The following is an interview conducted with Isaac Ben Ezra (1926-2017) before and after the 2017 Encampment at Hampshire College. Isaac visited the 2017 summer program where he shared his life story—a one-person record of the great movements for human rights in the 20th and 21st centuries. He also participated in the 2017 InterGen(erational) Weekend at the culmination of the summer program. Featured photo was taken at the summer program (photo credit KC O’Hara, EFC alum 2014 Chicago).

Isaac grew up on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, the son of Jewish immigrants. He lived through the Depression (when 17 million people were out of work) and WWII—the war to end fascism. His life’s work was founded on the belief that justice for all is central to our democracy. He was part of the labor and civil rights movements and advocated for better health care and senior rights. He died on October 4, 2017, but remains an inspiring example of the Encampment experience and perspective.

Isaac left school at 16 to work to support his family. He was active in the Educational Alliance (originally a settlement house for immigrant Jews), which offered classes on citizenship and provided recreational and social service programs.

The Educational Alliance sponsored Isaac for the first Encampment — in 1946 at Fieldston School in New York City. By 20, he had a history of organizing on the Lower East Side, including leadership in the Boy Scouts and wartime activities such as canteens for youth and victory gardens. Isaac said of the Encampment:

I learned the world was a bigger place—this was my first contact with young people outside of NYC. There were many different political views one had to learn about. It was exciting! I realized that many different communities were struggling for a better life. The  EFC helped me to better understand many kinds of political perspectives and created a menu of choices. We got to see how broad life was, depending on who you were and where you lived. For instance, the Farmers Union was very progressive. The EFC represented a vision that felt better and included many points of view. One thing was central — we were trying to understand the world we inherited and the different kinds of movements that existed for social justice. The EFC community was what I was looking for politically and got me interested in the trade union movement.

One of my teachers, Lawrence Reddick, was a Black professor, from a southern Black university. I was impressed by his contribution — he made sense to me — I learned from him. It made me sensitive to the struggles of Blacks in America. I went on to participate in civil rights activities.

 We were breathing in so many ideas — it was a great, exciting time — and most important were relationships. We could learn about the struggles in different parts of the country from other Encampers as well as the curriculum. For instance, I met Black coalminers and youth from the Farmworkers Union. EFC was one of the learning experiences that helped to shape me and seek the skills I needed to be a community organizer for justice.

Isaac was also a gifted sculptor and, with a scholarship, attended the Brooklyn Museum Art School for a year after the Encampment, working at night. He then began working at an art store and became an organizer and shop steward for CIO District 65. He taught himself drafting and was able to get a job and work his way up at American Bridge and then U.S. Steel. He worked first assembling steel for buildings and bridges, in very arduous conditions, to support his family.

Isaac married Hilda in 1950 (coincidentally, she had been a candidate for the 1946 Encampment). Their children — Aaron, Amy and Lucille — were born in 1954, ‘56 and ’58, respectively. Isaac credited his 55-year marriage to Hilda for the great joys in his life and for the support that made it possible for him to be the activist that he was and follow his dreams.

In 1954, Isaac and Hilda bought a house in Levittown, Pennsylvania, which was then a new community. He joined the Defend the Black Family Movement there, protecting the first Black family that moved into this white community, which had an active KKK and John Birch Society at the time. Isaac remarked, “In 1957, I went to Selma in a delegation of five people from Levittown. We stopped at a shop in Bristol and bought a solidarity wreath that we gave to Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. as he stopped at the AME church. I was famous for 15 minutes and life continued after that.”

With the arrival of the polio epidemic in the U.S. in 1961, Isaac challenged the county health board and the American Medical Association (AMA) in their opposition to creating public polio clinics. Despite many obstacles, he succeeded in organizing $1-a-shot polio clinics in a local public school, operated and run by community members, including volunteer medical professionals, which served 75,000 people. He organized support for Medicare and challenged both the John Birch Society and the AMA on this issue. He worked devotedly on the successful campaign to pass a moratorium on foreclosures in the Pennsylvania state legislature during the mid-’70s recession. As a result, although U.S. Steel closed down many plants, thousands of steelworkers’ families were able to remain in their homes.

