Camp reLAte: A Community Organizing Approach to Cultivating Connectedness
In the last 60 years, Americans have experienced weakening social bonds and deteriorating communities, leading to profound isolation for people from every walk of life. During the same period, we have seen alarming increases in the kinds of human suffering that accompany social isolation. Low levels of educational and economic achievement, a high incidence of violence and crime, shorter life expectancies, and skyrocketing disease rates characterize cities where people are most disengaged from community. In its vast sprawl, Los Angeles has lost a core sense of connectedness, leaving its residents too vulnerable to the alarming indicators correlated with isolation: the erosion of social capital for those who most need it, the loss of social and interpersonal skills particularly among youth, the crumbling of a reliable ground for public dialogue on issues critical to our city, and the associated impact on our ability to make important decisions together.
We want a healthy, thriving, connected and diverse LA in 2050. So, we MUST come together to change the social landscape. And to do this successfully, we need to accomplish three essential goals: (1) stimulate our hunger to reconnect; (2) build our skills for healthy relating; and (3) create many new connection-sustaining structures. We need Camp reLAte!
In the tradition of Camp Obama and Camp Courage and adapted from the Public Narrative tradition, Camp reLAte relies on relational community organizing strategies to help Angelenos build capacity for more connection. Camp reLAte will recruit and train 50 Angelenos as “Social Connectedness Leaders” who will serve as catalysts for a social connectedness movement across our city. The campaign will assemble a diverse range of stakeholders representing the different communities, work forces and social movements that comprise Los Angeles. Over two intensive 2-day workshops, this leadership group will learn a relational, momentum-driven community organizing strategy that spreads and maintains the values, skills and practices needed to usher in a new era of deep social engagement, increased volunteerism, active civic participation, and sustained relationship networks.
Camp reLAte targets four dimensions of social connectedness: emotional intelligence, inclusion of diversity, democratic process, and relational leadership. Building skills in these areas will empower participants to lead their communities in building trust, identifying shared needs and values, and coordinating meaningful change. Camp reLAte will teach leaders to construct a community story about a shared vision for a more connected LA in 2050, a story that unites and inspires our city. Upon completing the training, each Social Connectedness Leader will recruit 10 new participants to a day-long summit with a minimum of 500 in attendance. These stakeholders will be introduced to the relational movement model and learn how to build and sustain a culture of social connectedness by launching Community Action Networks (CAN's) throughout greater Los Angeles. A CAN is a versatile small group designed to incubate a culture of deep mutual support, interdependency, and leadership, to build a thriving social infrastructure that ignites civic engagement, democratic participation and social action. With the emergence of multiple CANs we will activate a viral process that leads to a living culture of connection and creates many localized and accessible structures Angelenos can join to practice connection continuously, develop leadership capacities and spread relational values.
What are some of your organization’s most important achievements to date?
Funded by The Annenberg Foundation, The Relational Center launched a pilot anti-bullying campaign in select LAUSD campuses last year in partnership with LifeWorks, a Project of the LA Gay and Lesbian Center. This campaign, called Get Empathy, focuses on spreading a culture of compassion in schools in our city, leveraging the same Community Action Network (CAN) model we are proposing for our LA2050 campaign…Camp reLAte.
We were also recently awarded a grant from The JIB Fund to provide training and community capacity support to groups and organizations in LA working toward social justice and nonviolence for Angelenos who identify as transgender.
Since 2007, The Relational Center has reached over 3,000 residents of Greater Los Angeles with a broad-based social health strategy that includes mental health care, workforce development for service providers and community organizers, social action campaigns, public dialogue facilitation and capacity building support.
Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.
We collaborate with several community organizations in Los Angeles on an ongoing basis to build momentum for social connectedness in targeted communities. This project will benefit from those partnerships.
Please explain how you will evaluate your project. How will you measure success?
Initial success will be evaluated by the number of attendees we are able to mobilize to Camp reLAte mass trainings, and the number of CAN’s (Community Action Networks) that are catalyzed from those events. We will measure the number of members and sustainability of groups. We will also integrate an evaluation system into our mass training that gathers feedback about participant’s experience, relationships/ connections formed, plans for ongoing work, and usefulness of the target skills.
How will your project benefit Los Angeles?
For a sustainable Los Angeles in 2050, we know that we need greener buildings, a local food system, better education and a thriving economy. But we also know that these efforts require us to adapt our values and behaviors so that we can work together to maintain all those improved conditions and structures. Mostly change efforts succeed because people come together to create and maintain a shared vision because many different needs and interests shape their context. Even with initial success, sustaining long-term change is often difficult. Change is sustained by structure and culture. We need a culture of connectedness to serve as the glue that holds all the pieces of our common vision together.
Creating culture happens through relationships—people engaging people in patterns of conversation, rituals and habits organized around shared values and stories. To ensure social connectedness for LA in 2050, Camp reLAte will inspire Angelenos to cultivate new patterns that prioritize relationships across our many different factors of diversity—economic status, neighborhood, faith, ethnicity, race, gender identity, sexual orientation, etc. We will organize one another into a healthy culture of connectedness through community-catalyzing leadership practices.
What would success look like in the year 2050 regarding your indicator?
Success in Social Connectedness will mean that in 2050 Angelenos will know their neighbors. They will have a better understanding and appreciation for their shared interests. As a result, the city will see greater coordination in the sharing of resources. More cooperatives, time banks, and community gardens will emerge. We will see more volunteerism, new civic associations, greater use of public space, more public events, less crime, safer communities, and greater mental health. Wellbeing will be the norm.
Los Angeles in 2050 will be a more inclusive city. Currently, diversity in Los Angeles is correlated with weak social connectedness. Relational organizing flips this equation – with Social Connectedness Leaders organizing and training their communities to practice empathy and inclusion, diversity will find its way back to the top of the list of community assets, offering people a wide range of perspectives and contributions to problem solving around the complex issues that confront our city.
Volunteerism rates will rise with increased safety and stronger social networks that make us feel more engaged in our communities. Increased social capital and decreased isolation will encourage greater democratic participation and voting. With neighborhoods and communities organized by Social Connectedness Leaders, people will have a greater investment in the democratic process. Success will look like a new public discourse about relational values that influence day-to-day interactions and even political outcomes.
The LA2050 report warns that a poor education system leads to declines in social connectedness. But Angelenos are not only educated in schools. They learn from the social structures and organizations that shape their ideas and reinforce their behaviors. Even a strong education system may not successfully cultivate the empathy and inclusion we need for greater emotional intelligence. More civic engagement means greater social health and more robust emotional capacities.
Finally, we believe that success in the Social Connectedness indicator will be measured by success in every indicator, because if Angelenos cannot sustain a culture of connection, they will not make use of the other conditions and structures associated with a successful Los Angeles. We consider social connectedness the deal-breaker indicator. Failure here has the potential to undermine the success of all the other indicators.