The Encampment Summer 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 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.

The Encampment’s intensive summer residency program is based on the precepts of the original Encampment for Citizenship, which provided experience in leadership and democracy for young people for 50 years from the 1940s into the 1990s.

east bay conservation corps

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

What Happens at the Summer Program?

Experiential Learning:

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.

east bay conservation corps

Community members and Encampers at the 2019 Encampment’s “Compost Tea Party.” Photo: Julio Alcala.

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.

The Arts and 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.

east bay conservation corps

Theater workshop participants explore social justice themes with movement (2018).

Democracy and 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.

east bay conservation corps

Encampment community project with East Bay Conservation Corps, California (1988).

Recent Programs »

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Encampment memories ...

“The whole EFC experience has been empowering, and has helped me see that I have the ability to make a difference. It’s also helped me understand my ability to connect with people from totally different backgrounds to mine.

– Maggie, Washington, DC

“I think whether you have a specific interest for activism or not, the experience as a whole would be useful for any teen. You get out of your normal life and experience a new community, culture and environment. Learning about our country’s issues is something most people do not get to experience in their own public school systems, so I feel as though most people would jump at this experience.”

– Masud, East Orange, NJ

“The Encampment is important because it shows youth that you don’t have to be an adult to change the world. You can start with the easy stuff, like talking to your community about social injustice. I can’t wait to go home and share with other youth what I’ve learned here at the Encampment — the ideas, songs and culture.

– Ronnie G., Summit, SD

“There has been a change in the way I view people, life and myself. Before the Encampment, I was undecided about speaking up, and after this experience, I know that when the situation arises, I will speak up for myself and others.”

– Rosita, Oxnard, CA

“The Encampment has changed the way I think of my own community. Three weeks ago, I knew that I was very much surrounded by White people similar to myself, but it was not until coming here that I truly realized how lacking in diversity my community is. This has made me more observant of the many all-White spaces that exist in my life.”

— August, Newton, MA

“The EFC made me realize I do have a voice in what goes on around me, and also made me aware of what’s going on in America today. I believe I can help by informing people in my community about their voting rights and what education can do for them.”

— Hallie, Philadelphia, MS

“I learned a lot about the unifying power of song and the potential for creative performance that ordinary people carry. I also experienced communities and locations that contrast with my community at home, such as West Jackson, Selma and the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians.”

– Nevin, San Francisco, CA

“My experience this summer was one I will never forget,” said Jason Warwin after attending the Encampment in 1989.  “The knowledge I have gained will, I hope, allow me to enlighten others, but there is no way my preaching would ever parallel the experience itself.  I wish all youth could be exposed to the Encampment...”

Warwin credits the Encampment as his inspiration for co-founding in 1995 The Brotherhood/Sister Sol, a thriving organization for youth in his home community of East Harlem.  

“The Encampment program is organized to provide an opportunity for young people to make a contribution, to have an effect, to connect with others, to organize their lives in meaningful and important ways; and to connect personal issues with larger political issues. During the program Encampers examine and analyze their personal history as a product of interactions with social institutions and individuals. …Thus, the problems of the South Bronx take on a unique reality when an Encamper from the South Bronx studies, works and lives with Encampers from other parts of the country during the program... The Encampment provides an experience where feelings can be trusted and made to enhance intellectual understanding.”

– Bob Lubetsky,
Executive Director 1976-82,
National Advisor Board member