Last Friday night my wife Elli and I attended the world premiere of Commie Camp at the VisionFest film festival in lower Manhattan. Commie Camp is a documentary made by Katie Halper about Camp Kinderland (http://www.campkinderland.org/), a secular Jewish, socialist-oriented summer camp, located in the Berkshire Hills of western Massachusetts.
The film opens by humorously addressing the controversy that erupted last year when 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 Kinderland. According to ALG’s press release, Obama’s nominee, Erica Groshen, had sent her kids “to a camp with Communist roots” (read more here). Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck joined a chorus of raging reactionaries condemning Camp Kinderland for indoctrinating the next generation.
The blurb in the festival describes how the film, “follows articulate and hilarious 9-year-olds during a recent summer, as they consider the world…. The timely film demonstrates respectful and reflective transmission of humane values and rebuts the distortions of the right wing extremists.” (Read more at www.visionfest.com/film_films/2013/)
I recommend this film to all. Future screenings are listed under “events” on the filmmaker’s website: www.katiehalper.com
Camp Kinderland was founded in 1923. Some of today’s campers are the fourth generation of their families to attend. For 90 years, Kinderland has provided a safe haven for thousands of children growing up in progressive households with values that are at odds with the dominant culture. My kids went there and the RFC has held events there, so I admit I’m biased, but I had a great time watching the film.
The theater was filled with Kinderland families who loved the documentary, but Elli and I couldn’t help wondering if people who had no connection to the camp would be interested in seeing it. Perhaps because I saw the movie less than two weeks after the RFC staged its cultural program to commemorate the 60th anniversary of my parents’ execution at New York City’s Town Hall, I was reminded of an incident that happened while we were planning the 40th anniversary commemeration at the same venue.
The RFC was still in its infancy in 1993. We needed the help of other organizations to produce the 40th anniversary event. I contacted the North Star Fund (http://northstarfund.org/) and Camp Kinderland, and we agreed to work together. I felt this was a perfect combination. North Star is a public foundation that awards grants to a broad range of progressive groups and projects in the greater New York City area, while Camp Kinderland provides a happy and healthy experience to children while encouraging the development of progressive values. The RFC does both – we make grants to help the children of targeted progressive activists that, when possible, enable the children to participate in programs that facilitate the transmission of progressive values.
We quickly ran into a problem when we began our preparation. Some people we approached to provide upfront funding had no issue with the idea of supporting a program to benefit the two public foundations (RFC and North Star), but why, they asked, should we raise money for a summer camp. They said we should let the families of the kids who attend cover the camp’s expenses. Ultimately this forced us to proceed without Kinderland’s involvement.
The negative response to my attempt to involve Kinderland in our benefit program surprised me. People did not seem to understand the importance of maintaining one of the few multi-generational progressive institutions that had survived the McCarthy red scare. It was no accident that the witch hunters of that time attacked almost all of the organizations that enabled children to experience left-wing alternatives to the dominant consumerist society. Apparently the right wing understood the value these institutions held for the future, but many on the left did not.
Institutions like Camp Kinderland are vital to the long-term health of progressive organizing. If we are ever going to build a mass movement in this country, we must do more than discuss our beliefs with our children. We should also nurture the camps, schools, and cultural programs that enable our families not only to have progressive politics, but whenever possible lead progressive lives.
That is why even though 20 years have passed, I still regret our inability to involve Kinderland in our 40th anniversary benefit. And that is why I urge all who read this, whether or not you have a personal connection to Camp Kinderland, to make a special effort to see this film. You won’t regret it.
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