This past weekend I had the opportunity to spend my Saturday at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter Minnesota to attend an activism conference called “Uprooting Injustice." I was made aware of the conference through the sustainability department and, although the conference wasn’t ecologically centered, it was very relevant to the ideas central to environmental activism.
The day of the conference was supposed to start at 5:30 am, but after hitting the snooze button four times, it wasn't until 6:15 that I actually climbed out of bed and raced to the Union for the 6:30 group meet up. Luckily I made it on time and our three hour drive north soon began. Upon arriving at Gustavus, we (six Luther students) attended an opening session headlined by Nekima Levy-Pounds—a mayoral candidate for Minneapolis and a prominent member of the Black Lives Matter movement. Throughout the day, we attended various sessions and got to explore the campus a little bit. I went to a session led by a member of the pro-gay marriage “Vote No” campaign in Minnesota that managed to end a 30-state losing streak for marriage equality movements. He talked to us about the various strategies that the campaign used in order to sway people on the issue. I also attended a session on implicit bias where we took tests to identify our own subconscious biases and then had a discussion/presentation about the topic. Both were very interesting, welcoming, and enlightening.
The highlighted workshop for the day was led by an artist, Naomi Natale, who has combined art and activism in her life to create really powerful projects that have brought together thousands of people and raised awareness of various human-rights violations and other tragedies. The closing session was a speech by Winona Laduke and was by far my favorite part of the conference. Laduke, an Ojibwe Native American, is a two time vice-presidential candidate for the Green Party (with Ralph Nader as the main candidate) and has been a champion for environmental activism. Lately she has been heavily involved with fighting oil companies over proposed pipelines routed through Native American land. Her speech to the conference was centered around action on environmental issues. At one point, she even criticized Gustavus for their lack of substantial wind and solar facilities on its campus; us Luther students subtly grinned at each other in response to this, thinking of Luther's own wind turbine and numerous solar panels. The speech lasted almost two hours, but I barely noticed. I was truly engrossed and intrigued by what Laduke had to say. Her bluntness, passion, and fiery language was very energizing and I hope that she might come talk at Luther one day.
Overall, the conference was an wonderful experience and I’m very thankful to Luther in making these opportunities readily available to interested students. It is one of the best aspects of Luther and I can’t wait to see where else I will go to learn and explore.