Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Summer in the Cooperative

I just returned from spending my summer at Circle Pines Center, a cooperative in Michigan which runs a summer camp program. I was a camp counselor for 13-17 year olds. I had a great time.

Circle Pines was formed in 1938, near the end of the great depression. It has always been associated with left wing groups like the Unitarian Church, the socialist and communist parties, labor unions, anti-war activists, civil rights groups, feminists and queer activists. The famous left wing folk musician Pete Seeger performed at Circle Pines in the 1950's and many other activists have visited or sent their kids to camp at CPC.

I first heard about Circle Pines Center through m friend Rob, who invited me to one of the coop's 'workbee weekends.' These are all ages camp outs where in exchange for chipping in with some of the chores and projects at Circle Pines, campers receive a discount for camping, eating, staying in the cabins. I got up at camp and was driven out into the forest on the back of a pick up truck. We stopped and I hopped off, and was handed a chainsaw and told that we would be chopping down dead trees for fire wood. They had unleashed my inner Bart Simpson.

I was interested in being a camp counselor at Circle Pines and the more I talked to my radical friends who were parents, I realized that many of them sent their kids to Circle Pines summer camp. With the down turn in the economy and the struggle to find reliable work, I had a free summer, and so decided to apply to work as a counselor this year.

We had a week of oreintation before the campers arrived. We were trained on first aid, nonviolent conflict resolution, and everything else we needed to know before the campers arrived.

Once the campers arrived and camp got going, it was very busy. We would have work projects in the morning. Campers would be able to pick from helping in the camps organic garden, cleaning the nature trails, contruction, or nitty gritty cleaning of the farmhouse, kitchen and bathrooms. This was intended to help the kids contribute to the cooperative and to learn cooperative work.

After lunch we would do singing until chores were done. We would sing old labor songs like Joe Hill and Solidarity Forever as well as 60's hippie songs like Imagine and The Times They Are a'Changin'. This was followed by a one hour rest period before the afternoon activites started. Everyday there would be different activities for the kids to participate in such as: arts and crafts, the beach, board games, sports, and discussion circles about different issues. We would discuss relgion, unions, the war, racism, and the kids were very smart and had insightful things to say about all of these issues.

After dinner there was usually an activity that reflected the camps mission. We would have 60's radicals like Larry Plamondon speak to the kids about protesting against the Vietnam war, or we would do activities that taught the kids about the imporance of fair trade, unions, and the food chain. I led an activity that taught the kids how to be a canvasser or community organizer. They had to go talk to staff members, each staff member was a different voter, with a different story, in terms of being a Republican or Democrat or what issue mattered to them. Then the campers would act like Obama canvassers and attempt to gain the voters support. We also did folk dances and dance parties. Many of the kids would cross dress at the dance parties, the camp was very Queer friendly.

The campers were pretty ridiculous. So full of energy, and so smart for their ages, they kept us counselors on our toes. I remember one camper, when he didn't want to do chores, he would talk about forming a union and going on strike to protest the chores that campers had to do.

The families of the kids were fantastic. Many of the parents were union members, or union organizers. Some were college professors for a number of progressive subjects. Some were gay or lesbian couples or immigrants from far flung countries. There was one camper whose grandfather fled from the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile to Panama, and was forced to flee there are the US invasion of Panama. Another campers grandfather was a Holocaust survivor. One girl's grandfather was a Christian Palestinian, who was evicted from his home by the Israeli Defense Forces, a victim of the Nakba.

My apologies for the quality of the photos and lack of video. My digital camera is broke and I was forced to use disposable cameras.



On Pride Day, we hosted a wedding in solidarity with all the parades we were missing.




Here I am with Batman, one of the goats we watched for the summer.


During orientation this great bluegrass band performed for us.


One of the CIT's outside of the farm house looking ridiculous.


Youthies hanging out in the lodge. The Youthie Lodge featured paintings on the wall of famous icons such as Bob Dylan, Frida Kahlo, Ghandi, Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.


Youthies hanging out in the lodge.


Here I am working on the construction work project, building a garden shed for the organic garden.


The floor of the garden shed.


Campers and Counselors singing during the after lunch sing alongs.


The folk dance was a lot of fun. I dressed up as a "Country Punk" with a flannel shirt, studded belt, fro-hawk and riped jeans.


Water Balloon toss at the beach.


Campers and Counselors being macho.


The folk dance.


More after-lunch singing.


Here I am with the youthies.


All camp photo.


The Sandman puppet I made. During the first session, all the campers and counselors made puppets and held a puppet parade for the parents who came to pick them up. My puppet was inspired by the comic book by Nail Gaiman. I was actually inside that giant puppet. The arm moved versy realistically and the head was a plastic bottle, filled with sand and decorated on the outside.


A counselor and his puppet.


Another counselor paid tribute to the goats with this pyschedelic goat puppet.


The dining hall in the farm house. The food every day was great. Most of it was vegetarian, and vegan options were available. Most of it was organic and local. The rare meat that was served came from local free range organic cows, pigs and chickens, so that one cook would tell us that they were, "happy cows." After the campers left, the counselors got to visit a dairy farm, which was pretty interesting. Even though these cows were not confined to cages, and were organic, etc, they still did not seem very happy.


Counselors and campers.

During the Youth Institute, we made a Zine. It contained lots of political musings, inside jokes, and cool art.

The Cover

The Comic Strip I drew.

My Music Recommendations for the kids.


All camp photo.


Sawing for the garden shed.

