2017 Alternative Spring Break Trip to Washington D.C.

Welcome to the Scott Center’s 2017 Alternative Spring Break Trip to Washington, DC!

How is social policy shaped and implemented at the national level?

How do we address the sharp divide on the issues of our time? 

These are the guiding questions of this year’s Alternative Spring Break Trip to Washington D.C. While in D.C., students will meet with a wide range of secular and faith-based NGOs representing a broad swath of the political spectrum. This is a unique opportunity for them to speak with people who may hold similar or very different social views than their own, as we all learn to speak across difference and gain perspective in a rapidly changing political landscape.

We invite you to come along on this journey by following this blog and invite you to engage with these questions at our post-trip program on Wed., April 5 at 4:30pm  in Wilson Hall (McCullough Student Center).   Come early — seating is limited.  Refreshments will be served.

This trip and program were made possible by generous gifts from: Cookie Tager ’66 (LS), Les Blau ’69, Charlie & Marie Kireker, The Scott Center for Spiritual & Religious Life and Middlebury College.


  1. Jeremy Stratton-Smith

    Reflecting on this past week after having been back on campus for only a day and a half of classes has given me much to think about. A week in DC was a refreshing change of pace and focus in addition to allowing me the opportunity to develop stronger relationships with people who I may otherwise never have met. As a senior, this was particularly rejuvenating to see the energy and passion that our mostly first-year and sophomore group brought to our engagement with various groups and each other.
    As someone who identifies as an activist and who has been involved in activism on campus, I am inspired by the passion that the groups we met with brought to their work and specifically how they drew commitment from their faith. The history of the Christian church and tradition is fraught with violence, both physical and rhetorical and at the same time holds a deep seated place in my heart as both comfort and inspiration. Talking with fellow students about my faith and my faith practices AND how that inspires me to be loving, compassionate person dedicated to justice and a world with less violence was amazing! The question is, where can I take that?
    On campus many of my peers, and even myself, face the privileges and the boundaries of the middlebury bubble on the daily, and I hope that I can take this trip as a way to pop that bubble, draw from my own tradition and help others do the same with whatever their tradition is to put our lives into the context of something greater and beyond middlebury, because in the end, this is not the world. The world is full of possibilities for beauty, love, joy, pain, suffering, anxiety, violence, peace and so many more things, all without the label of middlebury attached.
    I want to thank Ira Schiffer, Ellen McKay, Cookie Tager, Fariha Haque, Mark Orten, Laurie Jordan and all the other people who have helped make this trip possible and who have opened doors for people to be more whole and more loving and compassionate towards others.

  2. Charles Cacciatore

    March 31, 2017

    In a coffee shop with friends this afternoon, I read the following quotation off of one of our handouts:

    “King and Gandhi understood that everyone holds some aspect of the truth. So when you’re in the pursuit of social justice, it becomes very difficult to hold onto your own idea of the truth. You’d think that the more you’re in pursuit of justice, the more you know what’s right. But it’s actually the opposite” -Sharon Salzberg & Rev. Angel Kyodo Williams.

    These statements summarize my experience throughout this past week. Various ideals and beliefs expressed by my peers and guest speakers have, quite frankly, challenged mine. Though my value system remains the same, the opinions of my classmates, chaplains, and speakers have allowed me to realize other “aspects of the truth.” Using what I have listened to and mentally absorbed, I will revisit some of my beliefs with the potential for adjusting them. On the other hand, I feel that I can further strengthen my original positions on issues, as well. Such introspective analysis is crucial and must accompany civil discourse. Listening to hear the other person and to understand their unique experiences is more rewarding than listening to respond; both individuals benefit from that shared interaction. I firmly believe that the majority of Republicans and Democrats in Washington seek social justice. If both sides truly listen to the other’s “aspects of the truth”, it is possible to achieve everlasting change. In this highly adaptive political environment, barriers can be overcome by understanding that there is far more that unites Americans than divides them. The discussions, meetings, and religious services of this past week made that perfectly clear for me.

    On behalf of myself and my peers, I would like to thank Ira Schiffer, Laurie Jordan, Mark Orten, Fariha Haque, Cookie Tager, Les Blau, Charlie Kireker, Marie Kireker, the Scott Center for Spiritual & Religious Life, and Middlebury College for a fantastic week in our nation’s capital.

    -Charlie Cacciatore

  3. Travis Sanderson

    The Left has been locked out of Washington. The boiling stew of inadequacy that is the new administration threatens to drown progressive interests, and it’s doing a pretty damn good job. After several meetings in and around the Hill this week, it is apparent to me that the liberal establishment is failing to transition into an effective resistance. The Religious Action Center (RAC) maintains its “Jewish values,” but its strategies remain the same ones as under Obama. The Alliance for Peacebuilding is just sitting and waiting for budget cuts that will decimate the entire field. Catholic Relief Services and Bread for the World cling to to “bipartisanship,” lobbying in congressional offices that are overwhelmingly Republican. That seems to be the common denominator. Instead of focusing on influencing the executive, many organizations have taken to the legislative. Few seem to understand that scripted meetings won’t trump the Party Line.

    If they continue their current operations, these organizations will fade into an oblivion of irrelevance for four years. The Washington mantra is still to work through formal political channels, but those channels have been dammed by the new administration. Organizations are reformers, working within the system, but all of them need a revolutionary component now. Some have succeeded. The Muslim Public Affairs Council organized the airport shut-down that freed approved refugees from the custody of the Muslim Ban. While pursuing a formal agenda, too, the MPAC at least understands that sometimes the formal channels are useless to make change. A healthy civil society requires agitation. The Civil Rights Movement forced legislation through marches, protests, and civil disobedience that spoke truth to power. Black Lives Matter got their platform into the Sanders campaign by abandoning respectability in favor of courageously interrupting his speeches. Not only politics on the Hill, but politics in the street. Where are the Alice Pauls, chaining themselves to the White House gates? Where are the Eugene Debs, burning the tokens of their oppression in public defiance? Where are the sit-ins, the die-ins, the freedom rides? Has the Left been reactionary conformists since agitation was systematically dismembered after the 1960s? Why is the liberal establishment not also practicing civil disobedience, showing real solidarity, in addition to just lobbying?

    Advocacy needs fangs.

  4. Mark Orten

    Last Sunday we oriented ourselves to personal intentions for the trip and group norms for our travel together. We commit to learn not only from all that we encounter in the excellent program that Fariha and Ira have put together in DC, but also from each other as fellow travelers. This will be a journey of exploration, of deeper understandings. We will consider prevailing issues that challenge society(ies) today through the lenses of our own individual identities and experiences, but also through the prism of our collective and shared experience together. It will be challenging at times, if we are honest and seek underlying truths through genuine dialogue, and yet richly rewarding. I, for one, commit myself to this as we depart on Saturday morning at 7:45 AM!!! How’s THAT for an alternative Spring Break!?!?

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