By Kiran Oommen, CLDC Intern
I attended the Next Generation Climate Justice Action Camp (NGCJAC) the first year it was put on. We were only out there a few days, not even a full week, but NGCJAC was easily one of the most important experiences of my teenage years. If my older self had told me that the day before I left, hurriedly throwing a tent and a few extra socks into my backpack, I would have been dubious. I had no idea what NGCJAC stood for, only a vague understanding of what the Civil Liberties Defense Center did, and little to no idea of the world of community organizing and direct action that existed in my own lifelong hometown. I was just a bored teenager, dreading the next two years of high school and intrigued mainly by the prospect of a camping trip. I arrived, threw up my tent, and went to figure out who else showed up to this old Boy Scout camp outside of Portland.
We started out with a conversation about direct action and historical instances of success, and I was instantly intrigued. However, I heard the most interesting stories outside of the workshops. At lunch, I sat down next to some of the camp mentors, curious to learn who they were and what they were doing here. It didn’t take five minutes and the mentors were telling me stories of protesting a biomass plant not a half hour walk from my house. Previously I had known nothing of the biomass controversy, and even less about the kind of serious organizing people were doing in my hometown. I couldn’t help but think, this is what I should be spending my time on. Later workshops covered things like how to talk to police, affinity group organization, protest tactics, etc, but most importantly was what I took away from camp. Connections!
For someone who couldn’t remember not feeling invested in the health of the natural world, the question had never been “should I do something?” but rather “what should I do?” NGCJAC gave me the answer. Almost immediately after returning to Eugene I reconnected with some of the camp mentors who were involved with environmental organizing in the Eugene area, a group called the Cascadia Forest Defenders (CFD). After graduating high school I moved up to Seattle for college, and connected with some student and non-student groups. Myself and some of my fellow students formed an affinity group and participated in Break Free PNW, a mass action shutting down the Shell and Tesoro refinery near Anarcortes, Washington. Camping out on the tracks I happened to run into an old acquaintance from CFD and was recruited on the spot to come back and help out with the NGCJAC that summer.
Two years later I returned as a mentor, and camp a second time around was no less beneficial. More strategies learned, teenagers inspired and friends made. Now, a year after that, I’m interning with the CLDC and greatly looking forward to mentoring again at NGCJAC 2017. If you were to ask me what is more valuable about camp, I wouldn’t say the workshops, the Know Your Rights literature, or even the free leftover food. This camp opened me up to a community of resistance larger and stronger than anything I had been a part of before, and after that there was no going back.