Fortitude: Collaborating to Fortify Social Justice & Global Ecology (June 2018)

Forts generally and historically serve to fortify spaces and reify boundaries between “us” and “them,” to protect against something other and fearful. I find the reasoning that informs this precedent problematic and antithetical to social justice and global ecology. To explore how we might fortify values that cultivate social justice and support global ecology, I teamed up with Montalvo Arts Center to offer “Fortitude: Collaborative Fortbuilding,” a summer camp for youth, aged 9-14. The 5-day camp took place on the Montalvo grounds in Saratoga, California, June 25-29, 2018. Through intention, process, materials, and form, the twenty campers and I collaborated to experiment with fortifying inclusive values, rather than exclusive spaces.

We began with the question, “how might we fortify values rather than spaces?” Our value set included kindness, community, diversity, friendship, compassion, inclusivity, cooperation, peace, understanding, and harmony. With the exception of rope and twine, which we purchased, we limited our materials to things that we could scavenge and salvage from the grounds, including the remains of prior installations. We limited our construction methods to knot tying and our toolkit to scissors, clippers, hands, and feet.

Day 1: Testing materials and technology, we built small and large models to test possibility, one stick and knot at a time. We also built a shared vocabulary and the basis for trust and cooperation. We also created a space for each and all campers to experiment with personal and small group visions and ideas for the fort as a crucial move to lay the groundwork for empowered collaboration to follow.

Day 2: We brainstormed ways to create a shared and collective vision for the fort from the individual options and then, we formed small group teams to focus on different functions to begin to realize a collective vision. Teams included: materials, assembly, concepts, safety. At the end of the day, we reflected on our process by asking the questions: How did you make it? What were you thinking? How does it fortify our values?

Day 3: As we settled into our project and the form began to take shape, we catalyzed and supported conscious collaboration.

Day 4: The more we built for our values, the more the structure became invisible and un-photographable. One instagram follower summed it up best: “Like mountains, arroyos, trees, cliffs, and gorges, these structures seem to take their shape from the earth beneath, rather than buildings plopped down onto it.”

Day 5: A fort accompli. And, a celebration. Campers and their families and friends inhabit the fort and the values that built it.

We discovered that the more we built for peace, kindness, friendship, harmony, inclusivity, compassion, community, diversity, understanding, and cooperation, the more the piece dissolved into the whole. As we made decisions to manifest our values, the build choices resulted in a structure that was simultaneously inside and outside, and variously neither inside nor outside. Space and structure privileged the individual and the collectivity, the self and the other, the initiated and the new, play and rest. Additionally, the creators–aged 9-14–were able to articulate clearly how they built for, and manifested, our values. Our fort welcomed all to dissolve with it into the whole, to perform wholeness.