Isaac organized the 1968 Busks County “McCarthy for President” movement and was active in the anti-Vietnam war movement; trade union movement; and United Farm Workers’ struggle for healthy working conditions, safe food and fair wages.

During this same period, Isaac established and became director of the Ombudsman Project for Middle-Aged and Older Workers in Philadelphia, a national pilot project. As a result of this work, and despite his lack of an undergraduate degree, Isaac was awarded a full scholarship to the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Work. Graduating in 1979, he became the recruitment director for Lincoln University, a Black college in Pennsylvania. He helped working and/or minority individuals to gain their masters’ degrees in human services. Eventually he established a social work private practice specializing in divorce mediation and child custody, while continuing with varied community activism.

At age 70, Isaac and Hilda moved to Amherst, Massachusetts, to be closer to their daughter, Amy Ben Ezra, and her family, who had recently moved there. Isaac became active in his new community, was elected to the Town Meeting on which he served for 14 years, and began doing a TV show called Conversations on the local public access station, Amherst Media. He produced shows for 16 years, and some of these shows are still aired periodically. “It was a great opportunity to learn another skill, and I found an ability to communicate and organize around free speech,” he said. Isaac also served as the town representative on the Amherst Media Board for nine years and as board president for four years.

Despite serious physical disability and pain due to accidents, Isaac continued to pursue his lifetime work for justice and served as an inspiration to so many others in his community.

In 2010, Isaac received the Jean Haggerty Award for Community Service, which recognizes individuals who believe in and demonstrate the importance of community engagement to obtain social change. Upon his retirement from the Amherst Media board in 2014, he was awarded a certificate of congressional recognition based on lifetime achievement and steadfast dedication to justice work. Congressman Jim McGovern gave special recognition to his Amherst media TV program Conversations for entertaining and informing the community for many years. In addition, his leadership as president of the board of Amherst Media was named “transformative” in strengthening this important resource for the people of Amherst.

McGovern went on to say: “For six decades, he has fought tirelessly to create a more just society — through efforts to combat inequality, improve public health and serve underserved communities. He has a strong commitment to racial equality, organized a free polio clinic, campaigned for Medicare and is an advocate for universal health care. His community organizing and devotion to bettering the world around him has had an impact on countless lives. Isaac’s activism serves as an inspiration to others.”

Bill Newman, Western Massachusetts ACLU president, thanked Isaac for “… showing us all that the purpose of community TV is to build community … That kind of media brings us together not because we necessarily agree, but because we can talk to each other and find the good and precious in each other.”

Unexpectedly, at age 90, Isaac rediscovered the Encampment in his own backyard, here at Hampshire College in Amherst. It was to his great delight that he could reconnect with the Encampment, share his history as a founding member of the first Encampment in 1946 and participate in some of the current activities. He visited the July 2017 Encampment to share some of the early EFC history and his own, and to listen to the concerns of the Encampers.


Photo Herb Raffaele on bridge

Herb Raffaele shares insights and stories from his Encampment experiences and how they completely changed his life.

What did you learn at the Encampment?

I learned many things, the most important being about governance – what it should be and what it should not. Also, how poorly governance is understood. Before the Encampment for Citizenship, I had no idea how important power and control were to some people and how far they would go to exert control.

I learned some of the wonders of diversity – new music, new foods, different perspectives, other life-styles. Despite my being from one of the most diverse cities in the world, the EFC represented diversity to me.

I learned that college (nor other formal education) does not prepare us for life. Without something like the Encampment, we live sheltered, shallow lives gravitating toward people as much like ourselves as possible. That is no way to grow or to live.

How has the Encampment influenced your life?

The Encampment completely changed my life. For one thing, I married a young Puerto Rican woman from my Encampment and had my children with her, so that accounts for a lot, but there was much more. I fell in love with the tropics, Latin American culture, its people and international issues. It led me to go to Puerto Rico on vacation and, by good fortune, get a job there for seven years doing exactly what I had been doing on my vacation.

