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Students put peace to work during alternative spring break

Students put peace to work during alternative spring break

Published: April 3, 2013

Alternative spring break 2013. View more photos by Rudhian Chlissma Putra.

Photo: Rudhian Chlissma Putra

Jennifer Bing co-directs AFSC’s Middle East Program. Along with co-workers Shirien Damra, Daniel Kaplan, and Darlene Gramigna (who has pulled together previous spring breaks), Jennifer organized the 2013 alternative spring break for Earlham College students in Chicago. The students organized a vigil on the campus of Illinois-Chicago to protest Israel’s continued demolition of Palestinian homes and to commemorate the tenth anniversary of Rachel Corrie’s death.

Q: Please talk about AFSC’s alternative spring break.

I love these weeks. They totally energize me, which sounds contradictory because I’m up all night and I’m totally exhausted from all the logistics of whose bus gets in at what time, etc. Just seeing the energy and creativity of these college students, who really are the future when it comes to this issue and so many issues.

I love to hear them have their “Aha!” moments, like when they say, “Yeah, look at what they did with Barclay’s Bank in South Africa, and the students did that! Student power is important."

Or like today, when they said, “You know, we don’t want people to think we’re just a bunch of crazy Earlham students when we’re protesting in Richmond. Hey, maybe we should go to the Friends Meeting and engage with the community and do it together.”

They’re getting it, they’re getting what it means to be an organizer, to think strategically. And yet they’re also bonding with each other and building community, and that’s also so important.

That’s why I love that we have five days together to develop friendships, to have fun; you can hear people laughing. It’s good.

Peace and justice work is hard, and it’s for the long haul. As Michael McConnell says, this isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon. And you need the stamina to keep doing it. And that stamina comes from community, I’m totally convinced.

I just feel so excited when I see a new community coming into existence or being strengthened by what we can offer them.

Q: You obviously gain energy from them.

It helps me reflect on – how do I transport the skills I have, how do I share my knowledge with younger people, but also how can I gain from their insights about how to bring our message to different audiences? They always joke about, “Everyone thinks young people are good at social media, and that’s it.”

And I laugh because I was in a meeting the other night, and people said, “We need to get some young people to help us learn about social media.” And young people do know about social media, it’s not like they don’t, but they also know a lot of other things, and you have to give them the opportunity to take leadership in organizing events and writing op-eds, and planning protests, and all these kinds of things.

Q: How long has AFSC been hosting alternative spring breaks in Chicago?

This is the third year that we’ve done it. The first year our office had a general program, so about eight or nine students came and learned about all the Chicago programs; they spent the week with us. The second year, we focused more on NATO, and we integrated an action in the week, so they went on a protest at the mayor’s office about having safe space to demonstrate during the NATO summit.

This year we decided to focus even more on a program, with our Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) work. We have over 20 students; it’s grown a lot over the years. Not all of these students are necessarily Mideast activists, but they are drawn to the issue, either because of the tactics that we use or because it’s a human rights issue itself.

It’s also really wonderful because they stay in people’s homes. We try to place them with activists in the Chicago area. So they learn about the teachers strike and other issues going on.

[Photos from the alternative spring break are available here.]