Scout Bratt Fights For Autonomy Locally and Internationally
Written by Vocalo Radio on November 9, 2023
Scout Bratt uses social justice frameworks in their work as a sexuality educator and organizer for Palestinian liberation.
For this week’s segment of “This Is What Chicago Sounds Like,” Scout Bratt dives into their journey as an organizer for Palestinian liberation, why they are passionate about sexual health knowledge and the creativity of Chicago social justice organizers.
Bratt made their way to Chicago from the East Coast in 2010, taking their degree in peace studies from Goucher College in Baltimore to join Avodah, a social justice group based on Jewish values. Their foundations in social justice work paved the way for both of their motivating causes: advocating for youth-centered sex education and fighting for Palestinian liberation.
“Bodily autonomy, and people being able to make informed decisions for themselves with unfettered access to resources for those decisions,” Bratt explained. “[Those ideals are] something that I think is applicable to all of my work.”
Bratt currently works with Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), a group organizing “a grassroots, multiracial, cross-class, intergenerational movement of U.S. Jews into solidarity with Palestinian freedom struggle,” as stated on their website. Bratt has always been involved in their local Jewish community; throughout high school, they participated in various Jewish youth programs.
College played a pivotal role in Bratt’s current commitment to advocacy; in addition to finding their passion for social justice, they began to engage in critical thinking. Their courses prompted them to question the narratives they had been taught and reevaluate their understanding of American Jewish identity as inextricable with Zionism and oppression of Palestinian people.
“The first class that I took … very literally on the first day, someone I saw in the class was wearing a ‘Free Palestine’ shirt,” Bratt recalled. “I had never seen that before. I had never really talked about the term ‘Palestine,’ other than it being a reference point from when I was studying Torah.”
After learning more about Palestinian history, Bratt became committed to Palestinian liberation, stemming from the Jewish value that all struggles of marginalized communities globally are intertwined. They find beauty in the diasporic aspects of Jewish history, and how there are many, many places the Jewish people can and do call home.
“I have been given one version of history repeatedly, in a very emotional way, and an entire peoplehood, Palestinian liberation, Palestinian people and that narrative, that those experiences, those identities had been erased from my education,” Bratt expressed. “That angered me like nothing else, and that I was turned, what it felt like, into like a tool to facilitate the conflation of Judaism and Zionism and ethnonationalism, in terms of the State of Israel.”
Bratt’s work also centers on providing comprehensive sex education in Chicago Public Schools working to engage with what youth express they want and need to learn as opposed to what adults think they should know.
Their time in Chicago has reshaped their ideas for the potential of what mobilizing for a cause can look like. For Bratt, the city represents a hub of creative, collaborative and non-hierarchical organizing, and is a place where people band together to challenge injustice and empower marginalized communities.
In this segment of “This Is Chicago Sounds Like,” Scout Bratt reflects on the dedication of individuals in Chicago who are actively working to make a difference through the power of critical thinking and promote social justice, both locally and internationally.
Are you from Chicago?
I came to Chicago in 2010, to be a part of a group called Avodah. So I came here for that program. My work is mostly focused on comprehensive sexuality education in Chicago Public Schools, community based organizations, and we approach our sexual health education with an emphasis on challenging adultism. So really working to share power with young people in classrooms. That’s about engaging with and responding to what young people want and need to hear, want and need to learn about, as opposed to what a group of adults thinks young people need to know. A lot of the ways in which I’ve been thinking about feminism, and how feminist approaches to my work, both in community organizing and in teaching, come out, are truly about bodily autonomy, and people being able to make informed decisions for themselves with unfettered access to resources for those decisions. That is something that I think is applicable to all of my work, not just teaching sex ed, but it’s a part of my organizing with Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), which is an organization that’s fighting for justice in Palestine.
How did you get into your organizing work?