During that period, I became the head of wildlife conservation for the Puerto Rican government – an unimaginable experience. Subsequently, I was given a job with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), managing all of that agency’s programs in Latin America and the Caribbean – another dream job. Later, I became responsible for the USFWS’s entire global program, managing $24 million a year in conservation programs in all corners of the world. These programs helped conserve elephants, tigers, rhinos, gorillas – the most-impressive living creatures on the entire planet.

Why is the EFC important now?

The EFC will always be important because there is no such thing as too much tolerance in the world, too much respect for others different than ourselves or too profound an understanding of what makes democracy work.

What is your favorite memory or story from the Encampment?

 I recall a number of powerful learning experiences at my Encampment. The most memorable occurred when we sought to put a new system of governance in place. A law student from South America prepared a draft constitution for us to consider. Overall, it looked very good. However, when one of the Encampers raised a concern about one of the articles, the drafter’s response was, “You don’t understand. Either you accept this proposed constitution exactly as written, or you get none of it. And besides, if you do not accept it, I am leaving.”

It was hard to believe what we were hearing. Needless to say, the fellow was nearly booed out of the place and we never saw him again for the rest of the summer! You would think such a thing is unimaginable, but at the EFC, it happened in real life.

The Encampment is all about experiences, so I have to tell two other very powerful ones.

Our Encampment was initially governed by three or four committees. Each Encamper could join as many or as few as s/he chose. This seemed incredibly democratic to me. However, this system was deemed inadequate as a means of governance by the participants, after which an Encamper got up and exhorted the group, saying that until we had elected a president and representatives, our experiment in governance was a failure. Really? This person thought that giving up self-representation in favor of being represented by someone else was “true democracy”? What a total misunderstanding of the essence of what democracy is all about.

The Encampers were given a riddle. It had four “logical” answers. However, the riddle was mathematical, so there was only one truly “correct” answer. Shockingly to me, the Encampers divided into four groups, each determined that its answer was the correct one. Then, each group selected a spokesperson to convince the others to come over to their side. NO ONE BUDGED!

Despite there being only one legitimate correct answer, once people had made up their minds, they simply did not listen. Reasoning meant nothing. If a bunch of college students could not be persuaded to agree to a single correct answer, no wonder so little progress is made on much-more-complicated issues in the everyday world and that many people make decisions that are in their own worst interest.

What motivated you to go to the Encampment?

My older brother, Thomas, participated in the 1962 Encampment in Puerto Rico and loved it, so I applied the following year. As members of the Society for Ethical Culture, a founding institution of the EFC and the site of its offices, my family became familiar with the program.

At the time I applied for the EFC, I had never been far from New York City, so the idea of going to a place as exotic as Puerto Rico was mind-boggling. At the same time, I had a general interest in governance and human rights that the EFC nurtured tremendously.

I received a scholarship so we only had to pay for my plane flight. Back in 1963, the scholarship covered something like $300, but things were less-expensive back then.

When you arrived, what was your first impression of the Encampment?

I do not recall my expectations, but I do recall my first impressions. As my plane landed in San Juan, I was awed by my first sight of palm trees. How different! Then, a bus drove us on what seemed like an endless trek slowly up a mountain, not arriving to our venue until after dark. The biggest shock of all came upon leaving the bus. We were greeted by a cacophony of jungle sounds that seemed to come straight out of a Tarzan movie. It was only later that I learned that this immense noise was the product of a myriad of diminutive tree frogs called coquis.

As to the Encampers themselves, the bus from the airport was full of “Americans” – U.S. participants. However, when we entered the main room of the building, a large group of Hispanic participants had gathered together, chatting vigorously in a language I had studied in school but could hardly understand when used in conversation. One particularly animated Encamper stood out and I thought, “Wow, getting along with people of such different background is going to be awfully challenging.” It was that young woman whom I later married.

What topic did you spend the most time on at the Encampment and what did you learn?

