This post was updated Feb. 7 at 3:17 p.m.
One of UCLA’s activists-in-residence has been campaigning for change since he was 13 years old. Now, he said he hopes to teach students about activism.
Micah White, a 2019 Activist-in-Residence best known for co-creating the Occupy Wall Street movement, is teaching a graduate-level course on housing justice activism at UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs’ Institute on Inequality and Democracy alongside Ananya Roy, inaugural director of the institute and professor of urban planning, social welfare and geography. The seminar, which began this quarter, is recorded and uploaded online.
The Activist-in-Residence program at the Luskin School’s Institute on Inequality and Democracy was created alongside the institute in 2016 to advance research on social change and inequality. Established activists from across Los Angeles can apply to the program and receive access to UCLA’s resources to further causes that match their interests.
White said his journey as an activist started in middle school when he protested the pledge of allegiance for its inclusion of the phrase “liberty and justice for all,” which he said he did not think was true.
“At 13, I refused to stand for the pledge of allegiance. … And then I got kicked off a field trip,” White said.
White was active in various causes throughout high school, including suing his school for drug-testing athletes, starting an atheism club at his socially conservative high school and going to Palestine at age 19 to direct nonviolent protests.
White co-founded Occupy Wall Street, a 2011 social movement that aimed to fight socio-economic inequality, corruption and corporate influence on the government. White helped launch the movement while he was a senior editor at the Adbusters Media Foundation, a Canadian magazine, and it eventually spread to 82 countries.
However, in the years since, White said his focus has shifted from activism to the pedagogy behind it.
“After Occupy, there was this question of “can activism be taught?’” White said. “Some people are born with an instinct for music. … Is that what activism is, (an instinct)?”
White said he thinks there is very little information available on how to engage in activism, which prompted him to investigate activism as a discipline that could be taught in a classroom.
“One thing that really struck me is that if you Google ‘How to be a better activist,’ the level of information and quality of information that you get is terrible – it’s horrible!” White said. “There are no real resources.”
White’s goal of finding a way to teach activism led him to become one of three activists-in-residence at UCLA this year.
Roy said the Activist-In-Residence program’s primary purpose is to promote discussions of social and community-based change at the university.
“The program is very much in keeping our commitment to bringing to the university voices and experiences of community-based and social movement-based scholars,” Roy said.
During their residency, activists pursue projects relevant to their areas of interest. Graduate students have the opportunity to interact with and learn from the activists-in-residence, Roy said.
White’s main project has been the co-creation of the course “Housing Justice Activism and Protest: Past, Present, and Future.”
Roy said White is more interested in practical tactics and strategies of housing justice activism, whereas she is more interested in theory and research. However, she is interested in how White views activism in their teaching.
“Our common meeting ground is the ways in which (White) wants us to think about history, theory and strategy. … (White) is incredibly generous and thoughtful about all of this, and it’s been wonderful to be in this teaching partnership with him,” Roy said.
The class is taught in partnership with Activist Graduate School, an online school for activists. White is the co-founder and program director of the school.
The purpose of the school is to envision, develop and eventually implement an effective form of activism pedagogy, White said.
“Like activism, the only way you can do that is through experimentation. … If you want to create another Martin Luther King (Jr.), there is no answer of how to do that, other than to try.” White said.
Chiara Ricciardone, provost of Activist Graduate School and White’s wife, said the school hopes to teach future activists not to make the same mistakes as activists in the past.
“There was missing of a space where activists could critically reflect on practices together. … Activists can often be very critical of the status quo and the way the world is now, but also of one another,” Ricciardone said.
Ricciardone said that White is always searching for ways to grow as an activist.
“He is intensely focused on the goal of revolution. … He is constantly looking for ways to better the practice of activism,” Ricciardone said.