Seeding Stories

By Julie Feng

Rhetorics, which is the art and study of discourse, are seeds for social justice. These seeds are words, phrases, and narratives; they are language and text; they are image and art and iconography; they are any form of communication. All culture and all cultural production is rhetorical, and all rhetoric is cultural. Rhetorics are a core realm to the production and circulation of meaning.

Rhetorics grow the myths and truths of our world. What is a community? Who belongs? How do we relate to one another? Why should we feel this way? The answers are often shaped by words and images steeped in power. This level of analysis might seem inconsequential, but as adrienne maree brown said, “small is all.” Those of us who have attempted any form of systems change work know how patterns emerge that replicate themselves at larger and larger scales. Local to global. Cell to organism. Word to story. As a storyteller and cultural studies scholar, my work is driven by visions of a more connected and liberated world—and I believe that these seeds can grow landscapes of connection and liberation.

In the spring of 2020, three moments of connection sprouted for me. I was asked by the Washington Dream Coalition to create artwork for their statewide COVID-19 relief fund for undocumented individuals; I was invited by API Chaya, the organization that supports the survivors’ collective that I’m a part of, to contribute to their “WiFi is a Lifeline” campaign; and I deepened collaborations and friendships with some amazing scholars who are community members first. Through these relationships, I realized that I wanted to explore ways to share community work that is rooted in collectivity, creativity, and care. There are brilliant people and networks of people who are reclaiming stories and reimagining possibilities. They are cultivating landscapes where communities provide for one another, where resilience and resistance gain power, where the visions and wisdom of marginalized communities are centered. How can we water and illuminate these landscapes?

As summer began, I launched Rad Rhetorics (radrhetorics.com), a public scholarship project about the limitations and possibilities of revolutionary discourse. The projects of Rad Rhetorics will include interviews with and guest posts from community organizers, activists, and advocates, spotlights on public scholarship projects; deep dives into key words related to radical resistance; deconstructions of narratives and offerings of counter-narratives; poems and stories; thoughts on academia, public scholarship, collaboration, and research methodologies; art and art analysis; theories of commons and collective care; and more.

These are just the seeds. Although my modes of public engagement might change, the imperatives that underpin it remain constant. All of the artistic, scholarly, and community work I do is for the purpose of creating deeper “commonspaces” where people can connect in emergent, complex, and meaningful ways. If rhetorics are the seeds that grow our stories—our cultural landscapes—then perhaps we must do the work of sunlight and rainfall, to engage with each other in a cyclical—dare I say, revolutionary—movement.

Featured Image: illustration by Julie Feng


6 responses to “Seeding Stories”

  1. David Chavannes says:

    Julie, I’m grateful to learn more about you through this post. Plants are shaping my thinking and creating a lot these days, so your metaphor of seeding and cultivating cultural landscapes is watering my creativity this morning, 🙂 Also, I am drinking in life from your spirited artwork!

    For me, one important seed for social justice is historical consciousness: an awareness of a) how the people and events of the past shape our present; and b) the degree to which we are obligated to them. I’m working to water this seed in my own life and in the lives of the younger people whose learning spaces I help to steward these days.

    It occurs to me that one way to say “story” is “discourse,” and historical consciousness also involves learning how to find the roots, the water, the sunlight, that nurture and reproduce certain stories about belonging and relating. I view your attention to language and stories, especially of the kind that you invite on Rad Rhetorics, as an important part of this consciousness-raising work. I’d enjoy talking with you sometime about how you envision navigating the curation of that online platform, since I’ve been struggling to give the right kinds of energy to a similar project of my own.

  2. Caroline Cheung says:

    Julie thank you for writing this! Your public scholarship project, Rad Rhetorics, is amazing. Your attention to stories and language is so important. Activists are storytellers and world-makers. Amplifying this truth is dear to my heart too. Would love to hear more about your work.

  3. Adrienne Adams says:

    Julie! Your piece will surely be one that I return to as I continue to develop my own praxis.
    The way you cogently articulate your notions of “seeds” and “rhetoric” is inspiring. The specific use of “commons” resonates, for me at least, with David’s PAGE blog post about publics. The language concerning nature in both of your pieces is a powerful reminder of the formation of the commonspace in land-based project. Additionally, the webbed connections in your artwork brings up for me the literal uses of the web in nature and how the web is a reminder of this project as also an inter-species one. I look forward to reading RadRhetorics !

  4. Amrut Mishra says:

    Julie, I want to echo David’s comment, especially about the strength of your extended metaphor and how you use it to frame your project (I love the continuity between Rad Rhetorics and radical as root). I definitely agree with you that a major strength of rhetoric as an approach to understanding the world is how it enables us to think about community formation, identification and the affiliations that sustain collective politics. I also think that the expansive approach to supporting diverse types of content and thought with Rad Rhetoric is a strength.

    I am excited to see more!

  5. Ionah Scully says:

    Stories are all we are, as Indigenous elders and scholars say. I so love this work and excited you are a fellow this year so I can get to know you and your work more.

  6. Trisha says:

    Julie, I really loved the metaphor of cultivating landscapes of care and thinking up “commonscapes,” which could help supporting the networks already in place. Thank you for sharing your project with us, I can’t wait to hear more about it!

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