Spotlight On: The Romero Theater Troupe – A Conversation with Jim Walsh (Part 2)

Walsh reflected recently on celebrating ten years with the Romero Troupe:

What is your reaction to the Troupe receiving the César Chávez award and being in the company of these other highly regarded stewards of human rights and social justice?

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Jim Walsh on KYGT 102.7 speaking about the Romero Theater Troupe. For the full interview click here.

We’re thrilled! It feels great to have our work recognized nationally, particularly by the NEA, by teachers. What we do is always about freedom to educate and truly teach and for teachers to be liberated, so to be recognized by teachers is even more rewarding. It feels perfect for our first award; it feels just right.

What makes the Romero Troupe different from other theater groups or arts collectives?

Walsh with various members of the Romero Troupe at a recent rehearsal

I think that our performances are radical because they come from the soil, they aren’t watered down by any influences. We are not coopted by anyone, no one owns us, nothing’s censored, and so it’s really raw, free stuff. People love that. We are outside the domain of the non-profit industrial complex and the constraints of that model too. I would challenge anyone to find an all-volunteer group as large as us, as united as we are, and it’s convinced me that the all-volunteer model is the true model of change—not the 501c3 model, and not professional activism. It’s hard because you never know who’s going to be around, but people do what they can do. We have this beautiful culture: no one is expected to do anything except be part of the community. You know whoever is there—whether it’s a rehearsal or a play—they are there because they want to be there. They’ve cleared out a place in their lives to be there for that two hours and if they can’t be there the next two hours no one asks a question. We even have people who show up every two years and they consider themselves a part of this. This model has been working for us over a decade. That’s a long time for any arts group and so it’s become an established model that’s not going away, we are not going to change it now.

The Romeros have established their commitment to the community and to a grass roots ethic by donating all proceeds from their performances to organizations and community projects dedicated to worker’s struggles, social justice, human rights, arts and culture. The most recent 10-year celebration performance was held at and benefitted the Four Winds American Indian Center. The Romeros have also been sharing the power of healing through storytelling with organic theater workshops in homeless shelters, veteran’s centers and other community organizations for the last ten years. Recently, you have had requests to teach organic theater workshops on other campuses and in other cities. Do you have any plans for building an outreach program for other campuses or communities who want to develop an “organic” theater group based on the Romero Troupe’s model?

MichaelwithRomeroTroupeThat’s come up so many times, especially in the past year. It seems like every time we do something in another city, there’s talk of forming a sister organization. We are all for that, we very much support that. I’ve come to the place though where I believe it’s not necessarily replicable. I think about how hard it was to start this, to reach a critical mass where the Troupe was kind of running by itself. That was a good five solid years of extremely hard work with no feedback, without much support or anyone noticing. That engine was inside of me churning and churning, and it wasn’t going to stop until that critical mass was reached. To get that mass of people volunteering their time, believing in a model, believing in an organization, giving of themselves, wow is that hard. What is replicable, I believe, is an artist cooperative that’s all about social change and volunteerism. I believe that is extremely replicable whether it’s painters or singers. An artist cooperative is extremely powerful and to have one that’s an all-volunteer model where no one is profiting, where there is the spirit of the cause of human rights and—not to sound too cliché—but a better world, I think that’s certainly replicable.

Another way that our model is replicable is for an educator using it in the classroom. What made it possible for me is that as a newer instructor, I was teaching 300 students a semester. I was constantly meeting people and recognizing a spirit that the Romero Troupe is all about and inviting people into the Romero Community based upon that. Without that, if it was just my own community, my network of friends and activists, that Walsh with various members of the Romero Troupe at a recent rehearsalcritical mass could never have been reached, it would have been five of us sitting around complaining. So that’s really what did it, being low on the totem pole as a teacher became an advantage to me as a community organizer. Every educator is an organizer whether they know it or not. If you are an educator you are an organizer because you are organizing people to reach farther than they have imagined before.

Looking at your career as an academic and an instructor and as the founder of the Romero Troupe, one thing seems to be the engine that drives you: storytelling. Are there any stories that you have been wanting to tell for a long time but haven’t been able to work into a Romero performance yet?

I want to share a great quote: “I will tell you something about stories. They aren’t just entertainment. They are all we have to fight off illness and death. You don’t have anything if you don’t have stories.” (Leslie Marmon Silko)

Wow does that summarize what we do, we fend off illness and death, we heal and we grow every rehearsal and every performance we’re nourished by the stories we tell. When that nourishment ends and that growth ends, we know it’s time to let go of the story and to look for more. There are a lot of stories out there that we haven’t told. We used to have to go get them, dig them up; now the community brings them to us. We are putting the word out through all of our networks inviting people to share a story that they’ve lived or that they know of to be considered for our next play. I’m sure whatever comes our way will be a great gift. We feel like anyone who trusts us with their story—that’s the greatest burden of all, to tell a story with authenticity and integrity.

