American Spring: A Symposium on Radical Change in America

May 12 – 20 at The Arts Center, Corvallis (schedule)

From the Tea Party movement to Occupy Wall Street, the consensus is that it’s time for change in the United States. But discontent doesn’t guarantee results, especially coming from groups with mixed goals.

Overseas, movements such as the Arab Spring have enacted radical change in the Middle East and North Africa. Last year, an uprising of millions of people led to the overthrow of the Egyptian government. Strikes, riots, and acts of self-immolation have fueled recent radical change in Tunisia, Libya, Yemen, and other countries.

Closer to home, the effectiveness of the protests is uncertain. The Zuccotti Park Occupy encampment in New York City, which drew so much attention, had less than a thousand overnight campers. The recent May Day protest, an attempt to hold a general strike on May 1, was ignored by the vast majority of Americans. This isn’t written to underplay the seriousness of the U.S. protests – especially considering the violence in Oakland, Los Angeles, and Seattle – but Occupy is tame in comparison to movements in other countries.

Whether this is a result of cynicism that protests won’t work, or optimism that change can occur through more conventional means, the result is the same. It doesn’t appear that radical change is coming anytime soon, or at least not as a result of mass protests.

In an effort to take a closer look at these issues, the Arts Center is presenting American Spring, a symposium on radical change in America, on the weekends of May 12-13 and May 19-20. The symposium was organized by Josephine Zarkovich of the Majestic Theatre and Arts Center Director David Huff. The couple followed the Occupy movements closely in their former hometown of Oakland, which was also the site of the last general strike before the practice was banned in the U.S.

Funded by a grant from the Oregon Humanities, the symposium features four panels of experts. The experts will speak for about 15 minutes, followed by 30 minutes of group discussion. According to Zarkovich, the main goal of the symposium is to open up a discussion in the community.

“These are fundamentally conversations,” she said. “We’re hoping to get as much from the audience as from the speakers.”

Topics include the use of social media and citizen reporting to organize and document protests. Experts will also discuss the use of strikes to enact change, along with the role of populist music and the grow-your-own food movement.

The symposium also addresses one important aspect of change that often gets overlooked: which methods have failed or succeeded in the past.

“I think any call for major change should be grounded in an understanding of history,” said Huff. “This program is looking at contemporary calls for systemic change and tying them into a historical context.”

Regardless of your personal beliefs, the symposium is an opportunity to take a measured look at what’s happening – or not happening – in our own backyards.

“The fundamental question is, ‘Are we having an American Spring, or are these shallow little one-offs that are going to next year be gone?’” said Zarkovich.

To explore these questions and more–including the implications of an American Spring–participate in the symposium on the weekends of May 12-13 and May 19-20 at the Arts Center.


By Jen Matteis


American Spring Symposium: Schedule of Events