In Week Two, the 2021 Encampers led the morning inspirations (all of which can be found on YouTube): C.H.A.D The Change – #BlackLivesMatterII; Natiruts, Ziggy Marley; Yalitza Aparicio – América Vibra #AmericaVibra; Black Girl Fly; The Roots – I Am A Slave Black-ish; 4 Women-Black Girls Rock.
The videos all provoked discussion about why they had been chosen and their effect on the Encampers. One thing that everyone could agree on is that adding rhythm, music and/or visuals to your message makes it more powerful — able to reach beyond the intellect to inspire a deeper response.
This week, the Encampers practiced a skill that is needed for community mapping: interviewing people in our communities.
Jane Sapp introduced a basic approach: “Curiosity is the main thing that guides you when you interview someone. You are asking: What is your community? How do you feel about your community? What’s inspiring? What are the challenges? What’s good or gives you hope or joy? Where is there courage? Who are the people who inspire you in your community? Where do you find beauty? What sustains you, keeps you going?”
The Encampers interviewed each other in pairs and brought back creative expressions (in words, lyrics or pictures; even a slide show) of what they learned. The collage shows several examples.
What is community organizing?
Suzanne Pharr, organizer, political strategist, LGBTQ activist and former director of Highlander Center, is known for her intersectional and systemic approach to social justice issues. She started off the discussion about what community organizing is with a grounded and warm discussion with the Encampers, continually bringing it back to basic human rights and values.
Ms. Pharr talked about her roots in a rural community in Georgia and the importance of mutual aid — community members helping each other. “It’s not about people who have more delivering to those who have less,” she said. “This is the basis of organizing. How do we create community? How do we create community in the face of splintered community? How do we survive, nourish each other and create joy for each other?”
While she acknowledged that our communities are fractured and there is great inequity in healthcare, food and housing, she calls this time “The Great Reveal,” pointing out that, due to social media, nobody has an excuse to say “I didn’t know that inequity is happening.”
Ms. Pharr remarked [excerpted], “It’s important to remember that this is a systemic issue. People say we don’t have enough to go around, but we have all the resources and money that we need — but legislatures are making the laws based on how to protect the resources of the few … racial capitalism has been shaped from slavery onward … As you shape your politics, it’s a human rights issue. There’s a song, ‘Ain’t you got a right to the tree of life’ — we all have the right to shelter, food, healthcare, a safe place to work, and an environment that doesn’t kill us and that shouldn’t have any bias or diffferential … that is your dream … that is the change that we hope for. There is enough to go around. It takes you away from identity politics and brings you into a collective politics where you understand the bias and the prejudice and the harm from identity politics but the overall goal is the same for everyone.”
In response to the question of how to define grassroots organizing, she replied, “Going door to door, wearing out your shoes. Our country is split — people have fallen into the division that the right has been creating and have come to scorn each other … ‘let’s do programs and plans for people in cities and not in rural communities.’ Do it for maybe one group of people and not another … but also not having conversations with people. I don’t think you can expect change unless you say to someone, ‘What is your life? What do you think? Who are you? What do you do? Jane [Sapp] (pictured right) knows this so well because this is the heart of cultural work. You move to the spirit, the daily reality of people, their heart but also their pain … Not commenting but asking, ‘Tell us what that was like’… human to human, face to face, voice to voice.”
“Freedom is in the struggle and victory is in the fight” — Long-term organizing and the use of the arts in organizing
Faya Ora Rose Touré, civil rights activist, the first African-American female judge in Georgia and founder of several social justice organizations, spoke about her experience in long-term community organizing. She asked the Encampers, “What’s left after protest? It is sustained organizing with faith and hope that plants seeds. I might not see those seeds grow, which is why I believe freedom is in the struggle and victory is in the fight. I see so few victories … I may feel helpless at times, but not hopeless.”
Ms. Touré uses music, song and theater in her organizing work. “When I came to Selma, I used arts and culture because it touches the spirit of people,” she said. “A lot of times, people might not understand the issues that impact their lives. You might not believe in global warming, you may not even know what global warming is, but if you hear a song about the destruction of the Earth … or maybe you don’t understand people from another culture, but you write a song about love and justice, and you perform that song … then that song opens up your heart and your willingness to learn about other people and cultures. I’ve always used music and culture to organize people.”
She went on to talk about her current organizing project: Restoring Excellence, Safety, Truth, Organization, Resiliency, Economy (RESTORE). She said the seeds of excellence are present in marginalized communities, but the system does not allow them to grow. The idea behind RESTORE is to locate the natural leaders in a community.
