Interviewed by Lilly Constance
Last week I spoke with Cameron Smith and Willow Brugh, who participated in CtK.Campfire’s second cohort.
Lilly: Could you tell me about a conversation that you had with each other at the retreat that changed your perspective?
Willow: Cameron and I were part of a discussion about the scenario “What if things go wrong” with our democracy. I said that I thought things already have gone wrong for a lot of people. It was then that I learned that Cameron believed being conservative means putting power into the hands of local people. That’s exactly the sort of work I do every day, and it’s a big part of what I have dedicated my life to, so I was thrilled to find such an unexpected ally.
Cameron: Just by taking the time to listen to one another, an anarchist and a [former Sen. Jeff] Sessions attorney were able to agree that concentrating power is dangerous and that it’s a better idea to disperse power through government structures. We even discussed specific policies where we thought there could be common ground.
Lilly: What were your main concerns before attending?
Willow: I was concerned about whether it would be a productive use of time, since I was flying across the country and driving three hours from the airport to get somewhere that I wouldn’t be able to leave for several days.
Cameron: I’m not accustomed to people talking about personal feelings in a professional setting. The idea of “checking in” or “checking out” or slowing down and just talking is not as common in my world. It caught me a little off guard: I slammed into the slowness of the moment and thought, “wait a minute, we’re actually getting to know each other.”
Lilly: Was there anything that surprised you about this experience?
Willow: We agreed on more things than I would have expected. For instance, Cameron and I were able to agree that, although we want people to have access to health care, the specifics of how people might make choices for themselves which impact others in that system gets complex.
Lilly: Cameron what’s your response?
Cameron: The difference in our “language set” was shocking to me. We don’t even speak the same words: at one point Willow was talking about devolving power away from the federal government, which in my political circles had been central to every agenda for years, and then it just shocked me to realize how we live on the same planet, but our circles and language sets and policy ideas are just so different that we might well never encounter one another other than in a forced setting like Campfire.
Lilly: What did you think worked best about the setting and the format?
Cameron: Being disconnected from technology, actually having to be present, was incredibly valuable. There will always be work to be done, but I wouldn’t have been as present if I had tried to divide my time between work and the retreat. It was a good reminder that I occasionally need to turn off technology with my family and even my coworkers.
Willow: I appreciated how much unstructured time we had. Since I’m a facilitator, I think a lot about how much structured time versus unstructured time is good for people, and I tend to err on the side of having too much structured time. Being able to sit next to someone new at dinner and wander around and voluntarily enter into new conversations allowed me to have a better insight into the people there than I would have had if we had only done structured activity.
Lilly: How will you be loyal antagonists to each other going forward?
Willow: Recently I’ve been deeply immersed in crisis response for Harvey and for Irma, and once I have more concise data I’m hoping to send it to Cameron and maybe some other folks from Campfire and ask, “How does this fit with your understanding of the political world? Does it resonate or is it at odds and how can I improve it?
Cameron: I’ll probably to check in when I need help understanding another perspective on an issue. Before I become entrenched in a position, I can now reach out to people who aren’t going to see it as I will. It’s refreshing when you can disagree with someone and not get attacked for disagreeing.