UC Berkeley News


Helping social activists dig in for the long haul
Cal Corps director is a contributing author of Spirit in Action, a guidebook for changemakers

| 21 April 2005

How do progressive social movements keep hope alive through difficult times? And how might spirituality, broadly defined, provide support over the long haul to those with an active commitment to social change?

Megan Voorhees (Cathy Cockrell photo)
The Cal Corps Public Service Center's director, Megan Voorhees, along with seven collaborators from around the country, hope to further public dialogue on such questions in their new book, Spirit in Action, published by a Massachusetts-based nonprofit organization of the same name. Subtitled Facilitating Circles of Change, the 118-page publication is designed for use by facilitators of small groups of diverse people who come together over several months' time to explore issues of transformational change grounded in spiritual values. It includes step-by-step exercises and activities to help participants think creatively, clarify priorities and commitments, heal divisions, and envision a more sustainable, just future.

According to Voorhees, the curriculum guide grew out of a "listening project" in which 5,000 activists from across the country were asked to reflect on their work and what they needed to sustain themselves.

"Most people felt sustained by some kind of spiritual practice, and many said that spirit was missing in their work for social change," says Voorhees, who is completing a master's degree at the Graduate Theological Union.

The research also suggested that activists' stated goals (being "anti-war," for example) are often "shortsighted" and set them up for failure. "If you say you're working against the war and you don't succeed, then you often end up depressed," Voorhees says. "But if you're working for a larger goal, say a world we can pass onto our great grandchildren . that's a great vision that brings more people to the table and sustains them during the hard times."

Voorhees says that, in her experience, Berkeley students involved in social-service projects share some of the signs of burnout that Spirit in Action addresses, and that many seem open to, even hungry for, "grounding practices" - be they secular or religious - to sustain themselves. In that, they're in good company, she thinks.

"Most of our great heroes - your Gandhis, MLKs, and community folks who have been doing social activism their whole lives and are still smiling about it - are either deeply religious or talk about having a regular spiritual practice..We've been doing more training for student leaders around how to sustain themselves. Maybe in order to be healthy leaders of organizations, we all have to do that work."

Spirit in Action: Facilitating Circles of Change is available for a donation of $25 to $50; for information, e-mail info@spiritinaction.net or visit www.spiritinaction.net.

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