ASU organization aims to push activists to imagine a radically different future

Local to Global Justice will host its annual forum and festival in February with the theme "Radical Imaginations"

Whether it's spending hours hand-painting posters, marching through the streets in the summer heat or sacrificing nights to support a cause, the sometimes long, hard-fought journey of an activist can seem difficult at times.

But one ASU student-run organization hopes to show how activism can also provide a variety of benefits for community members and students alike and highlight the important role it can play in pushing society toward a better future.

Local to Global Justice, an organization founded by ASU students in 2001, aims to draw connections between local issues around ASU and larger global struggles. The organization, which is composed of students, faculty and community members, puts on a free, weekend-long forum and festival in Tempe and Phoenix to discuss the importance of activism and help those involved find better ways of creating change.

Rather than tackling a specific issue, the Local to Global Justice Forum and Festival serves to bring together community activist groups to learn from each other through workshops, panels, documentary screenings, and more, many of which take place on ASU's Tempe campus. The event also includes a direct action component, in which attendees this year will help organize care kits for asylum seekers escaping violence in Central America.

Beth Swadener, a justice studies professor and associate director of the School of Social Transformation, is the co-founder and co-faculty adviser of Local to Global Justice. Swadener said the forum and festival serve as a collaborative meeting space "where people exchange ideas."

This year’s theme, "Radical Imaginations," is aimed at helping people imagine different kinds of communities while not necessarily aiming for a utopia.

With the event, which will be held later on in February, the organization hopes to encourage attendees to reimagine a world without borders, gender-based discrimination or racism. 

The point is to push people to talk about "improbable possibilities that are yet still possible to imagine” in an effort to move humanity toward progress, Swadener said.

Holly White-Wolfe, a justice studies doctoral student, is an officer at Local to Global Justice and is on the planning team for the forum and festival.

White-Wolfe said the forum and festival can offer a platform for unique voices that may not often be heard, providing fresh perspectives on complicated issues. One of the sessions discusses the nuances of working with indigenous communities and another urges participants to evaluate whether or not their activism is accessible to the populations they are advocating for.

Local to Global Justice hopes to encourage those at the event to think critically about their world, and the way they approach activism. 

White-Wolfe said she believes the benefits to students who participate in activism are manifold. 

“We're going to get a better understanding of the people that we hope to serve and the issues as they see them,” she said. “I think we'll have a much better perspective of how to best create programs and policies in order to serve the people that are the target of much of our academic focus.”

Student activism, White-Wolfe said, can be a defining aspect of personal identity. She said students tend to take pride in the movements they participate in and their connection to current affairs. 

Leadership at Activism for Our Lives @ ASU, the ASU chapter of March for Our Lives, said they hope to table the upcoming event. 

Samia Muraweh, a freshman double majoring in political science and mathematics and the vice president of Activism for Our Lives @ ASU, said student activism has an energy that can keep movements going. She said that it’s important to have hard conversations to allow people to learn the nuances of relevant issues. 

“Oftentimes people will care about an issue ... and not know exactly what it stands for or what it means," Muraweh said. “Youth activism can contribute to the movements.” 

She said her work as an activist has become a part of her identity. Taking action against a perceived injustice can shape who you are and how you see yourself, she said.

Jacob Sumner, computer science freshman and president of Activism for Our Lives @ ASU, said that there are a lot of benefits to taking action as a college student, including building confidence and public speaking skills while creating change.

“Students are the future, so we need to get off the sidelines and work to shape the world into what we want it to be like,” Sumner said.

The Local to Global Justice Forum and Festival this year takes place from Feb. 22 to 24, hosting attendees in Phoenix on Friday evening and carrying out workshops, activities and discussions at ASU's Tempe campus on Saturday and Sunday.

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