Encampment Alum Interview: Shauna Marshall, 1970, Great Falls, Montana

We interviewed Shauna Marshall who is a Professor Emerita at Hasting Law School, San Francisco, CA. She began her career as a trial attorney for the US Department of Justice, Antitrust Division.  Later, she joined Equal Rights Advocates as a staff attorney working on impact cases, policy initiatives and mobilizing campaigns on behalf of low-income women and women of color.  She then spent four years in the Stanford and East Palo Alto community, lecturing in the areas of civil rights and community law practice at Stanford Law School and directing the East Palo Alto Community Law Project.  She served as Hastings Associate Academic Dean from 2000 – 2002 and Academic Dean from 2005 – 2013.  Professor Marshall writes in the area of community law practice and social justice. Her greatest joy is mentoring future social justice advocates. She is married to Encampment board member, Bob Hirsch (70MT).

 

What motivated you to go to the Encampment? I wanted to do something where I was working with a community to help that community. I didn’t know about social justice in particular but I wanted to serve. And, coming from a mostly-white suburb, I wanted to meet a wider diversity of teenagers, especially teenagers of color. A friend had gone in 1969, Ezra Swerdlow, and he recommended the Encampment. Then I went to the library and read about the EFC.

When you arrived, what was your first impression of the Encampment? Actually, my first impression was before we got there. I signed up to go to on the Encampment with a girlfriend. We wanted to travel on the EFC chartered bus but we signed up late and didn’t get a spot so we ended up going on a greyhound bus. I was excited when I saw the diverse teenagers on the chartered bus even if I wasn’t on it. And to make matters worse, our greyhound bus broke down in Montana before we made it to Great Falls. The Encampment sent a van to pick us up with a couple of staff members. Everyone was so welcoming that I thought, ‘This is going to be a great experience!’

The accommodations were bleak; we were housed in the Heisey Memorial Youth Center gym. There were two rooms for 40 girls. We had bunk beds with 12 girls in one room and 28 in a larger room. All 40 boys were in one room. At the first meeting of all of the Encampers, the director stood up and turned the meeting over to us and told us we had to build our own community, develop our rules; essentially we were responsible for designing a civic democracy. We felt overwhelmed at the task.  We were all high school students, some of us had had part- time jobs, had been involved in student government but we had never designed an entire system from scratch.

 

What topic did you spend the most time on at the Encampment and what did you learn? One topic that was new to me and changed my life was the introduction to the women’s movement and feminism. As a young woman of color, I realized that summer that for me to be successful I would have to tackle barriers put before me because of my race and my sex. I had always understood racism but not sexism. I was probably heading down a career path that involved social justice but the Encampment confirmed that that was what I wanted to do with my life. I became a lawyer and spent many years working on issues of discrimination facing low-income women and women of color. I later became a clinical law professor; again, I think the Encampment inspired me to teach and help create the next generation of social justice activists. The EFC staff were great role models and I wanted to replicate that experience in some way.

That summer I learned many things, my world was expanded. We had a speaker from the John Birch Society. He presented a point-of-view that was both controversial and antagonistic to Encampers. I thought it was amazing that he had the nerve to come to tell us about his bigoted hierarchical organization. We also had someone come from the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Their approach to “supporting” Native Americans was patronizing, demeaning and with an intent to maintain the status quo.  The Encampment created an environment where we were allowed to challenge the views of the presenters and to probe more deeply. I also learned about the lives of small family farmers and their struggle to maintain their way of life through the Montana Farmers’ Union. I learned that it is possible for people from diverse backgrounds to form a community and to break through cultural differences and perceived barriers.

 

How did Encamper self-government work for your Encampment? We were thrown in the deep end of the pool and told to swim. There was a regular time for meetings. I can’t recall who led them. Perhaps we rotated? These were intense meetings. We dealt with the mundane—like how late people talk or listen to radios given that we were all living in tight quarters.  And, there were deeper issues, like the one recounted below in my most memorable experience. The Encampent did set our schedule for meals and programs but we had to figure out the other rules for the community in town meetings. Staff would help guide us if we got too out of control. It was a great lesson in community democracy.