Being out in nature for the summer was wonderful. We would see were wild animals like deer, racoons, frogs, squirrels and at night you could hear coyotes howling. I woke up one morning to find a pack of wild Turkeys outside my cabin! I remember that one day a hive of bees was swarming all over the soccer field. Apparently a queen had been born and they were begining a new hive. Over an hour, the swarm condensed itself onto a single branch. The plant life was incredible as well. Wild Rasberry's would grow along trails, vines would grow off of tall trees, and even hops grew on trees.


The Western Look out.


A nice trail.


The Labrynth was a cool meditation tool that was recently built.



The organic apple orchard.


A field in the back 80.


Using the nail gun for the garden shed.



Pine trees.


The finished garden shed.




Every year at the end of camp, the campers perform a folk opera. They spend two week practicing, writing, and working on the performance. The opera usually satirizes camp and the counselors through song, dance and acting. This year's was particuarly great as they sang songs like "My stinky hippie camp" to the tune of My Humps by the Black Eyed Peas "They Truth and Dared and They liked it" to the tune of I Kissed a girl and I Liked it. To read the script to my scene, scroll to the bottom.


One of the campers playing me in the folk opera.


The final song in the folk opera.

Photo courtesy of Clare Stamler-Goody. At the end of each session, counselors give out awards to campers. The awards are usually quite creative and funny. Our Youthies were very cool and made awards for the counselors as well. I received a wood ax that had written on it "Most Brootal Counselor Award" for my love of Heavy Metal. I also received the "Political Punk Rocker Award."

We also did something called "Secret Angels." Everyone at camp would pick a name out of a hat, and would secretly give small gifts or acts of kindness to thier "ignorant mortal." At the end of each camp session, we would find out who our secret angels were.

I would recommend that other progressives who are looking for a fun summer camp to send their children to, consider circle pines. If you are not sure about it, or do not have children, visit for one of the work bee weekends. The Apple Cider Weekend is very popular.

Below is the Text of the Folk Opera for the Scene my Charecter was in. Script by the Folk Opera Staff.


Youthie Scene:

(Heidi enters, skipping down a path)

Heidi: On my way to Grandma Kristen’s house. I’ve got to deliver the hair straightener to her, so she can subdue the Youthies. This sure is a long way from Pittsburgh. This path is taking too long. Maybe I can take a shortcut through Devil’s Hill, er Youthie Beach path. (She continues skipping, Matt jumps out at her)

Matt: Hey there! Did you realize how much money our country spends per day on the war?

Heidi: You frightened me!

Matt: You’re telling me! You wanna be frightened? Read the news.

Heidi: Who are you?

Matt: I’m Matt the “Big bad wolf,” if you will. But the wolf part is really a metaphor. Sort of like Werewolf by Night.

Heidi: (cautious) I see, well, I’ve got to get to my Grandma’s House and-

Matt: Lemme ask ya, did you ever think about how Batman was a fascist? Think about it Batkids goose-stepping through Gotham…

Heidi: I’m not sure I follow. But I’ve really got to get going.

Matt: I’ll walk with you. Perhaps I could recommend some music for your journey. What kind of music are you into? Heavy metal, black metal, folk metal, gospel metal…

Heidi: I’m really more of a top 40 kind of girl… Oh, here we are at Grandma’s! Grandma, I’ve never been so happy to see you!

Kristen: Little Red Heidi Hoody, I’m so happy you are here! I was just finishing a poem and knitting a sweater for my sweetheart.

Heidi: Jazzy?

Kristen: Jazzy? Who’s Jazzy? These are for Naughty Boy. Who’s this furry friend you’ve got with you?

Matt: I’m the Big Bad Wolf-Matt. From Chicago, the best city in the whole wide wide world.

Kristen: Well it is very nice to meet you. Heidi hood, do you have the object?

Heidi: Yup, I’ve got it right here. Right here with my make-up kit!

Matt: Do you know that those poisonous cosmetics in your bag are the cause of death for thousands of innocent animals? In the words of Rousseau-

Noland: Hi there! I’m Nolan, the Poetry Guru. I’m here to save you from an oncoming discussion of capitalism and it’s effects on the Punk Revolution!

Heidi: Thank God. He was starting to make me feel dumb. But that’s nothing new here.

Kristen: Oh Heidi, don’t say that. Let me show you this cute mushroom I found to cheer you up. Of I could tell you a story about snow.

Matt: Don’t you guys think the Youthies have had a little too much alone time? We should go break up their touchy-feely time in the lodge and get them to brush their teeth.

Nolan: I’m sure that with my good looks, the girls will come running right out.

Heidi: I think we should give them a little more time.

Matt, Kristen, and Nolan: NO!!!


Youthie Song to I Kissed a Girl

Matt: This was never the way I planned

Tree-huggers annoy me

I’ve got my brave guitar in hand

To burst the screen door

Kristen: It’s time to go brush teeth

Just get up off the couch

Youthies: We really don’t want to

We want to make-out

Chorus: They truth, their dare it, they like it

With the smell of the pee couch

They licked an arm just to try it

Hope the counselors don’t mind it

Youthies: It was so gross, it was so great

Counselors: Hope they don’t go to bed too late

All: They truth, they dare it, they like it

Nolan: Step over Gabe, I’m the new hottie

No one compares the girls want me

Heidi: Mosquitoes, mice, and Matt’s Beard

Hippie camp is so weird

Counselors: These kids they just won’t leave the lodge

Chorus: They truth, their dare it, they like it

With the smell of the pee couch

They licked an arm just to try it

Hope the counselors don’t mind it

Youthies: It was so gross, it was so great

Counselors: Hope they don’t go to bed too late

All: They truth, they dare it, they like it

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