Week Three 2021 Virtual Encampment
As the Encampers entered their last full week of the summer intensive, they responded to several questions and heard from recent EFC alums about the social justice work they are doing.
What are the ingredients that need to go inside you to be an effective person for social change?
- Open mind: You have to move past your own ideas and your own world, and be open to new people in your life.
- Compassion: You have to care about other people and what they are going through to do the work to help them.
- Vulnerability: I think vulnerability goes with compassion. To make change, you have to listen to other people and be vulnerable.
- Exposure: You can’t care about something until you know something. A lot of the super-privileged people who had a change of heart and suddenly started pushing for change only started doing that because they couldn’t escape the reality of racial injustice while they sat on their couches at home.
- Having grit: Social change is not easy. There will be backlash, and you have to be strong in your passion for that change.
- Strength and courage: This reminds me of what Ms. Touré said about it’s okay to feel helpless (at times) but not hopeless.
- Listening: Be a good listener, respectful.
- Do the research: Know your facts to back up what you say.
Who holds the power? Who is responsible?
The Encampers were guided through questioning and discussion through various layers that address the questions Who holds the power? and Who is responsible?
The discussion started with responses from several people:
- the federal government, the president, the military, other politicians, the wealthy
- rich people have the most power; people like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk can change laws or sway elections through campaign funding and ads
- the White Majority
- power players — people who know the most people can get the most done
Program director Jesus Salcido Chavarria then asked, Who has power in the state that you live in?
- Members of Congress, the police, the governor, or even a mayor in a big powerful city.
What about in your community? When you did your community maps, what did you learn about who has the power?
- Principal and faculty in my school; District reps, elected or non-.
What is power analysis?
- It’s about the hierarchy.
What about the average Joe? Does he have power?
- Everybody has some power and some people have the power to fire someone or give detention.
- Voting is power.
Who has power in your family home?
- The media — TV can show stereotypes.
- Social media has a hierarchy, too — your personal account to a media celebrity to the blue checkmark on Twitter that shows popularity.
Think about doing this in terms of your community maps — what is the point of power analysis?
- You can learn someone’s place in the hierarchy and your own — who do you know/not know?
- You can understand who holds the power so we can be strategic about making change.
Jane Sapp: “Who determines who has power? When you look at your government, who determines that? … The last people standing are ‘we the people.’ We have more power than anybody else does because we’re the super-majority. If you think about South Africa or Jim Crow in the South, where a minority ruled a majority, [until] that minority decided that we don’t want to be ruled by this little minority … Issues will come and go and people in power will come and go. It will always be when we use our courage, leverage our voice, leverage our vote, we are not powerless. We are still here after lynching, after deportations, after depriving us of decent education and opportunities, after all that has been done. and we are still standing. You as the upcoming generation …. your generation is the largest population of youth ever in the history of our country. You are going to have more power than you can imagine, more of a voice. What you need to decide is how to use it — how you find the courage, imagination and creativity to use it.”
Jesus: Yes, and what we are looking at here is, ‘How do we be strategic with our power?’
Encamper: Does power to the people change if the people are divided?
Jane: “That is why we focus at the Encampment on how to build a united sense of community. It’s not that people have to agree on everything, but that they feel a part of a community for change — then maybe we can get somewhere. Most powerful soil for planting seeds of change is where people have a sense of community.”
Who keeps us divided?
Encampers: People who gain something from that division, making division for their own popularity.
Jane: “‘The people’ is not a concept; it’s my experience. When the people rise up and use their voice, then change can happen, and when they don’t use their voices … when the people have been willing to lay their lives on the line and demand change is when change happened; for instance, crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge or during the Freedom Summer.”
- “Some people have more power than others, like at our schools: the teachers, or popular White students or wealthy people who can do whatever they want without consequences.”
- “Sometimes there are idealized Black authority figures in politics, but there may be things behind them that are not seen; for instance, gentrification.”
- “That’s the face you want to see, but there could be a corporation or a committee behind them that is trying to pass a bill, etc.”
- “In the San Francisco LGBTQ community, White gay males rule and they represent the gay community, but not all the other parts of LGBTQ, so there’s hierarchy. We’re all politicians.”