Undoubtedly I spent the most time on governance – how can we get democracy to function in our own little Encampment community? I also participated in an economics workshop (the closest thing I could find to my real interest, which was the natural world). However, because the EFC was up in a rainforest, far removed from practically everything, our workshop could not pursue much in the way of study projects.

When I had the chance, I observed the birds around the Encampment – a passion of mine. The bird book I used for that purpose was written by none other than James Bond, an ornithologist whose name was chosen by Ian Fleming as the hero in his renowned novels. Many years later, I wrote Puerto Rico’s first illustrated field guide to the birds of the island. And many years after that, I wrote a new guide to the birds of the West Indies that replaced the book of none other than James Bond.

How did camper self-government work for your Encampment?

Our Encampment’s experiment in self-governance was a total debacle. That is, as far as organizing effective governance is concerned. Our ability to self-govern only got worse throughout the course of the summer, due to increasing distrust among Encampers. However, this was far from all bad.

Our failure to develop effective governance was an incredibly powerful learning experience. It taught me that the concept of democracy is much less understood than I had thought and, more importantly, that it can be easily thwarted and abused by those seeking power. Basically, as a concept, democracy is simple enough; putting it into practice, however, is incredibly challenging due to human frailties.

My Encampment was not unique. Governance in the 1969 and 1970 Encampments on which I served as staff also failed for similar reasons.

What field trips do you remember?

I remember going to San Juan for a July 4th celebration and while there, picking up a flyer that said, “Yankees Go Home!” The concept of the ugly American was alive and well.

What community service projects do you remember?

We could not do community service due to being in a rainforest, far from any towns and with poor transportation.

How did the Encampers get along? How did this change over the time you were together?

There is too much to talk about under this topic! One of my favorite recollections is of a very handsome fellow from Venezuela and attractive girl from New York who hit it off immediately and were always seen together, like two love-birds. The only problem was the he did not know a word of English nor she a word of Spanish. They had to call in an interpreter when they argued!

Relationships are about trust. The more different people are, the more difficult it can be to build trust, especially if there are language barriers, as there were at my Encampment. But, with the right attitude, it is very doable. Of course, not everyone had the right attitude, so how everyone got along ebbed and flowed.

Related to this question, I will tell one story from one of the Montana Encampments when I was on staff. Some of the Encampers were being robbed, apparently by one of their own. Community meetings were held and passionate appeals were made about the Encampment being a family, stealing was like taking something from your brother or sister; very heart-rending. Nevertheless, a few days later, something else would be stolen. A true community needs buy-in by all. The will of some and passionate speeches by others could not create it.

 What were some of your favorite leisure time activities?

Besides bird watching, I fell in love with Latin music. Because we were isolated in a rainforest, the Latin Americans would play music every night and dance, dance, dance. I sat there for two weeks watching until I got up the nerve to ask one of the girls to teach me the steps. After that, I danced every single dance for the rest of the Encampment!

Culture Shock

A truly fascinating experience for me at the Encampment was purely coincidental. One night, the boys decided to serenade the girls at their dorm. On the way down, I kept asking the boys from the U.S., “What will we sing?” but they put me off. Once we were there, the Latin boys broke into a beautiful love song. The girls were in awe. Then it was the U.S. boys’ turn … We didn’t know any love songs! We ended up singing some nonsense. Then the Latin boys sang another rapturous love song. The girls swooned. Again, the U.S. boys sang a clinker. And so it went. The Latin boys could have sung all night! As to us … forget it.

What a way to learn about cultural differences!

Carol Ahlum (1966 KY), Newly Re-connected with the EFC

Caroloverlook (2)

Why is the Encampment important now? The Encampment is important now, as always, because as alums know, the Encampment changes lives, and we need to create this experience for young people today. I recently participated in the 2017 InterGen(erational) Weekend. I loved it! My favorite part was meeting other alums and current parents. I enjoyed the Saturday performances the most because they showed the young Encampers’ creativity, spirits and views of our society. Their presentations were amazing and inspiring. What is important to me about intergenerational programming is being part of the present and future of a program that had a big impact on me.

