It’s dawn near the border of Colorado and Kansas, and a Lyft driver named Carlos is singing a patriotic song that floats across the grounds of Camp Agape as if on rays of sunlight.
But his voice is not alone. Carlos is joined by 149 other “gig economy” workers chosen by the Denver City Council to participate in a free education camp a few miles southeast of Colorado Springs.
Living life is fun and we’ve just begun
To get our share of the world’s delights
(High!) high hopes we have for the future
And our goal’s in sight
“This camp will be a great benefit to my future passengers,” Carlos tells us after the song ends. “I’ve only been here for six weeks, and I used to think two plus two equaled four. Now my passengers will get 5 miles for the same price.”
The education camp — brainchild of District 9 Councilor Candi CdeBaca — is part of Denver’s fight against a foul web of extremism that has sunk its roots into Lakewood, a suburb of the Mile High City.
“We’re in late-phase capitalism now, and we know it doesn’t work,” says CdeBaca. “The gig economy taught us that workers can’t just have any job or work any hours they want. And the Masterpiece Cake holocaust taught us that people can’t just serve any customers they want.”
Carlos and the other 149 campers start chanting the motto of Camp Agape: “Redistribution sets you free.” Fifteen minutes later, I’m convinced the phrase can never be fully eradicated from my mind and I’m strangely okay with that.
“I believe in community ownership of land, labor, resources and distribution of those resources,” CdeBaca tells me after removing her protective ear plugs. “That means educating workers to accept the end of capitalism by any means necessary. Camp Agape is only the beginning.”
We follow the students into the cafeteria and sit down to a communal meal.
“The campus has but one objective, which we achieve through a program of ‘Social Realism’,” says the woman introduced to me as the headmistress. “A morning ritual of patriotic songs and chants, meals of changeless vegetable substances, repetitive sessions of self-criticism, and afternoons of hard lab … um … learning.”
CdeBaca adds, “This is how we prepare our workers to move into something new, and whatever that morphs into is I think what will serve community the best and I’m excited to usher it in by any means necessary.”
For now, Camp Agape is the only higher education campus of its kind in the lower 48 states, but CdeBaca is eager to build more.
“Um, capitalism by design is extractive and in order to generate profit in a capitalist system, something has to be exploited, that’s land, labor or resources,” CdeBaca says.
“We built this movement off of many other small battles that we did not ‘win’ but that we used as preparation for this battle,” she adds. “We will do the same with this victory. This is just the beginning. This is preparation for the next battle. So let’s keep building!”
Her enthusiasm is infectious, and I find myself handing over my reporter’s notebook to the headmistress and chanting the camp motto.
“Thank you so much for the tour,” I say. “I’d like to stay and learn how to be a better journalist.”
CdeBaca smiles, and I know I’m home.