Idealism, up close and personal.

I spoke with a group of Jesuit Volunteeer Corps members last night, a focused conversation on organizing, power, race and class in Syracuse. The group of 8 young people are working for a year with various social service agencies around town.

The official description of the JVC is this:

The Jesuit Volunteer Corps offers women and men an opportunity to work for justice and peace. It sends Jesuit Volunteers for a year or more to live with and serve the poor and marginalized in the U. S. and developing countries. JVs live simply, in community, immersed in Ignatian Spirituality. The experience opens the JVs to be conscious of the poor, attuned to the causes of social injustice, and dedicated to service informed by faith. JVC helps Former Jesuit Volunteers nurture this orientation throughout their lives.

It’s not nearly that dreary. To me, the JVC’ers are mainly about idealism and being open to experience. Their tour of duty is a frontline view of poverty and its wrenching effects on individuals and families.

I talked way too much last night, (as I am wont to do) but I still got a great sense of the value of a program like this for young people. One JVC’er started talking about his frustrations about working in an organization ostensibly designed to help people facing homelessness. He was angry that he often has to tell desperate people that they are going to fall through the porous holes in the safety net. Check out his great blog, detailing some of his experiences during the JVC year.

Like most educated, middle-class folks, he prefaced the anger by apologizing to me for “ranting.” It provided me with a teachable moment, at least in organizing terms. I was able to explain how an organizer seeks to have people acknowledge their anger and then use it, focusing the ire on those responsible and demanding redress. I also pointed out that, on just a personal level, situations like this should make you angry.

I enjoyed the evening immensely. 18 years down the road, having witnessed too much and forced to endure so much of the prosaic busywork of reports and grant requests, it is often difficult to maintain that raw sense of wonder that most young folks have when they enter into this kind of field. I must admit that I do not wake up many mornings saying: “I can’t believe things are this fucked up, we’ve gotta change it.” To-Do lists kind of fuck with your revolutionary flow.

Lastly, I’m pretty confident that the progressive/humanistic side of the struggle will be receiving 8 strong new advocates after their year’s sojourn to Syracuse.

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