You recently re-connected with the Encampment after a long hiatus. Tell us that story. I participated as a 16-year-old in the 1966 Encampment for Citizenship at Union College in Barbourville, KY. Ed Peeples was the director. After receiving two recent communications about the current EFC, I searched on the EFC website. In addition to being inspired about the revived EFC, I also read about Ed Peeples’s autobiography, Scalawag: A White Southerner’s Journey through Segregation to Human Rights Activism (with Nancy MacLean; University of Virginia Press, 2014). EFC alums should read Ed’s book, which includes a chapter about the 1966 EFC. After I e-mailed Ed, he asked me about my life since 1966 (See Post-Encampment Activities).

How did you learn about the Encampment? I learned about the upcoming summer 1966 EFC from an advertisement in a girl’s magazine, Ingénue (similar to Seventeen). I applied in spring 1966 during my junior year of high school, and received a full scholarship to attend. I took a bus in Allentown, PA, to New York City’s Port Authority in a skirt and jacket to meet the EFC bus at Port Authority, headed to Kentucky. My recollection is that no other girl was wearing a skirt.

 What do you remember about the program? My memories of the 1966 Kentucky EFC are of hot summer days and long group discussions. I have no memories of the assaults on us as a group or as individuals. I remember being told not to go to town alone or to be outside after dark alone. I remember the discussions about poverty, and the federal programs to bring income and services to economically poor Appalachian areas.

My workshop leader was Buddy Saylor. I have memories of feeling cared for and being listened to. I remember Buddy talking about his Peace Corps experience in the Dominican Republic and explaining colonialism and imperialism. Buddy’s workshop was about poverty and community development.

I remember fondly the week of living in the community. Three of us girls stayed with an “elderly“ woman who had two double beds with feather mattresses, including the woman’s bed. The three of us decided we would rotate, taking turns sleeping with our host in her bed, since none of us wanted to volunteer to sleep in her bed for the entire week. We each found it odd to sleep with someone we did not know. I remember the breakfasts—she fixed us eggs with thick bacon and cornbread made on the stove.

Buddy took us for a hike through the forest and taught us that if we got lost (which we appeared to have done), we should follow the creek and walk downhill. We found the way out.

Since I was headed into my senior year and planned to apply for early decision to Goucher College, I applied to take the SATs in the nearest large city in Kentucky that summer—Louisville? I took the bus back and forth. Someone must have helped me figure this out; I can’t remember who it was. I remember waiting for the tests to start by eating in a small restaurant across the street from the high school. I was aware that I was the only white person in the restaurant.

During the Encampment, I remember hanging out with fellow Encamper Missy Greer. Often our conversations were held while sitting on logs that had fallen into a marsh-like area near the dorms. Somehow, no mosquitos bothered us. I remember dancing with a black boy from Richmond. We exchanged letters but then lost touch.

Post-Encampment Activities

After the EFC, I graduated from high school in 1967 and attended Goucher College. I had a number of amazing professors, but spent most of my time organizing women’s liberation activities and attending anti-Vietnam War support meetings and trials of the Baltimore radical Catholics who raided draft boards to spill blood and burn draft records. I participated in May Day protests in Washington, DC, in May 1971 (a few weeks before college graduation). I was arrested with friends and eventually was part of the American Civil Liberty Union (ACLU) class-action monetary court victory for unlawful arrest.

I went on to the University of Massachusetts/Amherst to earn a master of arts in teaching degree in summer 1972. In western Massachusetts, I participated in the Northampton (MA) Women’s Center work against the war in Vietnam and Cambodia. Groups of us were arrested at Westover Air Force base (twice for me). All charges were dropped.

I then worked for the Feminist Press on Long Island, under my former college professor, Florence Howe, who founded the Feminist Press and inspired the national women’s studies movement.

By summer 1974, I moved to Philadelphia, where I worked at the Medical College of Pennsylvania as an administrative assistant. There, I started organizing white-collar workers like me into the same union, Philadelphia 1199, into which the blue-collar workers were organized. We won our election and the right to bargain collectively and create a unit of white-collar workers. After our victory, I was hired by 1199 to organize the white-collar workers at Philadelphia hospitals where 1199 already had contracts with blue-collar workers. I was successful in winning significant elections of large units of white-collar workers.

