Break Away Blog | Read + Act Weekly

Active Citizenship is Action… Even If It’s Cold Outside

Finals are over, and we’re preparing for a few days of rest and recuperation before the start of the spring semester. Before you slip on your wool socks and cozy up to rewatch every episode of Parks and Recreation (we would never judge you for that, by the way), we’re here to remind you that active citizenship means constant effort - regardless of the season.

Consider these holiday-inspired acts of active citizenship of as you unwind from your busy fall semester:

  • Don’t shy away from talking politics with folks whose opinions differ from your own. While it may be easier to sweep disagreements under the rug - there’s truth to the notion that “we are all still each other’s only hope” and hard conversations can often be productive.  
  • Donate or send thank you notes to local organizations or nonprofits.
  • Consider supporting underrepresented identities by reading some not-assigned-in-a-syllabus novels.
  • Shovel your sidewalks this winter (and make sure they're wide wide enough for a wheelchair to pass).
  • Be conscious about the music you’re consuming, and support artists who push back against harmful rhetoric in the dominant narrative.
  • Buy all of this year’s holiday presents from local vendors, individual artists, or donate in honor of those on your list.

We wish you a holiday season filled with care and love. We’ll see you in 2017 - we're excited to witness the wonder and strength you all will bring to the Movement in the year to come.

Fundraising: It’s Not About the Money

Don’t get us wrong, as a scrappy non-profit committed to the Universal Principle of Thrift, we’ll always take your money and put it to good use. This #GivingTuesday, we embarked on the age-old (circa 2012) tradition of reaching out to our friends, family, alumni, and every dignitary we know seeking support for the work we’re passionate about.

Fundraising is challenging. Across the board, almost everyone struggles with this. We don’t have a blanket answer for success, but based on one of our latest favorite reads, we can summarize a few tips:

    1. Invite people in. Fundraising isn’t purely about getting money. It’s about inviting folks to be a part of your work. Asking for money is difficult, but the truth is, people should have the option to say yes or no. If you don’t ask, you take decision-making power away. Not asking due to an assumption of their financial situation becomes an act of injustice. That being said, if folks aren’t in a place to financially support, give them an alternative option: ask them to support you on social media, attend an event, or even a simple response letting you know how they’re doing.
    2. Fundraise together. On Tuesday, our office was filled with sporadic cheers, declarations of love, and reminiscing on fond memories as we saw your names materializing on our screens. Our Executive Director, three Programs Directors, our Board of Directors, and even former staff were in on the asks, interactions, and we can honestly admit it… the fun.
    3. Foster authentic relationships. Having the sense that you are part of a strong community is an incredible feeling. Thousands of wonderful people have crossed Break Away’s path, and we hold on to those relationships - not because they could be a potential source of money, but because we genuinely love and value the mutual sense of togetherness we’ve found in them.
    4. Don’t be afraid to try new tactics. If emailing friends, families, and dignitaries doesn’t seem like it’s working, try threatening one of your staff’s hair. Maybe you don’t have wonderful hair to threaten, but the point is to always seek room for development and improvement. Practice patience, prioritize persistence, and stay committed.   

In all, we are astounded and humbled by the incredible turnout we had this #GivingTuesday. With your support, we raised over $8,800 in less than 12 hours to invest in the work of fostering active citizenship. In January 2016, Break Away started moving forward a new three-year strategic plan and we’re in hot pursuit of actualizing our goals. In the next two years, we’ll be making moves to:

  • Support lifelong active citizenship by offering mini-grants to alternative break alumni who are cultivating small groups of citizens in join and lead efforts locally to address community identified needs
  • Commit to cultivating inclusive student leadership by offering scholarships for individuals to attend the Alternative Break Citizenship schools from schools where there isn’t the institutional or financial support to otherwise do so
  • Grow the national network by providing membership benefits to tribal colleges and universities and institutions committed to serving first generation students - supporting the development of alternative break programs in under resourced or emerging service-learning centers

We have big dreams and we are fervently working to achieve our vision of a society of active citizens. To those of you who gave some of your hard-earned dollars to support Break Away in 2016, you’re not a donor, a money-giver, or a philanthropist - you are a decision-maker for what this Movement is and will become. You are invested and committed to thriving communities. For that, we are with you and we thank you.

