Activism
A Kind of Reflection, a Kind of Declaration

A Kind of Reflection, a Kind of Declaration

I am not accustomed to writing autobiographically, but Jacqueline asked us to reflect on our experiences blogging for Nursing Clio. First, I want to express how much I have enjoyed contributing my voice to the outstanding chorus that Jacqueline and the rest of Nursing Clio’s editors orchestrate on a daily basis. I am grateful that Jacqueline asked me to write for the blog because I value producing what we in The Ohio State University’s African American and African Studies Department called “relevant scholarship”—content  aiding people of color and progressives in their political struggles. I thought I would discuss my writing experiences generally so I can illustrate how writing for Nursing Clio fulfills that responsibility to act as an activist-minded public scholar.

Before joining Nursing Clio, I wrote guest editorials for my hometown newspaper, Kent State University’s student paper, and OSU’s Race-Talk blogI have even authored my own blogs, albeit very inconsistently. I also appreciate the Nursing Clio editors because I, too, edited a student-run publication that some of my friends and I founded in 2004—The Spirit of the Nation![1] I remember participating in a conversation with some of my peers, all of whom desired to use the skills they acquired in their university English and history classes to express themselves through prose and poetry, culturally and politically. The problem, of course, was that none of us knew where and how we could fulfill that desire. Remember, we established this publication at the dawn of the blogosphere and before the emergence of social media. (I know, it’s almost hard to believe there was a time before blogs, Twitter, and Facebook.) Operating at this time meant that we printed hard copies, sometimes with the proceeds from selling our first issue, sometimes “creatively.”[2]

We produced five wide-ranging thematic issues of the magazine in three years. Marriage exclusion, poverty and homelessness, and the war in Iraq colored the first three issues. We published work examining consumer culture, black politics, feminism, and political theory. (Aaron Beveridge and I may have also declared the left dead sometime after George W. Bush won reelection at one point.[3]) We also covered the relaunch of Students for a Democratic Society in 2007 and had the opportunity to call the late Howard Zinn a guest contributor. Although we recruited new writers and editors for each issue, every edition shared a similar tone. All of the contributions dripped with the sense of purpose, urgency, and optimism of any group of undergraduate humanities students looking to push boundaries and question the world around them. (Much of my work was so wordy and bombastic that I have not let anyone see it since I have arrived at the University of Michigan.)

The point of recounting my experience serving as an editor for Spirit of the Nation! is not to necessarily brag, but to think about writing for Nursing Clio within a larger context. Doing so highlights how 1) I appreciate Nursing Clio’s editorial staff for publishing my writing, even when it may stray from its core aim and audience,  2) I appreciate the challenge of writing for unfamiliar audiences, and 3) I value lending my critical thinking, researching, and writing abilities to contribute to popular political conversations and struggles.

I am sure some wonder whether writing for a blog really serves a purpose for an aspiring scholar; after all, you cannot always include blog writing on CV’s or resumes. Also, of course, time is limited. I could spend the time that I have writing a blog post working on “real” work—my dissertation, a published article, or a book. Then one confronts the question that writers always ponder, “Does anyone even read my blog?” Of course, I have expressed these very same thoughts. My answer to these concerns is that my thinking and writing about politics always informs and enhances my academic work, and vice versa.

Writing for Nursing Clio and other venues has coalesced into an expression of a political praxis. Now, this idea is hardly new and many of my peers have performed this action frequently. My colleagues and mentors taught me valuable research skills, various historical interpretations, and theories that I can add to my political toolbox.  I entered into academia possessing the understanding that everyone—activists, organizers, artists, scholars, every type of worker—had a role to play in confronting injustice, debating policy, and building social movements. Thus, my close activist friends expect me to use these tools when I engage the broader public. When I speak to my activist friends about politics many will often ask, “What is the historical context?”

It is true, pursuing professional academic work requires one to devote their energies to performing CV- and resume-worthy tasks, especially considering the turbulent market. We are too aware of this. Yet, many of us may see another troubling contradiction—a job shortage exists, but there is not a shortage of problems that we must address—persistent class, racial, gender, and sexual inequality, economic restructuring, war and violence, etc.  We also know that there are some individuals who assume we should use our power for “practical purposes”—teaching students “proper” forms of communication, teaching students “proper” history, preparing students to operate in a “competitive and globalizing world.” Sure, teaching these skills are important, but not at the expense of pursuing other lines of inquiry that affect particular groups of people deeply. Who is to say it is not a practical use of our skills to address various forms of inequality when the racial and gender wealth gaps persist? How is it not practical to deploy research and writing skills to confront sexual violence when rape culture remains prevalent and the violence against transgender people remains unacknowledged among the general public amid its rise? Using our knowledge and skills to pursue this line of inquiry may not allow one to always become wealthy, but addressing pressing issues helps expand social, political, economic, and cultural, at the very least. Of course, I am aware that my reflection may reflect a romantic view of knowledge production.  Yet, it is tough to express skepticism when Nursing Clio serves as one example of how the demand for  public scholars to weigh in on contemporary issues, and to social, cultural, and political direction, is not just desired, but needed.


[1] We had around almost 30 contributors in our three years of operation. Only a few of our issues contained writings from the editors.  I am grateful for everyone who supported us and contributed their time, effort, writing, and art. I want to take the time to especially thank Darrick Jackson, Aaron Beveridge, John Thrasher, Sara Vera, Jessica Winck, Tony Chinni, Sarah Murr (Stevens), Kathy Long, Trish Laughbaum, Jesi Halter, Erin Bistline, and Jessica Klaeser-Ratcliff, all of whom played crucial roles in founding and sustaining the publication.

[2] Let’s just leave it at that.

[3] Our declaration of the left’s death was an interesting way to respond to Bush’s reelection, to say the least. I cannot remember what we even said exactly.

Austin C. McCoy is a Phd Candidate in History at the University of Michigan. He is writing a dissertation on progressives' responses to plant closings and urban fiscal crises in the Midwest during the 1970s and 1980s.