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Let’s Talk About Liberation

Defining Liberation

     1 : the act of liberating : the state of being liberated
     2 : a movement seeking equal rights and status for a group

Our current system* breeds dichotomies in values — goals vs. competition, communalism vs. individualism, and altruism vs. self-interest. Not to say that either side is absolute, but you see contrasts within these ideals that are fueled by a colonial, capitalist, patriarchal society. These dichotomies keep us sick, depressed, and oppressed

Graphic depicting the difference between Equality, Equity, and Liberation

We use this graphic in several of our workshops to visually differentiate terms used in social justice. Many folks have only ever seen this graphic with the first two boxes, but we insist that justice work be taken further and strive towards liberation–where there are no oppressive systems at play (the fence) and everyone is able to not just survive, but thrive, because they are human beings. 

A society not based upon capitalism would more align with community-centered traits. Those who are able to use their assets for their community do so, with the shared desire for the wellness of others and filling roles/taking on public projects as needed. There’s a shared sense of family and everyone within the community takes care of one another. Regardless of whose parent needs help, whose children need caretaking (and so on), we are all invested in each other’s well-being.

There are no simple solutions, but when we aren’t driven by competition for resources, we are able to be more humane towards one another and build community with one another.

*Our colonial/white supremacist, capitalistic, patriarchal society

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

Liberatory movements have been happening for decades. From the Suffragettes and the Civil Rights Movement to Stonewall and the Sunrise Movement, folks have been calling for liberation from systems of oppression.

One thing has been consistent through movements is the inability for people to sit on the sidelines and hope liberation just happens — liberation demands action. 

Liberation is a verb. 

However, we would be remiss to ignore the fact that social justice work is exhausting, especially for those who hold minoritized identities. In a society that was built on stolen land with stolen people and continues to profit off exploited workers while destroying said land, sometimes the most revolutionary thing you can do is rest. And dream of liberation.

Let Your Why Drive You

If you have ever found yourself looking around and thinking, “there has to be a better way,” we encourage you to start thinking about what a better way looks like to you. Let that vision fuel you. 

If we do not always engage in social justice work with our why at the core, it is easy to get discouraged and derailed. What are you doing this for? What dreams do you have that feel unobtainable in an unchecked colonial, capitalist, patriarchal society? Let your vision guide you in this work. 

Here is what liberation looks like for folks we have on staff:

I would create a foundation to fund research and education around the topic of social justice in comic books, highlighting and studying the ways the medium helped drive social change, but also reinforced negative stereotypes and societal norms. A collection of artifacts could be displayed in a museum and in traveling displays and present the information in formats applicable to all ages. Creators and scholars could conduct StoryCorps-type interviews to discuss ending content with negative impacts and that broke boundaries in a positive direction. Trailblazers in the field would be profiled and interviewed about what it was like being the first Black person to write Black Panther, the first woman to write Wonder Woman, etc. —Buck

I would convene small a queer commune. ~5 families, all living and co-creating a slow life in flow with the Earth on several dozen acres. We'd farm using regenerative ancestral practices, raise and unschool our kids together, attune to the seasons and our bodies, and dance under and howl at the moon. Obviously it would be divine and I literally never stop thinking about this. It drives pretty much all of my decisions. —Shaun

My grandmother would talk about aspects of her indigenous history and her wish to return to old ways. I feel in a way that is my vision as well. Similar to Shaun, my dream would be to have a village of my family and loved one’s families. My friends and I used to joke about living on the same block and just continuing to grow together. I would love to have a community like that, where we’re not bound by making life choices for the sake of money, but for our fulfillment and the true betterment of those around us. I would teach about humanities, fitness, and arts and to be a carpenter of sorts and help care for the youth. I dream of a reality where my family and friends (and their family and friends, and so on) can feel safe, secure, and fulfilled. This is not something that is promised within this current system. —RaShaun

As long as Shaun’s queer commune is near a large body of water, the Evans family will be filing our application to join. In our family’s liberation dream, we are all using our talents to serve the greater good. Zeke, our 4 year old son, would be using his sense of curiosity and joy to explore and learn through the natural world — leading him to find a new, previously undiscovered species of non-carnivorous dinosaur. Our family matriarch, Dr. Kadesha, will be using her skills of creativity and craftsmanship to build all our furniture and share them with the community (and she probably won’t be able to stop herself from doing some community healing on the side #OnceANurseAlwaysANurse). Finally, I would thrive being able to combine my love of community and scholarship to attack the seemingly unsolvable problems of today. Using community-based action research, and putting those on the front-lines at the center of the scholarship, I would love to work in collaboration to help address problems that keep others from liberation. As Audre Lorde said, “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.” —Meg

So, if the world was truly a liberatory place, what would you spend your time doing? What is your why?

