Ordinarily considered a Luddite affair, designed to draw us away from our televisions, computers, and various other technological devices, the book club has been transformed by the Campus Community Book Project (CCBP) into a tech-reliant event. Now in its third year, the Book Project increasingly makes use of email, video, film, and the Web to bring folks together as a community, sharing a common experience.
Although the Book Project has maintained a Web site since its inception, this year's site (occr.ucdavis.edu/bookproject.html) is both deeper and more detailed than previous incarnations. Not only does the site present a well-organized list of project-related events, it also offers printable discussion ideas so that readers might enhance their own thought-provoking CCBP conversations.
This year's Book Project, in particular, has a deeper attachment to technology than just its Web presence; a camcorder gave rise to this year's selection: Anna Deavere Smith's conversational documentary, Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992. One night early in March of 1991, George Holliday grabbed his video camera and, from the window of his home, recorded the beating of Rodney King by four Los Angeles police officers. That recording became an end-of-the-century "shot heard round the world," and led to the officers being charged with using excessive force. When they were acquitted, the city of Los Angeles erupted in flames, as angry protesters took to the streets during three days of uncontrollable rioting and protests.
Twilight, and the one-woman documentary play that inspired the book, became Smith's testimony to the power of conversation as a healing practice. Smith conversed with over 300 Angelenos, interviewing riot survivors, participants, and onlookers. The film version of the play features television footage interspersed with Smi th portraying her interview subjects, thus recapturing the confusion, anger, fear, and hurt of those "three days of hell" with an added glimpse into the lives of those most directly affected by them.
Book Project Flows Beyond Campus Bounds
On a rare cloudless afternoon in November, students, staff, and members of the greater community gathered to view the film version of Twilight. Respectfully silent throughout the screening, the audience grew animated once the lights came up. Sam Huang, a UCD student, spoke with obvious awe when describing the accuracy of Smith's various portrayals: "I got chills listening to her." Brian Brickle, a student at American River Community College who had driven in from Sacramento to see Twilight, responded to Huang's comments: "What I was exposed to [of the LA riots] was really narrow. The media doesn't do a thorough job of portraying the many sides involved."
Such remarks would please Smith, who views Twilight as a "call to the community," an aim mirrored by the Book Project itself. Initiated in October 2001, the CCBP was a response to the horrors of 9/11. Karen Roth, Diversity Education Program Coordinator and Book Project organizer, explains: "The Campus Council on Community and Diversity wondered what we might do as a campus to keep the bonds of our community intact. The Book Project was offered as a way of giving us all a common experience that would help us meet and connect with one another."
Concerned more recently about hate crimes committed in Davis and beyond, the CCBP Planning Team decided to focus the community's resources and attention on the causes and prevention of such crimes. To that end, the team reached out to the Sacramento Valley community to a greater degree this year than in the past, and the Internet was key in getting the word out regarding Bo ok Project events. Discussion forums, ethnically-focused films, a Conflict Resolution and Social Justice workshop, the film Twilight, and a "Reading through the News" journalism conference all drew participants through announcements on the CCBP Web site.
Following the theme of the book, this year's discussions focused on the topics of racial injustice, misunderstanding, and prejudice and posed the question, "Have race relations improved in these dozen years since the uprisings?"
The answer seems to be "No," given the questions posed at the Mondavi Center the night of Smith's talk. The Q and A section following her talk leaned toward confessions of helplessness in the face of ongoing local and worldwide strife—religious and political, as well as racial; nevertheless, the audience, CCBP committee members, and Smith herself seemed to feel the many conversations raised through Book Project events were useful in stemming the flow of such strife. Roth remarked that Smith's visit to campus "brought to light how important it is for us to cross imagined boundaries of skin color and other differences to deeply know and understand one another."
Looking to the Future
Roth added that she hopes we will "keep the power of Smith's work with us as we go about our day-to-day business long after this year's book project is over."
While the events are now winding to a close, it's not too soon to get involved in next year's project. The Book Project Planning Committee is open to all: staff, faculty, students, and interested community members. Book-lovers—tech-savvy and otherwise—are invited to join the committee to help plan events for 2005. Check out contact information on the CCBP home page: occr.ucdavis.edu/ccbp/index.cfm.