Reconnoitering: Looking Back over the ‘ A Year in Activism’ Blog Series and What Lies Ahead

We are over eight months into the global pandemic, and nothing is any more certain. The phrase “uncertain times” has become tired and cliche; yet, there are few words that capture the fear, doubt, anxiety, and restlessness of this time. All across America, teachers of all levels juggle remote, hybrid, “hy-flex”, or risky in-person teaching while also providing emotional support to their students, colleagues, families, and communities. In the wake of unanticipated expenses and budget shortfalls that have been largely ignored by federal and state governments and under the banners of austerity and retrenchment, university boards and upper administrators are laying off and furloughing campus workers in unprecedented numbers–from facilities workers, to staff, to faculty members of all ranks, to student workers. Meanwhile, politicians and groups like Campus Reform have weaponized universities’ COVID-19 responses and organized attacks on faculty members for their activism, research, and pedagogies (see for example the attacks on Scholar Strike participants at Texas A&M and the University of Mississippi). As these groups try to control university administrations and launch personal attacks against individual faculty on Facebook and Twitter, COVID-19 cases continue to spike on college campuses where football games, bars, and social events drive numbers up. States and counties with varying mask mandates (or none at all) continue to see numbers rise as we enter the fall. Recent data points not only to another surge in the virus but to record breaking death and hospitalization rates. Against this backdrop, what many are calling “the most decisive election in a generation” looms on November 3.


When we created the blog series “A Year of Activism: Perspectives on the 2020 U.S. Elections,” we had intended to use the series as a space where writing, rhetoric, and literacy studies scholars of all ranks and from various institutional types could address issues related to the elections and their teaching, research, and service. On one hand, we saw the series as an extension of both Spark and Teacher-Scholar-Activist. The series maintains our foci on activism but also initiates immediate and ongoing conversations related to one topic: the elections. On the other hand, we saw the series as an activist intervention. We had hoped that the blogs in the series would contribute, if even in some small way, to shaping the outcome of the elections. In terms of reader response, the series has been a success. Thousands of folks have read blog posts from the series and shared them on social media and in classrooms. In terms of recruiting contributors and maintaining regular contributions, the series increasingly became challenging and fraught with complexities amid the pandemic: How could we ask people to take on more work under these ever-shifting conditions? We feel the uncertainty and strain. We feel the pull to organize in defense of colleagues, against retrenchment and austerity measures, and to get out the vote on our campuses and in our communities in order to steer the U.S. toward greater democracy. We also feel the need to keep our loved ones close and to devote time and attention to our own economic, health, psychological, and emotional needs.

At the same time, we feel our attention shifting from making arguments about the Trump administration and ensuring that America’s democratic process, such as it is, actually delivers despite decades of concerted effort to disenfranchise millions of Americans through various means and in light of renewed efforts across the country to suppress votes. Most recently, well-reported efforts to suppress the vote include how, in mid-October, the California Republican Party placed more than 50 fake ballot boxes around the state in order to steal and destroy early-voting ballots; an October 19th letter from the owner of a mobile home park in Fort Morgan, CO, who threatened to raise tenants rents if Biden won the election; a ballot box in California was set aflame in an attempt of suspected arson; and the October 30 attack by Trump supporters on a Biden/Harris campaign tour bus heading from San Antonio to an event in Pflugerville, TX. But, social media is full of videos, photos, and written accounts of people making their way to polls being harassed by Trump supporters who stand near or circle around polling stations and shout threatening messages. These extra-legal and illegal efforts to suppress voters supplement Trump and the Republican Party’s attempts to steal the election through various means: from gutting the U.S. Postal Service in order to ensure that many mail-in ballots miss the deadline, to trying to throw out thousands upon thousands of votes, to spreading lies that votes counted after election night will not count in election totals. Trump and the Republican Party have myriad tactics at their disposal, and they are using all of them. However, all these tactics may pale in comparison to their success in filling the Supreme Court with underqualified figures–hacks who could play a decisive role in the election itself.


This post serves as a coda to the series as a reconnoitering; it reflects that shift from figuring out who to support in opposition to Trump and what issues we need to focus our attention and efforts on to focusing on not letting Trump and his white supremacist coterie steal the election. Whatever the outcome after November 3 ( once all ballots cast get counted), there is still much work to be done to move struggles for social justice forward. Spark’s mission, whether in this series or in the journal, has always been about calling attention to this work. In reconnoitering, we take this moment to draw attention to the thoughtful posts that contributors wrote for this series:


We also point toward the future and urge you to check out Spark’s Volume III call for papers. Edited by Jaquetta Shade Johnson and Phil Bratta, the call deals with the role that coalitions play in advancing activism. We also encourage you to contact Teacher-Scholar-Activist’s editors and contribute to the ongoing blog. Overall, we must continue the difficult work of organizing in our communities. A day, a week, a month from now, our world will look different, and as teacher-scholar-activists, we need to be ready.

In solidarity and action,

Don Unger and Liz Lane

Co-managing editors, Spark: a 4C4Equality Journal


Author: darinljensen

I am a writer and a teacher who is interested in issues of class and social justice.

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