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Making Noise in the Nation's Capital

Making Noise in the Nation's Capital

Students participating in this year’s Alternative Spring Break project traveled to Washington, DC to investigate a diversity of approaches to political activism.

Students paint a banner for World Refugee Day celebration in Washington, DC.

Emerging student activists who took part in Alternative Spring Break (ASB) 2016 spent the last week of March in Washington, DC learning how to put progressive politics into practice. They focused on using design thinking and their artistic talents to address pressing social issues, such as police violence and displaced immigrants.

Now in its fifth year, ASB provides students interested in activism, community service and humanitarian work with a framework for action and reflection. In previous years groups have addressed issues of homelessness, youth incarceration and domestic violence in Providence, NYC and Baltimore as well as DC.

Lucy Crelli 17 AP, one of the program’s student leaders, says that participants chose political activism as this year’s theme not just because of its election-cycle timeliness but also because it emphasizes process and long-term education over short-term goals. Two teams led by Crelli, Sandra Lopez-Naz 17 TX, Tommy Maing 17 AP and Lisa Su 18 SC engaged with the anti-police violence movement Campaign Zero and Lutheran Social Services (LSS), an organization dedicated to helping immigrants, refugees and other vulnerable social groups.

Working with LSS, one team painted a banner for an upcoming World Refugee Day celebration and learned how the organization will work with government agencies to resettle as many as 1,000 displaced people this year. Meanwhile, Campaign Zero charged a second team with delivering impactful information about policing problems to an audience unlikely to seek it online. The students responded by designing “receipts” with facts and figures about for-profit policing and racial profiling that they placed on car windows in affluent neighborhoods around the city. Crelli says that working with Campaign Zero – a nationwide network of activists with no brick-and-mortar home base – taught her group “new ways of forming a movement in the 21st century.”

In addition to their team-specific projects with Campaign Zero and LSS, students also volunteered with the voting rights advocacy nonprofit Democracy Awakening, toured NPR headquarters and dined with Hannah Koenig BRDD 14 PR and Leah Chung 14 ID, recent alums who discussed how they use design thinking in their respective careers with the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and the US Agency for International Development.

"I'm taking the time to absorb the different methods of design thinking my group explored [during Alternative Spring Break] that can help direct my own passions in life and my future career."
Lucy Crelli 17 AP

“In the spirit of continued learning,” the ASB students plan to release a zine about their experiences in DC and the “ways that each individual can be politically active and aware,” according to the ASB 2016 blog. Crelli says she is already using strategies she learned to organize voter registration drives and presidential debate viewings and will continue to do so as the 2016 general election approaches. “I’m also taking the time to absorb the different methods of design thinking my group explored,” she notes, “which can help direct my own passions in life and my future career.”

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