Last Friday the Freedom Archives led two sessions at San Francisco State University for the 11th Annual Ethnic Studies Conference geared to high school students. We brought two films – A Tribute to George Jackson and Attica is All of Us. The first session was packed while the second session was not as well attended however both workshops generated important conversations and the students were very engaged with the subjects of the films. Prior to our workshops, few students had heard of George Jackson and even fewer had heard of the Attica Rebellion.
It was quickly apparent during the opening conversations in both sessions that few students had much basic background information or had given thought to imprisonment on a regular basis, so it became important to talk about prison and mass incarceration in general to contextualize the Attica and George Jackson films. In one session, it was even necessary to teach a bit of US History to provide explanation concerning the beginning of the war on drugs. It soon became clear that the students wanted having their questions about prisons addressed rather than focusing solely on the videos. Topics included the parallels between the Oakland gang injunctions, which the students were definitely aware of, and the process of gang validations behind prison walls. They understood the centrality of racial solidarity as a strategy of resistance in prison as well as in their own lives and in their own neighborhoods.
Feedback from the students was very positive, and they were very engaged in the issues. Students willingly participated, brought interesting personal experiences into the conversations and were adamant that they were never taught about these topics in school, but should be, as mass incarceration and violent policing affects their communities and their everyday lives.