Power & Resilience Through Experiential Education

Power & Resilience Through Experiential Education

Loke Davis and I are starting a new organization to provide trainings to activists (in particular QTPOC and QTWOC) on various skills. We're starting with Ham Radio. We're launching the web site soon, but wanted to share here in the meantime. We're calling the project Power & Resilience Through Experiential Education because it's descriptive and spells PaRTEE. :-)

In September, I volunteered at Run4Salmon doing radio communication for the medical team. Run4Salmon is a 300-mile spiritual trek led by Winnemem Wintu Chief Caleen Sisk and other indigenous women. The course includes areas where there is no cell coverage. In particular, at the end of the journey, one group journeys over land led horse riders, and another group journeys by water led by dugout canoes. A third group sets up base camp. Since there is little cell coverage for parts or all of these groups, we needed a different way to communicate. We used amateur radios (aka ham radios) to do this, and it worked really well.

Run4Salmon isn't unique – there are other events, some of them protests like Standing Rock and Mauna Kea, where folks can't rely on cellular coverage. Another situation where this is true is during crises.

I had been thinking of getting a Ham Radio license for a while, but I finally made concrete plans to go after a discussion with other QTPOC activists about emergency preparedness. It's been on our minds lately, especially with recent events, including the disastrous fires that seem to plague the West Coast every summer. This year, in addition to the fires themselves, millions of people faced power outages during the PSPS (Public Safety Power Shutoff) that PG & E initiated because they were afraid that their aging grid might start fires, as happened in the Camp Fire. My PaRTEE cofounder Loke and I happened to be in a CERT training in Union City, and many of the others taking the class had been affected. We also heard that some places had no cell coverage because some cell towers went down during the PSPS. But amateur radio operators were able to communicate.

In fact, Ham Radio clubs are deeply involved in emergency response. My first ORCA (Oakland Radio Communication Association) meeting was eye-opening. Not only did folks know a lot about emergency preparedness, but they knew about why Oakland doesn't have CORE classes any longer (CORE is Oakland's version of CERT), and good places to go to get that same training. They also work closely with the fire department and run simulations. Super prepared.

The Ham Radio community is mostly friendly and helpful, but it's immediately apparent that the hobby is dominated by cishet white men. When I went to the licensing exam with friends, we were almost the only women there. The organizer told us he was surprised there were so many women there – that's usually not the case. Not only are there few women who get licensed, but we've heard that even fewer continue in the hobby after getting licensed. The lingo used by operators includes some baked in gender weirdness. For example, all male operators (of all ages) are referred to as OM (Old Man). All female operators (of all ages) are referred to as YL (Young Lady). And wives (always wives) of radio operators are referred to as XYL (ex-young lady). As bad as it is for women, it's even worse for non-binary folks.

Which is not to say that people aren't friendly; it's just that it can be hard to enter into a hobby, and also to continue, when very few people look like you. This is especially crucial in a hobby like Ham Radio where studying for the exam doesn't prepare you to do anything practical. Most folks learn through radio clubs and finding mentors (called Elmers in Ham Radio; named such for someone who helped many people in the hobby).

Our goal with PaRTEE's Justice Hams (JHams) program is to make sure that QTPOC folks can have a friendly pathway to getting licensed, gain practical skills, and have each other for support going forward. Stay tuned for more!