It is seldom in our lives that we experience “defining moments” — times that put into perspective the exact reasons that we, individually and collectively, are living. Rarely, if ever, do we have people who share these moments with us.This rarity has given birth to Action Reflection Circle, or ARC, a collective grassroots organization that works to build a global movement for social and economic justice and equality through political education, organizing and building relationships based on respect and solidarity.
How did we get to this place? By sharing a defining moment. Every spring the sociology department at Ithaca College offers a class titled Culture and Society: An International Field Experience. After an interview process, 20 students spend the spring semester learning about the history of the Dominican Republic, colonialism, community organizing and organizations, building relationships, and being part of a different kind of study abroad program. Then, they spend the first three weeks of June experiencing it.
In the Dominican Republic, students spend time working with a grassroots organization, Justicia Global, which is Spanish for Global Justice. They learn the model of developing an analysis, reaching out to others, working to build relationships in different communities, leading nontraditionally, and building and being part of a collective.
This experience brings them together in ways that allow them to share values for social change. It is easy, though, to travel to a foreign country, see the effects of structural oppression, feel sympathy and return to one’s own individualistic life. ARC was formed in order to halt the continuum of living contentedly and always working to create social change globally. This means that students from all three years of this program work to live by their shared principles and values to change the structure of the society in which they reside.
Almost three years ago now, I timidly applied to be a part of the 2008 class. At that time, I could barely explain the meaning of capitalism, let alone what it meant to have a structural analysis. I knew I was too afraid of my own voice to speak up in class, and I could never begin to think of myself as a leader. Because of my experience in the class, as an assistant to the program and as a leader of ARC, my vision for myself and for the world has changed. I live every day in every action, in every conversation, to build a world that breaks down systematic oppression and works to create a socially and economically just society.
ARC provides us with a place to further develop simultaneously our leadership and our analyses. The movement that ARC works to build does not only affect those involved in the organization. Racism, classism, colonialism, sexism, heterosexism, Euro-centrism and ageism are very real in our society today and have constructed how each one of us functions every single day. These structures enact life, death and survival in unjust and unequal ways in our society. To undo these “isms,” to unlearn all the oppressions within which we have grown up submerged by building relationships of solidarity and respect is the first step toward a more just world.
We encourage all of you to reach out, go forth and find that passion, that piece of oppressive history that lights a fire within your soul. Once you find this fire, never let it burn out. We ask all of you to begin to build a movement, be it your own or one you work with by joining us, which promises to forever keep that soul fire alive and ignited.
Jill Petty is a senior French and sociology major. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.