The 2022 Encampment continued with the question: “How did we get here?” Encampers explored historical and current issues of land, migration and exploitation of labor and the power of working together for change. They went on several field trips learning more about Indigenous cultures and interacting with the local people in the Ventura County area, and extending to Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley.

The first speaker was Suzanne Pharr, longtime activist. Ms. Pharr has been working on the intersections of gender, race and economics for over 40 years.

 “As you know, these are intertwined and if you leave any one of them out, we will be unable to create a fair and just world,” said Ms. Pharr. “In general, I don’t work toward modifying the world we live in, but envisioning creating a world with justice, fairness, and joy and peace. I don’t know if you are familiar with Dr. Vincent Harding? He’s the one who wrote the draft of the Martin Luther King Vietnam speech and he always said, ‘Part of the world has yet to be born.’

“We’re going to talk about how the Right … builds its power and why it chose public education as one of its main centers of work … for the last 40-plus years. We’re going to take a look at that and see what we can understand and, hopefully, what ways in which we can make change.”

She asked the Encampers to turn to the people next to them and tell them their main concerns about the Right’s attacks on public education. The Encampers reported several concerns:

  • The information they are telling us in school — some of it is not fully correct. They don’t talk about slavery or the first inhabitants of this land. And, they make it all about race and not about things like poverty and hunger.
  • The need for actual sex education and more representation for LGBTQ individuals, not only in history but at school, because they don’t receive the same kind of help that other students do. That would make a more accepting and respectful class environment.
  • School has become a political battleground and the Right really has cracked the code when it comes to public education — getting books banned and topics banned; terrible sex education; renaming horrible injustices and downplaying atrocities.

Ms. Pharr took the Encampers through the main strategies of the Right and Christian Nationalism, which built the infrastructure to take over the government and merge state and church, noting that they are smart and well-organized, “… to establish authoritarian rule, you’ve got to get the country behind you in some way and that’s what they built the infrastructure to do — basically change the mind of the country … to shift people to understanding a different way of being.”

For instance, integrating schools was framed as an attempt to “break down our way of life” and what followed were threats, violent acts and the resistance to that terrorism by the Civil Rights Movement. That was followed by the rise of private, Christian and charter schools for White students. “In addition, the Right recognized evangelicals as an important base and the women organized to take on community issues in schools — particularly to keep out sex education, evolution, feminism, reproductive rights, queer issues, etc., and to focus as much as possible on the [nuclear] family. It was really smart — if you want to get the community involved, go to the school — that’s where people are going to feel passion, protective, fearful…that’s where people are going confuse their community school with government regulation …”

She asked the Encampers to share their best ideas for making change in their schools. While some of them had done organizing in their schools, two things that stood out were that they felt stymied by the hierarchical structure of schools and the apparent disorganization of the Left, compared to the Right.

Ms. Pharr expressed confidence that the young people could organize what they need to make change, mentioning that it could be outside the school system — like the “freedom schools” in Black communities that were integral to the Civil Rights Movement and are currently part of the Children’s Defense Fund, or the “free universities” created in the 1970s. She added, “What are creative ways that you can organize as other students are doing all over the country? How can you insist that you attend the school board meetings — that you have a voice that is counted?”

She pointed out that to address right-wing authoritarianism you’ve got to have critical thinking including critical race theory, access to books and an open public discussion of ideas. She suggested that they “… find that common place where you can talk to the person who’s very different from you, and that you can see them and their humanity. The other thing is that we have to build things that are more collective, where we depend on each other, where we’re not looking for heroes and superstars — where we’re looking for living out our best selves.”

She also referred to the many people who are already organizing collectively. In particular, she said, “… there are almost 100 organizations connected to the Southern Movement Assembly that I’m part of, and they range from people in their early 20s to me at 83, so there’s a wide span of people all working on a very strong radical, progressive vision of the South and taking on all of these issues in a very forward-looking way. We have to build these structures and this infrastructure and strategies for how we can live a life of freedom and equality, at the same time that we’re defending ourselves from this extraordinary attack that is part of the 21st century.”

On Tuesday, John Zippert and Faya Ora Rose Toure’, continuing with the theme of collective action, spoke about their work with the Federation of Southern Cooperatives on a lawsuit against Texas state agricultural commissioner Sid Miller, who, with other litigants, is challenging a law passed by Congress intended to help cover the debts of thousands of “socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers” and correct the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s historic discrimination against Black farmers. Miller depends on the support of America Legal First, a group that was brought together by former President Trump’s senior policy adviser and speechwriter Stephen Miller. The statistics are that, nationally, Black farmers have lost more than 12 million acres of farmland over the past century due to biased government policies and discriminatory business practices. Data suggests that the USDA continues to disproportionately reject Black farmers for loans.

