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Summer Camp Teaches Human Rights

June 18, 1998

MIDDLEBURG, Va. (AP) _ At a farm in the shadow of the Blue Ridge, this summer camp has all the elements of a typical Scout retreat _ tents pitched on the edge of the pasture, training in climbing techniques, singing around the campfire.

But the campers aren’t here to earn merit badges.

They’re adults of all ages, learning the finer points of nonviolent confrontation, direct action and human rights protests.

And don’t let the vegetarian fare, blue jeans, yoga lessons and communal spirit fool you: This is not a retro 1960s theme party.

``We’re looking less to revive the ’60s than to revive the ’90s,″ said a camp organizer, John Sellers. He’s with the group Ruckus, widely known in activist circles for its environmental activist boot camps held since 1995. ``We want an approach that is more radical, more confrontational, but at the same time coming from a place of nonviolence. We want to create that kind of political will.″

The five-day camp, which had a human rights theme for the first time, is being held all week on the grounds of Glen Ora farm in Virginia’s hunt country, about 50 miles west of Washington. The 150-acre farm is owned by Elaine Broadhead, whose family once rented it to President Kennedy as a weekend retreat.

The camp, cosponsored by Ruckus, the Underground Project and the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights, offers training in rope climbing (for hanging banners), nonviolent confrontation, legal workshops, political theater, media training, even use of the Internet.

Innocent Chukwuma, 32, came from Nigeria to learn skills necessary to protest the excesses of his country’s military rulers. Jennifer Zurich, a 28-year-old environmental activist from Los Angeles, came to polish her leadership skills. Brice Smedley, a 22-year-old activist from Missoula, Mont., already a veteran of the Idaho logging wars, is preparing for the next round in that hostile confrontation. James Nduko, a 26-year-old Kenyan, wants training on nonviolent methods to teach others at home. The camp included participants from such human rights hot spots as Burma and Indonesia.

For some, the camp offered a chance to replenish the spirit.

Ritva Nybacka, a 50-year-old Swede, admitted the lengthy battle to force China to let go of Tibet has been a wearing experience.

``The fight for Tibet is a long struggle,″ she said, trudging across a pasture to a camp meeting. ``People get so sad and burned-out during these efforts. You often meet old, negative veterans of the movement who grumble about `What’s the use?′ You must find fun things to do, like meeting young new activists, guerrilla theater.″

The camp costs more than $30,000 to stage, paid for by foundation grants, but is free to the 100 or so participants. They are screened to ensure they either have protest experience or at least a legitimate reason to attend.

``We are selective,″ said Ruckus’ Sellers, 31. ``We, as activists, need an ethic of excellence. There’s a lot of shoddy direct (nonviolent) action that gives direct action a bad name.″

And 32-year-old Abigail Abrash of the RFK Center added: ``We don’t want just to be heard. We want to be effective.″

While the principal organizers of this camp are too young to be veterans of the 1960s protests, Ruckus director Mike Roselle cut his teeth in the ’60s, cofounded ``Earth First!″ the pioneering group in the radical environmental movement, and led Greenpeace’s first direct-action team.

The goal of direct nonviolent action is finding an entree onto the nightly news as a means of combating the millions of dollars poured into issues campaigns by corporations. And while these efforts often are not appreciated by the public, Project Underground’s Steve Kretzmann notes such movements are part of an American tradition, dating from the Boston Tea Party.

The farm’s 60-year-old owner, Mrs. Broadhead, once opposed construction of a golf course near her home in Italy, marched against nuclear weapons and has long supported activist causes. She watched in admiration as dozens of young people struggled with knots and climbing gear beneath the scaffolding erected in one of her pastures.

``I think it’s wonderful,″ she said. ``This might be the generation that makes a difference.″

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