Naomi Brodkey Feldman participated in the 1950 Encampment at the Fieldston School, NY. We interviewed her about what she learned at the Encampment. (Soon to be available at encampmentforcitizenship.org under Alum Stories).
What did you learn at the Encampment?
The most lasting attitudes that I took home from the Encampment were of not sitting by when I had the chance of making a difference; of doing what I could to make happen the ideals of social justice I believed in; not tolerating indifference, injustice or apathy. I remember many conversations about freedom of speech and how dangerous setting limits on it can be. I remember Hank Herman reading Plato’s “Parable of the Cave” at a Sunday morning gathering. I had never heard anything that explained so much about how we know what we know. It was seared into my brain forever (and, in fact, I had my high school students read it every year I taught history).
I remember Al Black’s “fascist” speech, which made us realize how easy it could be for a fearmonger to take over under the guise of needing emergency powers (a useful reminder during this horrific presidential election year).
There was an enormous range of backgrounds in our group, but the friendships that developed crossed apparent differences. What we had in common was a desire to change what we saw as problems: political apathy, disparities of income, educational opportunities. We learned how to confront racism in social interactions, how to build programs for change.
I learned that I could make a difference, that I needed to act to be able to live with myself, that I had an obligation to speak out against injustice, that it was easier to do the above than I thought, that together we can do even more and that change is possible, eventually.
How has the Encampment influenced your life?
In the most obvious way, the EFC changed my life because I was married for 30 years to another Encamper: Hugh Brodkey. Two of our children are also EFC alums, Jennifer Brodkey Kaufman (‘70NY) and David Brodkey (‘77NY). However, there were also other ways that the EFC affected me. I became far more involved in the political life of my college community, held many positions there. I worked for a labor union during college breaks (the ILGWU). I worked hard as a young person living in Chicago in the ’60s and ’70s in areas involving segregation in housing and schools and later for many election campaigns in Chicago, and in Evanston when we moved there. Eventually, as a high school history teacher, I spent a lot of my energies talking to students about the need to create a caring society that believed in and supported the social contract.