Notes and Questions

Please allow 3-4 hours time in advance of our training for reading and reflection.  Take notes, pause, think about questions, what you like, what you don’t get, what is upsetting.  There is never time to talk about everything, but we can always talk about some things, and you can take the initiative to bring them up with other participants.

Thinking about Issues of Access

Our work together during the Institute considers the issue of “access” very broadly.  What does access mean?

Access includes everyday meanings, like seeing a sign that says “coastal access” or “no access.” It includes topics like having or not having a ride to the beach in private or public transport systems. It includes access to knowing how to swim. Another topic will be access to major surf contests like Mavericks, and learning about what gets in the way of contest organizers saying: Of course! Women should surf that contest, and they should be paid, and respected.

But access as a focus also helps us think about meanings that are less straightforward, as in access to imagination, access to the ability to see oneself in this place or that place.  Access to the assumption that your future matters, that society cares about you, you are a priority.  Why or why can we not imagine those kinds of access?

The readings below approach the topic of access from the perspectives of professors, writers, environmental policy makers and scientists, and artists. The point of variety is to notice, first, that access as a concept is being used in all these examples.  It makes our political thinking stronger to pay attention to how different uses of the concept help us to understand different issues or stakes related to access.



1. Robin Kelley — On the powers of imagination to dream worlds you want (about 15 pages)

Robin Kelley is a Professor of African American History at UCLA — he writes about music, politics, he’s very well known as an activist, you can see him talk in a lot of YouTube short videos.  This short piece we will read, below, is one where he is writing about his upbringing, and his mother’s teachings.  She saw hardship everywhere in Harlem where they made their home but what she FOCUSED on was life, that life was beautiful, that her children were responsible to care for the world around them, and that, as he tells us, “the Marvelous” is free. It does not cost anything. Kelley is finishing this book on literally 9/11, in NYC, watching out his bedroom window as the Towers collapse.  So he begins by asking what we do in a moment of catastrophe — where do we put our attention? What is the role of the imagination to help us through? To answer that question he travels through the history of black radical thought and while the specifics of this and that political philosophy of course matter, he is not debating them here.  He is focused on the larger point about how one makes a better world — which is to say how one claims one’s mind and does not give in to discouragement.

This text has nothing to do with surfing — it has to do with culture creation, which is what lots of surfeminism and surf movement building is about: creating worlds.  About figuring out how to create access to thinking differently about yourself, our worlds, each other.  Given that this present political moment, after the November 2016 election, often has been felt as another political catastrophe, the reading seemed timely.

Preface (ix-xii) + “When History Sleeps: A Beginning,” from The Black Radical Imagination (2002) Robin Kelley (1-12)

2.  Missy Elliott and Issues of Access in Feminist Hip Hop

We have two related items here. One is a brief article talking about why the rapper Missy Elliott is important. She embodies creativity and imagination, and playing in a totally different playing field than the one prescribed for female artists. In other words, she’s dealing with issues of access.

The other item is the iconic video, Missy Elliot, The Rain. Check out her rhymes, her moves, as she takes us, among other places, to the beach.

3. Women’s Surfing in Contexts of Globalization 

YouTube summary of Surfer Girls in the New World Order book (10 min) because it takes up lots of relevant questions about access. Though the term “access” is not here, one could say the whole book is about access.  The video talks about why Comer wrote the book, the big ideas of the book, it links women’s surfing in the 90s to girl power, to political economy, to specific geographies of surfing, and to the effort by women surfers to make their livelihoods in surf subcultural economies such as: surf shops, international surf camps, responsible tourism, surf lessons and organizations, photography, filmmaking, magazine work, etc.

It would be a fun task to think about how to use this YouTube material to talk explicitly about access.  We might try to APPLY ideas, that is, take what we are learning in this Institute training and REVISE some of the ideas here in the YouTube so they engage access directly as a concept or a practical matter.

10-min YouTube summary of Krista’s book for “big picture” of women’s surfing/globalization/activist surfing.


4. UCLA Coastal Access Policy Report, Jon Christensen (UCLA) and Philip King (SFSU)  (10 pages)

This brief public policy statement, subtitled “Access for All: A New Generation’s Challenges on the California Coast” is a good primer in coastal issues and policy debates right now.  It is divided into sections that highlight major concerns for citizens, activists, and elected officials.  Here are the sections: What the Coast Means to Californians, Issues of Access Right Now, Beach and Beachgoer Profiles, the Cost and Value of Visiting the Coast, Conclusions and Recommendations.  For many of us the informations provided here may be very familiar. At the same time, having this here forces us to confront practical and nuts and bolts topics related to local governance, decision making, and the basic literacies need to participate in or change the course of this discussion.

5.  “California Coastal Commission Appoints First Native American,” Dina Gilio-Whitaker for Indian Country Today (2017)

An informative article for Indian Country Today, the most widely read “Native newspaper” in the US (recently closed), by our own Dina Gilio-Whitaker, which profiles the history and politics of the California Coastal Commission in relation to the appointment of the first Native person to the CCC Board of Commissioners.  There are many important take-aways from this piece.  One might be to think about, in Native terms, what “access” means?  Another might be to appreciate the very broad mission and charge of the Coastal Commission which encompasses tribal claims as well as civil rights law.


