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Sprog Blog: A Week at Grassroots Organizing Summer Camp

See original post at my personal blog:


     I want to write about my recent experience at Sprog, a grassroots organizing camp that I just returned home from. I'm at a loss for where to start, what to write, and how to write it. One of the norms that we established at the beginning of Sprog was to be raggedy when you don't know exactly how to communicate your thoughts, or what you're feeling. I'm going to need that norm here, and I hope that something that I share will move your heart the way mine was over the last week. I could babble for pages on paper and for days in person about all things Sprog, but to adequately put the experience in to words, phew... probably not going to happen! The content of the course is easy enough to write about, but it's the relationships, the love between people, the massage trains in the dinner line, the incredible sunsets, the dance parties, the countless Wagonwheel renditions, the cinnamon roll on the beach, the, the deep and intimate conversations, the pure expressions, and the games of ninja that made the week such a meaningful experience.  Interpersonally, Sprog is very close to the world I hope to create for myself and others, very open, very free, very honest.  On the last day of the camp many of us shared what changed for us during the week. It was a series of moving expressions, and at times I felt elation, tenderness, humility, admiration, adoration, and deep love. On Saturday we all prepared to leave and the gravity that such physical distance would soon separate us sunk in. Sometimes I felt could not hold my new friends close enough to express what I felt for them; at other times I found it easy to let them go because I so trusted them as people, and knew we would benefit our communities. It was a phenomenal week.

A sunset game of chicken, but where's Ian the Lifeguard? - Photo Courtesy of Claire Meints
     On Saturday June 18 about forty young people convened at Camp Kirby on Samish Island in Bow, WA for a week long camp called Sprog. Sprog is shorthand for summer program, so understandably many of us had some questions about just what we would be doing based on the nondescript title. The camp was organized by fourteen student trainers, and is associated with the Sierra Student Coalition, which is related to the Sierra Club. As it turns out the camp is a training course in grassroots organizing and activism. Essentially we learned how to create and share our vision for the future we want to live in, and were learning how to inspire and empower others to create the world they want to live in.  We learned tools to solve problems and confront systems of oppression.  I'll just list the trainings, they were: the history and styles of organizing/activism; creating our public narrative (developing the story of why we work on what we work on); campaign planning; building effective teams; tactics and strategies; regional, national and international organizing; cycle of empowerment; delegation and task design; running a meeting/facilitation; personal productivity and self care; framing an issue and message development; working with the media; meeting with decision makers; grassroots outreach; direct action; developing a group; organizational analysis; event planning; working with communities; and anti-oppression and collective liberation. At the end of the week we all participated in a simulation in which we applied what we learned in a fictional town. In the town, Tonga, a power company was attempting to build a coal fired power plant in a low income neighborhood that was home primarily to Native American and African American communities. We all played different roles and ran different campaigns based on our interests in the simulation. There were miners, electrical engineers, a wealthy bike club, a neighborhood association, a student clean coal group, a student social justice group and a student environmental group. It was absolutely insane as we all scrambled around trying to form coalitions, write letters to fictional groups in town, promote and host events, write press releases to try to get media coverage at the event, meet with city council members, talk with community members, it was nutz! The trainers shuffled between different personalities in the town. Rolf was a rockstar who was arrested for peddling drugs, Lucy Always-Right was a high strung slightly pretentious reporter, Donna Goetz was a recently elected city council member who disappeared from the town to Hawaii or Zimbabwe, controversy was rife. It was slightly ridiculous, mostly fun, pretty helpful, somewhat unrealistic and occasionally frustrating. The trainings were extremely helpful, and aside from the fact that it is impossible to simulate the complex political and social dynamics of a city, the simulation helped me to synthesize the material and see how all the individual trainings could be applied in the real world. Oh, and consider this my special offer, if you are involved with a group that could benefit from these trainings let me know and I will be happy to share them.  You will find them quite interesting indeed, guaranteed.  I found them extremely helpful!
The Miners Union - Photo Courtesy of Diana Lam
Radical anarchists shutting down work at the controversial site of a coal fired powerplant.  The sheriff and the riot police had to lay down the law. - Photo Courtesy of Diana Lam

