Global Challenges 2021

Political engagements constructing our world

Nov. 9, 2021, 5:30 p.m. (PST)

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Click below to access the video recording of this event

Which of your actions are political? 

What is “thriving” and who is included when you imagine it?

What does it mean to save each other’s lives? 

Seattle-based educator/activists from different backgrounds will address urgent challenges made more apparent by the events of 2020 and discuss ways to pursue transformative action while continuing to learn, heal and grow.

Alexes Harris, UW Sociology: Works on the poverty penalty in legal institutions through teaching and advocacy.

Ben Danielson, UW Medicine: Pediatrician and clinical professor who builds work on healing, youth and incarceration.

Dean Spade, Seattle University Law: Media-maker, lawyer and professor who works on mutual aid and systemic reform.

Christine Lew (Moderator), UW Alumna, Class of 2021: Disability justice advocate working across nonprofit, cultural and educational sectors.

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About our speakers

Moderator: Christine Lew, Disability Justice Advocate (she/her/hers)

Disabled people are also born innovators. 

Christine Lew graduated earlier this year from the University of Washington with Interdisciplinary Honors in Disability Studies. She is currently employed as an HR Generalist at Nursing Evolutions, a company that provides full-time nursing care to medically fragile infants and toddlers. Christine is also the HR & PR Manager at the newly-formed disability pride hub, Crip Riot, and continues to research and advise on accessibility of sexual assault services at the University of Washington.  

Christine grew up with two Deaf parents and says that CODA (child of a deaf adult) life made her more aware of the immense amount of ableism and discrimination across systems and individual choices, which drove her to major in Disability Studies and become a disability justice advocate at the University of Washington. While at UW Christine learned to understand her own ongoing depression through a disability framework and expanded her sense of who is left out of cultural and professional norms and of why it is vital to create more inclusive models. 

During her first quarter at UW, Christine says she experienced a “full mind-and-body buzzing sensation of deep intellectual connection” at Honors’ Global Challenges event on how to spot and avoid the perpetuation of divisive framing and misinformation. “I’ve always wanted to be more involved in this event,” she explains. “I don’t pretend to speak for my whole generation, but I do think a lot of us are already exhausted and angry and don’t trust that change is really possible in our current systems. It’s important to notice that we aren’t alone and to keep learning and trying together.”

Click here to read more about Christine Lew

Alexes Harris, Professor of Sociology at the University of Washington (she/her/hers)

All social justice movements are connected. 

Alexes Harris (PhD) researches, writes, and speaks about the evolution of the U.S. criminal legal system, race and ethnicity in the U.S., the criminalization of poverty, and ways people can engage to dismantle cultural and structural racism. Her book, A Pound of Flesh: Monetary Sanctions as a Punishment for the Poor details the ways in which sentenced fines and fees often put an undue burden (and increased punitive scrutiny) on disadvantaged populations. Her work encourages students and the public to understand and engage in policy reform for real structural changes within U.S. institutions. 

Alexes attended UW as an undergrad and “bleeds purple,” saying she loves teaching at a public university. She has won UW’s Distinguished Teaching award, among her many distinctions, including her role as Faculty Athletic Representative at UW and her appointment as chair of the Washington State Advisory Committee to the United States Commission on Civil Rights. 

Dr. Harris believes that young activists are making a real difference by exerting pressure on governments, media and other institutions on issues like gun control and reforms to policing and incarceration, saying: “Racial and economic inequality, the environment, legal reforms…all of these issues are interconnected. If we aren’t able to see how they are connected and have been connected through history, I don’t think we’ll be able to make real change, big change. I’m tired of just tinkering at the margins.”

Click here to read more about Alexes Harris

Ben Danielson, Physician and Clinical Professor of Pediatrics at UW Medicine (he/him/his)

Unity building vs. legacy building.

Dr. Ben Danielson has focused on accessibility and racial justice throughout his 30-year career, improving outcomes for children and families. He served for two decades as the director of the Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic in Seattle’s Central District and is now treating patients, teaching and helping to steer racial equity reforms at UW Medicine

Ben’s medical practice, scholarship and activism have always been rooted in compassionate care and hope. He serves on the boards of many nonprofit organizations and advisory councils. In 2016 he was recognized by the Center for Children and Youth Justice with the Norm Maleng Advocate for Youth Award and in 2018, he was named the Seattle Municipal League’s “Citizen of the Year.” He publicly resigned from Odessa Brown last year to protest deep systemic racism that was going unaddressed by (and in) the leadership of Seattle Children’s Hospital. Citing a multitude of policies and cultural norms that fostered an unsafe workplace for people and patients of color, his departure has launched a wave of investigative reports and testimonials demanding accountability and change in Seattle’s public health community. 

Dr. Danielson says he’s inspired by the medical students and youth activists he sees making waves in our communities and hopes they’ll keep building momentum. “I’m really worried about people wanting to rush back to normal,” he explains. “Comfort isn’t synonymous with progress and conflict is sometimes a requirement of coming together. The activist in me tells me this is often really convenient for white power. Do big powers get smaller powers to just fight each other? On the other hand, we’ve got to be ready to see conflict happen within communities and to keep showing up anyway. I hope as we ease out of the Covid pandemic we won’t be too fast to reach for comfort rather than to build unity.”

Click here to read more about Ben Danielson

Dean Spade, Professor of Law at Seattle University (he/him/his)

Solidarity, not charity.

For more than two decades Dean Spade has worked to transform policies and support social movements centering on queer and trans liberation based in racial and economic justice. He currently teaches law at Seattle University and speaks regularly at conferences and events across the country. Many UW students and faculty are familiar with Dean’s publications, especially his most recent book: Mutual Aid: Building Solidarity During This Crisis (and the next), which was released by Verso Press in October of 2020. 

Dean’s prolific scholarship and advocacy includes dozens of published books and articles, a 1-hour documentary: Pinkwashing Exposed: Seattle Fights Back!, interviews, public appearances and courses. His particular focus on facing challenges through solidarity across causes and social divisions insists on new models of survival that rely less on deeply flawed institutions and systems and more on non-transactional deeply human interactions. 

“Today’s students are essential leaders of grassroots political movements,” says Spade, as he connects historical social movements with similar current-day surges in youth activism. “Young people have the most skin in the game and are the least tied to social norms. They are asking really big hard questions with sincere curiosity. How do we get out of this? How should this be run? What is my role in making a world where people can survive? And we need them. We need all the movements we have now, only five times as big and more interconnected. We need almost everybody engaging in mutual aid projects and extractive projects. Breaking isolation to rely on each other. Resolving conflict together.”

Click here to read more about Dean Spade