Knowledge has no Boundaries: Popular Education in the Age Of Social Distancing

What does virtual popular education look like? How do you facilitate a meaningful conversation about anti-blackness, cooperative economics, or the impacts of COVID-19 over Zoom? These are some of the questions the UFE team has been asking for the past couple of months.

Leer en español // Read in Spanish

We are still learning of the numerous needs of the current moment and how best to take advantage of the unique opportunities it presents. For example, for many years, UFE has been building deep relationships with immigrant-led organizations and projects around the country working for justice, with especially deep roots in the Boston area. 

One longtime partner is SomerViva, the Office of Immigrant Affairs for the city of Somerville. Irma Flores, a leader there, noticed that community members were struggling to understand the Black Lives Matter movement and the history of racism in the US. Knowing UFE’s commitment to making concepts like historical racial wealth divides accessible to everyone through popular education, Irma approached Jeannette and asked her to facilitate a series of online workshops in Spanish about anti-blackness for the Latinx immigrant community in Somerville. In these workshops, participants reflected on the ways anti-blackness shows up in their own communities and the importance of building Black and Brown solidarity in a country where the police state- including both ICE and local police - actively targets people of color. 

UFE has also been a longtime partner of CCDS, the Center for Cooperative Development and Solidarity in East Boston. Led by Latinx immigrant women, this grassroots organization uses popular education to help start locally-owned cooperatives, such as the immigrant women-led sewing cooperative “Puntada,” which is now sewing masks for the pandemic. The leaders of CCDS recently asked Jeannette to provide a two-hour long training in Spanish on how to facilitate popular education over Zoom so their leaders can continue to offer their workshops safely during the pandemic.

The CCDS Leadership team and UFE staff Jeannette and Sara on popular education workshop

As the resource mobilization director, I’m often not directly involved with our education programs, but I have been lucky enough to join some of these virtual workshops to support with the technology needs of Zoom. Thankfully, I speak barely enough Spanish to be able to help facilitate! UFE uses tools such as break out rooms which allow for smaller discussions, and engaging activities, like sharing thought-provoking videos and using interactive slides or digital sticky notes, to make these Zoom workshops come alive. It is challenging to get people to share their reflections, stories and questions in an impersonal, online setting. But the core practice of popular education - to start with the personal and connect it to the systemic - is an effective tool for transformation no matter where the learning is happening. 

This work is now needed now more than ever. After the CCDS workshop, Liliana Avendaño, CCDS' Education and Outreach Coordinator shared that, “During this crisis CCDS wants to continue to educate the community to seek opportunities that allow it to strengthen the solidarity economy.” By sharing some of the tools UFE uses for online education, Jeanette helped CCDS leaders experientially learn new popular education facilitation techniques that they can put to practice soon when they go on to create their own mini-workshops. 

We are still learning as a team about how to create meaningful learning experiences online, but our strong relationships with immigrant led organizations and our popular education methodology continue to play important roles in helping us train leaders and build movements!



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