Creating Camp Culture @ #actioncamp2014
by Ivy Schlegel
March 27, 2014
Today is the fourth day of the Agua Fria Action Camp in Arizona. About 90 people from around the country who are using direct action in their struggle for environmental and social justice have come together and joined 65 trainers from both Greenpeace and other groups, to learn skills in direct action. The issues range from border justice to stopping destructive energy practices to reproductive justice to exposing myths that perpetuate destructive systems. Our purpose at camp is to connect and collaborate to make our movements stronger.
Though we might have a shared purpose overall, differences in experience based on privilege and power can often impact choices we might make, from campaign to life choices. Coming to camp itself is a privilege that not all folks have, and the variety of difference in choices people faced in getting themselves to Agua Fria reveal the complexity of diverse movements. People experience different comfort levels, access, or confidence based on a number of factors, and those details are important, particularly in camp settings such as these where we are in close quarters, learning a lot in a short amount of time, and perhaps expanding our comfort zones to learn and adopt new skills and beliefs.
We opened camp with an activity to explore different comfort zones, which revealed the range of reactions people have to different situations. Some people, for example, enjoy thinking out loud and find that energizing, while others shut down if they feel that a spotlight is on them. Some folks crave one-on-one conversations to process deeper thoughts, while others feel vulnerable in extended one-on-ones. Some folks are well-known activists who dont mind having their picture taken, while others have reason to keep a more discrete profile. Meat can be an ethical concern for some, and a cultural necessity for others.
To this end, we created camp norms that respect difference and ensure that the learning environment is as equitable as possible These norms are not rules, but guidelines that everyone agrees to. (hat tip to the queer youth movment for the “don’t yuck my yum” norm which allows one person to hate carrots without dissing on another person’s love for carrots, as just one example).
As trainers, one of the concepts we focused on and made sure was in the camp norms was consent. It may be new for some to ask for consent to give another person a hug, have a 1:1 conversation or touch them while gently correct their knot-tying, but we have found that this creates and empowering environment that respects choice. Emphasizing consent in every day activities invites us to identify our own personal comfort zones, needs, boundaries, and desires, it encourages self-advocacy as well as mutual aid in meeting our own needs, and it emphasizes personal agency. For some, the struggle for environmental and social justice is not a choice, but a material necessity,and personal agency is threatened by corporate destruction, institutional racism and inequality. Thus, a culture of consent is intended to affirm our dignity.
As trainers, we also explored ways to make the information accessible to diverse audiences. Trying new things in the moment if they’re not working can be one of the hardest things about being a trainer, especially if you put a lot of hours into preparing a particular module. But being willing to notice reactions, read the feelings, ask how it’s going, and change the training based on whether or not folks are learning ensures that theyhave increased access to the learning. If this was just about learning the information, we could have put it all on a webinar and called it a day. Learning these skills is also emotional, and our camp culture needs to reflect that.
Here at Greenpeace, we are constantly learning and refining how we can support diverse communities and different aspects of the movement. This year at camp, we have a few different ways to support people. We have one training crew solely focused on Collective Liberation, which weaves these themes into the camp schedule. We have a Vibes Watching crew available for listening to participants’ concerns in order to seek solutions. And we have dedicated time for identity caucuses, so that people who share identity group factors (race, class, gender expression, etc) can connect and make recommendations for increasing inclusion across the movement.
Seeing and hearing from so many different voices across the movement is inspiring. But it can also bring up emotions, like anger, exhaustion, vulnerability, and pain. Fighting for justice means that all aspects of all of our identities are not only respected, but affirmed. With the hope and love we have for each other and the vision we collectively create, we know the Agua Fria Action Camp helps us not only survive, but thrive.