Reports from the Economic Front

a blog by Marty Hart-Landsberg

New Summer Camp Curriculum: Down With the Bosses

U.S.: Das Camp-ital – Kids Overthrow Bosses on ‘Capitalism Day’
By Ben Case

LIBERTY, New York, Jul 28 (IPS) – Workers at a munitions factory in Almosnino walked out last Wednesday, joining an anti-war protest nearby. The combined strikers and protesters later stormed the factory after a scuffle with police who were trying to arrest a crowd that was blocking a truck from leaving the factory.

Workers immediately held a meeting inside their occupied factory and unanimously voted to suspend production of weapons and switch to the production of solar panels.

Later that day, the people of Almosnino, reeling from economic woes and unable to pay for food, convinced the chief of police to cede power and allow a population without money to eat for free.

This was the culmination of a daylong social experiment, practiced once a year by Shomria summer camp.

Shomria, located outside the small town of Liberty, New York and open to children aged eight to 15, is run by Hashomer Hatzair, a Socialist Zionist youth movement in Israel, the U.S., and Canada.

Once per summer, the camp runs a ‘Yom Capitalism’ (Hebrew for ‘Capitalism Day’) in which the entire camp simulates a town with a free market economy. The remarkably realistic exercise comes complete with a bank, government offices, and printed money in a make-believe town named Almosnino.

“It might seem weird to think about a ‘capitalism day’ in a capitalist society. But what we normally do here at camp is live in a kibbutz-style socialist village,” explained Yotam Marom, head of continuing education for Hashomer Hatzair, and facilitator for the oldest age groups at Shomria.

“This day has meaning in contrast with the way we run things on a day-to-day basis. It gives us the ability to reflect on capitalism in a way that you don’t get just living in a capitalist society,” Marom told IPS.

Shomria is run according to egalitarian philosophies. Work is shared evenly, issues are discussed collectively, and everything is decided by consensus.

“We do all of our own work,” Marom told IPS. “Aside from a few support staff, the camp is run exclusively by youth.”

Central to the camp’s ideology is the concept of youth leading youth. The youngest camper is eight years old and the oldest counselor is 23. “Everyone is connected to each other, everyone is an educator and everyone learns,” Marom added.

When campers wake up on Capitalism Day, they are handed an envelope containing their starting financial situation. Most will start with both some money and some debt, a few will start with a lot of money, and even fewer will start with land and a business.

Throughout the day, kids are able to get jobs, acquire loans from the bank, and start businesses. Everything that goes on in the day, including eating, requires money, which is printed up the night before and available through the bank or through their labour.

Some counselors were also workers and business owners, but many were pre-set ‘characters’ such as the mayor, the factory owner, chamber of commerce and bank officials, and police officers.

Early in the day, a multitude of businesses opened, ranging from lemonade stands to massage parlors and salons to a sign shop, selling advertising materials to other businesses.

Most campers found jobs working in the factory, making ‘bombs’ out of plastic bottles, water, and food coloring. A truck picked up the finished products and delivered them to an imaginary military buyer.

“We used a munitions factory this year because we wanted to connect labour issues to the war,” said Adam Bresgi, a 20-year-old counselor who played the part of the mayor.

The day also included politics. An election pitted Bresgi, a socially liberal, fiscally conservative, pro-war incumbent, against a green, pro-worker’s rights, anti-war challenger, played by a 23-year-old counselor.

Throughout the day, two ‘TV anchors’ put on periodic live news shows to inform everyone about what was happening all over the camp, even holding a debate between mayoral candidates.

By the afternoon, when the bank began calling back loans, nearly all businesses defaulted and closed, leading to an economic crisis in Almosnino. The mayor proceeded to simulate a bailout, giving government money to the factory and several other businesses deemed ‘too big to fail’.

This, along with divisions that had been forming throughout the day, sparked protests and a strike that led to the eventual ‘revolution’.

As interesting as the outcome, though, was the social dynamics throughout the experiment. “The most educational part of Capitalism Day is watching relationships transform,” Marom told IPS.

“Normally everything is collective: They pool their candy and share. Their counselors care about their feelings. They work to understand each other and really try to provide for each other,” he said.

“But on Capitalism Day the relationships get flipped on their heads in a moment,” he continued. “Kids wake up and have money or don’t, and that creates class divisions on the spot that in turn create divisions between the kids in reality not in the game.” Indeed, many campers reported having serious feelings about what happened on Capitalism Day.

“It was much harder than I thought to get money,” Gal Gelbard, age 10, told IPS. “When you don’t have money today, you don’t have fun. You can work hard all day and still not have enough money.”

Nine-year-old Idan Cohen told IPS he enjoyed the experience even though it wasn’t easy. “Today taught you how to take care of yourself with no parents and just your own money,” he said. “It taught you how to be responsible.”

“If you have no money now you know how it feels, how it can be for our parents,” Cohen went on. “You are sometimes being a little spoiled to your mom, but now we get it and we know.”

Tamar Golan, at age 23 one of the oldest people at Shomria, said she distinctly remembered her first experience with Capitalism Day as a camper.

“I just remember walking around and having all of my interactions with other people be through money,” she told IPS. “That’s when it clicked for me what the social influence of capitalism is – isolating.”

Golan played the part of the opposition mayoral candidate, who beat the pro-business incumbent mayor by a landslide in a late afternoon election as the economy crumbled.

Despite not knowing Capitalism Day was happening until the morning of it, campers were astonishingly clever and resourceful. Prime examples were workers organising a class action lawsuit against the factory owner and police putting undercover agents in spontaneously forming organised crime gangs.

“People acted just like their roles, it was amazing,” Marom told IPS. “Cops acted like cops. Bosses acted like bosses. Workers acted like workers,” he said.

Perhaps the most important question raised by Yom Capitalism was: Why do people in society behave the ways that they do – are there certain roles because people are just different from one another or do power relationships inherently create such dynamics?

Shomria was founded in 1946, then serving as a training farm for people to learn how to live on kibbutzim before they would move to Israel, and later developed into a summer camp.

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