At Resistance School, students bring the best of Berkeley online

UC Berkeley Professor Robert Reich gives a talk as part of Resistance School @ Berkeley, a student-led effort to train progressive activists and organizers. (Photo courtesy of Plus M Productions)

UC Berkeley Professor Robert Reich gives a talk as part of Resistance School @ Berkeley, a student-led effort to train progressive activists and organizers. (Photo courtesy of Plus M Productions)

A graduate degree from Berkeley Law or the Goldman School of Public Policy can help you change the world. But why, a group of students at those schools are wondering, should the lessons they learn be available only to people with the time and money to attend graduate school?

As one answer, they’ve started Resistance School at Berkeley, a series of in-person and online lectures designed to take the best Berkeley has to offer and make it available online to progressive organizers who may never have the time or money to attend graduate school.

“There are a million great talks to go to everyday on campus,” said Kori Anderson, one of the founders of the school and a second-year public policy and law student. “But if you’re an organizer in New Mexico, for example, you’re not going to have access to a former secretary of labor.”

The idea of a Resistance School — to train progressive organizers and activists — started at Harvard last spring, after Donald Trump’s election as president. Lillian Patil, a second-year public policy master’s student, said she heard about the effort from friends and decided to bring it to Berkeley this semester.

“I think ever since the election I have been looking for a way to leverage the unique luxury and uncertainty of attending policy school right now into something that can help right now,” she said.

Four UC Berkeley graduate students ahve started Resistance School @ Berkeley. From left: Rick Zarrella, Lillian Patil, Christian Miller and Kori Anderson. (Photo courtesy of Plus M Productions)

Four UC Berkeley graduate students have started Resistance School @ Berkeley. From left: Rick Zarrella, Lillian Patil, Christian Miller and Kori Anderson. (Photo courtesy of Plus M Productions)

So far, the group has filmed four lectures from some of Berkeley’s top instructors, including Robert Reich, the former secretary of labor and a professor at the public policy school, who talked about political messaging, and Saru Jayaraman, head of Berkeley’s Food Labor Research Center, who taught students how to build coalitions of activists.

And the videos seem to be resonating. The first video posted was Jayaraman’s, on Oct. 5, and it attracted about 5,000 views; the second one, featuring Reich, has almost 56,000. The next video, a talk by Berkeley graduate Anat Shenker-Osorio about strategic messaging and metaphors, will be published on Nov. 2.

“All these lessons could be beneficial to a much broader swath of the population that is doing work, rather than people in a classroom,” said co-founder Christian Miller, 24, who is getting master’s degrees in public policy and energy and resources. “We all have the capability to start something and do something.”

On Wednesday evening, law professor Ian Haney López gave an hour-long lecture on how to discuss race and class in today’s heated political climate. His video, the last for Resistance School this semester, will be posted Nov. 16.

Professor Ian Haney López talks at Resistance School @ Berkeley on Wednesday, Oct. 15, 2017. (UC Berkeley photo by Will Kane)

Professor Ian Haney López talks at Resistance School @ Berkeley on Wednesday, Oct. 15, 2017. (UC Berkeley photo by Will Kane)

López, the author of Dog Whistle Politics: How Coded Racial Appeals Have Reinvented Racism and Wrecked the Middle Class, encouraged the group of graduate students and community leaders to examine the connection between a surge in wealth inequality and a rise in racism, while not falling into the trap of seeing racism as an economic problem.

“That’s a failed logic,” he told the group.

Stephen Knight, director of policy and partnerships at the Alameda County Food Bank, said he attended the talk to hear López’s academic perspective on an issue he thinks about every day.

“I found it useful as we’re here in the trenches working to try and save our safety net from gathering threats,” he said. “It can be helpful to step out into an academic framework and think about these things holistically.”

Next semester, students behind Resistance School hope to produce more videos, and find new ways to reach organizers across the country, Patil said.

“We’re looking for ways to not only double the trainings, but also offer trainings that meet different needs and skills,” she said.

López said he didn’t hesitate for a moment when asked to give a Resistance School lecture.

“To see these students embrace this ideal of using their education to build social solidarity is something I absolutely want to support,” he said. “It is the quintessential ideal of a public university.”

Contact Will Kane at willkane@berkeley.edu