Alternative breaks can spark activism at home

Students discuss experiences abroad, effective activist campaigns

fight injustices in the world than they may think, Mike Haack, a graduate student in the School of International Service, said at an activism workshop Saturday.

"Solidarity Into Action: Workshops on Effective Student Activism," brought students together to discuss the influence of activism, according to the event program. The event began with presentations from students who went on Alternative Breaks this winter.

One group went to Colombia, the nation with the longest protracted conflict period in the Western Hemisphere, according to graduate student Matt Pierson. During the trip, students visited Colombian prisons and discussed their concerns with the U.S. ambassador.

"Things there become more murky the more you delve into it," Pierson said.

A conservative government that associates all leftists with radical guerillas currently rules Colombia, according to Pierson.

"People bared their souls to us, told us their hardships," he said.

The group traveled with Witness for Peace, which aims to change U.S. policies and corporate practices to support peace, justice and sustainable economies, according to the event program.

Another group traveled to India to work with Dalit Solidarity, according to Emily Tompkins, a sophomore in SIS. She said Dalits, or "untouchables," are below the caste system in India and are socially and economically oppressed.

Jessica Williamson, a sophomore in SIS, said Dalit Solidarity is not a political attempt to gain rights.

"It's mainly a grassroots organization that works to gain rights, but mostly through education and health care," Williamson said.

Another group went to the Thailand-Myanmar border, where it worked with 22 different democracy groups, according to Carl Anderson, a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. The groups included the Student and Youth Congress of Burma, the Democratic Party for a New Society and Democratic Voice of Burma.

After the presentations, leaders from various activist clubs on campus spoke about their groups' missions and how other students can get involved.

Ava Page, a sophomore in the School of Public Affairs, said she formed Justice Not Jails after traveling to the San Francisco area last spring to work on prison justice.

Haack said he had a similar experience when he came back from his first trip to the border between Thailand and Myanmar a few years ago. He and a few other students worked to get the May's Department Stores Co. divested from Myanmar.

At the end of the event, students broke into three groups to attend workshops on activist campaign building, AU activist history and activist theory.

The Alternative Break Club, the Community Action and Social Justice Coalition, the Office of the University Chaplain and the Community Service Center sponsored the event.

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