By summer 1977, I moved with my now-husband to rural Maryland (Frederick County), about an hour from my husband’s mother’s home in DC. We bought the property with my husband’s brother and two friends. I stopped union organizing to focused on creating a family.

After we moved to Maryland, I taught high school social studies over a period of 10 years in three different high schools, under four principals. I lasted until my second child was born and then found a job as a public benefits paralegal at the Maryland Legal Aid Bureau. For 21 years, I represented low-income individuals who had been denied or terminated from public benefits.

Since living in Maryland, I’ve participated in but have not led political action. When we moved here, the only progressive political group we found was a very small Clergy and Laity Concerned Group. Then I participated in the Nuclear Freeze Campaign, Peace Resource Center and Women in Black. I eventually became a Quaker by becoming a member of the Frederick Friends Meeting in Frederick, Maryland. We sent our two daughters to Quaker camp through Baltimore Yearly Meeting, and then they both graduated from Earlham College, a Quaker college in Indiana.

I participated this spring in the Maryland anti-fracking campaign—we won a total fracking ban in Maryland—and I participated in the DC Climate Change March.

At age 67, I’m enjoying time reading, where we live, and watching younger people work for human rights and social justice.


Alum Interview: Angel Mendez

Angel Mendez head shot crop

Angel Mendez shares some of his EFC experiences and his thoughts on why the Encampment for Citizenship is important today.

What did you learn at the Encampment?

The first year I attended (Chicago, IL; 2014), I learned about so many struggles facing different communities. I learned about police brutality toward the black community. I learned about the Black Lives Matter movement. I was no longer focused only on immigration issues but now knew about these different struggles.

If we’re talking more about personal development, I learned how to be more outspoken and let my voice be heard. The second year (Tougaloo, MS; 2015), like the previous year, I learned about different community struggles, too. However, this time, I learned more leadership skills, such as organizing, which later became useful when I went back home. Last year, as an intern (Amherst, MA; 2016), I was able to become more of a leader in the program. I learned how to communicate better with the Encampers to get them more involved, not only in the program but in their communities.

How has the Encampment influenced your life?

The Encampment has helped me pop out of my comfort bubble and become the leader I am today. It has given me the tools I need to create change in my community. It was through the Encampment that I could ease into speaking in public and starting dialogues with strangers. Overall, it has truly changed my life.

Tell us what you’ve been doing since the Encampment.

I’ve been keeping busy in my community ever since. I have been working alongside community leader Margarita Romo to engage the youth in my community, to discuss the struggles they face and how to solve them. I started an open mic in the community for youth to gather and express ideas, feelings or just about anything they wish to express, through music, acting or in any way they want. The idea behind the open mic is to invite people outside the community and demonstrate the love in it, to those who have a negative view of the community.  Hopefully in the future, these events will take away the negative stigma the community carries.

I am also involved in the Dreamers Teatro Crew, a theater group based in the teachings of Boal’s Theater of the Oppressed. The theater group teamed up with Florida State University to start a dialogue within communities using theater exercises as a tool.

I am currently also a part of Young Entrepreneurial Students (Y.E.S.), a program to eradicate poverty through education.

I would not have been involved in my community as much as I am today if it weren’t for the Encampment. Now I am proud to see my sister (Maria, 2017 Encamper) going through the same experience and hope to see how she grows as a person.

Why is the EFC important now?

The Encampment is extremely important now because of the current White House administration, which is clearly attacking different racial and ethnic groups. It is attacking immigrants, especially now with the Dreamers having their dreams ripped away with the removal of DACA. In addition, it is defending white supremacists and Nazis. It is just unbearable to see. A program that gives youth the tools to let their voices be heard can truly bring a change.

Tell us about your experience at 2017 InterGen.

Especially and most importantly (because I’m biased), I got to see my sister Maria’s growth. Seeing her up on stage presenting her piece on society got me a bit emotional. Seeing how my sister used her voice to present herself as an independent woman who does not need society to tell her how to act was truly motivational. It was an experience unlike anything else—having the experience yourself is different from seeing someone you truly care about go through the same experience.

