"I want other young working-class artists to know: no matter what you’ve been told, you’re mad legit, no doubt"
I think I joined DRUM as a member because my sister asked me to. I was a part of DRUM for a year before applying to the Youth Organizing Institute and was pretty confused about my role in the organization and in movements. As a first-year student in high school, I wasn’t sure how my story as a 13-year old Desi working-class woman and artist was connected to the stories of other DRUM members. Yet, I could sense there was a lot of powerful work happening at DRUM. So, I applied to the Youth Organizing Institute because I felt like I could do more.
I learned so much in the summer program that I couldn’t have learned anywhere else. The workshops we did really helped me map my stories onto a larger web of struggles - some of which I shared and some I didn’t. All these struggles belonged to people who I came to understand as my community. It was powerful to be with other young people and unlearn the internalized shame we had been taught about being brown and working-class.
The program was so different from the the hollow and disempowering environment I was used to in high school. At DRUM, we could be connected and build deep relationships as young people with shared struggles. Unlike the classroom, our experiences as working-class, immigrant, brown people was uplifted and we were supported in thinking of ourselves as leaders. Most importantly, I looked forward to coming to the program everyday because it was fun and reminded me I love learning.
As a graduating senior, it’s crazy to think that I’m still here! I grew out of every other commitment I took on in high school, but I’ve stayed connected at DRUM and even found a way to carve out space for myself as a working-class artist and others like me. Like many young people who step into DRUM, at first I was shy and unsure of my own thinking. I’d doubt myself a lot and then get frustrated to hear someone else voice the same thing I was thinking all along!
Through the Youth Organizing Institute I came to understand that I may not know everything, but I do know my own experience and I can speak about that - that’s the basis of all the work of being an organizer! We bring people together and tap into the wisdom that’s in our homes, our neighborhoods, on our streets - then we fight to make the change we need happen. We build leaders by understanding the real value of people in a world that values things, uplifting our individual experiences in the context of a broader struggle.
I know that changing policies is important, but as an artist-organizer I know there are other important roles to take on in movements even though we don’t always talk about them. Understanding the way the world works, the importance of organizing our communities, and building campaigns that change policies is all important to me, but I’m also a cultural worker and I know we need to transform our culture too! It was important for me as a working-class artist to continue on at DRUM as an artist leader and eventually Arts & Cultural Justice Organizer, and to bring together other artists through the Moving Art Program, to build a culture that makes fighting for our communities worthwhile.
As young people, we’re often told we can’t do things, or that what we can do doesn’t matter. That’s also something people say about artists and the work we do. But it’s not true - there’s power in our art and its ability to move our people. Our art and our culture is our ability to drive our movements - it’s the essence of people power!
I want other young working-class artists to join the movement and apply for the Youth Organizing Institute. We are so important, especially at this time when our communities are under attack and it’s critical that we tell the truth about ourselves and the world we’re trying to build. I want other young working-class artists to know: no matter what you’ve been told, you’re mad legit, no doubt! And I want to see you at DRUM.
Our art lives in our people
When we feel and listen and dream and fight
When we create and relate and move like light.
We are liberated when we feel together,
When we are free together.
Where our power, our energy
Vitality can live forever.
-Mahira Raihan, Arts & Cultural Justice Organizer
DRUM's Summer Youth Organizing Institute is a six week long internship for South Asian and Indo-Caribbean youth ages 14 - 21 years. Young people learn about issues that impact their communities from racial, immigrant, education, gender, and worker justice. Through interactive political education workshops, participants begin connecting their lived experiences and struggles to systems of oppression. Participants then learn how to collectively challenge those systems through handson skills building workshops, trainings on community organizing, andarts and cultural projects.