As police arrested Daniella Liebling during a protest of the Yankee Rowe Nuclear Power Station in Rowe, MA, she saw her father, Jerome Liebling, camera in hand and capturing the scene. They smiled at each other as she was driven away with the other protestors. It was a moment that stuck with her as a prime example of her father’s insistence that people “really care about something.” An arrest mattered less than his daughter’s involvement in a cause.
“If you had something you cared about, getting in trouble with the law was the least of Dad’s worries,” said Liebling.
That recollection, told at a memorial tribute for the former Hampshire film and photography professor whose images captured an often gritty reality, tied well into the Hampshire Forum 2012: A Div IV Program on Social Change, with which it shared the day.
For the second year, alums, faculty, and others in the Hampshire community were drawn back to campus for a weekend of discussions, debate, and reconnecting built around a single theme.
Social change, as the Hampshire crowd would show, comes in many forms.
“I felt the one thing I couldn’t do was nothing. Eight years into the deadliest war since World War II . . . there was no movement for the Congo in this country,” said Lisa Shannon 92F.
After hearing tales of the combat-ravaged country of Congo, and the hundreds of thousands of women raped there amidst the battle, she decided to raise money for them through her organization Run for Congo Women.
That work led to her book A Thousand Sisters: The Worst Place on Earth to Be a Woman, the common reading for the weekend forum. “When people learn about the Congo, they care,” said Shannon.
For metal sculptor Kamil Peters 07F, social activism takes place closer to home. Involved with teaching the “fire arts” to youth in western Massachusetts, his goal is to use sculpting, welding, and other fire-based skills to help students overcome difficulties they’re having in their school classes.
Another artist, playwright and actor Adelind Horan 09S, used her play Cry of the Mountain to address the ecological and cultural impact of mountaintop removal for mining in Appalachia. Originally created as her Div III project, Horan has taken the play on tour for the past two years. She recalls its effect on diverse audiences, including coal miners who reacted emotionally to seeing a story similar to their own told onstage.
“For [them], there was the experience of witnessing the power of theater for the first time. And a lot of artsy people came to see it who had little knowledge of mountaintop removal,” she said.
Benjamin Mako Hill 99F, a research fellow in the Center for Civic Media at M.I.T.’s Sloan School, stressed the importance of free and open source software in using technology as a means of social change.
“The tools we use to communicate have a profound effect on the nature of the messages we can share,” said Hill. “Designers of technological systems have an enormous amount of power over the kinds of messages that can be communicated. The result is that the question of who controls technology is one of enormous political importance as well.”
The ability to ask such questions is what many felt their experience at Hampshire gave them, a skill summed up well by Chornco CEO Abigail Shearer Robinson 75S and which she believes helped make her own involvement in social activism possible.
“Hampshire taught me how to inquire, to inquire with integrity and purpose and with a willingness to drill down into topics that were important to me,” she said.