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Groundswell aims to train activists at boot camp

by Charlie Wagner

Groundswell's Paul Gross, left, Prince Desire, Spring<br>(uses only one name), Kyle DeVries, Sprite (uses only one name), and Snowflake<br>Towers are preparing for next month's activist boot camp. Photo: Charlie Wagner
Groundswell's Paul Gross, left, Prince Desire, Spring
(uses only one name), Kyle DeVries, Sprite (uses only one name), and Snowflake
Towers are preparing for next month's activist boot camp. Photo: Charlie Wagner  

In an effort to help LGBTQs involved in social activism, the Groundswell Institute is holding a boot camp next month.

Named in honor of a gay black man who was a leading strategist during the civil rights era and worked with the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the Bayard Rustin Community Organizing Bootcamp will be held from Friday, May 12 to Sunday, May 14 at the institute's facility in the Anderson Valley (Mendocino County).

Groundswell Institute Executive Director Kyle DeVries said the primary goal is to teach "practical, grassroots strategies."

The Groundswell website ( defines the boot camp as "a training intensive for community organizers, activists and leaders." Participants who are both already engaged and newly motivated to social activism and community engagement are welcome.

Organizers reached out to the LGBTQ community through contacts established during many past Groundswell conferences, such as the "Muse: Queer Creatives Retreat" held every March and "Lavender: LGBTQ Leadership Conference" held last November. Each of those conferences attracted between 70 and 100 participants in 2016.

The boot camp is open to all LGBTQ people. Fees for the weekend start at $175, which covers housing and all meals, with options for vegetarians, vegans, and others with special dietary needs.

Groundswell is also offering full and partial scholarships because, as DeVries stated, "We are aiming for a very diverse group of attendees and it's important to us that money not be an issue in attending the program."

The boot camp incorporates three main components: anti-racism education, training on effective political engagement; and community organizing.

"We are not trying to tell people exactly what social change will be like," explained DeVries, who identifies as queer, "we just want to make social activists more effective. And we are building anti-racism into every program we will offer."

The Groundswell website elaborates further, "In order for our collective power to conquer the sources of our fear, we need an intersectional movement that works nonviolently toward justice for all."

DeVries, 30, emphasized, "Engaging homophobia is vitally important, but it is only one battle in the work to make sure all queers can enjoy freedom and dignity."

Groundswell is bringing in a variety of experienced trainers and speakers. Natalie J. Thoreson, a queer person of color and specialist in cultural diversity education from inVision Consulting (, will head the anti-racism sessions. Leading the community organizing sessions will be Blue Buddha and Drew Bourn, activists in the Oakland-based group Radical Faeries for Racial Justice ( Bourn is also an LGBTQ archivist and historian for Stanford University.

Buddha and Bourn will also organize what DeVries called "mini-caucuses" throughout the weekend.

DeVries said that the choice to name the boot camp after Rustin was very carefully considered by him and his staff. The young, 20-something Rustin moved to New York in the 1930s and at first earned his living as a nightclub and stage singer. By the 1950s, Rustin was one of the few politically active people living openly as a gay man. Though he was a leading civil rights strategist, Rustin rarely appeared as a public spokesman because of his pre-1941 Communist Party affiliation and arrest in 1953 for homosexual activity. But he was the chief organizer of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and in the 1980s became a public advocate for gay and lesbian causes.

Rustin died in 1987.

President Barack Obama acknowledged Rustin's continuing impact on the equal rights movement by posthumously awarding him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013.

The setting for the boot camp is a scenic 140 acres in southern Anderson Valley, accessible by state Highway 128. Groundswell acquired the land about three years ago and calls the property a retreat center and ecovillage.

DeVries described the two aspects of the Groundswell project: the nonprofit Groundswell Institute, which produces many events and conferences including the boot camp; and a "queer intentional community" with 10 current residents and a goal of 20 to 30. Most of the land is redwood forest and either inaccessible or undeveloped and Groundswell plans to keep it that way. Year-round Rancheria Creek is on the property and there is a spring-fed pond for swimming. DeVries is confident the property can easily handle up to 150 people for educational conferences.

To support its many programs, the Groundswell Institute presents a monthly fundraiser called "Revel" at the SF-Eagle bar, 398 12th Street, on every fourth Sunday right after the beer bust.

A larger fundraiser is being planned later this summer at Club Verdi in San Francisco, to be called "Mid-summer Night's Revel." The evening will include live music, a fashion show, and contest, and DeVries said, "We invite people to show up in high drag."

DeVries and his staff think they are acting on what Rustin himself believed and said, "The real radical is the person who has a vision of equality and is willing to bring reality closer to that vision."



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