“The Encampment for Citizenship: An Experience in Participatory Democracy”

The Encampment for Citizenship, founded in 1946 by Ethical Culture Leader Algernon D. Black and Alice (“Nanny”) Pollitzer, a prominent civic leader, offered an opportunity for “young adults of many religious, racial, social and national backgrounds” to learn “the principles and techniques of citizenship… through lived experience.” Black believed that young people could be a positive force in their communities if they developed critical thinking skills, youth activism, leadership qualities, and the courage to break free from stereotypes. Eleanor Roosevelt, long-time chair of The Encampment board of sponsors, often hosted students for discussions, workshops and barbeques at her Hyde Park estate. When the program was attacked by McCarthyite forces in the early 1950s, she defended it vigorously. “The reason I think these Encampments are so important,” she wrote, “is that they are attended by citizens of different races and groups. They prepare people for thinking in terms of all people and not in terms of a selected few. Not only we in the U.S., but people all over the world, need young people trained to be good citizens with an ability to think with an open mind.”

Anne Klaeysen has served as Leader of the New York Society for Ethical Culture since 2008. She is also the Humanist Chaplain at New York University and Ethical Humanist Religious Life Adviser at Columbia University, and teaches at Union Theological Seminary and the Center for Education (formerly The Humanist Institute) at the American Humanist Association. Anne holds a Doctor of Ministry degree in pastoral care and counseling from Hebrew Union College.

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