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Acts of dignity are really the stories we want to tell. We don’t want to tell stories that are only about abuse or mistreatment or discrimination, we want to tell the story of resistance and agency and mix them together so that it is not just one or the other. Like Alex Landau’s difficult story of being severely beaten by Denver policemen ends with his beautiful story of dedicating his life to speaking out against police brutality, you can’t have one without the other. One day we will tell our own story, of how we grew.

After 10 years of working with the Troupe, what have been some of the highlights for you personally?

gha-102413-580w.jpgI think seeing the healing and the growth in the members of the troupe as we go through the process has been my greatest joy.

Though there have been times when your unorthodox teaching methods have been challenged, you have persisted in your vision and seem to have found your niche both on campus and in the community. How has your work with the troupe affected your work as an academic and a teacher?

In many ways it’s become my academic work, particularly because I’ve found a home. I’ve found a department where I’m incredibly accepted and valued and acknowledged. My work with the Romeros is celebrated and so that’s allowed me to fully give myself to that work. I was asked to join the Political Science department largely because the department greatly values the Romero Troupe and the mission of our work and the values behind it. So a large percentage of the time and effort I give is Romero Troupe-related. I don’t talk about me and my own work in my classes, but I teach courses about empowerment, community organizing, social movements, labor, immigration, and it’s exactly related to what I do with the Troupe. It’s my identity now, it’s always going to be my identity—the Romero Troupe and having students perform in class are both part of my identity. I’ve had so many students over 18 years that I can’t always remember names but, when I see students around campus, they always remind me of who they played. That’s how people think of me and remember me. I’ll never be that academic that publishes numerous articles in academic journals, but I’ll be talking about the Romero Troupe, I’ll be talking about pedagogy through theater, I’ll be talking about community organizing, and social change through theater, I’ll be talking about all-volunteerism models. It always relates and that’s natural, that’s the way it should be. I had to let go of that traditional ideal of what an academic is and embrace the academic that I am. I’m so fortunate to be in a department that’s celebrating it.

Why is it important for students of all ages to learn about concepts like social justice, civil disobedience, labor and immigrant history?

I think most students—I was an example—see education as a training through which you acquire skills that are going to be used in a utilitarian sense. These courses nudge students toward a different place where they are challenged to consider the purpose of education as engaging directly in the community in meaningful ways, speaking out on human rights issues, finding one’s voice and purpose. It’s tough because these courses have to have a deep humility woven within them where you are not coming down on students and saying this is the right way to social change, this is the definition of human rights and keeping in mind that we are all flawed and that hubris is the greatest road block to social change. Modeling humility is important for me. For example, when I have students who have different viewpoints than I do in the classroom, I try to step back and remind myself that I have something to learn from them and welcome their worldviews into the class as a source of nourishment for the class. I’ve been reminded again and again of the importance of that—every educator needs humility.

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The Romero Theater Troupe performing scenes from Archbishop Romero’s life at the Denver 30th Anniversary Commemoration of Oscar Romero’s Life and Death.

If you had one sentence to sum up your last ten years with the Romero Troupe, what would it be?

When you’re called, listen.

When you’re called, listen.

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If you have a story that you would like to propose for a Romero Troupe performance, contact james.walsh@ucdenver.edu.

To keep abreast of Romero events and performance schedules, click here.

Rianna Riegelman is a CU Denver and CLAS alumna (1999) with a BA in English Writing. She works as a freelance writer, editor and graphic designer in Denver and Boulder.

Spotlight On: The Romero Theater Troupe (Part 1)

by Rianna Riegelman

Born in a CU Denver Classroom, James Walsh’s Passion Project Fulfills a Calling

 

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Jim Walsh, Associate Professor with CU Denver Political Science. Photo Courtesy Kevin Cox Photography.

It’s been more than a decade since CU Denver Political Science Associate Professor Jim Walsh transformed his lecture hall into a theater, bringing history to life for thousands of CU Denver students. From the classroom to the community, Walsh’s vision of an all-volunteer, “organic” community theater collective is celebrating its 10th year with a humbling achievement.

The Romeros have been performing for 10 years now and interest in the work they do and their model of social activism through the arts seems to be growing exponentially.

