It’s kind of like summer camp but maybe more like a family reunion. It’s like a retreat center or perhaps a mini-micro version of the World Social Forum. It’s a vacation resort, except without most of the amenities you might associate with that word. It’s a place where you can play badminton, have intense conversations about conflict minerals in Africa, hone your activist skills, take a nap on the lawn with a novel on our lap, or commune with loons. You can even debut your new play at Fun Night (more on that later).
It’s the World Fellowship Center on the edge of New Hampshire’s White Mountains, and it’s a great place to visit for a day or a week or the whole summer from early July until Labor Day.
Where else would you find 30 people sitting around on a rainy Sunday morning talking about the importance of divesting from the fossil fuel industry, the final session of a 3-day program on “Living the Transition to a New Economy?”
“Their business model isn’t going to change,” said long-time organizer Chuck Collins about the companies that mine coal, drill for oil and natural gas, and process them for sale. “Young people are driving a movement to address the climate crisis,” he emphasized.
One of them is Collins’ daughter, Nora, who called climate “the ultimate social issue,” with a disproportionate impact on already marginalized people throughout the world.
“We are revoking the license of the fossil fuel industry to wreck our future,” Chuck said. He recommends divestinvest.org as a source of information for individuals and institutions interested in this strategy.
Molly Messenger and Bruce Mallory led three discussions about the work of New Hampshire Listens, a project based at UNH that fosters community dialogues on controversial issues. This might include something local like whether to install a traffic light or build a roundabout at a dangerous intersection, a statewide issue like whether to permit gambling casinos, or a campus matter like divestment from the fossil fuel industry. The process of promoting real dialogue is “an antidote to the highly polarized political discourse” that dominates talk radio, the US Congress, and a lot of local forums, Mallory said.
The public engagement they advocate and teach is distinct from public relations, public input, and public education because it is aimed at engaging community members in shared problem solving, not just one-way communication. To work well it needs a commitment to a community organizing process, not simply the hosting of public gatherings for people to meet up and air their views.
World Fellowship also hosted the Kimba Vitu Institute, a 5-day program for young adults from the Democratic Republic of Congo dedicated to developing leaders in the struggle to free their country from dictatorship, war, and foreign domination. They kept busy with their own programs most of the time, but Institute participants gave two presentations and offered an introduction to Congolese dance to wrap up the Friday Fun Night program.
Paul Pumphrey and Kambalae Musavuli of Friends of the Congo, a US-based organization that helps organize the Kimba Vitu Institute, outlined some of the intense challenges facing the Congolese people at this time, including aggression sponsored by the government of Rwanda, a corrupt national elite, and foreign corporations that exploit minerals such as copper, cobalt, and coltan, (It’s not only our government that is unduly influenced by corporate interests.) If you’ve never heard of “coltan,” check out this link to learn about a rare mineral that has become an essential component for many of our modern electronic gadgets, including mobile phones. Sixty percent of the world’s coltan reserves are in the DRC. As they outlined, it is not uncommon for corporations to move into communities that have been abandoned following militia attacks and mass rape.
In addition to educating the public, Friends of the Congo has a campaign to pressure the US government to enforce the Democratic Republic of the Congo Relief, Security, and Democracy Promotion Act of 2006, sponsored by then-Senator Barack Obama. In particular, Section 105 of that law calls on the US government “to withhold assistance made available under the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (22 U.S.C. 2151 et seq.), other than humanitarian, peacekeeping, and counter terrorism assistance, for a foreign country if the Secretary [of State] determines that the government of the foreign country is taking actions to destabilize the Democratic Republic of the Congo.” This provision would apply to Rwanda, which according to Pumphrey and Kambalae is a US ally. Visit their website for more information and to get involved, for example by organizing educational programs during Congo Week in October””.
Every evening at World Fellowship there is some type of educational or cultural program. One evening John Uniack Davis gave an update on Syria. Saturday evening we were treated to a concert with Hudson Valley Sally (none of whose members appear to be named “Sally.”) You can find all the details of what you missed and what’s coming up in the summer program.
World Fellowshippers also find plenty of time to enjoy the outdoors, especially Whitton Pond and hikes in nearby mountains. Howie Fain offers two (sometimes three) recreational outings a day, usually a hike or bike ride, always with his rating of how easy or challenging the trip will be. There’s also the daily “art on the porch” sessions, morning body movement programs, and Children’s Fellowship for the 3 to 9-year-old set. In the evening you are likely to find people playing scrabble or other games, doing jigsaw puzzles, or sitting around the porch with guitars and copies of Rise Up Singing.
