Will hope end inequality?

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Amanda Burke/Staff

Last week, the latest video in the Blum Center for Developing Economies’ #GlobalPOV series was released, asking an important question about the role of hope in social change efforts.  Last week, approximately 8,000 undocumented residents were deported from the country where they have lived their lives, raised their families and planted their dreams. Last week, undocumented students known as the DREAM 30 sat on the edge of potential deportation because of their participation in a civil disobedience action at the border between the United States and Mexico, calling for humane immigration policies. The risky action of these young people and the video asks a question every UC Berkeley student should be wrestling with.  How can hope be a tool for those who are earning degrees from one of the most prestigious public universities in the world?

The video, titled “Will Hope End Inequality,” is the latest installment of the #GlobalPOV video series, which combines critical social theory, improvised art and digital media to explore innovative ways of thinking about poverty, inequality and undertaking poverty action. This video in particular is a reflection on the politics of hope rooted in my work as a researcher who has spent the last 10 years learning from undocumented youth activists. Undocumented young people in California — some of whom are on this campus — have been fighting for educational justice and immigrant rights for the past 15 years. This fight has reconfigured the political terrain of the state. The DREAMers’ embrace of civil disobedience aligns with a rich political history, in this country and around the world, that asserts that unjust laws must be broken. The risks are high. When undocumented students risk arrest in an act of civil disobedience, they are risking not only jail but also deportation. Despite this vulnerability, they are unwilling to sit aside and wait for change to come.

What can we learn from these students? I would suggest it is about figuring out who you are in that #GlobalPOV video.

Are you the one who is wearing the bracelet, donating a few extra dollars and comfortably repeating a line about how you will “give back” at some point in the future once you have a degree? Or are you the one who is not just thinking about what you’ll do after graduation but who you will be? Someone who has not just resolved to “help” but to stand in solidarity with the most marginalized members of our society? Someone who is not just hoping that change comes but is serious about doing something to bring that change about?

And change on an individual level is not the same as change on an institutional level. I’m just going to say it. Making a difference in one person’s life isn’t enough. Making a difference in 100 people’s lives isn’t enough. Social change is not like the jar of marbles your kindergarten teachers kept on the table, depositing one each time the class behaved correctly. Remember that jar? Once it was filled to the brim, the class got a prize.

Social change won’t come by single, incremental deposits in the marble jar of justice. Social change will come when we call out the structural roots of inequality and resolve to challenge them. Social change will come when the system can no longer constrain the unified voice demanding that change. Social change will come when it has no other choice.

Once you graduate from UC Berkeley, you will be among the most privileged people in the world; the question of what you will do with this privilege is a question it is easier not to think about. But you must ask yourself what kind of hope you will subscribe to. The video draws from educational researcher Jeff Duncan-Andrade’s differentiation between different kinds of hope.  He explained, “Hokey hope would have us believe that change will not cost us anything. This kind of hope is mendacious. It never acknowledges pain. Audacious hope stares down the painful path, and despite the overwhelming odds against us making it down that path to change, we make the journey again and again. There is no other choice.” Some of you will subscribe to the sort of hope that allows you to sit on the sidelines surmising you are doing all you can. Others will refuse, as the DREAMers have, and instead will live their lives guided by  hope that demands they get up and fight.

The reality is that with that diploma, you are going out into a world that is marked by deep inequity and profound injustice. We see a widening gulf between the rich and the poor, a generation of children growing up in poverty, people without access to food or a safe place to sleep at night. More than 46 million people in this country live in poverty. Twenty-two percent of the children in this country live in homes described as “food-insecure.” There are children in our communities who go to bed hungry.

This is the country we live in.

This is the legacy we have inherited.

So when you leave UC Berkeley with a diploma in hand, what will you do? And how will you leave? Ready to do your part to uphold the social order or resolved to challenge it?

Genevieve Negrón-Gonzales is a former lecturer in the global poverty and practice minor and currently serves as an assistant professor of education at the University of San Francisco.

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