THE ENDURING POWER OF LIVING DEMOCRACY

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 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.

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Encamper’s resolve to support her fellow Dreamers ends in victory in her home community

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In my sophomore year, I asked the principal for a space to host immigrant youth, but was refused. I knew it was critical to ensure that immigrant youth understand the issues that affect their lives. For months, I advertised the club and recruited more than 30 students to meet weekly and discuss laws in California that both benefit and limit their education.

In the summer of 2015, I participated in the Encampment for Citizenship, where I was challenged to think critically about society. Being in a place with youth who were equally as passionate as I am about achieving social justice allowed me to speak openly about issues in my home community that affected indigenous undocumented farmworker youth. Toward the end of the program, I dug deep inside myself and made some promises.

One promise was to help the Dreamers Club that I had co-founded thrive. Due to the lack of support from the administration, I contacted Congresswoman Julia Brownley. This created visibility within the school and district. Further efforts led to attending statewide events such as “California Dream Network,” “IDEAS” and other conferences geared toward the undocumented. The mission for this group was to be a reflection of the larger campaign of Safe Zones that would be implemented district-wide for undocumented students.

The hate comments made by the president-elect evoked fear from undocumented students across the nation. It was evident that students throughout my school district needed a space where they can be with others who also feared deportation. I presented a resolution to the school board that protected students from ICE, established a student “healing” space and provided a counselor designated to guide undocumented students. The resolution received unanimous support – and passed.

The club served to mobilize, create consciousness and empower youth regardless of citizenship status in the larger social movement for equal access to education, immigration reform, and economic and social justice.—Litzy (15MS and 16MA)

2015 Fall Leadership Institute Report

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Nine 2015 Encampers from six different states (SD, MA,TX, CA, FL, NY) came to Albany, New York, by train, plane and bus to the Blue Mountain Center in Blue Mountain Lake for the 2015 Fall Encampment Institute. They arrived at this idyllic setting in the Adirondack Mountains eager to move forward on the projects they created at the summer Encampment program. The Blue Mountain Center is a wonderful incubator for artists and social justice activists from across the country and is a catalyst for community building and creativity. “What touched my heart the most was how friendly and supportive the Blue Mountain staff were.”Kendra, CA

The Encampment youth worked hard to be able to attend the Institute, raising funds for their transportation and bringing extra assignments to make up work for missing school days. There was much joy at being reunited again after the summer and conversations immediately delved into the activities and challenges of the fall. The Encampers were prepared to talk about how their projects were going and had an opportunity to present to the group to outline their challenges and successes and get support and ideas.

They also spent time on looking at how each project related to a larger social issue and at strategies for engaging and motivating people. We employed some of these strategies (including music and theater) during the weekend so they had an opportunity to practice.

As we know, it’s difficult to take an idea and put it into practice, particularly as a teenager. Some of the challenges the youth face are apathy amongst their peers and juggling all the demands on their time. The most useful thing for me was when we were given tools on how to get a group excited for a presentation. We learned different activities and games we could use to engage people in what we planned to present.”—Deanna, SD

There is an overwhelming consensus that the institute was an important and valuable experience, especially in terms of youth re-connecting and feeling the power of community. The young people shared deep, vulnerable feelings about the challenges they have faced on returning from the Encampment where they had changed, when their family and friends were unchanged. They faced the isolation of thinking differently and having a different set of priorities from many of their peers. It is clear that these Encampers have deep bonds of friendship and trust. For some of them, the EFC community is a beacon of hope in an otherwise discouraging world. For all of them, it is a source of support and encouragement for their projects and lives as social justice activists.

The group continued using music as an inspiration and often found themselves gathered around the piano, singing the songs of their Encampment and more. The Encampers’ singing brought other people staying at Blue Mountain Center into the room to share in their musical exuberance.  An unexpected addition to the weekend was how the Encampers helped each other with their homework, especially the essays they were writing related to social justice issues.