We Must Believe Another World Is Possible… and Create It.

On November 7th, coming off of Break Away’s 25th Anniversary Weekend, our hearts felt full surrounded by the many people who came to celebrate Break Away and the Movement. As we wrapped up the evening, our Executive Director spoke to the people in that small room about how we had tasted what it would feel like to live in a society of active citizens. In our time together, we had built parts of that vision. If we knew how to build it here, we could build it out there.

November 8th came and went, and out there turned out to be more dire than we could have imagined the evening prior. In the hours that followed, a man who had espoused hatred and bigotry became one of our world’s most prominent leaders.

And because of this new reality, we cannot stay silent about the events of November 8:

We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men or women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe.” - Elie Wiesel

The pain and devastation are real. We feel it, too. If you’re not ready to take action, take care of yourself, then prepare. Let this motivate you to organize - it’s what we’ve always done and it’s what we’ll continue doing.

We must act with urgency. Even after the thousands of refugees displaced by war, the murders of hundreds of black and brown people at the hands of police, the sexual violence that continues to plague our campuses and communities - we live, and will live, in a darker world than we knew before November 8.

When the system won’t support us, let us lean on each other. When our government only protects a few, let us defend the multitudes. When someone preaches division, let us stand together. Now is not the time to create further divide - to unfriend, to reject, to ignore, to fight. Now is the time to hear each other’s struggles, pain, and experience.

Part of our organizational message about alternative breaks is, “if you get to know the individuals for whom those issues are a reality, you’ll understand there’s no such thing as not my problem.” Every single one of us has a duty to protect and support our neighbors. To all our friends who have felt under attack from fear mongering and hateful rhetoric we heard during the campaign, we love you and stand with you. To all our friends who feel unheard, unseen, and misunderstood  in any way - we are here to seek unity and understanding.

We’ve tasted kindness, community, intentionality, love, hope, resilience, perseverance, justice, and solidarity in the world of alternative breaks. We have started to build it and live it into reality. Now, we must continue to do it, out there.

We cannot wait for justice for all, we must demand it. There has never been a more critical time for us to join, lead, and connect. Love still triumphs over hate. Light still has the power to swallow darkness. We must believe another world is possible, and then, we must organize and create it.

You Can’t Party Alone

Picture yourself at a concert, sporting event, or watching your favorite speaker. Part (if not most) of the magic comes from being surrounded by people who share the experience with you: whether it’s in a stadium filled with relentless sports fans, a concert venue jam-packed with people too excited to stand still, or a speaker who brings the room to tears with a powerful story.

The “buzz” is undeniable in communal spaces like these. To be with people united in a cause or for a purpose creates a strong sense of togetherness that can’t just come from watching a game on TV, or listening to a band in your car. That “buzz” comes from the unlimited high-fives when a goal is scored or the simultaneous swaying of bodies to a beautiful song.

We know that most often, the strongest communities are those of both affinity (shared values and/or interests) and proximity (shared physical space), yet by nature of alternative breaks, this combination is often fleeting. Trips are short-lived and a group’s bond isn’t easily translated back into everyday life.

There’s a chance you’ve heard… we’re celebrating our 25th anniversary this weekend in Washington DC. Some folks are seeing the Break Away community for the first time in weeks, others for the first time in years. Regardless of where people are coming from or how long it’s been since they’ve seen Break Away - we have all been moved by alternative breaks and are convening to party (in accordance with the alcohol and drug free component of Alternative Breaks, of course) as a community.

Even if you can’t join us this weekend for unlimited high-fives and collective dance parties, think about the power of joining together - whatever that may be for you: an alternative break reunion, a social issue you care about, your favorite band’s concert. Find a space for that “buzz” to exist and relish in your togetherness.