This past weekend, the Ohio Student Association 2014 Fellows attended their second of four weekend retreats, this time in Cleveland. Under the expert guidance of the Wildfire team, we continued to build our OSA community, talk about issues of social injustice, and assemble the tools to become community organizers in our own rights. We also started to put our new skills into action planning two campaigns, one centered on the student debt crisis and the cost of higher education, and the other addressing the school-to-prison pipeline.
The weekend kicked off on Friday with a recap of the last retreat, agreements for the space, dinner, and generally being excited to be back together. Saturday we were up bright and early, ready to get to learning. We learned about the “spectrum of allies” and discussed strategies for shifting the spectrum, in other words, how we might be able to bring neutral people and passive allies into the action, and try to shift the opposition to at least passively opposing us. We then broke out into regional/campaign-specific groups and got started on planning our campaigns, mapping out our specific spectrum of allies and trying to pinpoint the best segment of the spectrum to focus our efforts on. We started to map out our campaign peak chart, peaks being actions and key events, and to fill in the necessary steps ascending to those peaks.
After that, the focus shifted to a more personal exercise, the Iceberg. The tip of the iceberg, or the small piece you can see above the water, was (metaphorically speaking) your idealized self-image, or the qualities you try to project to the world. Under the water is the background – the little voice inside your head that tries to tell you you’re not good enough in any number of ways. Then we were asked to think of a real or fictional person we did not personally know whom we admired, and to list three qualities about that person that make them so admirable. We didn’t expect what happened next, and emotions ran a little high when we were told that those were the three qualities that defined us. Most of us were uncomfortable with owning those qualities – we felt unworthy of the descriptors we had chosen for our (s)hero. To the rest of the group, it seemed obvious when someone shared their three qualities that that person possessed, if not personified, those qualities. But it can be very hard to own your own greatness and banish self-doubt.
After we broke for dinner came the second part of the exercise, where we were asked to break into groups of three, with one person as themselves, and the other two role-playing our fears and our strengths/good qualities, respectively. It was hard to hear the voice of doubt personified, criticizing us as we tried to lay out our plans for addressing the organizing challenges ahead, but in order to get through it, we had to recognize the good in ourselves and take ownership of that good.
The next morning, following a night of fun and friendship, we were first asked to introduce ourselves as the three qualities from the day before. It was both uncomfortable and liberating to vocally identify yourself with the qualities you so admired in others. But feeling supported by each other, and ready to wrap up the weekend, we broke out into our first session of the day, which was a discussion and subsequent application of what it means to be mainstream vs. marginalized. We were asked to think of a time when we were in the mainstream, and a time when we were marginalized, and as a group we generated lists of words that described how each experience felt, and ways in which mainstreamers could support the marginalized and ways in which the marginalized could make others aware of their marginalization. Then we applied the concept to our own OSA Fellowship, and talked about ways in which we could help make our own marginalized more comfortable.
The final session was called “Vision, Personal Goals, and Timeline Forward.” We split into the two campaign groups, student debt and school-to-prison pipeline, to generate a cumulative timeline for the statewide campaign. I personally came away from the campaign planning, and the weekend as a whole, feeling motivated and empowered to put our plans into action. But the weekend was not just an opportunity for us to project our work into the future and come up with concrete next steps, but also a strengthening experience for us as a community. The energy in the space was contagious, and at the risk of sounding corny, you could feel the love in the room. We are all here to support each other, within our regional communities and across Ohio, as we work to empower our communities, and as we face the future together in solidarity with the belief in our hearts that WE WILL WIN.