What RESTORE is doing is nothing new. “SNCC and the Black Panther Party understood that you have to bring something into the community,” she said — nowadays, that might mean providing information about economic programs or hand sanitizer or masks. She believes that it was a failure to stop organizing after the civil rights victories of the 1960s. “Community organizing is hard … back then, it was easier to get volunteers because you could see the ‘colored-only’ or ‘white-only’ signs, which were visible and heartbreaking. They have been removed but it’s still there. That’s why the wealth gap in the Black community is one dollar to the 18 dollars you get if you are a White person.”
She talked particularly about the role of young people in organizing. In Selma, students went “door to door, marching and protesting, because they wanted their parents to be able to vote and they wanted to vote when they were older. That movement was in full bloom when Dr. King came here in 1965. And they didn’t just protest. They educated themselves in the basements of churches, learned the techniques of nonviolence. To be a successful community organizer, you have to be knowledgeable about the community you are in and also past efforts to organize, the strengths and the failures.”
She shared an original song that she wrote for the Encampers, “Morning is Coming,” and asked: Are you prepared for the long-term struggle?
Several Encampers replied:
- “It’s definitely intimidating, but it’s something that we have to do. There are so many issues in our communities and the world that have to be addressed. We have to be ready and prepare ourselves. Otherwise, things are not going to get better.”
- “You have to really think about it and what place you are in, because it is scary.”
- “As long as you are with people who are in for the long haul with you, then you will be able to go through the struggle. As long as you have the backbone in community or people you surround yourselves with.”
- “I think we all have a drive to make some sort of change. To make that change, we need a proper foundation. I am willing to embrace the struggle.”
Ms. Touré agreed that it is scary and that we need people around us to support the struggle. She referenced a song from the musical “Ragtime,” “Make Them Hear You,” saying that “we don’t all have to struggle in the same way. It doesn’t mean you have to be on a picket line or lead a boycott. Only you can decide how you will manifest that commitment. Don’t let anyone put you in a corner as to how you should struggle. That’s your personal choice. And once you make that personal choice, just be committted to it.”
On Wednesday, the Encampers had a work day where they continued the process of doing interviews in their communities. This is an integral part of community mapping and the results will be shared at the InterGen(erational) program on Saturday. They came together intermittently to share where they were in the process and what they were learning.
Is it possible to work with people who do not agree with your viewpoint?
After the morning inspiration, education director Michael Carter started the conversation with this question: “Is it possible to work with people who do not agree with your viewpoint?” After a while, the diverse answers were replaced with another question by the Encampers: Who is responsible for educating folks about racism, sexism, homophobia, etc.? These quotes provide a synopsis of that rousing conversation:
- “If you are unable to work with people who don’t agree with you, it’s impossible to make change. It can be impossible in extreme cases, but we should always try to work with people or at least stand up to people with different views. It can be a more-effective way to understand their point of view instead of expressing anger.”
- “If you can’t accept differences, then you are a big part of the problem. “
- “Express that their contrasting viewpoint impacts you; try to work with them; you can agree to disagree.”
- “Try to understand why do people think the way they do and find middle ground.”
- “We’re at a place politically where we are polarized and closeminded in both parties. And the quarantine has created more bubbles, so people from different cultures are not willing to have conversations.”
When does it become our responsibility to educate people — and should it be?
- “Someone was being racist against Jewish people in the supermarket and I thought, ‘You are not entitled to my education.’ Those people don’t deserve that kind of education. I don’t have the energy to have those conversations.”
- “Depends on the person.”
- “I’m willing to talk to people in my communities but not to a ‘white savior’ — even if they agree with you, certain things that happen after that I didn’t ask for, that I don’t feel good about … I think I’m seeing a pattern with intersecting identities being both Black and a woman. I’m exhausted …”
- “I’ve have felt like I was a crazy person because I have different views from my family about environmental issues. And it was frustrating, but I’m glad I didn’t give up talking to them. They’ve changed their minds. I am open to educating people even though it’s hard.”
- “It depends on the situation — if it’s too hard and the situation is not good for you. You have to pick those battles.”
- “Divide and conquer … when the two parties can’t reach a common goal and Congress reaches a deadlock, then there’s no change.”
- “If someone is messing with you and they have a closed mind to bigotry, sometimes it’s a whack of knowledge that teaches them to become better people. If you avoid having a confrontation, then some other random person could be being targeted. You can’t talk down a racist or sexist or homophobe in every situation, but with more education of each other, the smarter the collective will get so we don’t hate each other on things that don’t matter.”
- “It’s better if people coming from a certain background educate the person rather than someone from another group, because it won’t be as accurate, but it’s not that they should have to.”
- “The people of a community do have the responsibilty to share what makes them uncomfortable. Like the N word — if you or someone tells someone that that is wrong, in the future, others benefit.”
- “Google is free! The internet is everywhere. I’m not going to make it easy for you to understand black people when you could be educating yourself so as not to be ignorant.”
