The unorganized but organic chaos of RootsCamp 2010

Welcome to the 5th annual RootsCamp “unconference,” where liberal advocates, government workers, and campaign staffers are meeting to discuss the future of progressive politics (whatever that is) in the face of a resounding midterm elections defeat.

This “unconference” is an event organized by the people, for the people. This “unconference” has no pre-set agenda (it’s an unagenda) as participants themselves decide the issues they want to discuss throughout the weekend. Organizers and volunteers called this unconference “organized chaos.” This might also explain why some participants called RootsCamp something else: a “clusterfuck.”

By 10.00 a.m. Saturday, George Washington University’s Grand Ballroom is packed. In the back is a wall-sized screen rising high above the New Organizing Institute’s (NOI) leaders like a tidal wave.

In a sweet, calm voice that sounds like she’s selling water filters, an NOI executive tells the audience that “our country is under attack.”


Then, after a few announcements, NOI’s New Media Director, Lola Elfman, asks everyone to please stand up. But it’s already standing-room only. She tells the crowd of liberal enthusiasts — now relieved of the injustice of seat-ism — that the “solutions are in the space between us.” There’s barely enough space to lift the cup of free coffee, though.

The un-leaders from this professional organizing institute explain to the mostly-young crusaders how this “unconference” with no agenda is going to work; or not work, whatever the case may be. They point to the massive board about 30 ft long that’s been set up against the hall’s front wall, divided up into neat 1’x6’’ squares designating various times and room numbers. This is the calm before the cluster. Then all fuck breaks loose.

Everyone in the great hall makes toward the board to create this year’s RootsCamp actual agenda. Those setting up “sessions” simply fill out a card with the session’s name, what’s going to be discussed and the leader-among-leaders’ phone number, before tacking it on the board.

Within minutes, the crowd is at least seven deep around the board. They’re all jockeying to set up the sessions that will further their causes, which seem impossibly vague, mostly because the session board is impossible to see. Just imagine the scene around a 19th century stock exchange chalk board run by anti-capitalists.

How are you supposed to see the damn thing?

“I have no idea,” says one RootsCamper, who seems to unwittingly offer the day’s theme.

Another has a better solution to getting through the crowd.

“Jump,” he says, failing to remember that one needs about 16 stories to hit terminal velocity and thus assure a successful death. The ballroom is only on the 3rd floor.

After what seems like 10 minutes, people are still trying to get their first look at the board.

“I haven’t seen the board … this is the first time I’ve seen the board,” says an excited young woman as one of the RootsCamp volunteers shrieks to the crowd: “SESSIONS HAVE NOW STARTED. YOU ARE NOW LATE.”

Just outside, the self-described “smokers’ session” has indeed already started.

“This is a clusterfuck,” says one RootsCamper in what would be The Daily Caller’s favorite session of the day.

Later, at another smokers’ session, a different RootsCamper was overheard describing the event in the exact same language.

“There’s no schedule, it just forces us together,” said the RootsCamper. “I give’m props for trying. Even if it is a clusterfuck.”

It hadn’t yet hit noon and some of the volunteers looked absolutely frazzled. One jumps into the elevator heading to the 4th floor. She leans heavily against the back of the elevator giving a heavy sigh. She looks exhausted.

Is it suppose to be this crazy?

“It’s mass chaos with slight organization on top,” she says, blowing the words out hard. “But it’s about what comes out of it.”

What’s that?

“The friendships and connections.”