The institute concluded with a moving ritual where each person gave a gift of something to everyone: “I give you the gift of _____” (perseverance, community, balance, etc.). “What touched my heart the most was the end circles where we all went around and said something loving to everyone in the circle, it was so uplifting and beautiful!”—Sejeia, TX

 Young People:

  • re-engaged and participated in a reunion with some of their fellow Encampers
  • presented and discussed the status, challenges and successes of their projects
  • expressed their concerns, growth and needs for both their projects and the greater Encampment community
  • felt a genuine connection to and role in the development of the Encampment
  • gained skills in ways to do outreach and engage their peers and others in their projects  through a series of simulations that modeled such activities
  • investigated the process of teasing out the macro issue from the micro focus
  • received individualized attention from staff on their specific needs related to their projects and other life challenges

 “The most important activity to me at the Fall Leadership Institute was analyzing our community projects on the big paper in the sitting area. It was nice to introduce our ideas to our fellow Encampers and get feedback. I was able to get ideas from everyone and further my project. It was also nice to sit down, reconnect and feel like we came back to the Encampment all over again with the morning singing and enjoying the meals all together at the big dinner table.”—Marquise, NY

Suggestions for improving future institutes:

  • More time. It was too short.
  • More discussion of building community in home communities/asking allies for help with projects.
  • Work at the summer program giving some core templates and having some workshops and discussions about how to identify a project; be clear what need that project is addressing; what larger issue it is addressing; and a strategy and resources for implementation.
  • More systems for follow-up and support after the summer program for youth to support one another as they confront the difficulties of re-entry and isolation.
  • More systems to provide additional adult support for youth when they leave the summer program. Some of this did happen on its own, but we want to increase their access to adult resources for expertise and other kinds of support.
  • Some of our youth are very isolated, especially the rural youth, and we need to find additional ways to support them. We need to engage some of the organizations more and have an “organizing “ or project development toolkit for them to pull from. We have already begun working on this plan.
  • We cannot underestimate the power of their connections to one another and the staff. The question is how to expand upon that and keep those connections alive and growing in the larger context of social justice work. The Encampment becomes a kind of family that is very important in the lives of most of these young people, but especially those who are facing huge obstacles on a daily basis.
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Getting the ball rolling for EFC in the 21st century

1970 White Plains EncampmentRuth E. Thaler-Carter attended the Encampment in 1970 in White Plains, New York, and was pivotal to the revitalization of the Encampment in the 21st century. We spoke with Ruth about her early EFC experiences and how she came to start the ball rolling for the new Encampment in 2009.

Ruth is an award-winning freelance writer/editor and the owner of Communication Central, which hosts an annual conference for freelancers. She also is in the process of launching ownership of a publishing business to work with independent, self-publishing authors. Ruth recently received a Big Pencil Award from Rochester, New York’s Writers and Books, for being “A teacher of adults who has inspired the creation and appreciation of literature” who has “contributed significantly in the advancement, creation, and understanding of literature in the Rochester community.”

What was your first impression of the Encampment?

It was an adventure, and I hoped to make friends and learn something about the world. My first impression was that I had found a community where I could be comfortable, useful and involved.

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

I participated in the United Nations Youth Assembly. It was fascinating! I knew French, German and Spanish, and was very interested in languages and international relations, so going to the UN and being part of that, even at the youth level, was very exciting.

At the Encampment, seeing the projects that other groups did was a great way to show us that one person could do something that made a difference. It showed us that it’s possible to get together with people from completely different backgrounds as friends and colleagues, and that young people could get things done in their communities. The Encampment showed (and shows) that ideals can work in the real world. EFC was hands-on, practical. You could take it home with you. Even if you didn’t use it right away, you could use it in later years. It was experience of a practical nature that you could use at various points in life – and it still is.

How has the Encampment influenced your life?

I didn’t go into a formal community organizing or public role, although I did work for the Urban League, a fair housing association and a national neighborhood nonprofit. Much of what I’ve done in regular jobs and almost everything I do as a freelancer, though, is with community nonprofits or organizations that are helpful to other people, and I see that as a result of the Encampment. I also made friendships that have continued to this day. There are lasting impacts beyond the friendships. Because of the Encampment, I had a greater and deeper exposure to people of other backgrounds and to activism, community leadership and the idea that one person can make a difference.

What is your favorite memory or story from the Encampment?

Oh, there are several, but the most important has to do with a first love. I’ll just leave it at that.

Tell us how the revitalization of the EFC evolved.

At a milestone number of years since my EFC experience, I wanted to reconnect. I contacted the Ethical Society and asked if there was any interest in a reunion, and they loved the idea. I had kept my Encampment yearbook, and I called or wrote to as many of my fellow Encampers as possible. Beth Daniels and Marina Chang from our Encampment helped me find a few more via the Internet. Margot Gibney had records of our Encampment, which also helped. Then it grew from just being White Plains 1970 to including as many people from other Encampment years and locations as possible, and then to creating the EFC alumni association.

