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From the President’s Desk: Practicing Humanities Activism

By California Humanities’ President & CEO, Julie Fry 

This has been a challenging year, and recent events have exposed more clearly the deep divisions that extend across our nation and into California. While it may be tempting to dig our heels in more deeply, fail to consider other perspectives, and widen those divides, our democracy and civil society require something greater of us, both as individuals and as a community. This is where the nature of the humanities lives, at the core of building greater understanding and empathy.

I have been moved and heartened by the blogs and articles and conversations that have been circulating in the past week, providing critical discourse and offering a civics lesson to my son and daughter, both in their early twenties and learning how the election process functions. We were recently provided with a joint statement from the California Legislative Leaders, State Senator Kevin de León and Assembly Speaker, Anthony Rendon, and it stated, “California was not part of this nation when its history began, but we are clearly now the gatekeepers of its future,” and we all know the importance of engaging our young people in our democracy. The future of California and our country depends upon that.

Our country has survived and thrived after political, social and economic upheavals in the past, and how we deal with it has always been important. The humanities provide historical perspective, cultural contexts, and vehicles for learning more about each other in order to help work through our differences, resolve issues and participate in a civil society. What the humanities offer is a type of activism: a way to change the world through literature, history, storytelling, civic engagement, critical thinking, and empathy.

What can we do during this period of change? Let’s practice humanities activism together to promote our ability to tell our stories and really listen to and understand each other. Read a book. Share a book. Subscribe to a newspaper. Watch a documentary. Go to a museum exhibit. Spend some time in a library. Participate in this incredible shared world we live in, full of people and ideas and conversations.

In the words of the poet Maya Angelou, “We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.” Let us celebrate in the things we have in common and move forward toward a more collaborative future.

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