CSUF students ‘Unite to Rise Above Apathy’

Santa Ana-based spoken word artist and poet Abraham Medina

The Eighth Annual Social Justice Summit was held at Cal State Fullerton with over 600 attendees on Saturday. The free all-day event organized by the Volunteer and Service Center featured speakers and workshops with the theme “Unite to Rise Above Apathy.” Over 50 student volunteers facilitated 24 workshops during three sessions led by campus professors, community activists, artists and students. The hour-long workshops featured discussions and presentations about the most pressing social justice issues today.

Students had a diverse range of workshops to choose from over the course of the day. CSUF professor Jarret Lovell, Ph.D. hosted a circle discussion about nonviolent civil disobedience.

"Occupy" panel featuring Occupy activists from LA and Santa Ana

The “Occupy” workshop featured activists from Occupy Santa Ana and Occupy Los Angeles, with the discussion starting off with a “Mic check!” During the workshop “RACISM-Alive and Breeding: Recognizing its Different Forms,” led by Don Han, from OC Human Relations, participants broke off into groups to discuss their experiences with racism.

The presentation given by Santa Ana’s El Centro Cultural de Mexico, “Immigration Policy Change at a Local Level through Arts and Culture,” started with guitars and songs leading into a presentation about local activism.

Ron Thomas, father of Kelly Thomas, who was beaten and tasered by police last year in Fullerton, presented information about homelessness and mental illness during his workshop in the Titan Theatre.

Other workshops featured presentations on topics such as Middle Eastern relations, human trafficking, feminism, organic food, immigration, free trade policies, women of Juarez and U.S. militarization of Latin American schools.

Michelle Portillo, Fullerton resident and CSUF alumna, came to the summit after reading about the event in a community paper. The preschool teacher and mother of four brought her husband Carlos and 15-year-old son Jesse.

“I think I’ve been very apathetic … there’s been so many cuts to education, (the preschool has) felt it and we don’t have a whole lot of support,” said Portillo. “I was feeling discouraged and I saw ‘Rise Above Apathy’ and I thought ‘oh my goodness, I have got to grab my family.’”

Portillo and her family went to the workshop, “Abolishing the Prison Industrial Complex,” presented by CSUF professor Brady Heiner.

“For me, I always thought the punishment fit the crime,” she said. “The statistics (he) talked about gave me a different set of eyes now because I have more compassion and I realized that it’s unjust.”

The summit began with keynote speaker Jeb Middlebrook, Ph.D., from the Solidarity Institute, and ended with Abraham Medina, a Santa Ana-based spoken word artist and activist, performing. Medina said he has been a part of the event before, and was drawn back into it by the theme of this year’s summit.

“Apathy and the illusion of neutrality can be fatal in a moment of crisis,” said Medina. “When you have to take a stand, when you have to take action … definitely one of the first things … (is asking) ‘What are the consequences of not doing anything?'”

Among his performances were passionate pieces about the experiences of undocumented immigrants, including a piece about the controversial Arizona legislation SB 1070. He said his spoken word pieces are an attempt to humanize the undocumented immigrant experience for his audience.

“We first have to overcome the fear,” Medina said. “The first thing is being undocumented and unafraid because our stories have to be told … at the moment that you personalize the issue, people relate to you.”

Medina shared the floor in front of the stage with Christian Lopez after his performance. Lopez, in a wheelchair due to muscular dystrophy, was Medina’s surprise guest speaker. They met during the summit earlier in the afternoon where Lopez shared his work with Medina.

Medina invited him to join in the spotlight. After Medina’s performance, Lopez read a piece about the injustices relating to discrimination against the disabled.

Karley White, a project director for the event, said the annual Social Justice Summit encourages participants to get out of their comfort zone to learn about issues affecting them.

To go along with the idea of “getting people out of their comfort zone,” the summit in the Titan Student Union was complete with signs on the restrooms that read “Gender Neutral,” the idea of public restrooms not conforming to the gender roles of society.

White said the small change to the restrooms in the TSU for the conference shows it is not just an event, but instead an experience where organizers and speakers strive to change perceptions as well as create dialogue.

Originally featured in The Daily Titan

Amber Stephens