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  • SoMove: Social Movements Oral History Tour
  • SY Choung
SoMove: Social Movements Oral History Tour. Online at

Methodology, interview, project, archive: oral history is now a tour as well. As part activist and narrative professional networking event, part interview archive collection effort, and part oral history workshop, the SoMove Oral History Tour is a bricolage presentation of storytelling and oral history projects that aim to document both old and new social movements and organizations, presented through a binational road tour visiting cities across the US and Canada. As SoMove explains on its website, “Touring, in this case, provides momentum and a framework to do work that can be difficult to initiate or sustain individually.” Enlisting the partnership of local community organizations from each tour location, SoMove organizers bring together those working in the intersections of activism and oral history for a unique meeting of the minds.

At the event I went to in the Brooklyn Historical Society, there were about fifty activists, artists, community organizers, and oral historians from the New York City area in attendance (which, from my understanding, is larger than most other SoMove events). The night was essentially split into two sections: presentations took up a large part of the evening, mostly from the event’s primary organizers, and another portion of time was dedicated to facilitated socialization. Among the presenters were writer, educator, and SoMove organizer Blake Nemec, who presented on an oral history of the now-defunct Young Women’s Empowerment Project (YWEP), “a member-based social justice organizing project that is led by and for young people of color who have current or former experience in the sex trade and street economies”; writer, media producer, and tour organizer Puck Lo, who introduced an oral history project about the life and death of Chicago’s Giovanni’s Room, the oldest LGBT bookstore in the US; and archivist Brendan Allen, who delivered a PowerPoint presentation on the archival practices of the progressive news organization Democracy Now!. While somewhat thematically disjointed, these presentations were united by the emphasis on the importance of documenting social movements for the benefit of other social movements. This point came across rather effectively in Nemec’s presentation when he explained that a part of the reason for the demise of YWEP was its fundamental difference in strategy from the more mainstream antitrafficking movement, which pushed for antitrafficking legislation to prohibit the very type of work YWEP was conducting. If, as the SoMove tour urges, activists from both movements were in deeper conversation, perhaps the two oppositional forces could have instead learned from each others’ stories and consequently seen each other as allies.

One might take issue with SoMove’s lack of more precise motives and definitions in their goals. For an organization that uses the term “oral history,” they do not distinguish their oral history projects from more journalistic endeavors or [End Page 353] documentary work. And for such a highly political organization, in the FAQ section of their website where they explain their political position(s), they state “It’s difficult to describe political positions without using lots of jargon, unfortunately, and these words may mean different things to different people. That said, we would probably work best with people who identify as antiracist and transfeminist, queer positive, generally Left, progressive or radical, with a commitment to economic justice. Individually, our politics may be quite varied.” This nebulous political positioning raises the question of how they distinguish the movements and organizations they are willing to work with from those they aren’t.

I would argue, however, that their intentional openness is a strength of their organization. Using oral histories as a springboard for conversation, SoMove has brought a wide array of socially conscious narrative workers and their ideas together in one room, and opened that room as a space for conversation. The facilitated discussion portion of the evening encouraged attendees to seek out new colleagues to discuss a range of questions related to what they’ve learned through the presentations and their personal experiences in oral history. As the exercise prompted participants to share with and learn from each other, SoMove was in effect weaving together...