All it took was one person saying, “Hey, let’s get together for a reunion. And, now that we’re in contact, what else can we do?” Other people said, “Let’s restart the organization!” Just as we learned in our Encampment, one or a few people can make things happen.

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It’s different when it’s your friend

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Kendra Dawson attended the Encampment in both 2014 and 2015. She is currently attending Loyola Marymount College in Los Angeles. Deanna Mousseau, a fellow 2015 Encamper, interviewed her recently. Kendra is shown above on far left with Marquise and Anakiha at the 2015 Encampment. 2016 Application.

Kendra, what was your first impression of the Encampment?

That it would be a long three weeks!

 How did the community government work?

The Encamper self-government was different because I was not used to making the rules myself. I believe the self-government worked well—after we agreed upon all of the rules.

What did you learn?

What I learned from the Encampment is that there is always a way to connect different people from different stories and backgrounds, as well as how to think critically about everything. The topic I spent the most time talking about was race relations in America and its effect on policy and law.

Your favorite memory?

My favorite memory from the Encampment was the time that Litzy shared her story about being an immigrant and coming to the United States for a better life. Her story helped me see immigration in a different perspective. I want to be lawyer specializing in civil rights and immigration issues. It’s different when it’s your friend who is involved in a social justice issue. The place she comes from and her story inspired me.

Most compelling field trip?

I was most affected by our visit to the Emmett Till Museum. It is built on the place where he was tortured and murdered, and the director was related to him, so the civil rights movement came alive for me in a different way.

You also attended our first Fall Leadership Institute–what were the highlights for you?

The most important activity was the presentations of where we are on our community projects and suggestions from other Encampers and staff. I attended the institute to clarify and improve some of the lesson plans that I have created for the program and the institute also helped me get a clearer idea of what my overall project goal is. My heart was touched by how friendly and supportive the Blue Mountain Center staff were.

Tell us about your project in your home community.

My project upon returning home was to establish a social justice workshop at Peace4Kids, a foster youth program that I have attended and for which I have volunteered. The goal of this project is to bring awareness of social justice issues to the foster youth community. Ultimately, the youths who show outstanding growth from the workshops could attend the Encampment. We will be meeting on Saturdays and I have lesson plans on the food desert and the school-to-prison pipeline. My program director at Peace4Kids is providing support. I have partnered with two donors (one is an EFC alum) who have agreed to sponsor youth to attend in 2016. It will launch later this month and will run until June, and the youth(s) will go off to the Encampment!

Interview with Bill and Joan Shannon 2013 by Jackie Frank

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In 2013 Bill Shannon accompanied the summer program to Washington, DC to meet with Eleanor Holmes Norton who is an EFC alum (1957). Ada Deer, EFC Board Chair (EFC alum, 1956) was part of the joyous reunion pictured above and the inspirational meeting with Representative Norton.

Below is EFC Board member Jackie Frank’s account of her interview with Bill and Joan Shannon that same year.

It could be said that Bill Shannon and his wife Joan married into the Encampment. Shannon, director of the Encampment for Citizenship from 1952-1958, became involved thanks to EFC founder Algernon Black, a leader of the Ethical Culture Movement in New York City. Black performed their marriage ceremony after Bill and Joan were turned down by Catholic and Jewish clerics unwilling to carry out a religious ceremony for a mixed-faith couple.  Their connection led to a friendship and Black asked Shannon to direct the Encampment when then-director Henry Herman moved on to the University of Wisconsin. Shannon agreed and directed the Encampment while he continued his doctoral work in education at Columbia University.

“Once he got involved with the Encampment, it just took over our lives, really,” Joan said. “All encompassing,” Bill added.  He went on to say that for nearly ten years that included: over 1,000 Encampers, including their children Carol and Jeff; numerous yearly recruiting trips around the country; and the expansion of the Encampment program to Berkeley, California.

In the early years, the summer Encampment took place at the Fieldston School in Riverdale, New York, which was conveniently across the street from the Shannons’ home.

Shannon, who lives in Kensington, Maryland, outside Washington, D.C., found many inspiring people to address the Encampers, among them the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. in July 1957; Al Black who was also vice president of the NAACP; Federal Judge Julius Waties Waring of South Carolina whose desegregation rulings made him an outcast in his home state; folk singer Pete Seeger; and former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt at Hyde Park who invited the Encampers to her home in Hyde Park each summer.

