As the site and occasion of this year’s conference, Chicago and its robust local histories of activism did everything to offer a welcoming place for collaborative rehearsal--not without debate and disagreement and laughter--as to what pedagogies of dissent can look, feel, and sound like. The time and place of the conference provided an important space of relief for many to be able to do their work: to exchange ideas and conversation with others, to work in company and not isolation, to find the resolute joy in times of despair. Important historical work was taken up. Actions of past and present, both major and minor, were set down for the collective record. We were given close readings of dissent’s actual mechanics—decisions ordinary and grand—about what people do to make where they are better. Many participants pushed their work beyond conventional forms and approaches to craft novel observations that refused to be paralyzed by the current conditions of struggle.
While many participants took up the conference theme to offer a wide range of work about dissent, the program’s featured artists, activists, teachers, scholars, and archivists encouraged linking models for doing dissent. And they did so even when they couldn’t be physically present. Musicians brought their experiences to bear on recordings we can take up and revisit at any time, people no longer with us in body made strong imprints in spirit with the visions of justice they left behind, and absent comrades here and abroad palpably inspired the annual meeting this year.
Some memories linger large. A filled-to-capacity session on the Combahee River Collective Statement brought forward the comradery and commitment that enduringly describes the central role of Black women's theorizing and organizing to the critique of racism, patriarchy, and capitalism; the young actors of the Albany Park Theatre Project, our Artist-in-Residence, compellingly showed us how casually cruel, racialized immigration policies and capitalist practices of abandonment of communities are made manifest in the lives of real people; the teach-in "Breaking the 'ICE'" demonstrated how courageous, creative acts of resistance on the part of student Dreamers and their faculty allies could emerge from intensified vulnerability; sessions focused on anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and fascism powerfully demanded that we collectively work harder to undo the ignorance sustaining these ideologies and their subtending structures; undergraduate student participants spoke insightfully of the intellectual and social experiences that brought them to American studies; the Dissent Mixtape multiplied the sounds of protest, resistance, refusal, and rage; union members from Chicago public schools and several Illinois colleges and universities led a “teach-in” on how we might organize across institutions to build stronger alliances in the face of ongoing assaults, especially on public education, at all levels; and, a standing-room-only crowd both celebrated and critically engaged the continuing salience of Cathy Cohen’s “Punks, Bulldaggers, and Welfare Queens,” on its twentieth anniversary. All of this vital instruction reminds the Association of the long view.
Amidst this energizing array, several events gave us a chance to venture out of the conference hotel and into some of the distinctive institutions and neighborhoods of Chicago. The Newberry Library generously co-sponsored a reception and session on “The Secret Life of Indigenous Archives,” where renowned scholars of indigenous studies reflected brilliantly on the archival encounters at the center of their research, emphasizing the ambivalences, disappointments, intimacies, and creative responses particular to the pursuit of indigenous histories in the face of colonial violence, both in the past and the present. Guided tours of the Chicago neighborhoods of Argyle, Bronzeville, and Pilsen highlighted the importance of public art as a form of community activism and place-making especially for people of color in the city, and reminded all of us of the intimate link between creativity and dissent, and between aesthetics and politics.
We cannot recount everything that made "Pedagogies of Dissent" come to life as the full-blown, invigorating annual meeting that it was, and expect that everyone who attended will have their own points of emphasis. Perhaps, finally, what remains with us is the collective and collaborative ethos that was everywhere present -- in the work, thought, conversation, commiseration, celebration, and mourning, we did together. We are truly grateful to everyone who organized, attended, committed time and money and effort, and in all of these and other ways made this annual meeting and indeed, make the association possible. With our hope that the energies of the conference continue to generate new ways of enacting and thinking about both pedagogy and dissent, we look forward to the conversations that await us in Atlanta and beyond.
Alexandra T. Vazquez
Program Committee Co-Chairs