about the importance of acting locally and globalizing our actions. A few hours later, I found myself sitting in a room of 30 or so students planning their fundraising activities to finance a group trip to Tanzania in 2006. From bake sales to childcare to car washes these youth were giving their all to collectively raise the $5000.00 per youth it will take them to get to Tanzania, with no trust funds, rich parents or foundation connections to draw on.

Doing the math I thought to myself, wow that’s $150,000.00 of hardcore grassroots community fundraising.

And why?  » To be able to participate in a once in a lifetime experience…to give back…to share…because I’ve always wanted to go to Africa. »

I came away honored and inspired to have witnessed their energy, determination, compassion and drive, and I was excited to bring some of that back to our own work here at Grassroots International.