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Members of the Romero Theater Troupe during a performance about Milka Sablich and the Coal Miners Strike of 1927.

 

“Romero is at the epicenter of something very important that’s going on in American culture,” says Sue Doe, Associate Professor of English at Colorado State University. Doe is working on a book that addresses current applications of socially engaged art, particularly in regard to workplaces and labor.

“Moreover, the Romero Troupe may be the single best example of arts activism, continuously running, in the entire nation today.”

“The arts, and particularly theater, are talking back to power and, in the process, reclaiming some of the credibility that was theirs prior to the deregulation economics of the 1980s and associated economic and political trends. Moreover, the Romero Troupe may be the single best example of arts activism, continuously running, in the entire nation today.”

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Look for Part Two of this highlight on the Romero Theater Troupe and conversation with Jim Walsh coming Monday, December 14th!

If you have a story that you would like to propose for a Romero Troupe performance, contact james.walsh@ucdenver.edu.

To keep abreast of Romero events and performance schedules, click here.

Rianna Riegelman is a CU Denver and CLAS alumna (1999) with a BA in English Writing. She works as a freelance writer, editor and graphic designer in Denver and Boulder.

Unique Opportunity for a CU Denver Poli Sci Student with the Non-Profit, No Labels

Students! The CEO of No Labels​ has reached out to us looking for a student leader to send to the October 12th Problem Solver Convention in Manchester, New Hampshire.

No Labels will provide round-trip transportation, as well as housing for October 11th. 

Over eight Presidential candidates from both parties will be there, as well as Congressmen, Governors, Senators, and other political leaders from throughout the country.

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For any who don’t know what No Labels is, it’s a non-profit organization manned by volunteers “who have had it up to their eyebrows with all the petty infighting, party-first agendas.” No Labels lets go of bipartisan politics to focus on the government’s big issues.

The student selected to go to the convention will be expected to commit to building a CU Denver chapter of No Labels upon his or her return.

For more on the convention, click here.

To apply, enter your information below, and tell us why you’d be a good fit in the comment section.

Women, Environment and Population by Dr. Sasha Breger Bush

The recent national controversies over Planned Parenthood provide an opportunity to consider the importance of protecting and advancing women’s reproductive rights. This is not just an important social issue in the United States. Ensuring that women have reliable, safe and affordable access to family planning and other reproductive health services is a global environmental necessity.Women without Access to BC

The United Nations Population Fund notes that some 225 million women worldwide who would like to avoid pregnancy do not have access to safe and effective family planning methods.  Many of these women live in the world’s poorest countries (though there are plenty of women in the world’s richest countries who also have unmet family planning needs). The global advocacy group for women and girls Women Deliver estimates that this unmet need for contraception results in 74 million unplanned pregnancies, 28 million unplanned births, and 36 million abortions every year.

In the past, many women stated that they did not use family planning services because they did not know it was available to them.

By contrast, the Population Connection Action Fund finds that today “many women and their partners are concerned about health and potential side effects.” Population Connection has found that social and cultural misunderstandings and barriers to contraceptive use are widespread, including

  • women’s low level of decisionmaking power within families
  • differences in fertility preferences between partners
  • the stigma attached to unmarried women’s sexual activity and use of contraceptive services

Women’s rights—reproductive and health rights as well as economic, political and social rights—thus appear central to meeting women’s reproductive health needs.

Global population growth is one important consequence of women’s unmet needs for family planning services, and global population growth means greater competition for the world’s resources.

Take water, for example. One commentator argued recently that, “In the world’s most “water poor” countries, population is expected to double by 2050. Slower [population] growth is not a panacea for the world’s water problems, but it could ease pressure on scarce resources and buy time to craft solutions.”

Indeed, population growth is directly linked to most if not all of today’s most pressing global environmental problems, including climate change. “No doubt human population growth is a major contributor to global warming, given that humans use fossil fuels to power their increasingly mechanized lifestyles. More people means more demand for oil, gas, coal and other fuels mined or drilled from below the Earth’s surface that, when burned, spew enough carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere to trap warm air inside like a greenhouse”, says Scientific American.

Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, UN Undersecretary-General and Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund, speaks eloquently to the interconnections between women, population and the environment:

“We know that reproductive rights are a prerequisite for women’s empowerment and gender equality. We also know that any challenge – whether terrorism, climate change or Ebola – cannot be solved by only half the population; it requires all of us.”

Please join us!

On Monday, October 5, members of the Auraria Campus community can learn more about these issues at a movie screening of Mother: Caring for Seven Billion.

