SSP Adventures: Calling Your Reps 101

SSP Adventures: Calling Your Reps 101

By Cseca Gazzolo, Staff Alumna 2018-20

It’s day one-hundred-and-whatever of quarantine and I’m at home, deepening the body-shaped impression on the couch as I rewatch The Office for the seventh time, ignoring the news notifications popping up on my phone. I stopped my ritualized reading of the New York Times months ago, once all the stories started saying the same thing: it’s really, really bad.

It’s easy right now to feel powerless. Maybe you’re out there on the front lines, marching for Black lives. Maybe you or your loved ones are older or immunocompromised, so you’re supporting your friends on the streets with donations, supplies, and supportive texts. Or maybe you’re like me, sitting in your comfortable home with a fridge full of food and money in the bank, feeling so guilty about the privilege you have that you aren’t using to do any good.

You know what made that guilt shrink just a little bit? Doing something.

I started by asking myself, right now, in this moment, what can I offer? I was already working at SSP, so I wanted to focus on political engagement within that work. The Choose an SSP Adventure advocacy sessions presented a perfect opportunity, and with my wonderful Smith River Team, I created “Calling Your Reps 101.”

“I started by asking myself, right now, in this moment, what can I offer?”

The premise was pretty simple: I would talk about why contacting your elected officials was important, volunteers would share a cause they were passionate about, then everyone would go camera-off-sound-muted while they called their representatives. We used 5calls.org, which lets you select an issue and enter your location, then spits out the numbers of your representatives and a call script (an excellent tool for the phone-shy generation). We also created a cumulative document with example scripts, frequently asked questions, and links to resources on any social justice issue under the sun. Though they couldn’t be together in person, volunteers connected through advocacy, taking heart in the idea that someone else cares just as deeply as they do.

Why is calling your representatives important? Electoral politics impacts every aspect of our lives, from the recycling bins in our backyards to the mask-wearing mandates of our local businesses to the presence of armed police on our streets. Voting is one way to make our voices heard, but many of our volunteers are under eighteen. But even non-voters–youth, undocumented people, people targeted by voter suppression laws–are still constituents, and their opinions on various issues will still get tallied when they make a call. Elected officials want to get re-elected, so they want to vote in the interest of the majority of their constituents. If they receive a flood of calls about something, they have to pay attention.

“Voting is one way to make our voices heard, but many of our volunteers are under eighteen.”

Besides, it’s what Jesus would do. Christ was not shy about speaking truth to power (remember the money changers in the temple?). Political activism, particularly as a means of liberation for the poor and the marginalized, is inherent in our faith. You might say that Jesus would be out on the streets protesting or sitting on the steps of Capitol Hill with his disciples, calling for change–and I agree. But for many of us, that just isn’t possible right now. Maybe a phone call is the best we can do. Christianity is not about perfection; it is about striving for divinity in imperfect circumstances. And when we feel hopeless, or uncertain, or burnt out, we can turn to our God and gather strength to keep fighting the good fight. We cannot keep the torch alight without a fire, and the love of God is a pretty steady source of heat.

“Political activism, particularly as a means of liberation for the poor and the marginalized, is inherent in our faith.”

Our CASA sessions always ended with an air of inspiration, motivation, and joy–yes, joy! Like faith, people sustain us. They hold us accountable. They provide respite after a long day of doing, or encouragement when we don’t feel like doing anything. Worrying in isolation crushes us. A lot of us are probably feeling like we should be “doing more” right now, and that feeling–guilt–drives out all possibility of action. Bearing the knowledge of so much crisis and pain and injustice can be debilitating. When we feel like the weight of the world on our shoulders, we don’t bother getting up.

Taking action together means we can harness some of that worry and channel it into something productive. Self-care is important, but the words “self-care” ring hollow if that’s all we are doing all the time. Self-care is about balance. Rest feels sweetest after we do something worth doing. So we have to start small. Pick one thing–just one–that you care about, and call someone about it. Then do the same thing next week, and the week after that. Maybe gather a group of friends virtually, or think of it as a spiritual practice. Lean into justice, lean into compassion, lean into hope, lean into God’s work. And lean on each other.

Editor’s Note: We hope this inspires you to take action in your own community! Calling your reps is a simple and easy way to address the issues you are passionate about. Try taking action with your friends or youth group or challenging yourself to make 5 calls each week!