Every Friday evening is Fun Night, the all-World Fellowship talent show featuring stand-up comedy, stories, music, and more. This year I recruited volunteer actors, singers, and musicians to stage the premier performance of my play, “Metamorphosis Two: The Corporation Strikes Back,” the story of a person who discovers she has been transformed into a corporation. (More on this project soon.)
Our week wrapped up with the annual Clamshell Alliance Reunion, which this year featured talks by Roy Morrison on how to make large-scale shifts from nukes and fossil fuels to renewable alternatives and Joanne Sheehan on the historic roots of the Clamshell’s application of nonviolent action.
Morrison believes an ecological transition is compatible with economic growth through “a market system that would send money signals for sustainability,” for example by means of “a comprehensive system of ecological taxation.”
A tax on carbon won’t do the trick, he said, for reasons of basic economics. If taxes on fossil fuels effectively reduce demand for coal, oil, and natural gas, the prices will drop, Morrison suggested. That’s why he favors a broader “ecological value added tax.”
Joanne Sheehan found the roots of the Clamshell Alliance’s approach to nonviolence training in the application of Gandhian approaches by World War Two war resisters, first to desegregate prisons and subsequently in the 1947 Journey of Reconciliation, the first “freedom ride.” The use of nonviolence training for participants and acceptance of a set of guidelines for participants would be among the methods adopted by the Clams in 1976.
The three decades before Clamshell’s birth, though, saw plenty of applications for nonviolence training, notably the workshops led by the Rev. James Lawson prior to the Nashville sit-ins and the sessions for participants in Mississippi Freedom Summer in 1964. There were also clear lines from the civil rights movement to pacifist groups like Peacemakers and the Committee for Nonviolent Action (CNVA), which applied Gandhian tactics in the movement for nuclear disarmament.
Marge Swan was a CNVA activist in the early 1960s and directed the American Friends Service Committee’s New England office in the mid-1970s when the No Nukes movement sprouted from environmentalist, anti-war, civil rights, and feminist seeds. Sukie Rice, an AFSC staff member in Cambridge, took her anti-war experience to the Clamshell and with Elizabeth Boardman, another Quaker active with AFSC, led the Clamshell’s first nonviolence training workshops in the summer of 1976.
[For more details on early Clamshell see “Clam Magic: The Birth of a National Anti-Nuclear Movement, A Chapter from the Oral History of How the No Nukes Movement (1973-1982) Saved the United States and Maybe the World,” by Al Giordano at http://www.narconews.com/Issue67/article4739.html.]
As Joanne Sheehan outlined it, the Clamshell model included six components:
1. Required nonviolent action training;
2. The use of guidelines, essentially a code of discipline that all participants agreed to uphold;
3. The use of Affinity Groups, small groups of participants who worked together for preparation, mutual support, and decision-making;
4. Consensus decision-making;
5. A non-hierarchical structure; and
One piece of history Sheehan learned from Giordano’s interviews is that Sukie Rice first experienced the use of affinity groups at the 1971 May Day anti-war protests in Washington and adapted materials from the May Day action manual to use with Clamshell. Clamshell produced its own action manuals for major actions. These led eventually to the Handbook for Nonviolent Action, or the “generic manual,” published by Kate Donnelly and the War Resisters League.
If the roots of Clamshell’s nonviolence can be traced back a few decades, it’s also possible to identify the fruits of the Clamshell model in the mid-80s Pledge of Resistance to US aggression against Nicaragua, the 1999 World Trade Organization protests in Seattle, Occupy Wall Street, and plenty of other campaigns that used nonviolent civil disobedience. However, in many cases elements of the model have been dropped. As an example cited by Sheehan, groups using civil disobedience to protest the climate disruption caused by fossil fuel consumption often spend as much time raising bail money as they do planning the actions that will get them arrested. In many cases, tactics are determined through hierarchical structures, not through horizontal ones.
But lessons learned in the past can be re-learned. The Clamshell Weekend ended with discussions about making deliberate plans for next year’s gathering to be inter-generational. If so, we shouldn’t see this just as way for the elder generation (of which I am now a member) to pass our wisdom on to the youngers. The youngers no doubt have much to teach the elders, too.