During the intergenerational weekend, I learned so much about the new Encampers’ struggles. I reconnected with old friends and made new ones. I enjoyed an activity called “River of Life“ where a person had to, in the most creative way, tell how they got to where they are now by using the idea of a river. During the activity, I noticed that mostly everything I do, in my community as well as my home, is for the people I love.

Meet EFC’s new program director and learn about the 2017 Summer Program and InterGen Weekend


Michael Carter (above, far right) has been named EFC’s new program director, replacing Jane Sapp, who is now the education director. Ms. Sapp says, “Michael Carter is the perfect person at this moment in time to move the Encampment forward and continue and grow the work of inspiring and cultivating young social justice activists. He is anchored in the history and culture of community. Michael is a very creative person, teacher and leader who works with people by really listening to and respecting them, framing always in the ‘we‘ versus the ‘I.’ People turn to him because he always has a vision and sees beyond the moment.”

Mr. Carter is passionate about the Encampment and the transformation he has seen in the young people who have participated. “There has never been a more urgent time for programs like the Encampment for Citizenship in my lifetime,” he says. “The country is at a crucial crossroads—will we be a divisive nation, or will we be a nation that stands together to improve, in unity? Children are growing up without empathy, without a love for community, without a sense of the power of community. Still, there is hope. Despite the fact that our country appears to be moving backward, the work to shift this downward trajectory is ongoing with programs like the Encampment for Citizenship.”

He continues, “My vision is to strengthen the organization and expand its reach. The country is depending on the work of organizations like the EFC to turn feelings of despair and division around. I want to engage recent Encampers as part of teams that reach out to more young people and adults in their communities who would introduce many more people to the Encampment.”

The 2017 Encampment will focus on what it means to be an activist global citizen in these divisive times. The first week focuses on the creation of community and sharing of culture, since building community is the foundation of any movement toward equality, the “epicenter for movement,” in Mr. Carter’s words. The Encampers will investigate the communities surrounding the summer program site to understand the different elements of these communities: their challenges, resiliency, leadership and movements for social justice. They will also explore how decisions are made and look at issues of democracy and equality. For instance:

• To what degree is everyone’s voice heard and included?
• How does the community we have created resemble our definition of democracy?
• What adjustments must be made within our community to match our definition of democracy?

These questions will extend into the local community governments, to the state, national and global levels as the Encampers grapple with the meaning, responsibilities and actions of activist global citizenship. They will do this by forming their own governance structure, participating in focused learning in core workshops and sharing within the larger group.

2017 Encampers are passionate about social justice issues, including racial and gender justice, immigration reform, food justice, rights of indigenous peoples, and environmental destruction. Field trips will add hands-on experience in community mapping and opportunities to converse with youth from other organizations about the onsite presentations, discussions and speakers.


The summer’s theme continues in our fifth Annual InterGen(erational) Weekend, July 21–23, 2017, to be held near the conclusion of the summer program at Hampshire
College, Amherst, MA. Margot Gibney, EFC executive director, promises the usual mix of fun interactive activities—with a few surprises this year. “We are keeping the activities that people have enjoyed the most in past years, while adding more depth where we can,” she says. “The intergenerational aspect is the heart of the weekend. The most recent Encampers are eager to learn from and connect with older alums—they will have
many questions for them! This year, we are inviting people, when they register, to ask the questions they have for this new generation of activists, so it will be a reciprocal process. This process will strengthen our vision of global activism as an organization—we will be looking at strategies for mobilizing EFC’s intergenerational community as a force for change.”

“The weekend had the feeling of a family reunion. Feelings of respect, genuineness and passion were everywhere. The relationships between Encampers and alums were honest and sincere. The workshops were informative and productive. The student performances were heartwarming and heartbreaking as they reflected the issues of the day. I think we all left the weekend a little more thankful, hopeful and ‘woke.’” —Board member Steve Davis on the 2016 InterGen

Register for 2017 InterGen

Interview with Miles Rapoport EFC Alum 1966 KY

miles-rapoport-photoWhen you arrived, what was your first impression of the Encampment?

