Ruckus Updates

2010 Advanced Action Boot Camp for EcoJustice

This year, our annual Action Camp took an upgrade, and focused on advanced skills to bring the EcoJustice movement to the next level.  So we brought together top organizers from around the U.S. and Canada for a 7-day intensive advanced skills and strategy training, to provide them with the tools they needed to become action-ready tactical experts and action coordinators.

We turned Harmony Park, a music festival and campground in Clarks Grove, MN, into a Boot Camp, complete with a 3-tower, 6-level scaffolding for climb-training, an arts & communications action convergence center, and a gear-building workshop decked out with power tools and supplies to build blockades equipment.

Participants were placed in one of three tactical training tracks based on their prior experience and desire, to focus on either action climbing, blockades & occupations, or action arts & comms.  Campers spent about 2/3 of their time in their tracks, going deep in the hands-on skills it takes to implement those tactics in actions.

The other 1/3 of the time, we spent together as a whole camp, advancing our action strategy, theory, and solidarity organizing frameworks.

Camp-wide sessions included:

  • Ruckus’s Action Framework – how Ruckus takes leadership from and works with front-line communities to develop action campaigns that advance community goals.
  • What is Eco-Justice? (using a slideshow adapted from our partners at Movement Generation)
  • smartMeme‘s Framing & Messaging Strategy
  • Action Strategy Parts I & II – which included strategy training, and action campaign brainstorming for campaigns against the Tar Sands, and im/migrant rights campaigns in Arizona and nationwide
  • Scouting and Action Prep – how to gather information about your targets and action location for proper action planning
  • Allies & Impacted Communities – developing protocols for how to respectfully work together to achieve our goals & form authentic partnerships
  • The Long Haul: working with communities and sustaining ourselves
  • Action Case Studies – 3 organizers shared case studies from working with 3 different campaigns: Klamath River tribes battling Warren Buffett to remove 4 dams, Appalachian communities fighting mountaintop removal, and youth in DC battling their school system to get rid of toxic and wasteful styrofoam lunch trays
  • Legal considerations and Know Your Rights

Action Arts & Communications Track

The Arts & Comms track included everything from how to make action visuals through screenprinting, bannermaking, and posters, to campaign messaging strategy, to street theatre and chant-development, to technical communications for mass actions & online organizing. 

Cesar Maxit, who led the screenprinting and street art components of the track, described his workshops:

We saw a slideshow of how street art has been used for various environmental and human rights campaigns.  We all reviewed the different ways we can use inexpensive materials and available low-tech techniques of producing grassroots campaign art.  Folks were really excited to use our newly acquired street art skills to develop pieces for our different campaigns using stencils to print posters and flags against mountain top removal coal mining and the coal power plants in Chicago, and pipeline projects in Canada.  Our newly printed materials have already been used on the street for the respective campaigns and the skills we learned will continue to be an important part of our future work.

Advanced Action Climbing Track

After a review session to brush up on their previous training, climb track participants spent an intense week of training on and off the ropes. Training included physics workshops and anchor-making, problem-solving (even blindfolded!), and everything they need for banner-deployment.  By utilizing team-based training, participants got to practice both action deployment and coordination. 

Jack Downey, one of the climb trainers, described the week in the climbing track:  p { margin-bottom: 0.08in; }

Our objective at this advanced action camp was to take activists with previous climbing experience, and build on their knowledge base to get them action-ready. We had a participant roster of rock climbers, arborists, aerial dancers, and experienced activists who brought a diverse skill set to camp. Therefore, rather than focusing on the basic individual climbing techniques, we were able to shift our emphasis towards team scenarios, deployment tactics, action logistics, and advanced problem solving. Moving above and beyond the curriculum we have used in more conventional trainings, participants were presented with a more holistic vision of the nuts and bolts of organizing and executing direct action climbs. Thus, by the end of camp, instead of a dozen or so individual climbers, we had three complete action teams. Because of their advanced background, the teams were given more room to take initiative and develop creative action scenarios. This was highlighted during the mock action role play, which showcased the skills the students had developed throughout the week. Furthermore, the advanced training paid off immediately, as a team – composed exclusively of climb-track participants – executed an awesome climb action in Minneapolis protesting Cargill’s destruction of Indonesian rainforests, just days after camp!

Blockades & Occupations Track

Participants in the blockades track learned everything from body blockades to technical blockades, and everything that goes into designing and executing a blockade or occupation.  They focused on how to determine when a blockade or occupation is an effective and strategic tactic, and how to ensure you create the appropriate level of ‘decision dilemma’ for your target through the type of blockade you design.  And perhaps one of the most exciting parts of the blockades track was building gear.  Participants got to get out the power tools and go to work cutting and and building blockades barrels and lockboxes of steel and PVC. They also learned how to erect several different sizes of tripods around the camp site, with participants getting to rotate practicing action coordination and leadership roles.

Action Role Play

Following Ruckus Action Camp tradition, we end the training week with a camp-wide Action Role Play on the final day.  Trainers provided participants with a scenario involving a (pretend) dirty energy conference that the U.S. Secretary of Energy was scheduled to speak at.  We provided a detailed map, which effectively converted the training grounds into downtown New York City, identifying key sites – ie, the Blockades tent turned into the Plaza Hotel where the delegates were staying, and the scaffolding turned into the Jacob Javits Center where the conference was taking place.

Participants from all of the tracks came together and worked late into the night on their own (without trainers) identifying action coordinators, and everyone’s roles, and breaking into action teams, and preparing their gear and action scenarios. 

Participants from all of the tracks worked together to combine their new skills and design
several different actions at multiple target locations.  And what resulted was one of the most remarkable and sophisticated action role plays in Ruckus camp history! 

At 1:00pm on September 21st, camp trainers and volunteers transformed into police officers, building security, speakers and other conference delegates, media, and more, and the camp participants began deploying action after action using a creative and strategic combination of techniques from blockades, climbing, and arts & comms.  They erected a tripod, dropped banners, rigged blockaders to climbers in unique and highly sophisticated anchoring methods, blocking the roads to the Convention Center and the building itself, all while using a highly functioning comms team complete with their own action website and twitter feed!

The action role play served both as a safe learning opportunity and a showcase of all the new skills and strategies learned throughout the week.  Participants were able to practice implementing new ideas and skills in a low-risk simulation, to thereby learn what would work and what could be improved for real-life scenarios. 

Overall the participants’ ideas were quite successful, and our training team was highly impressed with their action designs and deployment!  The ecojustice movement is in good hands now with this new crop of action coordinators and tactical experts!

And to prove it, several teams of participants took action immediately after camp, including banner-hangs in Minneapolis against rainforest destruction through RAN’s campaign against Cargill’s palm oil production, blockades in Washington, DC, in conjunction with Appalachia Rising, and continuing action campaigns against the Tar Sands in Toronto.

Check out our camp photo slideshow!