In March, lawyers for the Federation of Southern Cooperatives joined with the USDA lawyers in creating a united force against this lawsuit.

In the Q&A, an Encamper asked: “I’m from the city and that means that I have a real disconnect from rural communities. How can city kids like me try to learn more about these issues that seem so distant from us?”

Mr. Zippert replied: Part of my answer to that is that everybody eats. Everybody eats food and food is coming from the work of farmers, the basic work of farmers, so you are connected to it. And you can find farmer cooperatives in the city, urban agricultural projects — you can seek them out where you are. And community organizing and community development collectives are relevant in any community. They can be used by organizers to make a difference and to solve the needs of people in any community … One strategy is to bring people together to form study groups to spend some time reading and studying what other people around the country and around the world have done through self-help and self-development to make a difference in their lives.”

Ms. Touré spoke about the importance of land to self-reliance and the long history of land being taken from people of color in the U.S., starting with the Indigenous people and the African people being taken from their land as slaves. She noted that this is the root of the wealth gap and cited the unfair distribution in the Homestead Act. She took the Encampers through the history of resistance, saying, “We take one step forward and then several steps back because we’ve always had to work in a system where White supremacy was always in charge of the policy and the policymakers. Each time there was some progress made is because people had consciousness and resisted, and were determined to make that change because they understood that power concedes nothing without the struggle and demand.” She also referred to the power of collective action because the lawsuit referred to earlier is a class action suit on behalf of Black farmers.

When an Encamper asked how they could help, Ms. Touré’ responded that they could make sure that at a local level, people get elected who care about justice. “You can be a support group, you can organize young people, and one of your platforms can be to help Black farmers, but it should also include political activity, to make sure that the right laws are passed.”

Ms. Touré added that early organizing efforts in Selma, Alabama, in the 1960s were initiated by young people in high school under the leadership of Bernard Lafayette, who was a Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) member at the time. She recommended reading his account, In Peace and Freedom: My Journey in Selma (Civil Rights and Struggle).

“During our time at the Encampment, I learned a crucial lesson when [Faya Ora Rose Touré’] said ‘Making change is an inside-outside game.’ I find it applies to community-building in general. To reform any system, it requires effort from the outside and in.” — Ursa, Amherst, MA

Wednesday’s Visuals on Segregation and Displacement curriculum included maps that show ethnic and economic demographics and the change over time so you can see how communities are segregated. Using this link, you can see the legacy of redlining and how it relates to gentrification. The example is Manhattan but you can use the link to explore this issue in your community — as did all the Encampers. https://dsl.richmond.edu/socialvulnerability/map/#loc=15/40.807/-73.946&city=manhattan-ny

This resource from the Othering and Belonging Institute features an interactive racial segregation map: https://bit.ly/3opyQnT

“I found out that Oxnard is 80% Latinx but the bulk of the waterfront is owned by White people.”

“I already knew a lot about redlining but actually being able to look at the maps and see the history and the actual documentation of what was done was really striking. It was informative but also hurtful because of the way they described my community, and the potential, and what actually happened. It was good that we did that activity because I can bring that back to my school and show how redlining developed in so many different communities.”

On Thursday, the Encampers were immersed in several different cultures in Los Angeles.

 

The museums were phenomenal. Getting the tour of the Holocaust Museum – it really made you see it and made you feel it. Being there with the tour guide and experiencing that session made me think about why we haven’t learned more. Even though I have studied it, I never really looked at the American response — it was a very self-reflective process. I also learned how children were treated. At my school, we had a broad overview of the Holocaust and at the Holocaust Museum I could see in detail what happened, why and how the Nazis used propaganda and how they got a lot of their methods from Jim Crow in the U.S. – create a big lie, make it believable, say it often and keep pushing on a narrative that isn’t true.”

At the Japanese American National Museum they were able to participate in a virtual process of internment. I didn’t know anything about the Japanese and the racism they faced. They also had this virtual reality experience where I got to see and be in the whole process. It’s one thing to read about it and its totally different thing to actually see it and experience it. It made me want to bring this information back to my school and community.”

Outside this museum, all the Encampers and staff gathered for an enthusiastic group picture. Click here for an Encampment shout-out.