I had two impressions. First, how different an environment Barbourville, Kentucky, was from metropolitan New York. Second, how extraordinarily diverse and energetic this group of young leaders was that I was encountering. It was both exciting and challenging.

What topic did you spend the most time on at the Encampment and what did you learn?

1966 was a remarkable year in the Civil Rights Movement. Black Power and the Black Panthers were beginning to form and stake out positions that were different from the traditional integrationist Civil Rights Movement. SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee), which had been formed in 1960, was under the leadership of Stokely Carmichael, who popularized the term Black Power and advocated new tactics and goals, including self-reliance and the use of violence as a legitimate means of self-defense. Many of the African-American Encampers were attracted to it and involved. The issue of race and how young white liberals should relate to it, as people and as activists, became the major topic of conversation. There were deeply difficult and discomforting moments, but the amount that all of us learned from being in those discussions was remarkable, and permanently changed our lives. As a result, when my friends and I came back home, the Great Neck South Civil Rights Club, which we were heavily involved in, decided to invite Ivanhoe Donaldson—the national field secretary for SNCC—as a speaker for a major event, which caused tremendous controversy at the school.

What community service projects do you remember?

Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty had just begun with the creation of the Community Action Program (CAP). The local CAP agency was trying to get people in rural Kentucky to come to the centers and participate, and they were having a hard time. Ed Peeples, our EFC director, conceived the idea that we would offer to help people by painting their mailboxes and other chores as a way of demonstrating that the CAP agency could offer concrete benefits. We Encampers went out into the hollers and offered to paint people’s mailboxes. About half of the people were appreciative and the other half wanted nothing to do with us. Either way, these were important formative experiences for us [as community organizers].

We went out in groups of two and knocked on people’s doors. They were not used to people from “the North.” We talked to them and learned from them about their lives, situations, opinions; occasionally getting into a political conversation. It was remarkable. In some ways, it’s what the EFC was designed for—to give young civil rights leaders experience in the community. It was important for us to think about what it meant for the people to have two young liberal teenagers from New York knock on their doors and offer to paint their mailboxes.

How did the Encampers get along? How did this change over the time you were together?

[I would say there were] three phases: Initially, everyone was on their best behavior, wanting to meet new people and make a good impression. Then there was a middle phase where tensions developed around the racial issues we were debating and some gender issues as well. Some of the African-Americans were disdainful of lily-white liberals wanting to come down from the North and help just as the sense of the Black Power movement was coming into being. The intensity led to hurt feelings and arguments.

By the end, there was a tremendous amount of mutual respect and community. A lot of real understanding on all sides. Smart young folks don’t look at the world in just one way—everybody learned that through the interactions and discussions that we had. It significantly changed the direction of my life. It was a big deal.

What did you learn at the Encampment?

The biggest thing that I learned was how deep and ingrained racism was and still is in our society. That was really the first time I encountered the life experiences of young African-American kids from different backgrounds. By the end, I had internalized it and it transformed me from a liberal to a radical.

How has the Encampment influenced your life?

It encouraged and cemented me into a lifetime of activism. When I went back to my senior year of high school and then to college, there was no doubt in my mind that I was going to join organizations and become active in the anti-war movement in college. Then I became a community organizer after college. All of the career choices that I’ve made have involved the fundamental understanding that grassroots activism and citizens standing up for their rights themselves is a critical part of making change. All of the activities that followed—community organizing, serving in public office, being president of Demos and later Common Cause—have been tied together by a commitment to the citizen activism that I learned at the Encampment.

Why is the EFC important today?

To the degree that young people can have the kind of eye-opening and meaningful interaction that we had in 1966, they will be better activists and leaders as a result. It’s really exciting that the EFC is renewing itself. I hope it will be able to give the kind of experience to young people that it was able to give us 50 years ago.

(See other alum stories on our website EFC Alum Stories)




naomi-feldman-2Naomi 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 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.