A representative from the Population Connection Action Fund will attend and answer questions afterwards. Pizza and beverages will be served.

Please join us in AB-1 1500 on Monday October 5 from 5pm-7pm.

Sasha Breger BushAbout the Author: Sasha Breger Bush is an Assistant Professor in thePolitical Science Department at CU Denver. She teaches and researches about international political economy, global finance, food and agriculture. Sasha’s first book, Derivatives and Development, was published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2012.

Dr. Sasha Breger Bush Comments on the Current – Pope Francis’ US Visit

Sasha Breger BushPope Francis’ Visit Is an Opportunity to Reflect

By: Dr. Sasha Breger Bush

 A CNN commentary on the Pope’s visit to the US notes,

“the United States, home to the world’s mightiest market economy, a ravenous consumer culture and nurturer of the World Wide Web, appears to represent much of what he abhors.”

Pope Francis has spoken eloquently on the need for compassion and love in politics.

KNG-IkT9He has denounced global poverty, inequality and environmental degradation, calling for “profound changes in ‘lifestyles, models of production and consumption, and the established structures of power which today govern societies.'”

I wonder:

  • What would Pope Francis make of our attempts to remove the homeless from public spaces in Denver?
  • Of the recent decision to allow Arctic drilling?
  • Of the grand displays of wealth and power among our presidential hopefuls? 

What are YOUR thoughts?

About the Author: Sasha Breger Bush is an Assistant Professor in the Political Science Department at CU Denver. She teaches and researches about international political economy, global finance, food and agriculture. Sasha’s first book, Derivatives and Development, was published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2012.

Why the U.S. Should Ratify CEDAW By Mx. Colin Blevins

Human rights have become a controversial, yet crucial, topic in 21st-century America. Aggressive foreign policy in the wake of the 9/11 attacks has led to questioning the constitutionality of the Iraq war and the legality of U.S. drone strikes. Meanwhile, domestic policies regarding the right to privacy have recently been deemed unconstitutional, extreme police brutality is beginning to be addressed, and evidence of violence in the ever-growing prison-industrial system is being examined. Perhaps the most important aspect in the recent discussion is that the United States can no longer claim to be a human rights champion.

When it comes to human rights on the global level, international law has become increasingly important in the conversation. As globalization continues to change how countries operate both domestically and internationally, the various treaties that form international law attempt to address human rights violations in hopes of honoring the dignity of all human beings. The International Criminal Court, various committees, and specific campaigns have all been designed to enforce these human rights norms that emerged after WWII. These various instruments have been created due to the emphasis on the right to sovereignty in every nation, and the resulting contention between international and domestic law.

However, regardless of contending views about international law, the United States government is already subject to the treaties it has ratified and has a clear legal obligation to uphold them.

The United States has a checkered past when it comes to human rights violations. Acknowledging the need for greater enforcement of treaties that the United States has already ratified is important, but the government must go one step further by ratifying conventions to give more protections to its citizens. While there are a number of eligible treaties for the United States to ratify, there is one that would affect over 50% of the population – the Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).

What is CEDAW?

CEDAW, written in 1979, is part of a body of treaties that comprises international human rights law. In order to be enforced, a country must accede or ratify the convention, thereby agreeing to uphold the articles therein, with the exception of any reservations outlined at the time of accepting the treaty.

When a country ratifies CEDAW, it agrees to:

  • uphold the civil and political rights of women, from discrimination and sex role stereotyping to representation and involvement in public and political life;
  • uphold the economic, social and cultural rights of women, from education and employment rights to marriage and family life;
  • and to set in place mechanisms to enforce the articles in the convention

While many recent scholars have discussed the prospects for CEDAW across the globe, one prominent scholar, Sally Engle Merry, has been fair in analyzing the convention. In her book, Human Rights and Gender Violence, Merry notes that “the committee charged with monitoring compliance with CEDAW, like those monitoring the other major UN treaties, has limited power to compel states to comply.” However, she continues her analysis by concluding that “a close examination of the way the CEDAW process operates suggests that although it does not have the power to punish, it does important cultural work” by fostering “new cultural understandings of gender and violence.”

Why Should the U.S. Ratify CEDAW?

The United States signed CEDAW on July 17, 1980, making a commitment to the treaty, even though it has not been ratified. According to the Vienna Convention on the law of treaties, when a country signs a treaty it “is obliged to refrain from acts which would defeat the object and purpose of a treaty.” While it can be argued that the United States already has legal protections for women, the ratification of this treaty could only serve to further goals for equality in the country.