Tweet from the Nap Ministry that reads "Nothing is easy about liberation in a toxic culture founded on oppression and genocide"

Our liberation is dependent on one another. Even with whatever privilege you may possess, you will never be truly free until we ALL are free. Use your why to fuel you in this fight and keep the hope alive that one day, we will all know liberation.

A Farewell from Stacey

Beloved Chapter members, alumni, and friends of Break Away,

I’m writing to let you know that at the end of July, I will be stepping down as the Executive Director of Break Away. It’s been a true honor to serve this community since last spring. While it was a period of time that none of us could have imagined, I’m grateful for your continued support and encouragement.

In the spring of 1999, as a sophomore at the University of Georgia (UGA), I went on my first alternative break trip to Camp Kiwanis in the hills of Danielsville, GA. When I think about that week, I am flooded with memories. Specifically I can remember sitting on the roof of the covered bridge we were building and staring out at those North Georgia mountains. I remember suddenly seeing a whole new part of the world that seemed so unfamiliar even though I was only 45 minutes away from UGA. I had no idea what was ahead of me then. But I knew I was out in the big, wide world for the first time, seeing things from a brand new perspective, bonding with my peers over our desire to make a difference, and hoping that the rest of my life would look a lot like that week. 

Over 20 years later, I can see a line between that moment in the mountains and this moment now. So far, my life has looked a lot like that week. I crave new perspectives and find myself constantly trying to see things through other people’s eyes. I get along best with other people who are willing to question and challenge systems so that we can collectively make things better for everyone. I’m out in the world, learning every day and, hopefully, getting better every day. Alternative breaks laid that foundation for me. I hope that’s what Break Away and the Alternative Break Movement is still doing for students all these years later. 

This Movement—young people and the staff members who support them committing to active citizenship and moving the needle towards justice—is critical right now. Community is an intricate web of competing agendas and needs. Alternative breaks is one of the few programs that allows college and university students the access necessary to see the full picture of what community is and what makes it thrive. It is in seeing that picture, and really understanding the root causes that create and sustain social schisms, that students can see the world through a lens of justice. 

Last year, many alternative break program leaders had to very suddenly stop everything they were doing and completely reimagine what it means to be in community. I have seen students and staff alike struggle to keep the Movement alive. Out of that has come some of the most creative, inclusive, and radical solutions I’ve ever seen. Now that the world is starting to open back up, and travel is again more imaginable in the near future, the work you have done to keep the spirit of alternative breaks alive will carry us toward a new vision for student-led service learning. We’ll remember what we relearned in such a difficult time—that community service isn’t about showing up so we can feel good about ourselves. It’s about listening, learning, and carrying those lessons forward in our own communities.

As an alum of alternative breaks, national service, and now of Break Away, I couldn’t be more proud of what this Movement is doing for those who carry forward our vision. We want to see a future in which everyone is an active citizen, valuing community and making it a priority in their life choices. That future starts with us and it starts now. It starts anew every day. 

Break Away celebrates our 30th anniversary this year. I can’t say what the next 30 years look like for any of us, but I know that if we choose to make community a priority in our lives every day then we’re headed somewhere amazing. This is the work Break Away has always done—helping its partners adapt to change, disseminating insights, and meeting the moment. As schools start to get back to full capacity, Break Away is more ready than ever to help alternative breaks come back bigger and better. It’s the work that Break Away was born to do. This is the moment for which the current staff, and dozens of staff members before us, have been preparing for decades.       

I would love it if you’d stay in touch—you can reach me at Drop me a note and let me know how you are coming back strong next year. If you want to drop Break Away a note or if you have any questions, reach out anytime to We all get those notes and I can say from experience that we love hearing from you.

Yours in service,

There is No Planet B

The climate crisis is not some singular event that will happen far into the future. It is happening NOW! According to the President of the UN General Assembly, we only have 9 years to prevent irreversible damage to the climate. The climate crisis impacts all of us and, as folks committed to our communities and each other, we all have a responsibility to care about it. If you dig a bit deeper (you know how we do over at Break Away), you’ll find that this crisis isn’t just about a changing climate—this is also about climate justice. 