What field trips do you remember? Montana was beautiful. We went to Glacier National Park. I remember the beauty of the glaciers and Lake McDonald. We hiked and climbed the Bob Marshall Wilderness. In addition, we went to the Montana Farmers’ Union Family Camp. We played softball and had a campfire, something which I had not experienced being a city-suburban girl. The farmers who were members of the Union were struggling to keep their small farms and their livelihoods but were being pushed out by agribusiness.

 

What community service projects do you remember? I worked on a tutoring program for Blackfeet Indians who attended public school in Great Falls.  The program was developed in the summer for the following fall.  The program was designed so students would tutor each other. We were in charge of getting together the logistics and materials. I got to visit the next summer and see that the program had taken off.

 

How did the Encampers get along? How did this change over the time you were together? By working together on projects and building a democratic community, we became a close and connected community even though at the beginning, we weren’t sure we had that much in common. Like any group of 80 kids, cliques formed. My clique was very diverse with Black, White, and Latina kids.

We had an incredibly gifted staff. They were smart and psychologically attuned to the needs of teenagers.  And they were young enough that we saw them as hip (ages ranged from 20s to 40s). They knew how to ask questions when needed and diffuse situations when necessary. By participating in workshops, projects and town meetings together and by doing fun outings together like camping and hiking we formed a community.

What were some of your favorite leisure time activities? Basketball, and we had a Black performance group. Our group learned African dance and drumming and we sang, read poetry, danced and drummed for the other Encampers and at community events.

How has the Encampment influenced your life? Well I met my husband (Encampment board member, Bob Hirsch 70MT). That was a big deal! In addition, as I mentioned earlier it influenced my choice of career.

What is your favorite memory or story from the Encampment? The most memorable experience was a community meeting during which we learned that some Encampers had had personal items stolen. Some Encampers suspected that one of the black Encampers, a guy from Harlem, had taken the items. A few white Encampers, while well meaning, made comments that displayed racist assumptions and were quite naïve. We talked really late into the night. We weren’t going to end that meeting until someone came forward and we reached resolution on how to handle the matter. I don’t exactly remember how it was resolved but I do remember that we ended up having heated arguments until we had a “break-through” late into the night. That meeting was a turning point; we became a closer community, one that was more open with one another. By the end of the session, it was heartbreaking to leave – being wrenched from that close community.

You participated in the 2014 Intergenerational Weekend in Chicago. How was that for you? What impressed or touched you most? It was great. I was put in a group led by an incredible staff member Michael Carter who had us do great interactive exercises. Most impressive were the Encampers—they were amazing. They were smart, honest, talented, and enthusiastic. The performance at the end was educational and entertaining. 

Where do you see the EFC going in the 21st Century? I’d like to see it grow, thrive, and serve more students from diverse backgrounds. It is important that privileged youth attend. The year I went to the Encampment, there were three Encampments held in different locations. Those were different times. People were more concerned about civil rights and the anti-war movement was growing. Parents were more likely to send their teenagers to the Encampment so they could explore issues of social justice.  Today, parents are more likely to send their kids to programs that enrich their students’ educational opportunities, like camps focused on technology. Our society has become very competitive and focused on money-making opportunities and it is a challenge for the Encampment to recruit a diverse group.

Any thoughts on the upcoming 50th Anniversary of the Voting Rights Act? It’s interesting to look at the erosion of some of the provisions and the way disenfranchisement has taken hold. We have to look more broadly than the Voting Rights Act. Now there are so many more sophisticated ways to inhibit voting, i.e. screening tests, having insufficient numbers of ballots in certain urban areas, limiting voting times and eliminating or restricting mail-in voting.

 

Do you see a connection between the Encampment and Ferguson, Missouri?

The Encampment can make a difference by providing young people with the tools to take on the causes of injustice that create events like Ferguson.

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