According to Amnesty International, the United States is one of three countries that has not ratified CEDAW – the other two being Iran and Sudan. It also “has the dubious distinction of being the only country in the Western Hemisphere and the only industrialized democracy that has not ratified this treaty.”

There are a number of ways that gender discrimination is active in American society, and CEDAW is an important step toward reaching gender equality. Some of the gender discriminations faced by women are:

  1. Rape Culture
  2. Workplace Discrimination
  3. Underrepresentation in Politics
  4. Lack of Maternity Leave (in which the U.S. is the only “Developed Econom[y]” that “does not pay maternity benefits”)

While there are arguments against the ratification of CEDAW, they largely hinge on the fact that the treaty would be detrimental to women’s rights. While this is a complex argument with a variety of examples, it stems from an ideology that wishes to restrict all women’s rights on the basis of one traditional set of beliefs about women.

CEDAW is a comprehensive treaty that would further the ability for women to be in control of their own lives and make decisions regardless of conflicting beliefs. In fact, there is even a provision in CEDAW that states that “nothing in the present Convention shall affect any provisions that are more conducive to the achievement of equality between men and women,” whether that be in domestic law or “any other international convention, treaty or agreement in force.” Essentially, CEDAW can only serve to further goals for gender equality, and will take a back seat when another law or policy goes beyond the minimum goals set in the convention.

The United States is clearly in need of policy changes when it comes to human rights, starting with upholding and extending international law. Ratifying CEDAW would not hurt American women; rather, it would function as an important tool in the fight for gender equality. It is time to solidify America’s commitment to human rights. It is time for the United States to ratify CEDAW.

To learn more about why the United States should ratify CEDAW, or to get involved, click here.

About the Author:  Colin Blevins is an undergraduate student at the University of Colorado Denver. He is pursuing a degree in Political Science with a certificate in Democracy and Social Movements. His academic interests include political theory, social movements, and human rights. He is the co-founder and President Emeritus of the International Studies Club at the University of Colorado Denver. He has worked for LGBT military nonprofits since 2011 and currently serves in the United States Army Reserve.

Colin Blevins

Summer CLAS Dismissed – July 8; 5-6:30 – UPDATE *PIZZA REPUBLICA* UPDATE

PIZZA REPUBLICA

 

Hello, to all our CU Denver Political Science Department Alumni!

Dean Pamela Jansma

Dean Pamela Jansma

This is Department Chair, Tony Robinson, writing to invite you to a special food and drinks mixer, tomorrow,  Wednesday July 8th, from 5:00-6:30, at Pizza Republica.  You will find several of your old Political Science faculty there, and enjoy some light food and libations with our college Dean, Pam Janmsa, who hosts these events.

CU Denver Poli Sci Students & Friends

CU Denver Poli Sci Students & Friends

This mixer will be specifically sponsored by Political Science, so this is the perfect opportunity for you to come out for and catch up on old department news – and maybe even seen an old classmate or two!

 

Dr. Sasha Breger Bush

Dr. Sasha Breger Bush

You can learn about new department developments such our recent new hires of faculty like:

  • Sasha Breger Bush
  • Jim Walsh
  • Bassem Hassan. 

Or catch up with some of your favorite old faculty like Jana Everett, Mike Cummings, or Thorsten Spehn.   I’ll be there too, and some additional faculty from our program will drop by as well.

Dr. Thorsten Spehn

Dr. Thorsten Spehn

We would love to hear what our alumni are up to, from travels to jobs to new family developments– and we can share recent department news such as the launch of our departmental peer-reviewed journal, a new political science student-reporter media credentials program that we are operating, and stories from recent faculty study-abroad trips to New Zealand, Africa, Germany, China and South Korea!

Dr. Tony Robinson and Dr. Mike Cummings on their latest travels to Korea!

Dr. Tony Robinson and Dr. Mike Cummings on their latest travels to Korea!

I hope to see many of you there tomorrow!

Tony

From Closeted Soldier to Queer Activist: How “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Shaped My Life by Mx. Colin Blevins

As a senior in high school, I made a life-changing decision; instead of going to college, I enlisted with my older brother to join the United States Army.

I joined the military for a number of reasons, but one affected that decision more than any of the others – the idea that being in a hyper-masculine organization would make me more “masculine;” that it would “set me straight.”

Colin Blevins (center) with team members at Fort Polk, LA 2010.

Colin Blevins (center) with team members at Fort Polk, LA 2010.

This idea transformed itself: beginning as a mantra, solidifying as a natural belief that affected every important aspect of my life, and embodying the lifestyle that deprived me of my integrity.

Continue reading