Student activists lead workshops on organizing, protesting

By Lily Jones

Leif Taranta ’20.5, along with other student activists in the Sunday Night Environmental Group (SNEG) and the Trans Affinity Group (TAG), has been leading and planning workshops that aim to teach the Middlebury community how to be more effective activists. While the workshops have covered a variety of topics, they center around what Taranta calls “the hard skills of organizing” and inform students about current movements. 

Taranta has been doing organizing work since they were in elementary school and has worked with organizations focused on fossil fuel resistance, immigrant solidarity and community support. Taranta utilizes their own skills to educate others specifically on de-escalation and nonviolent direct action, but also brings outside trainers to campus to assist with the workshops. 

Upcoming workshops on March 14 and March 18, led by outside trainers Sonia Silbert and Emma Schoenberg, will address nonviolent direct action and de-escalation. In April, regional activists will come to campus to discuss issues including native sovereignty, regenerative agriculture and regional fossil fuel resistance. 

“One of the main purposes is to give people the tools to create a better world, wherever they see themselves fitting into that,” said Zoe Grodsky ’20.5, the co-manager of SNEG, who has also facilitated lectures and workshops surrounding activism. She said that whatever path students decide to take, education is absolutely essential.

Taranta emphasized that anyone, regardless of activism experience, is welcome to attend the workshops. They noted that being an activist can come in many capacities.

“People think, ‘Oh, I’m not an activist,’ because they think activists look a certain way,” Taranta said. “Someone might not be comfortable taking direct action, but that doesn’t mean they don’t do valuable work behind the scenes.”

Taranta’s main motivation for facilitating the workshops is to fill in the gaps they see in education. “There are so many people here that are interested, but I don’t think our education is set up to give us these skills,” they said. “We are taught in class to critique and take things apart, but aren’t taught how to create solutions.”

Grodsky has been involved in planning workshops for the day of strikes and teach-ins that correspond with Charles Murray’s visit to campus on March 31. While Taranta said the uptick in workshops is not a direct response to Murray, they noted that the workshops will happen in tandem with the event.

“We need people prepared to be de-escalators,” Taranta said. They hope the workshops will provide a source of community support during Murray’s visit.

Taranta has high hopes for the spring. “We can be pretty limitless in terms of what we envision, and a whole lot can change fast,” they said.