By Bob Shimabukuro, Associate Editor
I stood there looking at the newly restored sculpture, “Fountain,” at the Seattle Central Community College (SCCC). Stunning. The fountain resounded with energy, hope, and joy, unlike the last time I had seen it, in disrepair. I was also feeling the love, energy, work, excitement, and yes, community organizing, that went into this project.
The late internationally recognized artist George Tsutakawa, a Broadway High School (BHS) graduate, had gifted “Fountain” to SCCC in 1973, in part because BHS had closed at the end of WWII, and SCCC was located where BHS stood. The old BHS building became the Seattle Central Community College (which was recently renamed the Seattle Central College). In 1940 about a quarter of the BHS students were Japanese Americans; and in 1942 BHS lost those 200 students when they were unjustly subjected to the curfew, mass exclusion, and incarceration of Japanese Americans by President Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066.
To counter the SCCC administration, which was considering ways to remove the sculpture, a small core group of educators (Tina Young, Ken Matsudaira, Melanie King, Deborah Uno, Tracy Lai, Bea Kiyohara) and students (Alia Marsh, Arlene Martinez, Amanda Rogers, Jade Hoiby) took action to save the sculpture from being sold off and to restore “Fountain.” This core group involved art students, teachers, community members, and some of the school’s maintenance department in restoring “Fountain” to working condition.
They also tied the Fountain Restoration Project to a curriculum which emphasized the connections among historical events and the importance of keeping community treasures and history alive, with a strong social justice perspective. In addition, these core activists engaged the Associated Student Council, community families, BHS alumni, community businesses and non-profits, and SCCC culinary students and raised the funds needed to bring “Fountain” back to life.
This project reached thousands of people over six years. It was multigenerational. Multicultural. By all accounts, people had a lot of fun. These events happen too rarely. But this is what can happen at a Community College. We need to bring back the Community into the colleges.
These social justice education campaigns inspire people about the role community organizing can play in both keeping our histories alive and adding fresh stories (for example: the community’s role in the restoration) to deepen understanding of circumstances surrounding the origin of “Fountain.” (For example, that Tsutakawa had donated “Fountain” because 25 percent of the student body in 1942 was sent to concentration camps.) The restoration of “Fountain” story creates an important historical and aesthetic value to the original “Fountain” story.
Just like “Fountain” itself.
This story is important to PSARA not only because it creates and recreates the historical reality, but also because it demonstrates creative ways to teach and learn, and make learning inviting, interesting, and in some cases, fun. Most of all, it’s important because we need creative and critical thinking about the problems we’re facing now.
As educator Jesse Hagopian says, “We have more black men behind bars than we had slaves on plantations in 1850; a social catastrophe that all of us need to talk about. …We have an epidemic of violence against women. Our education should be about income inequality in US history. We have to teach our kids critical thinking skills, imagination skills, because we have real problems to solve.”
It’s important to realize learning is a life-long endeavor. The SCCC organizing was also about learning, demonstrating the possibilities of multigenerational, multicultural learning that can involve critical and strategic thinking, with a little creativy, imagination, and fun. These are important tools in our Struggle (with a capital S) to find a common platform on which we can work together.
Executive Director of Puget Sound Sage, Rebecca Saldaña, says “Our main group, service sector hospitality workers, never were in the middle class in the best of times. We need alliances with people/organizations who have power, are willing to share that power, and see things through our lens, recognizing our liberations are bound together.”
Heather Villanueva, Community Strength Organizer SEIU 775 and leader of its Racial Equity Team says “To build a strong movement, we have to be there for each others’ fights in a real way, not just when we need something. That’s why my work is focused on broader social justice issues. I try to bring my talents and the resources of the union to bear so that we can be a part of a movement that doesn’t leave anyone behind.”
Saldaña and Villanueva will be speaking at the August 8 Anniversary Celebration for Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare. Join us.