Documenting the Faces of Social Justice: What You Missed

Today’s post was written by library student ambassador Veronica Urubio.

Joined by Sharon Sekhon—founder and executive director the nonprofit Studio for Southern California History—, Carol Wells—founder for the Center for the Study of Political Graphics—, and William H. Hannon Library’s own archivist Marisa Ramirez, moderator and host Amy Woodson–Boulton—associate professor of history here at Loyola Marymount University—kicked off the start of the event “Documenting the Faces of Social Justice: Communities and Archives.”

On the topic of how archives and archival processing of respective communities is social and political activism, proposed questions—such as “who do you think of as your audience?” and “how do you see your work as reflecting your community?”—brought about answers—“so future generations can see themselves in, connect with, and access their own history without the fear of gatekeepers impeding on the scene” and “quelling the assumption that the activist community is painted with a single brush when it was truly made up of multiple communities to make a movement, not a unified vision”—that truly reflected the amazing—and, hilariously enough, unintentional—realities of collecting and maintaining shards of history.

From niche to national, audience accessibility seemed to be the common theme and concern among the panelists, whether it was impressions of a given archive being wrapped in red tape, considering the future of their respective archives that keeps them up at night, or handling biased or harmful works, grappling with how to showcase them in a manner that affirmed these are not the views held by the archive, emphasize how they should be used for solely educational purposes with a trail right to the source material intact—yet made it clear that not including these would be the same as saying it never happened at all, which is a danger in and of itself by taking part in an erasure of history. Carol Well summarized it nicely with a statement to good not to quote, “we have posters that a tree shouldn’t have been cut down for… it’s not my opinion but there it is in the poster… we have them, we collect (and exhibit) them, but we’re not going to put them online (in high definition) to make it easy.”

Sekhon, whose intention for her archive dedicated to chronicling and sharing history of her community to prove to those who had told her again-and-again that her history—that of a multiracial individual wanting to learn more about her own history and the history of the community she lived in—wasn’t worth mentioning, whether it was recognizing history organizations were not geared towards someone like her, to establishments that wouldn’t provide funding for individual and local history.

Wells, an archivist, social activist, and art historian, whose archive has collected over 90,000 posters and flyers and has produced political art protest exhibitions since 1981 shared how collecting these pieces became an unintentional archive that expanded from social justice to learning about one’s self and place. This archive, that became renowned for the containing and spreading awareness of information that people wouldn’t find from watching early television news broadcasts—like how activists worked together on projects even though the media perpetuated fighting between Black-and-Brown for turf and rights, or how César Chavez had been a dedicated LGBTQ+ activist.

Marisa Ramirez—Loyola Marymount University alumni and archivist—of Archives and Special Collections here at William H. Hannon Library shared a brief history of the library’s own timeline of archivist work. In 1960, the library began seven collecting areas, which Father Richard Train oversaw after receiving archival training, starting to collect history, before Errol Stevens became head of the a. In 2011, Hannon Library hired their first professional archivist. Of this history, the library’s pride in sporting the largest postcard collection was mentioned, as well, with a definitive statement that the postcards are more than just vintage antiques to share with friends or on posters advertising upcoming library events, but have been utilized in research—such as by Jason Jarvis, assistant professor of rhetoric and media, to document locations for his publication Greenwashing Los Angeles: The Visual Politics of Oil in Southern California, as was shared during the fourth installation during the 2020–202 Faculty Pub Night series.

Over the course of the panel discussion, the importance in keeping history in pristine condition and accessible, the problem of censorship in universities and other institutions with board of trustees or budget cuts, and the overall importance of archival work and studies—that do so much more than providing a storage warehouse for objects without human connection or flyers that depict the past in a different limelight, but showcase a wide variety of snippets into “who we were” and “what we’ve done”—proposed a question of their own to the audience: “who do we want to be moving forward?”