Power to the people, power to the imagination

A sudden swell of new faces on campus hints that New College has something unusual to offer this weekend. The fourth annual All Power to the Imagination! conference kicks off today, April 1, and will go on through Sunday, April 3.

“The primary theme of API is attempting to bridge the gap between leftist radical theory and practice,” James Birmingham (’06) said. “By that I mean bridging the gap between academics and people in the universities and the people who are doing activist work actually on the ground.” Birmingham is one of the original founders of API, which has been held on campus every spring since 2008.

All weekend, students, alums and non-NCF affiliates will present on far-ranging topics related to social justice, from a workshop on meditation to a presentation by  Everglades Earth First. According to second-year Alexander Wilson, one of the API organizers, none of the presentations will be in the form of a lecture. “We try and really emphasize … leveling out the hierarchy between the presenter and the audience members,” Wilson said.

Different from previous years is the greater emphasis on radical art and the larger number and variety of presentations. Third-year Essie Ablavsky, one of the organizers for API, said, “We have some very timely presentations this year, and by that I mean, we have some presentations that are really addressing the issues from this past year. So for example we’re having a presenter who’s going to be talking about the revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa.”

On Sunday, thesis student Alexander “Alex” Cline will give a presentation called Internet, Trust and Encryption. “If you’re under the suspicion that you’re under suspicion, there are precautions you can take,” Cline said. “The whole notion is that people do a lot online these days and they’re not aware of how what they’re doing stays places or the fact that … someone technically savvy enough could be watching. I’m going to be talking about ways to make sure information stays secret [which is] especially useful if you’re organizing, if you’re trying to avoid police surveillance.”

Cline will host a discussion and a workshop for attendees to try out encryption software. He said the material should be accessible to most and that more technical information will be given as notes to the audience. “The idea is that everyone will leave with an idea of how to use these tools …  for varying degrees of paranoia.”

Like last year, there will be an anarchist studies track at API, with presenters from the Institute of Anarchist Studies. Joshua Stephens, one of the members from the Institute, will give a presentation and discussion titled Lights Unto Ourselves: Nonattachment and Nonfascist Ethics. In an email to the Catalyst, Stephens wrote, “I want to look at how anarchism’s analysis of power suffers from some considerable gaps, how more recent work in critical theory offers us a fairly detailed look at what goes on in those gaps, and how certain central features of what the historical Buddha taught offer tools for observing and countering the operation of power in our day to day lives — something quite similar to what Michel Foucault referred to as “counter-conduct” in his later work.”

Stephens wrote that he hopes attendees to his presentation consider “the relationship between their politics and their mental and emotional habits. Whatever institutions we dispense with or transform, we still have to grapple with ourselves and our practices — which is precisely what every revolution in history has taught us, right?”

In addition to the presentations, Wilson said there will also be a greater variety of entertainment, including an open-mic night, two showings of Aaron Amram’s thesis play, “Don’t Listen to What We Say, Watch What We Do,” and a contemporary adaptation of an Aristophanes anti-war play. Wilson also said a group from Oakland, California will host a “womyn” and queer caucus and a people of color caucus.

Wilson estimated that the organizers had about $3500 to work with this year, some of which was allocated by the SAC and CAA. He said they have received vegetable donations from local farmer’s markets and will likely use their own Hamilton Center money to buy more food for the attendees.

The conference is free for students and NCF-affiliates, while the registration for others is based on a sliding scale with the suggested price set at $10. “No one is ever turned down for lack of funds,” Birmingham said.

Wilson said he views API as a way to “expand New College’s social network and political network …  It’s a big world out there, and there are alternative resources, there are alternative things happening in the world that we aren’t exposed to, whether it’s because we’re in a New College bubble or whether it’s because we’re in a media bubble. There are a lot of things that you can do as an individual with whatever resources on you to affect the world around you in a positive way. I feel like the kinds of people that we bring to API are really good representations of that, because they’re usually people with very limited resources doing really profound things.”

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