Coronavirus

(The forsythia turned green early.)

Life in the era of Coronavirus in southwest Virginia is both beautiful and scary.  The dogwoods are in full bloom.  The forsythia springs forth, first sunburst yellow, now Saint Patrick’s green.  The sun is shining, and the wind is blowing.  Our cupboards sparkle for the first time in years, devoid of long-expired spices. The trash collectors want everyone to get the hell out of the house so they don’t have to handle years’ worth of household detritus. I’ve tried to develop a taste for hard cider, but I can’t. It smells too much like early motherhood.

I just went to look up more information about the names of trees in this place I’ve lived so many years, and I can’t get onto the Internet.  Too many people in my house seek bandwidth.  In this house, we have two teachers and two students and never enough broadband to get all the assigning and assignments done.  We are the lucky ones.  Many people I know have no WiFi and have to hop in their cars or trucks to park near a school or library to find some.  They also get in the school line to pick up breakfast or lunch or both for their school-age children.  Every basic need becomes more urgent, more acute, during this time.

Life is both busy and slow.  The busy-ness stems from our local community relief effort (https://www.50waysrockbridge.org/), which points us once again to the many holes in the so-called social safety net.  I’m one of the privileged ones who, at least for now, can donate thought, money, and time to the needs of others in our area.  This work feels like a crash course in Social Work 101, 202, and 505.  I am in awe of what our friends in social services and NGOs do every day, how they bear the expression of need and the occasional heartbreak and then attempt to fill in as many of the gaps created by brutal market systems that continue to privilege the privileged.

(Maybe it’s scary that I am taking, from the bathroom, photographs of latticework shadows?)

The slowness, well, many of us are getting to know that slowness now, aren’t we?  Even as I transfer my courses to an online format, teach them, and grade students’ assignments, I know that none of this pace is like the actual pace of life—the meeting after meeting after meeting, the meeting minutes, the meeting phone calls, the advising, the emails, the text messages, and the constant being “on.” None of this is like that.  I am relieved.  I am relieved by living a little more like I did when I was 5 and 10 and 15, and even 20.  I am grateful for social media, but also delivered from it in some ways.  And I love that.  I hear the birds, I walk the dogs, I read the books, I play games with my children, I snuggle up to my partner, I bake.  These are things I easily forget to do and to appreciate (or simply can’t do) when there isn’t a pandemic.

(The dog is exhausted.)

I feel far from my Pennsylvania,  California, Texas, and Madrid families, and I worry about them.  I wish I were nearby to do…what? I guess I would be isolated from them still, just at less of a distance.  I think constantly about what will happen over the next weeks and months, about how many people have lost jobs already and will lose jobs, about the inability to pay employees, rent, utilities, about the availability of food, cleaning supplies, medical supplies, about healthcare personnel and their safety and protection, about the loss of life.  I am worried about current danger and more loss.  May you all be as well as possible.  I am sending hugs out into the world.  We have rarely needed them more than now.

(A friend sent a card from the next town over.  It still felt so far away.)

50 Ways Rockbridge: Three’s a Charm

(50 Ways Rockbridge original call for issues groups / December, 2016)

50 Ways-Rockbridge: Year Three’s Big List

I just found in my kitchen drawer a short stack of scrap paper, which included the original 50 Ways Rockbridge announcement to our local community. (*See the photo above.)

This simple, urgent community convocation seems quaint to me now—the result of nine or ten people getting together in the wake of the November, 2016, elections to figure out what could be done to combat what we were certain would be a series of unjust and inhumane statements, actions, and orders.  The idea was to create an organization that would encourage the growth and de-growth of issues groups, whose specific work would be supported by all the people who constituted 50 Ways.  A month later, we saw the mushrooming of “Indivisible” groups and were approached to sign on as a local Indivisible group.  We did so, but maintained that we were actually “divisible,” that we were not seeking absolute agreement and harmony on every issue, but rather a willingness to research the issues, educate ourselves and others on them, and then choose appropriate actions to take at the local, regional, state, and national levels. Activists would choose and run their issues groups and seek support from the larger group for educational events, protests, and rallies.

The first year brought great energy, hundreds of people, and thousands of phone calls, letters, e-mails, and letters to the editor.  You can see the Year One summary here.  A local women’s rights rally, environmental protests, and fighting off numerous attacks on Obamacare stand out as key moments at which our entire group galvanized to resist inhumane actions and build community.

Year Two, summarized here, brought new challenges.  People were tired.  There was attrition. The “president” and his web of cronies were even bigger assholes, crooks, felons—indefatigable in their horribleness, criminality, and inhumanity.  Some issues groups disappeared, while others become more clearly defined.  50 Ways shrank some, but also grew in its resolve and infrastructure. We worked closely with the local Democratic committees to get out the vote and welcome the blue wave of Midterms, 2018.

