“Power, privilege, oppression, compassion!” Diversity Training on Race & Culture in Education on April 13-14, Portland, OR. Workshop by Mother Earth School & Mandala Center for Change. Interview with Instructors Marc Weinblatt & Cheryl Harrison by Planetshifter.com Magazine.

Introduction -

This workshop is designed for the individual, group or organization that values the awareness of privilege, oppression and its implications in life and learning. It is work much needed in all communities, especially ones like this wonderful permaculture community, and is aimed at helping us come into better understanding and relations with diverse races, classes, and cultures. The workshop will navigate some of the many '....isms' that prevents us from truly caring for each other and contributing to a balance of power and responsibility both close and far. Please share this opportunity with anyone you think may be interested.

Interview with Marc Weinblatt & Cheryl Harrison by Willi Paul -

Please compare Augusto Boal’s community-based education and Occupy’s tactics and principles?

The roots of Boal's Theatre of the Oppressed is in line with the Occupy Movement's basic principals of economic justice and "revolution" so that all people have "enough" resources. Boal did not use the language of the 1% but there is much in common for sure. We would add a counterpoint which is relevant to how we approach our diversity work. For us, the lines between oppressor and oppressed can be more blurry -- that almost everyone is both "oppressor" (dominant) and "oppressed" (marginalized) in different ways, depending on their social group membership.

A wealthy woman of color may not struggle economically but will be more likely to be stopped by police or sexually harassed on the street than a working class white man. And a corporate CEO in a wheelchair has to worry where he is going to pee when he leaves the house more than any able-bodied person, rich or poor. And the Occupy Movement, as any social justice entity, has oppression embedded within it. For example, a female colleague who camped out in Occupy's early days at New York's Zuccotti Park complained about "no safe space for women" and "white guys completely dominating the dialogue". Our work considers all these sorts of examples and much more.

It would seem that some of us are immune or shielded from the “institutionalized” oppression in our communities; how do we deny racism and injustice day after day when so many suffer?

One word: privilege. That is not just reserved for the "1%". Most of us carry privilege in one or more of our social group memberships. There is privilege in dealing with it or not. For example, People of Color in the USA always have to deal with racism, even if it is subtle or unintentional. White people often don't notice the subtle manifestations (e.g. whose history is taught at school) and can often avoid dealing with it, even if they do notice. We deny because it is easier to do so. Working for change when it does not obviously affect one's daily life is much harder. But when we do, our shared humanity grows by leaps and bounds.

How does religion play a role in our training and involvement in racism and oppression?

Religion is one of the main categories in diversity work and, though not necessarily chosen by participants for much focus in workshops, it is always included in our theoretical framework. If one is not a member of the dominant "normative" social group (in the USA, that is Christian), there is more struggle -- if not blatant oppression. The challenge is simply being recognized and accepted as "normal". In addition, some religions are hard to separate from ethnicity. Perhaps not about skin color which tends to be the focus of racism in the USA, there is often ethnicity and cultural practice embedded in those groups regardless of their spiritual practice. And the societal prejudice/oppression which accompanies that. Jews and Muslims for example.

What sources of positive and negative power will you discuss at the workshop? How can we better share power?

That is a long discussion. Our workshops are mostly "popular education" in style, meaning we don't give answers; we invite people to come up with their own solutions. All we will say in response is that power, by definition, is not the problem. It's a naturally occurring force and an inevitable social dynamic. The key is how we handle it and, as you suggest, share it in a good way. For me (Marc) personally, as I bring awareness to my privilege, the key is not necessarily to "give up" my power but (perhaps not so simple) to simply get out of the way. To make room for others to rise to their potency. Sometimes that just means shutting up. That, one might say, is life work -- both a personal and a global level. Can the United States share its power? So far, not very well it would seem. And we (the U.S.) are falling because of it.

“Internalized oppression” sounds like cancer? Yes?