     For me, and I think my fellow Sprogers would agree, the most unique aspect of Sprog was not the trainings themselves, but the rich, open environment that allows for rare conversations and deep connections to take place. From the first day our group was deliberate about creating safe, comfortable interpersonal environments that allowed us to share ourselves, our fears, and our loves. We created group norms right off the bat. The norm that affected me the most was “listen to understand, not to respond.” Sounds like a good life goal to me. When you walked in to the main lodge you saw a sign saying things like “share your story with one person today”, or “share your passions”, or “share what you love.” We had a warm fuzzies table where we could write notes to people about how our friends impacted us, or something about them that impressed us, or just something funny about them.
     Many of the trainings and the activities in the trainings were designed to open us up, so that we could inspire each other. One my favorite series of trainings was the public narrative. A public narrative is basically our personal story. Throughout this summer I will be developing my public narrative, and am looking forward to sharing it on this blog and with my friends and family when I have reached some point of completion. We had a chance to draft our public narratives during the trainings and to share them with others in the group. The stories that people shared were honest and personal, or if they weren't they fooled me. I saw parallels between my friends stories and my own experience, and from another perspective with different events, I could have fit own story in to there's.

Zach and Mika laying it down for us - Photo Courtesy of Claire Meints
     A story is always an abstraction of who we are, and is always incomplete as we evolve, but I found reflecting on my past, and what compels me to action (whether it is opposing short-sighted destructive projects like coal export facilities, advocating for beneficial projects student run food co-op, or attending sprog) to be really powerful. Re-connecting with the sensory and emotional experiences that lead me to act and then to share that with other human beings, and to hear others' stories are places where I feel connection and compassion. My story is different from everyone else's, but there are many parallels; I haven't lived in poverty, or suffered from war, disease, or exposure to toxic waste the way many people have, but I am affected and compelled to act by people who are. There are a couple of stories that I think about that I would like to touch more deeply because they have affected me.  When I was in India I was confused, heartbroken, and isolated walking past human beings with physical deformities, or kids who lack access to food. As I carried a $200 backpack that could feed a person for a year, I couldn't shake the feeling a feeling of guilt and judgment; at home I am angered by manipulative advertising, paparazzi news, and objectification of women, and it hurts me that I feel isolated from many loved ones because I don't want to participate in these things and because I am critical of them. Stories are powerful when they are honest, and our public narratives need to be honest. I felt empathy, respect and humility when hearing people's stories; I also learned quickly to trust them as individuals. I trusted that they were going to work to create the world that I want to live in. I believe this is the case with most everyone when they are asked. Right now I don't feel the need to convince people to care or to take action; people already care, we just need to be reminded about it sometimes, and people will follow their passions. I believe that what is really needed is people who know how to ask the right questions, to educate, inspire, motivate, and empower. To me, that is what Sprog was all about.
     On Saturday June 25 Sprog was over and we departed.  It was hard to believe that I had just met my new friends a week ago.  It seemed like much longer than a week but it went by in a flash. Sprog has past now and I am back at home in Bellingham, but the relationships and inspirations are real and lasting. To people who might want to do it next summer, I cannot recommend it highly enough. In the mean time, the rubber hits the road and I'm ready to move forward on, among other things, halting coal export, implementing a student food co-operative at WWU, and breaking down unjust systems in favor of ones of love, respect, and creativity, so who's ready to join me?

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Comment by Eric Jensen on July 8, 2011 at 8:38pm
Thanks Heather, I might just give you a call and swing by one of these days if you're around, it will probably be spontaneous and unexpected.  I am out at Moondance this summer, and am living with Riley at a church out in Acme, give me a call if you're in the area!
Comment by Heather K on July 6, 2011 at 5:49pm

I'm with you Eric!  Great to read your blog post!

I'm back from the forests & meadows of Methow Valley & time with tribe living on land. 

 Come on by for retreat time at Heartsong Sanctuary in mid afternoon time frame or weekend.  Call when good for you.

Comment by Aron Standley on July 5, 2011 at 9:50am

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