The also went to LA Plaza de Culturas y Arte which focuses on art and culture, two key components of the summer program. There is a permanent exhibit on the history of LA that “presents an alternative to traditional interpretations of Los Angeles history, aiming to change what we know about Mexicans and Mexican Americans in the city.” In addition, Encampers and staff had dinner with David Sandoval, an EFC alum (1966 DC), and one of the organizers of the East LA Chicano Rights Movement. Click for Encampers sidewalk dancing!

On Friday, Encampers took A Deeper Look at Migration by hearing the personal stories of migration by one of their peers, Ivan, and the summer program intern, Sarahi. They gained a deeper understanding of why people migrate and what migrating actually looks like, and they shared their immigrant roots. Staff asked theEncampers to picture the role of migrants in their communities. The session was formatted in a lively talk show format moderated by program director Jesus Salcido Chavarria. He also gave a history of the Department of Homeland Security and how the immigration system operates.

On Saturday, they hiked at Rocky Peak Park, a panoramic 2,715-foot summit on the border between Los Angeles and Ventura counties in the Santa Susana Mountains. Click link for a peek of the hike.

They then connected with Mia Lopez, a member of the Chumash people, at the San Fernando Mission. She shared a bit about her life and her family, letting the Encampers know that she found it hard to go to the mission because of the history of the Spanish and the Indigenous peoples. She described some of the history and conditions of abuse of the mission system. She told them that the Chumash who converted to Catholicism were called “people of reason” and held positions of influence in the society. She pointed out that the people who didn’t were beaten and starved. “Our families were withheld from us. They say we came willingly but, as a mom, if you took my children, I would go where they were and I would stay there if you wouldn’t let them go….So yes, our people came willingly when they took our children — yes, our people came willingly when the lives of our families were threatened.”

Further deepening the Encampers exploration of critical thinking, she pointed out museum artefacts that had nothing to do with the Chumash but were from other tribes from the Southwest or other places; and a stylized painting with a tall priest and a tiny Indian, an example of portraying them like children… “which is why they can then justify the treatment of our people.”

She talked about how they were separated from their families and the sexual and other abuse, including slave labor and the disallowing of their language and ceremonies. In addition, the padres sent family members to other missions all over California so it was hard to find them again. The more that they let go of their language and cultural practices, the more freedom they had to connect with their family members so this was a powerful incentive to abandon their culture. This memory still reverberates with people today.

On Sunday, to experience the culture of the community of Oxnard, our summer intern Sarahi recommended that we take some time to visit the Oxnard Swap Meet, where, in addition to many crafts, there is traditional food and music. Sarahi created a curriculum component focused on a cultural exchange for that evening. Sarahi talks about the experience in this video.

Earlier that day, Israel Vasquez, the program supervisor for the Ventura County Farmworker Resource Program spoke to the Encampers about the work of MICOP and the forming of the Tequio Youth Group of which he is a founding member. He told the Encampers that when they first got together, they chose the name to honor their roots. “Tequio is an indigenous philosophy of community service — you don’t get paid … you just do it for the love of the community. And, that’s our philosophy. One of our first strategies was to go to the school board and ask that they ban the word ‘oaxaquita’ [ethnic slur: little Oaxacan]. We were all excited and we did not know the challenges we would face … we went to school board leaders and allies and did some planning and we had several spokespeople and within a year we were able to ban the word “oaxaquita” in Oxnard schools.” https://www.latimes.com/local/la-xpm-2012-may-28-la-me-indigenous-derogatory-20120528-story.html

Mr. Vasquez shared some of his own personal journey from studying law as a way to help his community to realizing he was more drawn to agriculture and could help that way. He told the Encampers that his grandfather had shared how they always planted beans, corn and squash together and he didn’t understand why but, when he studied agriculture in college, he understood the value of this and other the Indigenous traditions. He has brought this knowledge and understanding to his work with the Farmworker Resource Program. In addition, he made sure that all the information about resources was recorded in Spanish and Mixteco, as well as English, and spread the word digitally so that the community would know about these resources.

Question: When you realized you wanted to be an activist what was the first thing that you did?

“I started by learning who I was. I thought I was Aztec but I’m Mixteco. Once I learned that, I started to learn what the issues are that affect my community. I worked with my uncle and aunt helping them navigate through their issues. I started with my family and then got more involved in my community.”

Photo/video credit: Adriana Campos-Ojeda, aoc.cinema@gmail.com