Yes, good metaphor. Internalized oppression is the "internalization" of dominant societal messages -- an outside element which becomes imbedded in one's psyche and infects one's self-identity as being "less than", unworthy, even "bad". (Media's constant portrayal of black people as criminals is just one example.) There it lives and grows, kind of like cancer. The work then is to counter those messages and transform them, to reclaim the healthy, worthy, equal self-identity that we are all born with.

How is Threatre competing with the internet in meeting your goals?

Theatre CAN'T compete with the internet. Nothing can in terms of reaching vast numbers of people. However, one can harness the massive power of the internet in our theatre work. A colleague in Vancouver, BC has been doing live streaming video "Forum Theatre" performances for years. Audiences see the play (anti-model) then can respond via "chat" or phone in their ideas for possible solutions, live in the moment. The actors will then try out some ideas suggested by the global virtual audience. It's great but takes superior technology to do well without audience frustration.

That said, we really love the live theatre experience. It reaches far fewer numbers for sure but is a more visceral and, in my opinion, potentially transformative personal experience. There's nothing like actively getting up on stage yourself to practice your ideas or watching the person next to you do that. It's a body experience that looking into a screen just can't provide. Using both together can be very potent.

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Connections –

Diversity Training on Race & Culture in Education
Workshop by Mother Earth School & Mandala Center for Change
April 13-14, Portland, OR

Registration: Mother Earth School
(503) 893-9774 or

Program Info: Mandala Center for Change
(360) 344-3435 or

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Instructor Bios -

Marc Weinblatt, Founder & Co-Director

Marc has been a professional educator, theatre artist, activist, and workshop facilitator since 1980 having extensive experience with both adults and youth. Formerly Co-Artistic Director of the Seattle Public Theatre, Marc is an internationally recognized leader in the use of Augusto Boal’s ground breaking Theater of the Oppressed (T.O.) to stimulate community dialogue and social change. He has worked with diverse communities ranging from police to homeless youth, grassroots organizers and laborers to University deans. Internationally, Marc has worked with theatre activists in Canada, refugees in Azerbaijan, construction workers in South Africa, slum families in India, actors in the Republic of Congo, and victims of war, among others, in Afghanistan. Marc was recently named “Cultural Envoy” by the U.S. State Department for his work in the Congo in spring 2010. Marc regularly facilitates T.O. based diversity / anti-oppression workshops in a wide variety of contexts across the U.S. with a commitment to bringing a deep sense of spirit and humanity into social justice work. He also directs the multi-generational Poetic Justice Theatre Ensemble which incorporates T.O. and Playback Theatre techniques to generate community dialogue on burning social issues. One of Augusto Boal’s “multipliers”, Marc has trained thousands of people in the use of Theatre of the Oppressed techniques through his classes and annual week-long intensive trainings since the early 1990′s.

Cheryl Harrison, Associate Artist

Former founding member of Seattle Public Theater’s Theater of Liberation Ensemble, Cheryl has been active in anti-oppression and empowerment work with people of all ages since the mid 1980′s and has designed and facilitated workshops and trainings locally, statewide, nationally and internationally. Using music, theater, lectures, and a variety of experiential activities both Theater of the Oppressed based as well as non-T.O. based, Cheryl has worked with a wide array of organizations and communities such as homeless youth and other marginalized social groups, domestic violence survivors, school age youth, nurses, work transition programs (YWCA), as well as universities and colleges. Some agencies and organizations include the State of Washington (DSHS and Department of Labor and Industries) the International Pedagogy and Theater of the Oppressed Conferences in New York, Nebraska, and Ohio, University of Minnesota, Kellogg Fellows, ACLU, Amnesty International, Wheaton College, PATH (Program for Appropriate Technology in Health), University of South Florida, Global Visionaries, Power of Hope, Labor Center at The Evergreen State College, and the Eastside Domestic Violence Program among others. Through her work Cheryl is committed to facilitating self-awareness and empowerment for individuals and communities as a means to create a world which values equity, understanding and compassion for all peoples around the world.

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