Fight back or die: COVID survivor Jennifer Wager is an educator and disruptor flipping systems through her lens and activism | The Light Series

2 mins read

In between bouts of disorientation and fatigue, a college professor continues to protest a system she works to dismantle.

Before COVID-19, Jennifer Wager wove filmmaking, teaching and activism into her daily practice of being good peoples. Known by many as Professor Wager, since she has taught thousands of attendees at the only community college in Newark. Often, you will see Wager with current or former students at red carpets or town halls armed with cameras or protest placards. Added to her commitment as an educator, she has served on a number of grassroots and city initiatives that work to empower local residents. But, she is more than work. On any day, she’ll be at her favorite bar cheering on a colleague performing a jazz set similar to the ones she sees when she films in Cuba.

When the pandemic shut down the city then hit Wager hard, she was stunned but never stopped. From her bed, she critiqued a system that left her and her partner with little resources to make it through the roughest part of the quarantine. Through it all, she unmercifully gave capitalism the proverbial eff you. This is why we love her.

I survived COVID in NJ First Wave with no healthcare, but grandma’s wisdom—which was herbal traditional care based on Irish & friend’s traditional grandma recipes—which turns out to have been a good move. I recovered over the summer to join many friends, comrades and students in the streets for justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Alex Flores and so many countless more . . . to survive to fight another day. When fall arrived, I taught 9 classes this semester and ran 5 programs with 400 students when the Art professor retired the first week of class. We not only survived, we thrived and closed out the semester with amazing virtual exhibit of student work & protested with community groups to free detained immigrants in née Jersey’s concentration camp ICE jails.
So fight back or die. That’s life.

ARK: How do you define your work? 

JW: Hardcore anti-capitalist, anti-racist, no imperialist bullshit

ARK: What population does your work serve?

JW: Greater Newark metropolitan area but expanding northward as well to Adirondack mountains

ARK: How do you do your work differently than others in your field?

JW: I never sell out & I never quit.

ARK: How did you create an audience or community?

JW: I usually work with pre-existing communities on basis of mutual need & respect & go from there.

ARK: How did the pandemic or protests change or shift your life?

JW: It changed just in severity. Everything is much more raw & on edge. CoVID pulled the mask off capitalism if anyone had any illusions before about what a racist, sexist fucked up system this is, they don’t now. Unless you’re rich I guess you want to keep it.

ARK: How did you find strength in some of the darkest hours this year?

JW: Truth is, I like to fight. So this year just reminded me of that.

ARK: Who or what gave you the courage to continue on?

JW: My mom died at 45 due to poverty and I wanted to make it to at least 50. Also my friends, comrades & students keep me from getting too nihilistic.

ARK: Which of your accomplishments gives you joy?

JW: My students’ accomplishments give me the most joy. ECC students are the most brilliant on the planet (sorry/not sorry)

ARK: What is a philosophy or idea that keeps you grounded?

JW: Smash capitalism. We can build a new system where we are all equal—not the same—but equal.

ARK: 2021 and forward is about reimagining and repair. What is your great imagining or construction of what the world must look like and be?

JW: I like Arundhati Roy’s analogy of the Portal. 2021 can be a portal to a better world where/when we are all free & equal & have the material conditions to thrive. 

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