The Summer Encampment Program

An Immersion Experience in Participatory Democracy

The summer program is the heart of the Encampment. It is a true experience in democracy where young people (ages 15-18) who would otherwise never meet:

  • form a self-governing community;
  • learn to think critically about pressing social and political issues that affect their communities and our world as a whole; and
  • take action.

They come from cities and suburbs; from rural reservations, small towns, big towns; north, south, east, and west. They are diverse in ethnic and cultural identification, gender, and social and economic backgrounds. They come together to create a living example of participatory democracy. They leave with lifelong friends and a commitment to social justice activism in its myriad forms.

What Happens at the Summer Program?

Experiential Learning

Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., greeting Encampers.
Community members and Encampers at the 2019 Encampment’s “Compost Tea Party.” Photo: Julio Alcala.
Encampers live, learn and work together in a diverse group of fellow youth.

As Encampers participate in workshops, field trips, and community activities, they encounter viewpoints different from their own and begin to question and think critically about issues that are woven throughout our daily lives and reflected in the larger society. Staff are available 24/7 to help youth make the link between interpersonal issues and societal issues. Once Encampers internalize this method of questioning everything – not accepting what is presented at face value – they have a life-long skill adaptable to all life situations.

Community Engagement

Encampers typically engage in a community project.

It is accompanied by workshops that provide historical, political and social context. For example, Encampers, including several from farmworker families, interviewed growers; met with representatives from the United Farm Workers Union; worked in the fields; and spoke with youth in a farmworker residence. This project led participants to look at global systems of food distribution, immigration and labor issues, and environmental sustainability. The Encampers – farmworker youth as well as Encampers who had never considered who put food on their tables – gained an understanding that was both personal and political and remained with them.

Encampers visit the United Nations
2019 Encampers in front of La Colonia mural representing iconic figures in Oxnard history. Photo: @agmuphotography.

Youth Development

Encampers are supported by a five-point youth development framework ...

… focused on safety, relationship-building, youth participation, community involvement, and skill-building. Skills include facilitation, workshop development, public speaking, governance, conflict resolution and group decision-making.

Participatory Action Research

Encampers do self-directed research on issues important to them, supported by guest speakers, field experiences and staff facilitators.

Encampers may investigate issues such as institutionalized racism, sexism, classism, heteronormativity, and other forms of oppression, as well as other issues that affect their communities and the world around them.

2013 Encampment, Richmond VA.
Theater workshop participants explore social justice themes with movement (2018).

Arts & Social Media

Encampers use music, theater and visual arts to express and interpret their experiences.

They will explore social media as an organizing tool to gather and spread ideas and information.

Democracy & Discourse

At the start of each Encampment, the youth create their own community and a system of self-governance.
Together, with staff, they decide the issues they want to engage in. Workshops, speakers, and discussions examine a variety of points of view on the issues. In this way, Encampers learn to analyze different perspectives, to engage in respectful discourse, and to formulate clear and well-reasoned responses to important issues.


2017 Encampment

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Eleanor Roosevelt with 1946 Encampers

Black Lives Matter Rally, 2016.

Questions about the Summer Program?

Check out the For Families page for quick answers.

At the Encampment, we talk about the super-deep and troubling stuff that no one wants to talk about …

… but that needs to be talked about to create a better world. There were so many conversations that ignited my inner heart. I don’t live with these issues every day and I have asked myself, why is this [injustice] happening? When I hear from people who live with these issues, it hits me so much closer to home. It … makes me think, ‘These are my friends – why do they feel like this in a society that is supposed to be equal for everyone?’ I’m really glad I came to the Encampment because I got to meet so many fun, awesome people who are really passionate about something and really want to change our world.


2016 Encamper, Amherst, MA

We are strengthening democracy by creating community.