By Carissa Smith
This past year has been a whirlwind of experiences for me. Last fall semester I got my feet wet in advocacy working with the CCSJ Advocacy team and being President of our NAACP chapter. Then I left my post at Creighton to answer my call to go to the Dominican Republic for the semester. After spending a semester away from home I decided to go away again and accept an internship in Washington DC with the Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach for the summer (an opportunity that I got through the CCSJ). Through these various experiences I’ve come to really learn the importance of the praxis spiral especially when it comes to advocacy work.
When I left for the Dominican Republic I was more uncertain about my convictions and about my worldview than I ever had been at that point in my life. I realized that a liberal education really meant walking on jello because whatever I stood on was no longer solid and was subject to change the next day depending on what new discovery I had in class. The only thing I was firm about was the fact that the world was a messed up place. I was very aware of many of the problems of the world and felt pretty convinced that we all had a responsibility in fixing it in whatever capacity we are able. However, my goal that semester was to challenge myself on the very fundamentals that underlie those principles and even the study of the social problems and their solutions of which I became aware. And that’s exactly what happened! That semester the more I learned and the more I saw the more I realized that I didn’t really know anything at all. As I worked to challenge myself I was also much challenged by my peers, my teachers and by all the people of the Dominican Republic that I encountered. What I took away the most from my experience in the DR was that extremists and fundamentalists are one of the world’s enslavers and biggest fallacies, thus embracing an attitude of balance, openness and understanding is the way to truly love one’s neighbors and enemies.
After spending about two weeks at home with my family and friends I was swept away again to head to Washington, DC where I began my advocacy internship with the Columbans. This time I went with the only firm conviction that I didn’t know much of anything. I remember the first congressional hearing that I attended (titled The US’s role in the World Bank and Multilateral Development Banks) I was astounded with the internalization of my surroundings. I just spent the last couple of months in places with people who are forgotten, or simply ignored, and at that moment I was in a room full of people in the place where the forgetting happens. The experiences and insights that I gained through my internship are immeasurable and something that I’m still trying to process. I know that I have garnered a better sense of compassion and desire to understand those with a different viewpoint than my own. I came to realize that the world is a lot more gray than black and white and that the gray area was as wide and deep as the ocean. More than anything else I have undoubtedly gained a more humbling desire to know and understand the world with the profundity of conviction which requires me to dive into the uncomfortable and overwhelming depths of the ocean. Scary!
In my journey in advocacy work this process has simply come with the territory and I can either sink or swim. I am already in the ocean surrounded by the good and the bad of the world and the opposing currents of thought and action that either work for or against it’s harmony. I have learned that our responsibility to change social structures to change lives requires a questioning heart and mind with a deep understanding and awareness of the numerous currents that push and pull to shape the world that we know as well as one’s place in it. In other words, to ask oneself, “am I swimming for or against the currents of harmony!?” However, it must be accompanied with the intuition that the risk of not doing anything is worse than the fear of being wrong. In order to be promoters and workers of justice it is essential to first have an experience that is followed by a reflection with a multitude of questions (and a critical eye of oneself and others). Then we are able to act again and create more experiences in a more genuine and just manner that will be followed by more reflection and action. Advocacy doesn’t mean that you have the answer of how to fix the world just that you have the courage to act on the conviction that you can’t stand idly to watch it destroy itself. Although it is difficult to know exactly which current I am swimming (as only time will tell) I choose to swim rather than drown in my inaction.