Summer Subversion

Spending summers at progressive camps was the highlight of my childhood. I attended Camp Woodland and Lincoln Farm, and later was a counselor at Camp Thoreau. These were places where left-wing views were either the norm, or at least not unusual. I flourished in an atmosphere where I felt I could speak my mind and not feel alone. That’s why I felt so good about sending my kids to Camp Kinderland. It is also why I visited a number of progressive summer camps soon after I started the RFC. My goal was to establish relationships with the directors and to discuss my desire to send as many RFC beneficiaries to them as possible.

It’s late July now, so it isn’t surprising that I’ve been thinking a lot about summer camps lately. Actually, it is hard to ignore them, since at the RFC we are in regular communication at this time of the year with several programs in which our beneficiaries are participating.

But there is more to it than that. A couple of weeks ago I attended a Camp Woodland reunion that brought together about 75 former campers and counselors, most of whom, are now in their 60’s or 70’s. I had a great time visiting with dear old friends with whom I’d maintained some contact, and also seeing people whom I hadn’t encountered in over 50 years.

The event was hosted by the Special Collections and Archives of the State University of New York at Albany because that is where Woodland’s records are housed. The materials include many audio records of camp events. We were treated to a recording of Hector, a Cuban counselor, teaching Pete Seeger (who often performed at camp) the words to Guantanamera for the first time.

It was almost overpowering emotionally to reconnect with so many with whom I shared a heritage of surviving McCarthy-era repression. A number of my fellow campers had parents who had been jailed, lost jobs or who had been driven underground during the great Red Scare. We also saw newspaper articles reporting on the government investigation of Woodland during that period, depicting it as a horrible place that was infusing impressionable young children with communist propaganda.

Shortly after I returned home from the reunion I read that a right-wing group, Americans for a Limited Government (ALG), attacked President Obama’s nominee to head the Bureau of Labor Statistics because she had sent her children to Camp Kinderland. According to ALG’s press release, Obama’s nominee, Erica Groshen, had sent her kids “to a camp with Communist roots.” Perhaps if they’d dug a little deeper ALG could have discovered that my children also went to Camp Kinderland. Maybe my kids overlapped with Groshen’s and transmitted subversive ideas to the Groshen family. Even worse, if the Groshen kids were at Kinderland in the early 1990’s they would have heard me speak about the Rosenberg Fund for Children at a camp-wide gathering. It appears that ALG only scratched the surface of Kinderland’s seditious nature.

But, on a more serious note, this has reminded me that those bad old days of the McCarthy period are still lurking nearby. The only thing “subversive” about these camps is that they provide children with a great time while presenting them with an alternative vision of a more humane and just society.

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