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What I did at Camp


Fri, Jan 25th, 2008
Posted in Commentary

Camp is for kids, right? Well, I left my three kids with dad and set out for St. Paul for a weekend of intense "camp," without the traditional canoeing, mosquito-friendly tent, and fireside songs. I was a little nervous about what to expect, but I came home three days later feeling empowered. Camp Wellstone is a nation-wide program of WellstoneAction!, a non-partisan organization begun in 2002 after the death of Senator Paul Wellstone to carry on his progressive ideas. Remember his passion and energy?

"If we don't fight hard enough for the things we stand for, at some point we have to recognize that we don't really stand for them." --Paul Wellstone

I felt that passion and energy at Camp Wellstone. The camp was divided into three tracks: 1) candidate; 2) campaign worker; and 3) citizen activist. I put myself in the third track, along with other adults of varying ages and races and walks of life. We each stood up, introduced ourselves and called out our "burning issue." Global warming? Check. The War in Iraq? Check. National healthcare? Check. But those weren't even the top three-there were 33 burning issues in a group of 35 people-everything from veterans benefits to health/wellness issues (my favorite fire) to protection of vulnerable adults. We learned that a lot of those burning issues we all care about are interrelated, and that there's more to their solutions than just one vote at election time.

Over three days we learned about messaging, mobilizing, planning, and organizing. We worked in teams solving problems and giving presentations. The make-believe burning issue for my team was new construction of a garbage incinerator. We created a campaign entitled "We Live Here, We Breathe Here" and held a mock press conference along the shores of beautiful Lake George to gather public opposition to the project (I am not making this up for similarities to Fillmore County, I swear).

One of the most powerful exercises we did was to name characteristics of a leader. We decided a leader is someone courageous enough to do things no one else is doing, someone with vision who is genuine and cares for community, and well, we created a very long list (a lot of idealists there). Then we were asked if only leaders have these traits. Guess what. We all do. We are ALL leaders as citizen activists. Smart ideas? Got 'em. Energy? Yes. Passion for our burning issues? You betcha'. Individually, I am just one vote. But collectively, we have a lot of ideas and energy and passion and votes.

A 37-year-old mom is not your typical camp kid, but it's not too old-or too young-to try it again. In fact, I highly recommend it: Meet new people, share challenging experiences, and come home feeling empowered.

Established by Paul and Sheila Wellstone's two surviving sons, David and Mark, WellstoneAction! is a nonprofit organization dedicated to continuing their fight for progressive change and economic justice by teaching effective political action skills to people across the country.

Go to www.wellstoneaction.com for more info.

Sarah Decker lives in Lanesboro.

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