In this third year, we have refined our communications through directed e-mails, consistent Facebook posts, and, especially, an overhauled website.  We continue to sponsor talks and workshops and to stage and support protests and rallies.  Our number of active members is reduced, and so the quick, on-the-fly response to major national issues is at times less nimble. We have paid attention to what other resistance groups do and why, and we have enhanced our connections to groups like VARatifyERA, Everytown for Gun Safety, the NAACP (especially our wonderful local chapter), Al Otro Lado, and CAIR, among many others.  We particularly like the Americans of Conscience weekly lists and broadcast those to our members.  While we have disagreed on some major issues, we continue to take the time to talk them through and to understand others’ opinions.  The gun sanctuary issue from just a few weeks ago pointed to major cultural issues where we live and also to the ways in which the national GOP ethos has permeated even remote areas of our nation.  Following the Rockbridge County Board of Supervisors vote on the “second amendment sanctuary” issue, some Facebook chatter shone light on divisions among us.  “Why fight an unwinnable battle?”, some asked.  “Why not always show up to suggest that another possibility exists?”, others replied.  We continue to research, educate, and act, and we continue to be “divisible.” To put it in more academic terms, we encourage the dialectics of disagreement because it is in this very articulation of our hard-fought opinions that we show what democracy looks like.  May we continue to do so through Year Four, and may we get out the vote for the primary and for the big show in November.

Thank you for the many ways in which you’ve supported 50 Ways through these three years.  Here’s the Year Three “Big List.”  Many specific events are not listed, but the major ideas are here.

Community

We have:

  • Brought together many people in person to participate in the group
  • Brought together over 600 people on Facebook
  • Sent out hundreds of activist e-mails (I’m looking at you, Sarah and Tinni!)
  • Collaborated with Indivisible groups across Virginia
  • Held group meetings, which have included visits by representatives, delegates, candidates, subject experts, and members of community organizations and agencies
  • Attended townhall meetings and asked tough questions
  • Supported candidates in our area
  • Participated in the CARE Parade, Rockbridge Community Festival, Buena Vista Labor Day festivities
  • Partnered with CARE Rockbridge, Coming To The Table, Lexington Democratic Committee, Rockbridge Democratic Committee, Rockbridge NAACP, Project Horizon, Rockbridge Area Community Services Board, Washington and Lee’s Amnesty International, ESOL, History Department, Latin American and Caribbean Studies Program, and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Program
  • Rallied for the Environment; Immigration; and protested gun encroachments
  • Overhauled our website
  • Collaborated on a broad Community Resources List, now hosted on our new website
  • Enjoyed getting to know more of our neighbors in a variety of settings

Issues Groups

  • Tracked our issues and exhorted, rallied, and protested, as necessary
  • Relied upon the excellent leadership of our issues coordinators
  • Sponsored 50 Ways meetings, including a gerrymandering update, presentation by the Tijuana/Al Otro Lado group, presentation by Rockbridge Area Health Center, an abortion rights session, an election panel, a mental health workshop, and a panel on past and present Democratic candidates from our area
  • Sponsored Earth Day Celebration and Walk (Environment), and many Environment Committee panels and series
  • Encouraged Get Out the Vote, especially through Plus3 work
  • Sponsored anti-racism workshops, three book discussions, Green Book film, collaboration with NAACP
  • Fundraised for Tijuana/Al Otro Lado immigrant rights work; Tijuana group talk; Edwin Castellanos Campos’ Tiempo de cambio community talk; Latinx Festival; legal path to citizenship work, fundraising, and follow-up; ICE education; protest; focus group;
  • ERA resolution in Lex City; Renee Pullen and question of rape kits for our area; Carliss Chatman’s presentation on reproductive rights; PRIDE Festival; non-discrimination; dress code; excellent progress at RCHS (LGBTQ ally week and transgender ally week);
  • PTSA collaboration; teachers and staff of color; recruited volunteers and experts for YAS Program at MRMS; Students of Color Club at RCHS; advocacy for fourth guidance counselor position; encouraged greater participation in and interaction with the city and county school boards
  • Work on Prison Reform and drug court

Resistance

  • Environment; Immigrant rights; ERA, gun lobby, gerrymandering, flipping VA blue!
  • Written a mission statement and followed it
  • Updated our website for resources and action
  • Maintained close to daily communications with 50 Ways members
  • Learned—a ton
  • Sent hundreds of postcards to our representatives and to fellow voters
  • Written dozens of letters to the editor of our area newspapers
  • Sent many e-mails and made many phone calls to our representatives
  • Accepted generous donations from community members
  • Survived, together, so far

We still have work to do for Year Four!:

  • Support our wonderful issues groups
  • 50 Ways member survey and focus groups
  • Poverty issues and actions
  • Gun reform
  • Revive County Unity
  • GET OUT THE VOTE
  • And!!

