The video in the previous post really reflects some of the things we have been hearing lately from college students. We have been partnering with the Center for Democracy and Citizenship at Augsburg College to present We the People workshops at college campuses this month. The workshops are intended to help students realize the potential of active citizenship to affect change, by giving them some basic community organizing techniques and a framework for thinking about various approaches for action.
Even though many of the students attended because they were offered extra credit for required civics or government classes, and many reported that they weren’t involved in student clubs or organizations, and few spoke up initially when asked to declare what issues they felt passionate about, they all very clearly cared about something once they started talking with each other.
They were hungry for connections — they lamented the fact that students don’t talk to each other. When introduced to Marshall Ganz’s public narrative idea and given the opportunity to hold one-to-one conversations, they opened up and shared major experiences, influences, values, and goals.
They didn’t dance along the surface; they talked about having been homeless, about family dynamics, about dilemmas encountered in their jobs, about the frustration of looking for a job while in the Army Reserves, about the ways in which they wanted to make sure others didn’t experience the same challenges. While it was harder to identify strategies for changing they major issues they wanted to address–education, international development, poverty, etc.–they left energized by the idea that they could build relationships and power together.
While a more effective and responsive government is one goal of We the People, a number of participants also mentioned that it was useful to talk with other people about affecting change in ways beyond formal political activities, including expressing their values through choices in their everyday lives. We use Minnesota Campus Compact’s Social Change Wheel (below) with students to illustrate the many options available to them.
When asked for ways to improve the workshops, both groups wanted to see these kinds of interactions and organizing skills built into classes. They wanted more students to experience being We the People. We’re excited to be holding our third spring workshop at Winona State next week — and eager to continue inviting students (and others) to connect, co-create a new culture, and demonstrate that positive, people-driven change is possible.