"Localize This": Direct Action Training Camp Turns Inward to Define a Movement
YES! ex-intern attends a radical summer camp
“We train people to have strategic minds, not just strategic plans,” Adrienne Maree Brown instructs me against a backdrop of water defense kayakers, direct action climbers, and political puppeteers. Brown, Executive Director of Ruckus Society, co-sponsored Localize This, a direct action training camp taking place this week on Vashon Island, WA. Direct Action, from the Greenpeace Mount Rushmore Banner drop to the Die-Ins in San Francisco over budget cuts, has received increased news coverage lately. How do these activists organize such complex operations? And, more importantly, what motivates them to put their bodies on the line? Once at camp, I soon learned that the answers lie in the localization of struggle, as the camp and its participants testified to the importance of community in movement building.
Localize This grew out of another radical direct action camp—Globalize This—meeting in the days leading to the infamous WTO protests of 1999. There, many of today’s direct action leaders received training and began to identify as global activists working against the negative effects of the IMF and the World Bank. Ten years later activists, in an attempt redefine themselves as for rather than against, are shifting their identity back to local issues. Enter the Backbone Campaign (the inspiration for Localize This). The Vashon Island based organization is a national grassroots effort to embolden citizens and elected officials to stand up for progressive values—to have a backbone, in case you didn’t catch the metaphor. Their spectacular tactics and actions have received international attention, but their most recent and personal campaign provided the vision for Localize This.
In early January the Backbone Campaign led a movement to stop Glacier Northwest from constructing a gravel-mining pit on Maury Island (a small island near Vashon). The threat of environmental degradation united the Vashon community in direct actions against the operations. Their strategies included deployment of the mosquito fleet—a group of water defense trained kayakers—who used non-violent tactics to shut down operations for two days. The success of this localized struggle inspired Backbone Campaign Executive Director, Bill Moyer, to organize Localize This, calling activists working on local campaigns all over the country to meet, learn from each other, and have a lot of fun!
“Direct action is a key component of how you strengthen and create solidarity in a community,” Adrienne Brown tells me. This is the heartbeat of camp and what a strategically trained mind can comprehend about the radical power of localization. At camp we learned about each other’s separate communities and struggles, and formed community: sharing chores and tasks, living in harmony with beautiful land, and eating meals together—equally important to learning how to banner drop, talk to the media, form blockades, drum, or build a 25 foot orca puppet.
Direct action also appeals to the pragmatic needs of organizers, accounting for its increased popularity. Brown explains: “especially in these hard economic times, we can’t rely on non-profits to foot the bill to get our messages out there… Direct action is the cheapest way to have an impact.” Not only is direct action economically beneficial, as Brown describes, but it roots us in an empowering ideological framework. This brings us closer to a people centered, not non-profit centered, movement. This distinction urges us to examine the sustainability of our actions, empowering us to transform reactionary messages into visionary proclamations of human potential.
We'll be posting a more in depth look at some of the “Localize This” campers and their campaigns soon.