Protesters at a climate march in Kenya

Image via DW


“Climate justice operates at the intersection of racial and social rights, environmental and economic justice. It focuses on the roots [sic] causes of climate change, and calls for a transformation to a sustainable, community-led economy.” (Grassroots International)


“Environmental justice is the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.” (EPA)

Indigenous Folks Have Been Leading the Charge on Climate Justice

Indigenous and native communities and people have a connection to and knowledge systems based around the physical environment and land. This makes Indigenous peoples uniquely positioned to understand the perils of climate change. From water rights to recovering and revitalizing stolen land to pipeline protests, Indigenous peoples have been at the forefront of the fight for climate justice for decades. The Dakota Access Pipeline protests of 2016-17 highlighted Indigenous activism, specifically Indigenous youth activists

Intersectionality is Crucial to Combat the Climate Crisis

Along with Indigenous peoples, BIPOC and women of all races are disproportionately impacted by the climate crisis. They are already living with the consequences of doing nothing, so Black folks and women are serving as leaders in the climate justice movement and fighting for their communities and the planet. 

The climate crisis stems from multiple oppressive systems. It’s built on capitalist exploitation, white supremacy, and patriarchy. Any proposed climate justice legislation must address these overlapping systems of oppression. Solving only the climate crisis (if that were even possible) is like treating the symptom, not the disease. 

The End of Fossil Fuel

Just 100 (fossil fuel extraction) companies make up for 71% of global greenhouse gas emissions. The need to transition to renewable energy is clear. However, fossil fuels are profitable and we all know that money talks. You may not be able to go buy an electric car, but you can demand your representatives hold these companies accountable. 

There is No Planet B

So where do we go from here? It’s pretty easy to feel frozen by the doom and gloom of it all, but there are ways to make an impact in the fight for climate justice.



To recycle something is to break it down and use its materials to create that same thing again. You can recycle through your county’s waste management.

  • Not all recyclables are created equal. Cans, glass, and paper are easy to recycle. Plastic is a lot harder and knowing what is and is not recyclable is tricky
  • Google “[your county] recycling” to see what materials you can actually recycle, because every county is different
  • If you don’t have a recycling bin: In most places it’s free to get one and the cost of recycling is already included in your trash bill


One man’s trash is another man’s treasure” — said somebody at some point and now lots of people say it. 

  • Repurpose single use items into something new, like using the containers of spent candles as planters or tschotske holders
  • Join a local “buy nothing” group to find a new home for items you no longer need or to find something you need that someone else is rehoming


Ultimately, what we all need to do, both as individuals and a society, is radically reduce our consumption. 

  • Borrow rarely used or large items from friends/folks in your community (think a drill or pressure washer)
  • Think twice about buying that new outfit at the mall. Textile waste (mostly from the fast fashion industry) makes up for over 11 million tons of trash per year

Doing your part is all well and good (and certainly eating less meat is beneficial), but individual sustainable living is but a small sliver of the change that needs to happen. Our world has to drastically change in order to combat the climate crisis and for climate justice to come to fruition. And there are solutions out there. 

Green New Deal venndiagram

The Green New Deal

Senator Ed Markey and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez revived their push for the Green New Deal this past Tuesday. The Green New Deal is a three-pronged resolution to combat the climate crisis: reach net-zero emissions by 2050; create new jobs; and fight racial, gender, and economic inequity. Contact your representatives about supporting climate legislation like the THRIVE Act. Other countries have also proposed proponents of the Green New Deal into their plans to combat the climate crisis.

Image via Sierra Club

Break Free From Plastic 

Break Free From Plastic has SIX different campaigns that you can get involved in, including one on promoting plastic free campuses. With education and resources readily available, Break Free From Plastic makes it easy to do something.

Dependent Liberation

As part of our jobs, we think a lot about liberation —  what it means and what it looks like for us as individuals, our loved ones, and society at large.

Sit for a moment and dream up what liberation looks like for you and yours. 

Now, understand that none of us can be truly free while there is an entire career dedicated to detaining people. A career that is allowed to murder Black folks without consequence.

The U.S. policing system was created to capture escaped enslaved people. It was created to ensure the systematic oppression of Black people. Today, it is still doing what it was created to do. Daunte Wright didn’t deserve to die and it is unclear whether police reform could have saved him. There are compelling arguments to be made that reform will never happen because policing’s very existence depends on the oppression of Black folks. This is why abolitionists are anti-reform and seek to defund, and ultimately abolish, the police.

There is no service that the police provide that couldn't be done through other, less deadly, means. But —  if the thought of no police makes you nervous, get curious and explore why. There are loads of articles out there on alternatives to policing that better meet community needs, but below are a few to get you started: 

These articles are just a small sampling and we highly encourage you to do more of your own research.

Our liberation is dependent on one another. Even with whatever privilege you may possess, you will never know liberation until we ALL know liberation. Use your dreams of liberation to fuel you in this fight and keep the hope alive that one day, we can all be free.