It’s a true story – I failed Texas History in middle school. I can’t even remember why I failed the class. What I am pretty certain of is that the Texas history I was taught did not dive into the history of colonization in the state (at least not without the romance novel version, complete with Stephen F. Austin and Sam Houston on horseback wearing flouncy shirts and saving everyone from savagery). I had no notion of local movements or struggles, either historical or current, that shaped my community. National news and issues were part of my thinking self, but not so much for the underlying context of those issues in my local community. And so the past remained as interesting as a summer reading list…entertaining, removed from my everyday life, and not taking up too much head space.
In thinking of how we educate about local social movements and weave those stories into the now to keep them alive, I immediately thought of two groups working here in Colorado. These groups bring together members of the community in ways that entertain while they challenge and inform, and create dialogue based on shared experiences that emerge from stories of the past. The Romero Theater Troupe is a social justice organic theater company focused on giving voice to those who have been silenced by history. The Troupe’s People’s History of Colorado is a series of productions about historical figures left out of text books who shaped the state in critical ways. Their method is to teach history through stories from the “bottom up”, broaching topics such as the history of white supremacy in Colorado, attempted border closings in the 1930’s to keep immigrants out of the state, the legacy of Adolf Coors and anti-LGBTQ legislation, and the imprisonment of Japanese Americans during WWII in Amache, CO. The Troupe itself, as a collection of community volunteers, is part teacher, part organizer, part activist, and part convener.
Another group educating about local social movements in a slightly more irreverent way is Warm Cookies of the Revolution, a civic health club in the Denver metro area. Just as folks go to the gym for their physical health, Warm Cookies hosts events for civic health. My favorite of these events is the Stompin’ Ground Games, where participants learn crucial historical lessons about a specific neighborhood and its landmarks, as well as current issues affecting those areas and ways to take action for change. This dive into historical and current issues of a neighborhood are accompanied by musical performances, food vendors, and other cultural events selected by members of that neighborhood as relevant to them. In addition to the Stompin’ Ground Games there’s also This Machine Has a Soul, The People vs ______________, Sin Tax Bingo, Civic Stitch and Bitch, Bring Your Government, and lots more.
I’m not saying I definitely would have passed 7th grade Texas history if it was conveyed through a community theater focused on the unheard voices of social movements, or if it was incorporated into an experience that mixed levity with the seriousness of social change. But I do know that these groups, among many others out there in communities across the country, are powerful vehicles for bringing together community members in the name of social justice and understanding, starting with the understanding of what struggles and movements have come before to shape the struggles and movements of today.
Hopefully you’ll join the Agora Project conversation on March 16th at 11am MST to talk more about local social movements and how these are integrated into higher education engagement in and with communities. Here’s the link to join the conversation. As a final note, I ended up majoring in History in college, writing my thesis about the migration of maquiladores from Mexico to Texas when the Great Migration of African Americans to the north shifted labor supplies and demands. And I passed that time.