6.  Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, “The Danger of a Single Story.”  Suggested by Tara Ruttenberg

This is an 18 minute TedX Talk (with transcript) by the Nigerian writer and MacArthur Fellow, Chimamanda Adichie.  Adichie splits her time these days between NYC and Nigeria. She grew up in Nsukka, in the house formerly occupied by the legendary Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe. This TEDX is a reflection piece about where stories come from?  Do they pop out of the blue into one’s mind?  This piece will help Tara do her work with us on Sunday, it also follows from last year’s topics about storytelling and social change movement building.  What influences create stories? How shall we make sense of these influences so are not tied to them without awareness, so we open up new stories that same something other than the “single story” that Adichie identifies.





There are MANY readings/videos/art works/music that could potentially be recommended.  Perhaps we need a separate page for suggestions, including material written/vides/art/music by people who are attending.

For now am posting just one here, which is not about “access” directly.  It is about process, and how to build strong scholarly and activist projects.  It was on the reading list also last year and informed our discussion in a general way about Sustaining the Institute itself as a collaborative project.

It’s by Laura Briggs, and helps us think about political allies, and about people being changed by activisms — ie transformative alliances.

Article Open Access by permission of Laura Briggs (thank you Laura!!):  Briggs- Activism and Epistemologies (2008)

Because the article is not accessible for general public, it’s for scholars, it seemed good to write out a “map” for the general reader about how to read it.

Summary of Briggs’s article.  Laura Briggs is very insightful and very challenging . . . her article is here those who are up for it. It’s about the ethics of specifically feminist collaborations, about labor, activism, and the knowledge coming out of these blended sites of new thinking. It is very helpful for us as we think about how we sustain the Institute itself.

This article is included here because it helps us to think about relationships between scholars and activists, especially those that span and tie together different places. The Institute emerged out of collaborative scholar-activist relationships across multiple places and continues to bring together activists and international scholars as well as artists and non-profit directors. As such, this article can help shape our ethics and raise questions about collaboration, labor, knowledge production, and political commitments. What does our collaboration look like? Who is doing the work? Who is willing to do the work? How does this impact the activist projects we do? How can we bring together the contributions that are unique to activists/artists as well as those that are unique to scholars?

The following summary—as well as the article—can help us as we begin to address these questions. This quote from Laura Briggs provides a good starting point: “My basic suspicion is that [scholars’] account of activism has been at once too much and not enough. That is, we give activists or oppressed people too much credit for always having a good analysis of their situation and always resisting it, something that often gets expressed through the term agency, on the one hand, and too little credit for their intellectual work, on the other hand.” Let’s break this down, and do so in a way that helps us to take away other key points from this article:

  • A lot of feminist, anti-capitalist, and anti-colonialist academic scholarship (and queer scholarship too, though Briggs doesn’t address that here) is indebted to activist efforts. Where people get their ideas is important. We must be able to ascribe ideas to political movements and to take seriously the intellectual contributions of activism. Activism is not a site where thinking stops, and no one should view it as such. This point should make us refuse any simple scholar/activist divides.
  • Briggs raises the issue of “speaking for” others. She cautions against speaking for others, but also recognizes that this position is limited. She draws from Gayatri Spivak (a famous postcolonial thinker) who warns that we link exploitation with knowledge or its absence in too simple a way. In other words, just because someone is oppressed or exploited does not necessarily mean that they will have a good analysis of their situation. So, we should question why and how people have come to “speak for” others, and also question those who believe it is always unethical to “speak for” others. Briggs is helping us to develop a politics of solidarity, and we should think about how “speaking for” has its limits and benefits. We should also think about what counts as “speaking for.”
  • We need to remember that activists and academics bring different skills to the table. Crafting “a politics of solidarity” requires that academics respect the intellectual work—among other work—that activists do and skills that activists have developed. It requires that academics remain willing to speak up in these collaborative spaces to challenge ideas in ways that scholars’ intellectual training makes possible. It requires that scholars believe in activists’ ability and willingness to engage in difficult, intellectually-driven conversations. And scholars must see activists as working from a place of generosity and a desire for social justice.
  • On the activist side, crafting a politics of solidarity requires that activists respect the work that academics do. Scholars in the humanities and social sciences have been trained to examine dominant perspectives and to develop perspectives that challenge common ways of approaching the world. This is work that is socially useful, and activists can make this work even more socially relevant. A politics of solidarity requires that activists remain open to constructive critique and to drawing from the intellectual work of socially engaged scholars. It requires that activists hold on to the belief that those scholars doing engaged activist work (something sometimes called “public humanities”) are doing so from a place of generosity and a desire for social justice.
  •  In short, our separate work as activists and as academics, as well as our collaborative projects, are all better when we think and work alongside one another and also when we come to the table in the spirit of generosity, willing to admit mistakes and correct them, and willing to live and learn.