Jesus reminded people to connect this discussion of power analysis to their community maps to home in on the power structure.
EFC alums share their social justice work since their Encampment
EFC alums Moncerrat H. and Yesenia G. gave a slide presentation on their work with the year-round Pesticide-Free Soil Project in Ventura County, California. As part of their presentation, they showed this video. They ended their presentation by asking the Encampers to say what environmental justice means to them:
- Not only green parts being accessible to minority communities, but also treating the land like a person. We all live here. If we do that, we’ll see a lot of change.
- Treating the planet and people with the respect and care they deserve.
- Creating a collaborative and sustainable connection between people, land and animals, making sure everyone is happy. And keeping in mind that environmental injustice affects different communities in different ways. For instance, it disproportionally affects minority communities who live near agricultural industries.
- A better future for ourselves, changing our eating habits and taking care of natural resources. If we don’t take care of the environment, then we are not taking care of ourselves, and it impacts the whole world.
- Finding a way to coexist with nature and having a beneficial relationship on both sides. Nature can rely on us and we can rely on nature.
- Equal environmental rights, as well as availability to all, no matter what situation you live in. Everyone deserves a part of the environment, but we also have to treat it right — it’s a 50/50 relationship.
- Repairing all the damage that humans have done to the environment over so many years; healing it so we can have a better future.
- The environment affects everyone, so all the social justice stuff won’t matter if we don’t have a future — to be alive.
Hausson Byrd spoke about his work as a poet, writer and activist. He said he wrote his first poem at the 2014 Encampment and recited it for the Encampers from memory. He told us that he had been involved in organizing from a young age due to his parents’ involvement in their community. In college, he found his passion in writing and really wanted to write “what was on my soul.” After a while, people started asking him to speak at meetings, marches, etc., so he was able to combine these two parts of himself. “It allows me the freedom to do both — to create for myself, to live the life that I want, making sure I’m doing something to help my community, and the world I’ve grown up in … A lot of my journey has been about finding the balance, making sure I’m doing something to help my community, and also taking care of my spirit, taking care of myself, making sure I’m happy.” He turned it into a discussion, asking the Encampers what they enjoy doing. Their answers: playing bass, ultimate frisbee, making art, being with friends, water sports, yoga, reading, video games.
He responded, “Find ways to make it fun, that speak to your strengths — to counterbalance the things that you don’t like or it will be hard … When you talk about a revolution, there are so many roles you can play … Music is a big part of revolution and art is one of the greatest tools to spread your message, igniting people’s emotions and getting them to participate. Art is able to communicate complex narratives in 30 seconds or 2 minutes; you feel me, creating an emotional tie for someone more than knocking on their door.” He gave an example of how the photographs of police shooting children with water hoses or siccing dogs on them led to the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. “There are so many ways that your loves, talents, passions can go into this work and that is the best way to make it sustainable.” He referred to all of these activities as he said that joy and taking care of ourselves and each other is a revolutionary act.
X freelon (they/them), 2016–17 alum, is an artist who is also the executive director of a creatively re-imagined homeless shelter in Little Rock, AR, specifically for trans and queer youth. They said that part of their assurance in their role comes from their Encampment experience. They also referred to the importance of role models like Jane Sapp, Margot Gibney and their aunt (Dianne Freelon). “I always had a lot of ‘think for myself’ tendencies. When you are unwilling to compromise on being yourself because that is something you are deeply invested in and you understand that being yourself is a radical act, it becomes important to make that an act of revolutionary awakening every day.”
When they took the job, the homeless shelter — Lucie’s Place — was not working and they re-imagined it, ascribing part of that ability to the Encampment. “We have an intentional living community, which is a space I designed so anybody who is unhoused between the ages of 18–25 and trans or queer from the Delta or Arkansas can reach out to us and ask us to care for them until they are able to care for themselves. Homeless shelters are traditionally really regulated, but I think that’s just a re-making of the prison-industrial complex where people who are considered unruly or in positions of need are often further taken advantage of by the structures designed to help them. I intentionally wanted to disrupt that cycle … that’s another place where my EFC experience touched upon my current work.”
