Rear Left


Posted in Media & Movements by rearleft on April 22, 2010

Here are some excerpts from an interview I did last week with Le Tim Ly from the Partnership for Immigrant Leadership and Action (PILA) in San Francisco on the development of, an online community for sharing popular education resources. The interview was conducted as research towards a journal article I’m writing on the potential use of digital publishing technologies in progressive education and organising.

Dan O’Reilly-Rowe (DOR): Part of where I’m coming at this from is from my own experience in social justice and in non-profit work in the US and seeing very limited use of digital technologies. I’m really looking in this article at Build the Wheel as an example of the adoption of new technologies in a way that is seems very appropriate to popular education. Can you talk a little bit about where it came from, the partnerships around it, and bring us up to where we are now?

Le Tim Ly (LTL): Basically the idea for Build the Wheel started probably a good 6 or 7 years ago. I was a youth organiser with an organization called YUCA (Youth United for Community Action) and part of our work regularly was coming up with popular education curriculum for the young people that we were working with, and I also had friends working in other youth organizations and other worker organizations and often we would try to tap each other and say ‘have you done a workshop about this?’ and ‘have you done something around this?’. At every conference or every gathering you’d go to it’d be like ‘oh, if only there was a way that we could figure out how to share resources with each other, that would save us so much time, and not have to do the same thing over and over again’. So that’s kind of where the idea came from. I don’t think that there was an original idea, it was something that folks had naturally brought up as a need for a long time. A few of us who had been working on this project at Liberation Ink, a volunteer-run t-shirt collective were just sitting around talking about what it would look like to build something that where we could share not just with each other, but broadly, and we could get everyone’s resources onto one place. So that’s kind of where the idea came from. We were already over-worked organizers, it was a slow-coming process and we started reaching out to different folks about the idea and kind of doing a survey, an initial assessment way before the name Build the Wheel even came into existence. Wanted to get a sense from folks what they wanted to see, what they wanted this to look like. That’s how it started and how it developed.

DOR: Those organizations, they were progressive social justice organizations? Were they explicitly organizing, education, or a mix of these things?

LTL: The folks we reached out to were progressive social justice organizations, folks that were building bases in working class communities, or supporting those folks that were building in working class communities.

DOR: So, popular education was already a methodology that was being used by these communities?

LTL: Yes.

DOR: Talk about why you think that might be. Why is that an appropriate model for the type of work being done by those groups?

LTL: I think for many reasons, from my own background and leanings popular education is about the process of getting people to engage with their realities, getting them to understand and think about and analyze their realities and then take action. I think that’s exactly what progressive organizing groups want to do, is to basically get people to become actors, agents in their world, agents of change. The popular education methodology, and principles and approach are very much in line with that. Not to be passive folks, to be soldiers, or to be thinking soldiers in an organisation in a battle, to be agents.

DOR:  Why a website? How can Build the Wheel support that type of popular education work towards movement activity?

LTL: I would say that Build the Wheel is not an end all be all. You can’t just take a tool, Build the Wheel, and necessarily do a popular education training or process, just off the bat, because popular education demands more than that. But where I think that Build the Wheel comes in is that it gives folks a running start, for folks to be able to take something that’s already been done and really adapt it to their particular needs. Often what I do as someone who’s about to do a training is to look for other resources that are out there, see what else has been done to kind of build from that. I think that what we’re able to do with a website is, if successful, to harness as much of the collective experience and knowledge as possible into a place that can be broadly shared, instead of just depending on networks that someone might have to access that information. I think that’s particularly important for areas that are less resourced, and have less support networks, to be able to tap into the work that’s from other places, or the body of work from the rest of the country, or the world at some point in time. Because you know I think we take for granted sometimes… like me, doing organizing in the San Francisco Bay Area. The network’s more developed, and we can take advantage. We might know people who would have access to this information, we could talk to people but still it’s not like we share all these things with each other, so it can be a tool to support that.

DOR: So much of the discourse on the use of technologies in education comes from a framework of civic engagement and talks about participatory culture in terms of civic engagement, but doesn’t necessarily have the transformative angle that I think social justice work does in the US right now, so I’m thinking about where this fits into this civic engagement discussion.

LTL: I think civic engagement is one of those potential code words. When I hear civic engagement I think of it as a way to talk about organizing work to sell to funders or a more mainstream audience, to talk about community organizing. It is civic engagement, what organizing is about. It is civic engagement, but it’s more than that. I guess it’s civic engagement to a different level. We’re talking about the process of coming together to imagine a different world, and a different way of being, and then fighting for that. I think there’s limitations to how that can be done, from what I’ve seen, in the online world. Because it’s ultimately about building relationships and crossing comfortable areas. I think that there’s a role for things like Build the Wheel, and things like online advocacy, and things like civic engagement tools, but it’s also very comfortable. So I think that’s kind of an area to figure out, because organising, if it’s being effective, it shouldn’t be too comfortable. You’re talking about bringing people together that are being pushed apart, needing to learn about each other and each other’s struggles, needing to deal with stereotypes and prejudices that we have between each other.


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  1. Published « Rear Left said, on January 19, 2012 at 7:02 PM

    […] presented some similar ideas at the Making Links conference in Perth, November of 2011. I’ve excerpted parts of it in these pages […]

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