I was raised in a really Zionist community and a Zionist household. That sort of conflation of Zionism is a core part of Jewish peoplehood, of Judaism, of what it means to be Jewish. I did not know or think about that critically at all. As a high schooler, I went on the march of the living, which is a trip that takes folks through different concentration camps in Poland. And then you spend a week in Israel, with the narrative that the Holocaust was deeply, deeply traumatic. And we were able to, quote-quote “come home” to the State of Israel. And we sort of go through that journey as young people. I participated for one week in a program called Godna, which is like you pretend to be in the army, and shot an M-16. And assumed it was totally normal, everyone was doing that. I also took a gap year after high school and did what was the United Synagogue Youth year-long program of Nativ, which was a year that I studied part time in Hebrew U, that was the same time as the disengagement, Hibnatkut, which was when there was a move to withdraw all troops from Gaza. That was in 2006. 2005, 2006. I remember distinctly, there was one side, and I can’t even tell you what it was, one side of the sort of advocacy was wearing orange, one side was wearing green. It was like, if you’re wearing one of those colors, you want the troops to stay in Gaza. If you’re wearing the other color, you want the troops to withdraw. I remember distinctly going out with my friends and them being like, “You should wear green, it looks really good with your eyes.” That was how little we knew and how little we were paying attention, or even encouraged to think critically. When I got to college, Goucher College, the first class that I took was a race, gender and sexuality class, it was an elective, and very literally on the first day, someone I saw in the class was wearing a “free Palestine” shirt. I had never seen that before. I had never really talked about the term Palestine, other than it being a reference point from when I was studying Torah.
At that moment, I was like, “I’m supposed to know what that is. And I don’t know what that is.” I was, at the same time, studying critical race theory. I was taking classes about what it means to challenge the narratives we are given, about who should be doing which things and who deserves to make decisions for whom. Like, Feminism 101 in a college class. That really facilitated my capacity, I think, to say, like, “Oh, I’m gonna approach this question of what is ‘free Palestine,’ really differently than if I had not been in a class facilitating or prompting me to question narratives.” From that point forward, everything just sort of clicked into place for noting that I have been given one version of history repeatedly, in a very emotional way. And that an entire peoplehood, Palestinian liberation, Palestinian people had that narrative, that those experiences, those identities had been erased from my education. That angered me like nothing else, and that I was turned, what it felt like, into like a tool to facilitate the conflation of Judaism and Zionism and ethnonationalism, in terms of the State of Israel.
Why do you think this is important for American Jews, and all Jews to consider?
I care about Palestinian liberation because I was raised to care about my struggle as a Jewish person being bound up with struggles of folks who have been dehumanized and refugees throughout the world, throughout history. Many, many stories of our history have meant that there is no one place for Jews to feel at home. And that’s, to me, pretty beautiful to be a diasporic tradition, and there’s a lot of richness to diaspora practices. I think it just feels deeply, deeply rooted in trauma, that people feel that if they are not together in one place, in one location, where they are setting the terms, then they are subject to extermination. To me, that feels like it is thousands and thousands of years of trauma that people are holding, as they try to fight for a piece of land. That, again, is not going to guarantee safety and anti-Zionists have existed throughout time. End to apartheid, end to the occupation and an acknowledgement that the State of Israel and State of Israel’s acting quote “on behalf” of Jewish security, Jewish safety is not aligned with Jewish values, is not actually what all Jewish people are wanting or fighting for.
It is crucial for us to acknowledge the amount of support that the United States provides the military in Israel, and how we unquestionably support the State of Israel doing whatever it wants to, to invade and to destroy Palestinian homes and livelihoods – including the olive harvest, which should be happening right now and is a key piece of not just Palestinian tradition, but also economic wealth and wellbeing or health, rather. We do not want anyone to die. Yet, we acknowledge that people who have been harmed, whoever they have been harmed by, we mourn those deaths. But to quote JVP, they’ve been saying, “We mourn the dead, and we fight like hell for the living.” Continuing to pursue a military solution to whatever is happening is only going to kill more people. It’s only going to … further destroy lives. And I do not think that’s the right focus. I just think that’s the wrong focus.
What has kept you in Chicago?
When I came to work here, I learned about the Jane abortion network, and the Jane abortion network was an underground network of folks connecting individuals to abortion care, before Roe v. Wade. They were emphasizing dignity, and affirming safe abortion care at a time in which that was not accessible. That was my point of reference for what Chicago organizing could be, in the face of injustice and laws that were unjust. People creatively coming together, saying, we can compile resources, skills, connections, as a group of folks in a collaborative, non-hierarchical way that actually challenges the notion of what is quote, “right and wrong.” Chicago, to me, is rooted in organizing possibility. There is such possibility and creativity that Chicago organizers bring to the everyday. Certain bodies are given power and decision-making and self-determination, and other bodies control those who don’t have that autonomy. And that is something that I see people fighting for every single day in Chicago, and doing it from different angles. I definitely see that coming together for me also, in my work with JVP.
Since 2016, we have been profiling people who give their all to Chicago and enrich us socially and culturally by virtue of their artistry, social justice work and community-building. Take a listen. Read their words. Become inspired.
Interview and audio production by Ari Mejia
Written introduction by Blake Hall
Photos by Ari Mejia, edited by Blake Hall
Transcription and editing for length and clarity by Morgan Ciocca
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