They went on to say that for the eight months they were designing the shelter, “it was really draining and boring, not how I envision myself making art. My skill set is that I’m a spoken word artist; I make film immersive installations … it was difficult to find a way to see community resource curation as its own sacred artform … now I show up as my authentic self to the workplace, continue to invite other people in this environment as a place they can take that on for themselves, encourage themselves in a radical appreciation of self … it’s probably the more rewarding experience I’ve had in the last five years of my life.”
An Encamper asked about how the community around the shelter relates to it. X said initially the community was reactionary but they gave the community members information about what to do and how to do it if there were concerns. They gave an example: “We act as first response instead of the police; at least we try to if people call us. We do de-escalation and intervention … with two to four people who assess the situation … We ask the member what is going on and we try to respond to whatever crisis is happening … we address whatever is happening in the environment and then we get them what they need.”
Some Encamper reactions:
- I appreciated the attitudes of the last two speakers. It is refreshing to see people who are unapologetic. I think it is cool to have a mindset similar to that. I found them inspiring.
- I really liked hearing what these young people had to say about their experience in activism and growing from their place in the Encampment.
- I enjoyed how candid each of the presenters were; they were not trying to soften it. They showed a crystal-clear picture to help us understand everything better.
Debate: Can a community move beyond its history?
Encampers chose this question to debate, with this instruction from Michael Carter: “You are going to be in breakout rooms to think about both perspectives, and you are not going to know which perspective you are going to argue until we come back.”
What ensued was a fiery debate as the Encampers, who were assigned randomly to positions that they may or may not have agreed with, participated with zest. They pushed each other to provide examples for the viewpoints they were defending. While no conclusion was reached, here are some of the arguments:
- Yes, you can move beyond our history, but you don’t necessarily forget your history. We try to build upon our history while moving forward.
- If something poor happened in a community in the past, that doesn’t necessarily define that community. People in that community can move beyond and make sure that event doesn’t take place again within that community.
- The people in that community made that event happen, so if it’s the same people, they are probably not going to want change. It’s still going to happen because they made it happen for a reason and they are not going to change their mind overnight. For instance, if White people are in power, they wouldn’t want to change that.
- This country was built upon slavery and it can’t move beyond — that impact will always be there.
- With time, generations will change and the same people will not be in charge in 100 years. Your argument assumes that people have the same mindset. For instance, with the Holocaust, the German people are trying to make it better. People need to work together and build on the past.
- Part of the healing process was removing people who contributed to the Holocaust; making sure they did not stay in power, but were in jail or executed.
- This is a democracy. People vote and they teach their children ideas that carry through generations. The history is always there and, for the most part, people stick to the past because that’s what they know and that’s what they teach their children.
- You need to have the past — that’s what makes up the community. You can use it to teach the generations — like at my school. If you let go of the thing that makes it the community, then what is the point?
- America now is not like 100 years in the past; for instance, the laws around segregation and those impacts.
- It’s not the same, but there are different forms of terribleness like mass incarceration, police brutality, the biased educational system. America is the worst example of a country moving forward — the people in power are not interested in change — they will only only stop doing what they are doing if there are changes in public opinion, like in the media …
- Maybe a community can slowly develop a better society. It’s not going to be 100% of the community; maybe one small community within the bigger community. In Germany, the Holocaust is a major part of their education system — the U.S. could do that, too.
- In Texas, learning about MLK & native history, etc. are not required in the curriculum.
- If change is never going to happen, why try?
- It’s in my blood, but I’m a realist/pessimist.
- In my own community, people try to make change because they hope for the future youth. They want to push past whatever came before and use their mistakes to make a different future for the youth.
- There are outliers in every generation who are different from those who want to stay in the past, and they can break free and make change.
- You can’t build upon the past. To transform a community, you have to get rid of the system that caused the effects.
- It’s pointless to want to change and not believe we can make change. Brasil is similar to the U.S., but slavery lasted longer than in the U.S. (1888). You can’t ignore the past. Just because the system was built upon slavery doesn’t mean we can’t change it.
Look for our report on the InterGen weekend, coming in August after our summer break.
Continuing thanks to our stalwart copyeditor, Ruth Thaler-Carter, EFC alum 1970 New York. Any errors were made after her edits.