- “If people are Ignorant, they may not know it’s offensive.”
- “If you don’t know, have you been living under a rock? What are you doing? I don’t think we’re even having a conversation; we’re just talking about our own viewpoints.”
- “My best friend grew up in Morocco in a poor town and he just didn’t know about America. He asked in the classroom, “Why are there women here, aren’t they supposed to be in the kitchen?” Some people just don’t grow up with that understanding. Helping people understand makes the world a better place.”
- “People do live under rocks. There was a Russian emigrant boy in my class who used the N-word and got suspended because his family is so uneducated and racist that he was completely unaware. It takes maturity to seek out knowledge. Most Americans don’t live in places that are ‘woke.’ … They don’t know they could learn more.”
- “We are all talking to each other and listening — that’s the definition of a conversation. My point of view has changed from hearing different views from one another.”
Michael: We’ve been talking about other people and other people’s ignorance. Let’s take a moment to look inward.
He said that he had been ignorant about homophobia and also about his own sexism until it was brought to his attention at the Encampment. “When you can recognize your own bias and understand it for what it is, it easier to be compassionate to other people who are ignorant,” he said.
The group watched a clip from the movie “The Best of Enemies” that portrays the transformation of a Klan leader due to the lived experience of getting to know a Black woman organizer during a struggle for school integration. “There is power in sharing your lived experiences and your viewpoints,” Michael said. “Not everybody will change, but they might, and they might take it with them and think about it.”
Do young people have the skill set and the drive to make change now?
Jesus Salcido Chavarria started this discussion by indicating that he wanted to make sure the Encampers were clear about what we are doing in the 2021 Encampment. He said that today’s Encampers are training to become leaders or organizers — when they are adults. He let everyone know that we don’t expect much from them now, since they are so young, but, “maybe in future years, they might have the skills and drive to make change.” He asked what people thought about that.
The Encampers argued respectfully that there were examples of young people creating change now. They gave examples from their own lives of participating in a school lockdown; the youth-led 4-H Club; and Malala. They looked for ways to agree with him — to find common ground. For instance, they agreed that young people do need more knowledge and skill-building; they do not have access to the resources of adults; and they need adult allies, particularly in places of authority.
Michael chimed in, saying that he doesn’t see the numbers of youth necessary for a movement. Eventually, they were caught out by a few of the Encampers who called them on setting this situation up. Michael spoke to why they had set up the situation. “I don’t want anyone to feel that in this space you cannot push back,” he said. “I want us to live that and practice that. The more we practice that, the easier it will be for you to address adults when they are being manipulative or disrespectful. You’ll find strategies to do it in a way that is productive … There’s a time when you have to say, ‘You’re disrespecting me and I’m not going to tolerate it.’ … Some people revert to silence because they don’t know what to say. Some people revert to silence because they don’t know how to say it in a productive way, and some people don’t know that they have permission to speak. In this space, you have permission to speak. We need your voices at the forefront.”
Margot Gibney added: “You have history on your side, so the more you know, the better. For instance, a 16-year-old in Virginia kicked off the equal education movement. Her name was Barbara Johns. You have the data to say, ‘[Something] is not true.’ It’s always important, even if you think the other person isn’t listening, to speak the truth and to do the research so you can say, ‘Well actually, if you look at history, here’s 30 examples.’ I started organizing in junior high and it wasn’t until I got to the Encampment that I felt my voice was taken seriously. No matter what the other person is going to do, in my experience, it’s important to always have your voice. That’s a part of leadership and empowerment. You can’t control what people do with the information, you give them but silence is a statement.
“In 1946, during the first Encampment, there were people who fought in the war in segregated units, people coming from the Jim Crow South, people who had been in concentration camps. The founder used to begin the program by giving a fascist speech — this was right after the war — and he would get a standing ovation because people were trying to be polite and weren’t really thinking about what he was saying. Then he’d say, ‘Well what did I say?’ and finally someone would stand up and say, ‘That was fascism.’ That’s what the founders of the Encampment believed: that young people have to practice standing up and telling the truth instead of, for the sake of politeness, not questioning what’s put before them. That’s why things like this happen at the Encampment. We want you to learn to develop that muscle, and to know this is a safe place, like Michael said. No one is going to punish you in any way for speaking up — for having your voice — even if it’s completely contrary to what everybody else thinks.”
You are invited to participate in EFC’s ongoing conversation about building community and experience more of what the 2021 Encampers are learning. Join us for the virtual InterGen(erational) Program this Friday and Saturday, July 23-24. Click here to learn more.
Continuing thanks to our stalwart copyeditor, Ruth Thaler-Carter, EFC alum 1970 New York. Any errors were made after her edits.