An alternative break lasts more than a week. (Don’t worry, we won’t finish that statement with it lasts a lifetime.) “Traditional” alternative breaks have become more established, and with increased sophistication, comes (you guessed it) more dedicated time and energy. Most programs curate an alternative break experience that lasts for months before the actual date of departure.
For an alternative break to become a catalyst toward active citizenship, the foundation your trip is built on - the preparation - is what really counts. A group without intentional time to build authentic relationships with one another will not reach its full potential in developing as a team. A team entering a community without extensive pre-departure education on the topic and community (paired with a little self-reflection) has a greater potential to cause harm. And ultimately, a breaker who returns home and doesn’t recognize their potential as an agent of change in their community has fallen short of understanding the true purpose of why we do this work.
We know that active citizenship, once we commit, is something we devote a lifetime to, so if we’re in it for the long haul anyway - why not start now?
It should not be normal to go to your place of worship, a concert, the grocery store, a movie theater - or simply exist in your community - and feel unsafe. This isn’t new. It has been true for members of marginalized communities since the beginning of time - targeted and persecuted for simply being. But this troubling reality has come into sharpened focus as violence has crept into every space and every community. After the tragic events of last week, our hearts are aching, alongside many others.
We live with constant streaming headlines. With the volume of information that comes our way, it’s even possible to find ourselves numbed by the ongoing atrocities in our world. To stand in solidarity with any community affected by injustice, it’s not enough to listen to a podcast to understand the nuances of what happened or to offer simple expressions of sadness in a post to our friends. Bearing witness is important but it fades quickly and has little lasting impact.
Grief induced by injustice extends far beyond the short mourning period our screens tempt us to experience. We do have to continue moving forward, but taking time to honor the grieving process is a sacred act. Are we turning to our neighbors to share the emotional burden? Are we paying attention to communities in the months and years after the news cameras have left - when their stories are no longer being told? Are we giving resources to those asking for support?
As witnesses to tragedy, terrorism, and bigotry - what will it take to compel us to act? Not just today, or tomorrow - before our attention has shifted to something else - but through everyday actions to commemorate the lives lost as individual acts of oppression persist.
Our country is gearing up for what could be one of the largest voter turnouts for midterm elections. As active citizens, we know there is no such thing as “not my issue” - politics are deeply intertwined in our work. Groups of people have been excluded from the democratic process as long as it has existed, their voices deemed unimportant (or dangerous) by those holding power. And though laws have been amended, giving more individuals the ability to freely vote, many members of our communities are still left in the margins.
If you’ve ever attended a Diversity and Social Justice training, you’ve heard of privilege - the unearned advantages people experience based in their identity or experience. These conversations typically center race, gender, ability, religion, and the like, but we rarely consider the pervasiveness of privilege when it comes to civic participation. Often we think of power in politics falling on the shoulders of elected officials - while there is truth in this, power also lies in being able to easily cast a ballot that you know will count.
Our elected officials are expected to be direct representatives of our communities. We’re taught that a vote is a way to express our personal interest in the democracy, but active citizens must also consider our ballot’s larger impact. Just as we’d expect our legislators in the chambers of state or federal capitol buildings to represent those whose voices wouldn’t otherwise be heard, does our vote represent all communities - including those left in the margins of voting access?
During this election season, we invite you to join us in considering how to redistribute and utilize the power of dialogue and civic engagement. As we prepare to take a clear stance on issues that matter, as voters, we must ensure we’re informed and intentional. It takes time and effort - often hours to research what should be (but rarely is) a simple proposal. If you’re going to find yourself in a poll booth this November 6th (and we really hope you will) remember that the opportunity to vote comes with the weight of responsibility: how are you advocating for the people and environment around you through the boxes you check?
Finally, if you’re a living in this country, but unable to vote - your voice has influence. It matters. And we’re honored to be in community with you.
We’ve been quiet for a little while. Of course, the parts of us that love you hope you’ve noticed, but the parts of us that feel guilty for our silence hope you haven’t. We’ve been away because our humble team has been busy as we diligently prepare for the 2018 ABCs. We’re back for a moment to bring you a final note for the summer before we depart for our two-month excursion across the country and back.
For those who aren’t familiar, the ABCs are week-long conferences based (no surprise here) in an experiential learning model where students, staff, and community partners convene from across the country for all things alternative breaks and active citizenship. (It’s arguably our favorite time of the year.) We are joined by Programs Interns who breathe a bit of extra energy - and style - into our team, we witness dreamy friendships form between breakers once strangers, and we delve deeply into four different education topics as varied as organizing for workers rights to using art as a form of placemaking.
Though we’ll be on hiatus (virtually), rest assured we’ll be bringing posts to you that will highlight the best of what we’ve learned, and what we think you’ll want to know too. We’d be thrilled if you’d 1) let us know if you’ll be in the area of one of our four conferences so we can (officially) invite you to visit us, and 2) keep up with us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. We’ll be back in August but until then, we’d love to engage with you on all things social media, and will keep our fingers crossed that we’ll see you somewhere along the way!