Shannon noted how the 100 to 120 youth would arrive each summer, somewhat bewildered, and a little startled at more diversity than they might have encountered in their lives. “Then the assimilation process took over and they became very good friends,” he said.  “The Encampment opened their eyes.”

In one memorable incident, Shannon said an Encampment group came to Washington, D.C., which at that time was segregated. “No restaurant would take the mixed group,” but they were served in the Hot Shoppes on Wisconsin Avenue in Bethesda. “It was one of the first times the color line was broken in Montgomery County,” he said.

Interview with Dan Isaacson, EFC alum 50NY, May 2015

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Dan Isaacson, 50NY, lives in Boca Raton, Florida with his wife Marie. Between the two of them, they have four grown children. They traveled all around the country in a motor home for 15 years before deciding to settle in Boca Raton where his mother’s first cousin lived.

We spoke with Dan about his Encampment experience (see below) and his current passion – voter education and voting rights.  Dan, your work dovetails perfectly with part of the curriculum this summer at the Encampment – the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act. Tell us a bit about how you became interested in this area. I started working as precinct captain in 2007 for the Democratic Party of Palm Beach County.  I saw that they were doing what I call “retail politics” – one-on-one contact with hundreds of people and not reaching hundreds of thousands of people.  People were not voting. They saw no difference between the parties and thought it didn’t make a difference if they voted or not. They didn’t know what was going on and didn’t care.

I thought to myself, I have to do some kind of education. I started a newsletter on my own and sent it around by mail. That turned out to be too expensive and I had no way of knowing how well we were doing. The Demo Party put in on their website and we sent to their mailing list. I had to do something to get it out further because there were not enough people to do data analysis. Eventually, I sent to Democrats and Independents through email or mailbox so that everybody in the precinct got a copy every month (1200 people). In the 2014 primary election, out of the 842 precincts in Palm Beach County, voter participation in this precinct was 71% higher than the average of other 841 precincts. I am now seeking foundation funding and more buy-in from the Democratic Party. I am amassing an email and mail list for all of Palm Beach County to do solicitation. I also attend meetings for the Voter Rights Coalition group here and I am on the board of the Palm Beach County League of Women Voters.

It’s such a turn on! Now I know what turns on sculptors, painters, etc. They spend every waking moment doing their craft. Working with the Enlightened Voter (www.votereducation.net), I have my eyes on everything that is happening, all the daily and weekly news articles. I want to find out more and write intelligently. Last weekend I attended a convergence of young people nationwide concerned with voting rights and inequities (National Prison Divestment Convergence). So many people of color are disenfranchised from voting, having a decent job, etc. Our governor Rick Scott won by very few percentage points. My feeling is that if more people were reading the newsletter he would not be governor. Voter education is effective and important.

Dan, let’s go back to your Encampment experience.

What motivated you to go to the Encampment?

I was a student at Fieldston Ethical Culture School where EFC was being held. My father was on the Board and our family was close friends with Algernon Black. Al’s son David was a classmate.  I had visited EFC in previous summers and wanted to go. In 1950, between high school graduation and college I had the chance to go.

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

I had taken many ethics classes at school from Al Black, so I knew what to expect. Of course, the place was like home as I went to school there. I found the campers interesting and diverse–from all over the country.

What was your initial impression of the offerings at the Encampment?

Very impressive and exciting. The knowledge of the staff was impressive and welcome.

 What field trips do you remember?

The most memorable trip was to Hyde Park for a picnic lunch with Eleanor Roosevelt.

Did you find you had a lot in common with most of the Encampers?

What all of us had in common was a desire to understand others and to help others.

What were some of your favorite leisure time activities?

Lots of music, performances, we had performers such as Woody Guthrie come to perform for us. We had outside politicians and educators also come to speak.

What did you learn at the Encampment?

I learned a lot about the lives of my fellow campers, about the difficulties minorities faced.

 How has the Encampment influenced your life?

It gave me a view of what public service is like. 60 years later, that interest led me to being extremely active in politics in southern Florida. I publish a monthly voter education newsletter, The Enlightened Voter, which has received many accolades and a large readership in Palm Beach County. www.votereducation.net

 

Isaacson, Dan advertisement 1950

What is your favorite memory or story from the Encampment?

Woody Guthrie came to perform for us. As the resident folk singer, I was asked to greet him and find out what he needed. He told me he wanted a place to warm up so I took him to a school classroom. He struck several chords and pronounced the room too dead. He asked me to take him to the boy’s bathroom where he liked the acoustics and warmed up for his performance there.