Greetings! How many of you feared Tuesday night, thinking you would sit on a couch somewhere, watch election results, and feel even more doomed than a year before? Friends of mine have mentioned nerves, nausea, and even PTSD to describe that total physical-emotional connection of dread and hope. As election results from New Jersey, Virginia, Washington, and other states were announced, I could not believe my eyes. The results came in so fast, and they were so encouraging, one bit of news after another. We watched Republican strongholds crack, watched people of a variety of genders, races, religions/no religions, and classes roar back at a brutal year of unrelenting hatred.
On the local front, our smart, hard-working, and caring candidates from the Democratic and Independent slates fared far better than in past years. As I saw all of these results, I whooped and yelled upstairs to my family members, who were already surrendering to homework obligations. I wondered whether I should get out of my pj’s and run up and down the street with pots and pans, singing and banging victory. But mostly I just sat there on the couch, watching joy spread across my Facebook feed. At the same time, I felt physical relief wash over me, releasing a tension felt every minute of every day for 365 relentless days. (*Last year I dragged my sorry ass to the computer to write this Gender Shrapnel Blog post the day after the election. I suspected events to come, but they were even worse than I could imagine at that point.) Today, I am exhausted, absolutely wiped out.
When President Obama won eight years ago, I shared with so many people elation and irrepressible hope. The morning after election day, I arrived at my early-morning class, smiled broadly at the students, and said to them in Spanish, “What a glorious day to be 18 years old.” They did not smile or grin back, for the most part, and I realized then that I should hold onto, but also temper, the joy of political victory and hope. Today I feel slightly different. After a year of having our government, the body elected to represent us all, issue proposal after ban after statement after tweet to represent fewer and fewer of us, I want to hold onto a sense of victory and every particle of hope and carry it forward in action—resistance, construction, resistance, construction. As I do so, I keep in mind these “takeaways” from an NPR piece from yesterday and this blog post from Robin Alperstein’s Voluble blog.
Two weeks ago, the 50 Ways-Rockbridge (local resistance group) board members had a conversation about our direction. Over the past year, we have observed people come together to learn about the issues, plan events to educate others, attend political meetings, register voters, call and write elected representatives, write blog pieces, op-eds, and letters to the editor, and think deliberately about what kind of town, county, state, country, just world, we want to live in. As we spoke at that meeting, we expressed great satisfaction about all of this, but also preoccupation about inactive issues groups and fewer active members among us. We were tired, a bit frayed at the edges. We realized that we hadn’t taken much time to evaluate where we are and how we’ve done, mostly due to our M*A*S*H unit mentality of staunching the flow of blood, shunting resources where they’re most needed, playing mostly defense and a little bit of offense. At that point, I wrote a document that listed what we have accomplished to date. This document represents a necessary accounting of the actions taken by well over 200 people over the last year to create a space of resistance and hope. In that space, we have had beautiful conversations and messy ones in which we’ve realized that even potentially like-minded individuals have myriad ways of expressing themselves, solving problems, and interacting with others. In other words, we came to understand more deeply that “community” means togetherness and messiness.
Unlike many Indivisible groups, 50 Ways-Rockbridge has created an umbrella structure of multiple issues groups who count on the overall group for action on specific issues. This rambling organization allows for issues groups to form and disband according to need. One example is the “County Unity” group, which came to be organically (it wasn’t pre-determined by the 50 Ways Board) at the first really big meeting we had, when people who live in our mostly red county said that they needed a way to be able to talk with their neighbors. Another example is the Title IX working group, which is working to create more safe spaces at our local high school.
The big 50 Ways group meets once a month, and the issues group coordinators set meeting times for their groups. Many people belong to more than one issues group. Big group meetings have had attendance of 25 people on some nights and 153 on other nights. Outrage and action seemed at their height in January, February, and March of last year. There has been some burn-out, for sure, because we all have to balance the rest of our lives with our resisting lives, in terms of both logistics and physical and emotional well-being. Nevertheless, we carry on.
Here I share a summary of the work of 50-Ways Rockbridge over the past year. It is not comprehensive, but it should capture how we have lived this year, forged real resistance, and attempted to create additional building blocks in our community.
- Written a mission statement and followed it
- Created an attractive, lively website for resources and action
- Created a large e-mail database for daily communications with 50 Ways members
- Learned—a ton
- Sent hundreds of postcards to our representatives
- Written dozens of letters to the editor of our area newspapers
- Sent thousands of e-mails and made hundreds of phone calls to our representatives
- Tracked Chris Gavaler’s Dear Bob blog and Gene Zitver’s Goodlatte Watch
- Registered voters
- Gotten out the vote
- Accepted generous donations from community members
- Survived, together, so far
Formed Issues Groups
- Formed subcommittees, studied the issues, and created talking points (see the website!)
- Relied upon the excellent leadership of our issues coordinators
- Fought off Trumpcare not once, not twice, but three times (Healthcare)
- Sponsored Earth Day Celebration and Walk (Environment)
- Sponsored in-person protests and vigils for the Environment and for Women’s Rights and LGBTQIA+ Rights; sponsored “A Day Without a Woman” (Women’s Rights)
- Sponsored two “Trash Talk” events (County Unity)
- Sponsored films (Environment, Gerrymandering, and Women’s Rights), ACLU Rights sessions (First Amendment), informational talks and panels (Environment, Gerrymandering, Healthcare, Immigrant Rights, Racial Justice, Title IX, and Women’s Rights), and workshops (op-ed writing, Twitter, organizing rallies and marches), relying upon the expertise of many generous people in our community
- Encouraged greater participation in and interaction with the city and county school boards
- Drafted a statement about Lexington in the post-Charlottesville era and presented it to Lexington City Council
- Survived, together, so far
- Brought together over 200 people in person to participate in the group
- Brought together over 500 people on Facebook
- Collaborated with Indivisible groups across Virginia
- Held monthly meetings, which have included visits by representatives, delegates, candidates, and members of community organizations and agencies
- Organized people to attend the Goodlatte sessions on Thursday mornings
- Supported a greater variety of candidates in our area
- Supported the revival of the Lexington-Rockbridge NAACP and supported Coming to the Table
- Collaborated with Lexington-Rockbridge Democratic Parties on a community help center initiative
- Supported the Women’s March, the March for the Environment, and the March for Science
- Sponsored a community picnic
- Sponsored 50 Pints every Monday night
- Participated in the Rockbridge Community Festival and other community events
- Enjoyed getting to know more of our neighbors in a variety of settings
- Survived, together, so far
We still have such a long way to go after a year of fending off this government’s full-court press, but through the little crack of Tuesday night’s election results shines a little light.