An Alliance for Young Women Who Rock

The Girls Rock Camp Alliance—comprised of representatives from across the globe who run rock n’ roll camps for girls—met for the first time last month to brainstorm ways to organize what has become a grassroots movement of burgeoning non-profits. The alliance is dedicated to empowering young girls through music-making as well as an enhanced understanding of gender and political identity. It is a great example for youth media professionals to learn from, as many of these campsites across the nation, and now the world, work to maintain a collective mission that unites and supports young women in music.
The founding member camps of the Girls Rock Camp Alliance (GRCA) are from the U.S.—Portland, OR, New York, NY, San Francisco, CA, Philadelphia, PA, and Murfreesboro, TN—as well as from Sweden and the United Kingdom. The alliance met in Portland, Oregon—home base for the Rock n’ Roll Camp for Girls—the first rock camp founded in 2001. The non-profit was created in response to the social oppression female musician’s face, in which girls are not encouraged to play instruments and have female role models that share their same experiences. Unique to this non-profit are the hundreds of volunteers dedicated to the rock camp mission, so much so that they work for free during the summer (or throughout the year depending on whether or not local campsites have year round after-school programs like in Portland, OR) motivated by their deep desire and dedication to the cause of empowering young women.
I met with the GRCA in Portland, Oregon late February and had the opportunity to interview STS, a friend, colleague, and program officer at camp. She explains, “every decision [we make at rock camp] we put up next to our mission statement. We serve girls and follow an empowerment model that examines power. We are a community and resource that builds self-esteem and empowerment for young women through media education.” She continues, “Girls need to have access to music education and female mentors who speak to them as peers. At rock camp, we provide great opportunities for young girls interested in music and them to lead in their own ways in a safe and empowering space.”
Many of the 8-18 year old girls who attend camp every summer say that the week long experience changed their lives, opened their eyes, and encouraged them to better handle a sexist and ‘identity-boxing’ world. These girls often sign up for the Girls Rock Institute, an after school version of camp that occurs year around, and often make up the camps’ youth advisory board, who form internship programs, teach skills, act as role models, and build upon the camp community.
Having volunteered at the rock camp in Portland, Oregon and being a founding member of the Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls, I know first hand what STS means when she explains, “camp is powerful—it is all inclusive, embracing, and [evokes] positive energy. It’s a punk, anarchist organization that values music, esteem, and life skills.” Rock camp thrives on sharing, collaboration, and giving back along with a very attractive do-it-yourself (D-I-Y) approach and progressive model of leadership, which has become a fast moving grassroots movement.
The energy and empowerment of rock camp in Portland has influenced the creation of several rock camps across the nation and over the world. Around 15-25 rock camps have existed to date—a number that is growing—which Portland’s camp saw as an opportunity to create an alliance amongst.
At the first meeting of the GRCA, the group wrote their mission statement, which defines the alliance as an “international coalition of organizations whose shared mission is to empower girls and women using the tools of music education to foster self-esteem and confidence.” To this end, the GRCA “promotes, strengthens, and expands services provided by its members.”
Overall, the alliance is a professional organization that provides accreditation, resources, and networking opportunities for its members, and promotes the establishment of like-minded institutions worldwide. The alliance works to provide support in the development and quality of programs, financial stability and transparency, and accountability to the rock camp mission.
Core Values of the Girls Rock Camp Alliance are the:
• power of music as a means to create personal and social change;
• efforts that actively expand opportunities for girls and women;
• positive approaches to fighting sexism;
• integrity, honesty and respect;
• appropriate sharing of resources, cooperation, and collaboration;
• using collective voice to further the mission of rock camp;
• importance of diversity and not tolerating racism, sexism, homophobia, or other discriminatory behavior or expression
The alliance believes in creating a learning community that empowers young girls, builds strong relationship among women and a network of musicians, fosters an environment for gender and social change, and values collaborative learning. As STS explains, “we do not want to homogenize all rock camps for girls but collectively recognize core values while valuing our differences. We do not want future rock camps to reinvent the wheel. We offer structure, curriculum, and ways to match the sparks and fire we’ve all experienced at rock camp.”
Professionals interested in creating a rock camp for girls can join the alliance to share leadership models, become a chapter, register to become a non-profit, and/or support a movement of empowering girls through D-I-Y music education. The GRCA is a success model for professionals in the youth media field to engage with. The alliance freely supports and encourages the development of programs that value girls, confidence-raising, and music as a vital medium to empower young people.
The goals of the GRCA, such as sharing resources (material, knowledge, and skill) and providing a model for all burgeoning camps, are important ones for youth media organizations and professionals to pay attention to. GRCA has made its own niche directly outside the youth media field, and ought to get incorporated into the great work the field continues to produce. Simultaneously, the field can learn a great deal from the progressive leadership model of the GRCA. The GRCA gives relevance to music in media, theorizing and practicing gendered and social change, and valuing youth voice, empowerment, and creative expression.
Learning upon the ways in which the Girls Rock Camp Alliance provide nonprofit umbrella support for each chapter at the grassroots level is a case study with solutions youth media organizations may draw from—especially those that value centralizing a sharing of resources, collective identity, and the ‘spark’ that keeps movements and effective youth media programs alive.
Ingrid Dahl is a founding member of the Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls where she develops curriculum for workshops, acts as a band coach, and sits on the advisory board. She has been involved with the Rock n’ Roll Camp for Girls in Portland, OR since 2004, where she incubated a collaborative workshop on identity, media, and feminism. She is the guitarist in the bands Boyskout and The 303s and plans to write a book on empowering young women through music.

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