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An Open Letter to BC Witchcamp;

I first came to BC Witchcamp in 2006 and since then I have been back and forth between Free Cascadia Witchcamp and BCWC every year or so. To celebrate and honor the 25th Anniversary of this first of many Witchcamps across the world, I offered my art which was inspired by the amazing transformations I have undergone and witnessed thanks to this community. I have a lot of love and gratitude for the wild and wonderful path that was opened up to me as a result of what I first experienced here at this camp, so close to my home and my heart. Since that fateful summer 8 years ago I have immersed myself in this magickal community work: I have co-founded WOEVAN (Witches of East Van), a collective dedicated to magickal activism that has been offering 2 public rituals every year since 2008; become a Free Camp organizer working on Theme & Story as well as organizing the Hearth (which feeds 150 people 3 meals a day as well as offering a path to those kitchen Witches who offer their service to the community); and recently I’ve founded the Witches* Union Hall which intends to create spaces for exploring the overlap between radical politics and magick in an accessible way for the woo-curious and seasoned Witches alike. I am very serious about my commitment to my magickal communities and I hope you can consider my letter with this in mind.

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It is with a heavy heart that I write this letter, though I feel fairly confident that it will be received and given careful attention. As a person with commitment and loyalty to both BC and Free Camp (which, more accurately, is by donation) I have felt myself to be a kind of “world-bridger”. I love and value the vast differences between these two communities and I count myself as a member of both. Still, the position is challenging – while both are under the umbrella of Reclaiming, these camp cultures couldn’t be more different.  At BCWC the eldership and strength of tradition is inspiring and they feel like a life-line to a continuous, living web of culture rooted in the struggles and work of the generations before mine. Simultaneously, many miles South, Free Camp acts on my values around financial accessibility for people who are low-income. This is both an acknowledgment of members of our community who have had to struggle with poverty and the fact that many are low-income because they are dedicated to working as “activists”, artists or otherwise on the edges of society. As a result of Free Camp’s dedication to serving these folks, there is a high concentration of radical, experimental and innovative energy which leads to lively debate and a dynamic and constantly evolving culture. I often find myself wishing that there could be more of an overlap between both of these camps, their gifts and their values. I hold both in my heart and I am torn between them at times.

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The divide between these 2 cultures was rendered even larger when the activist scholarship was removed from BCWC’s list of possible financial support. I heard about it from a friend last year after I recommended she apply for the activist scholarship. When she inquired about it she was told it no longer existed and that “that’s what Free Camp is for.” I don’t know if that’s exactly what was said to her, but I was shocked and outraged when I heard this. It couldn’t be any more clear in the Reclaiming Principles of Unity:We try to balance the need to be justly compensated for our labor with our commitment to make our work available to people of all economic levels.” The last time I was at BCWC in 2011, during the talent show/fundraiser, there was so much talk about the importance of “helping bring a camper to camp”. People were standing up and speaking about how if it weren’t for the activist scholarship they never would’ve been able to come and how much their lives had been changed for the better as a result. I am one of those people. I came on an activist scholarship my first year and I have brought many, many people to the Reclaiming tradition and Witchcamps through talking openly and emphatically about how wonderful and life-changing it is; how grounded in values it is; it’s commitment to social justice and accessibility etc etc. At that fundraiser, we were counting the money we raised in units of “how many campers we can bring to camp”. I recall us raising enough money that night for 7 people to come, fully subsidized.

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To put it in perspective, that is almost enough money to run the entire Free Camp. There is a huge difference between the predominant class make-up of BC and Free camp. That would not be a problem in and of itself if BCWC wasn’t seemingly trying to pass off its local low-income “activist” community members to a camp 800 km away – a camp that is already way beyond capacity. Last year, Free Camp registration was full in just a few days and we turned away over 100 people. People hopped trains, flew and drove across the continent to attend. A large group of us Canadians take the trip every year, crossing the border (not always an easy feat) and this year, a few were turned away for no apparent reason. There are a lot of people who can’t cross the border because of criminal charges, immigration status, racist profiling or various other shitty  reasons.

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I did notice that there is still a scholarship for up to $200 that people can apply for. That would leave about $400 for those folks to come up with on their own. Perhaps they can apply for a work trade on top of this? These are significant offerings of support and they would definitely help some people get to camp. On BCWC’s website it is suggested to do fundraising – a point well taken as sometimes all it would require for someone to come is a little planning and organizing in advance. WOEVAN does fundraisers for Free Camp throughout the year and it does add up. But I have to ask, is this enough? For people working to defend land-bases, facing jail time for civil disobedience, sacrificing the security of full-time jobs with benefits in order to follow the call to do the unpaid, endless work of community organizing, cancelling the activist scholarship seems to be a sign that BCWC doesn’t really care about supporting activists to come to camp anymore.

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When did this change? I don’t know what process there was around this decision, but if I had been asked I would have strongly opposed – in a consensus process, I think I would have blocked it. I know I am not an organizer of BCWC but I consider myself a member of this community. At the same time, I also come from this other community made up of many kinds of activists and I am hoping to speak on behalf of our fellow Witches and magickal people who are working in these ways. There are many people living with the trauma of front line work, the prison system and police brutality, people on the verge of burning out, people living with next to nothing so they can stay on the move, going from action to action, people who dedicate a significant amount of their time and energy to working to help build the resilience of communities so that we may survive the struggles that are yet to come, people who desperately need the healing, revitalizing support of community ritual, magickal skills and the solidarity of other witches who for a multitude of reasons have chosen paths of relative safety and comfort in comparison to what many activists now face.

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I have profound respect for the revolutionary work that many of BCWC’s community of elders have done (and which some continue to do) in the Women’s movement, the Gay liberation movement, in founding this tradition and for Environmental justice among other things. While I know this is part of the legacy of this camp – and I do not intend to minimize the many ways that our small, determined, ongoing actions contribute to a culture of resistance – I have found that often the work we do at BCWC is framed in terms of personal transformation, personal healing, personal growth etc. I am of the opinion that if this is all we do, the Earth will be destroyed as we pursue our individual well-being. It is not an issue of choosing either/or, but of really valuing both. The stakes are too high for us to turn our backs on those doing radical work out in the world. To put this in perspective, Environmentalism is more and more being made the equivalent to terrorism in the eyes of the current government. People are being surveilled and targeted for having even a few degrees of separation from some activists. We need to bring activists closer to us and share our work in a web of support, not marginalize and segregate them even more.

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There are many people who are willingly choosing relative poverty to do this work that all of us benefit from. Please take some responsibility for materially and morally supporting these people and reinstate the activist scholarship. There is a lot of access to resources in the BCWC community and if people were encouraged and inspired I am sure they could make a huge impact on the lives of a few people who really need it (as I witnessed in that 1 night of fundraising in 2011). Given how this years Ganesha story inevitably brings into our work the issues of race, white privilege, colonialism and cultural appropriation, we may need these folks’ hard earned experience, knowledge and skills now more than ever.

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I fear that if BCWC continues to turn away from the needs and concerns of activist Witches, the divide between our communities will continue to grow. The next generation of Reclaiming may look a lot different from what it’s been up to this point, if Free Camp is any indication. Our culture is alive and growing, but if we are to meet the needs of these many people coming out of the shadows and reaching out for meaningful, politically relevant earth-based spiritual community we are going to need to adapt and change. I would prefer to be part of a culture that has the best of both worlds – eldership, tradition and a vibrant, embodied resistance to the destruction of the earth. I don’t know if it will be possible any other way.

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Thank you for hearing me. With love, respect and willingness, I am at your service.

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Sincerely,

Aja Rose Bond

 

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