Last May, the UC Santa Barbara Blum Center on Poverty, Inequality, and Democracy debuted its first-ever, student-led podcast “Power to the People,” featuring discussions surrounding inequality, activism and democracy.
The Blum Center is a 10-campus network program spanning the entire University of California system. The center focuses on fostering education on poverty and inequity, with initiatives including workshops, movie screenings and other community projects.
The podcast team consists of four Blum student assistants: fourth-year biopsychology major Warsan Ali, musicology doctoral candidate Cloe Gentile Reyes, fourth-year environmental studies major Lizzy Mau and fifth-year doctoral candidate in mechanical engineering Simone Stewart, along with former student assistant and UCSB alumna Yara Khamis, who worked on the project during its planning year.
The series contains four episodes, with four rotating co-hosts centering their discussions on the topic of younger generations as agents for social and political change. Each episode is roughly 30 minutes, with hosts prefacing the topics before introducing the guests. The episodes, which were all released on May 12, use sound bites throughout the series for context, including offering audio clips of historical events or quotes.
“We contextualize different current issues such as the fight against climate change and movements on college campuses with historical precedents, so today’s youth have a better framework to understand the roots of particular activist causes,” Stewart said in a statement to the Nexus.
Episode one is the only segment without any guest experts, as hosts Ali and Stewart instead introduce the show by covering the issues that are especially important to young people, including climate change and health care.
The second episode investigates how historical events including the 9/11 attacks, the election of Barack Obama and the COVID-19 pandemic have influenced the beliefs of millennials and Gen Zers. The third episode is split into two segments, with the first detailing campus movements of the 1960s and ’70s and the second focusing on student activism within the UC system. The fourth and final episode highlights the struggles burdening youth activists of color, like being unable to enjoy the simplicity of childhood in order to advocate for issues affecting their lives.
The host team welcomed multiple guest experts on student mobilization, activism led by people of color and civic engagement, including professors from Humboldt State University, the University of Iowa and UCSB. Hosts were also joined by various young activists like Yulia Gilichinskaya, a founding organizer of the UC Santa Cruz wildcat strike, and Makeen Zachery, founder of the blog and social media platform “Blk Girl Culture.”
The podcast was conceptualized in 2019, with the following year spent devising episodes, conducting research and organizing in preparation of its release. Ultimately, the team wanted each recording to be a resource for the community and spent months finding the balance between personal storytelling and relaying historical or political facts.
“So often students are in a role in university where they are listening to other experts and faculty members in lectures and classes,” said Joanne Nowak, the Blum Center’s academic coordinator and podcast advisor. “That’s great, but as the podcast went on, I could see the team gaining so much confidence, eventually culminating in the podcast launch where they were on the panel themselves as experts in their own rights as women of color.”
The podcast team found the phrase “Power to the People” — which was popularized by the Black Panther Party in the 1960s— to be a fitting title for the series. With the phrase now serving as a rallying cry for racial justice and equality, the hosts wanted to give due credit to its origins: A historical acknowledgement is included on the podcast’s website to give context to the phrase.
“It is really important that we recognize that phrase because its origins are from the Black Panther Party. We didn’t want to just use it and not give credit or not understand the oath that we are giving to the Black Panther Party,” Ali said.
All the podcast hosts are women of color, and the dynamic allowed for personal experiences to be shared during the recordings, Ali said.
“It was just incredible to talk to these people who come from different walks of life and could teach us about these intersections that exist within activism,” Ali said. “All of the hosts are women of color, which was another element that I found really inspiring. We were storytelling but also giving our own opinions and personal life experiences.”
The fourth episode, which was titled “Who Are Youth Activists? Centering POC Youth Activism,” featured chair of the Africana Studies department at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte Julia Jordan-Zachery and her daughter Zachary.
“We talked about race battle fatigue, which is essentially the additional burden that comes with being a person of color and being in spaces where you have to advocate for yourself,” Ali said. “It also sometimes feels like you have to be an advocate for your people and your community, especially in an institution like UCSB that is predominantly white.”
Now, the team looks forward to furthering these conversations of youth-led activism in a second “Power to the People” series, though the release date has not yet been publicized.
“What became clear through these different conversations about series two was that we were getting these really compelling vignettes that we want to further explore,” Nowak said. “In series two, we want to flesh out in more detail ways you can engage in [different types of activism].”
The topics covered in series one will serve as background knowledge for the following series, which will focus on how to become politically and civically active within local communities, according to Ali.
“Ultimately, I hope the podcast inspires young people to find a cause that means something to them,” Stewart said. “The podcast has shown me that activism comes in many forms and those differ across generations, but so many creative outlets we have developed can serve as a stage to amplify the voices that matter.”