DART Job Openings

We are proud to share career opportunities from fellow organizations in the faith and community service community. E-mail our central office staff if you have a job posting you’d like us to share.

The Direct Action and Research Training Center, Inc. (DART) is a national network of 23 faith-based community organizations that unite congregations across racial, religious, and socioeconomic lines to pursue justice. DART organizations seek long-term, sustainable improvements at a systemic level.

DART organizations engage in direct action assemblies in which thousands of people from a cross-section of faith traditions publicly hold decision-makers accountable on solutions to serious local community problems. DART organizations’ recent victories include: multi-million dollar investments in affordable housing, increased access to primary health and dental care, statewide legislation to rein in the payday loan industry, implementation of restorative justice practices in public schools, decreasing the high number of juvenile arrests for non-serious offenses, and expanding opportunities for people released from jail/prison.

DART is hiring community organizers in Florida (St. Petersburg, Ft. Lauderdale, and Miami) and in Richmond, Virginia. DART offers a starting salary of $39,064/year, plus benefits. Relocation cost reimbursement is available.

Required Qualifications:

  • Core passion for justice and equality
  • Exceptionally strong work ethic
  • Willingness to be trained to work with religious institutions
  • Excellent relationship building skills
  • Ambition for a long-term career in community organizing with DART (minimum 3 years)
  • Bachelor’s degree or equivalent work experience
  • Access to a reliable car

To view the full job posting, or to apply, visit the DART Center website. Questions? E-Mail hannah@thedartcenter.org or (202) 841-0353

SSP Adventures: Minecraft Build Battles

SSP Adventures: Minecraft Build Battles

By Ronnie Swenson, Tsaile Staff Member 2020

While large gatherings have been restricted, SSP has found a fun way to build community and join together anyway. Using the popular computer game Minecraft, groups of SSP staff and volunteers from all different sites come together virtually to form a community and express creativity each week. 

SSP has found a fun way to build community and join together anyway.”

Minecraft allows users to collect resources from a virtual environment and build their own worlds. During this afternoon SSP Adventure, fellow Tsaile staff member Zach Hendrix and I join each other on a private Minecraft server with large open plots marked with different colors. After everyone has introduced themselves and found an empty plot, a new round begins. 

Each round has a theme to inspire and guide the building process. Everyone participating has the ability to fly and access to unlimited building resources so the only limiting factor is their imaginations…and the time limit! The themes have ranged from snow, to ocean, to space. The themes are kept relatively vague in order to keep the builds diverse and showcase everyone’s creativity. For example, to fit the ocean theme, people built submarines, deserted islands, pirate ships, coral reefs, aquariums, a whale blasting water, and more. 

The only limiting factor is their imaginations…and the time limit!

Once the timer runs out, we all take some time to go around and admire everyone’s build. Everyone gets some time to explain their build and maybe even explain what could have been built if they had more time. It’s been really great to hear youth complimenting each other on their creativity and learning from one another. After looking at each build, we have an anonymous vote to see whose build was the round favorite. It is a build battle after all!  

In order to mix things up and get participants to interact a bit more with each other, I created a summer-long build battle, putting not just the youth of each week against each other but putting the weeks against each other as well. Each week, the whole group is tasked with working together to build an extra- large structure to present at the end of the summer. Having everyone on one plot generated much more conversation and interaction which has been awesome, as everyone gets to add their own flair to the build.

SSP Minecraft has been a highlight for me and my fellow staff each week and I look forward to hosting it again in Week 4. Seeing others express themselves in their builds is amazing, but it’s even better when they build each other up with compliments or suggestions. These are the valuable ways we can maintain the community feeling of SSP, despite being physically separate. 

Seeing others express themselves in their builds is amazing, but it’s even better when they build each other up with compliments or suggestions.

We finish by taking a group picture of everyone at the final group build, then we send them off. After they log off, I swing by and take a picture of everyone’s individual creations. As for the group build, we will post those pictures during Week 4, when all of the staff will vote on the week with the best build. All in all, this adventure has been great, and those who have joined Zach and I for some building are even better. I am so glad to have had the opportunity to set something like this up, and hope everyone who joined had a fun time and made new friends.

Editor’s Note: The final week of our online summer program begins on Monday, July 13. Sign up and don’t miss this great opportunity to build community – including all of our afternoon Adventures! Join Ronnie and Zachary on Tuesday from 2-3 and 3:30-4:30pm Pacific in Minecraft.


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