50 Ways-Rockbridge: Two Years In

Our local resistance group, 50 Ways-Rockbridge, celebrates this Thursday its two-year birthday.  We will celebrate with a simple party–food and dancing for any able to join–to remind us of how we continue to build community and why we must continue to resist the acts that take away our rights and attempt to dehumanize us.

A little over a year ago, I wrote this blog post to summarize the work of 50 Ways over the previous year.  Today’s post uses last year’s as a launching point to look at 2018.  I will make a few observations about this past year and then share the revised “big list” for 2018.

Late 2016 and 2017 brought on a necessary frenzy of activity, including: creating an organization from the ground up; learning to listen to individuals, issues groups, and community groups and sort through needs; communicating priorities; and showing up, time and again, to protest the latest affront to our democracy.  The first year was characterized by urgency, novelty, and community presence.

This second year has focused significantly more on Get Out the Vote initiatives, thereby bringing our group closer to those of the Democratic Party.  This tighter relationship caused some 50 Ways members to raise issues of partisanship, thus encouraging conversations about the identity of our resistance group, its ability to welcome people of all or no political stripes, and its message.  We navigated these fraught issues through face-to-face conversations about which candidates can do the most good for the most people.  We also sometimes shared frustrations and dissent through e-mail, remembering to allow for disagreement and to focus on mission.  As I write this, I recognize that the 50 Ways Board members, whom I so respect and admire and with whom I’ve worked so closely for two years, might well interpret 2018 in a markedly different way than I’m doing here.  Their blog posts would and should read very differently from my own.  There is room for this, as long as we continue to resist the dehumanization of ourselves and our neighbors and the deliberate attempts to make our democracy falter.

Right now I have a stack of papers to grade, new courses to prep by January 7, and a long list of 50 Ways chores in front of me.  This past year, for me and, I think, for many of my friends in the trenches, has also been about finding some balance between resistance and the day job, resistance and our creative efforts, and resistance and our family lives.  I remember the moment at a recent board meeting, two years after our first board meeting, when I realized that we were all declaring ourselves in it for the long haul.  That’s a powerful moment for all it acknowledges: that our labor matters; that our labor is many-splendored; that our labor bears fruit; that our labor is shared; that our labor mixes a strange cocktail of joy, frustration, and fatigue.

I am so grateful to all of the board members, issues group coordinators, and hardworking 50 Ways members for these past two years.  Happy Birthday!

Here’s the “big list.”  Please let me know what I’ve missed or forgotten.

50 Ways-Rockbridge

What We’ve Done So Far

Updated 12/11/18

Community

We have:

  • Brought together over 200 people in person to participate in the group
  • Brought together over 600 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
  • Supported a greater variety of candidates in our area, including big mobilization for Jennifer Lewis’ campaign to flip the 6th and Christian Worth’s campaign for the Virginia House of Delegates
  • Supported the revival of the Lexington-Rockbridge NAACP and supported Coming to the Table
  • Celebrated with the Rockbridge NAACP at the fantastic Freedom Fund Banquet
  • Welcomed expert speakers on a great variety of issues
  • Sponsored a community picnic
  • Sponsored 50 Pints for many Mondays in 2018
  • Participated in the CARE-MLK Parade and the Rockbridge Community Festival
  • Enjoyed getting to know more of our neighbors in a variety of settings

Issues Groups

  • Supported our subcommittees, studied the issues, and created talking points
  • Relied upon the excellent leadership of our issues coordinators (THANK YOU!)
  • Sponsored community events on excessive policing and on African-American history of Lexington and Rockbridge (Racial Justice)
  • Collaborated with the W&L Immigrant Rights Clinic and W&L ESOL to find paths to citizenship for Lex-Rock residents and ran a fundraiser for these efforts (Immigration Committee)
  • Collaborated with Project Horizon, CARE-Rockbridge, and W&L ESOL to launch the Festival Latino (Immigration Committee)
  • Supported the Law School trip to Tijuana to provide legal aid at the border (Immigration Committee and all 50 Ways)
  • Run a series of colloquia on climate change and celebrated Earth Day (Environment Committee)
  • Worked on The Diversity in the Workplace Jobs Initiative
  • Sponsored in-person protests and vigils for the Environment and for Women’s Rights, LGBTQIA+ Rights, and Immigrant Rights
  • Sponsored two “Farm Talk” events, with the second featuring Jennifer Lewis and addressing questions of farmers and tariffs (County Unity)
  • Supported our local schools through creating expert lists for enrichment, tutoring lists for after-school help, grants for public school programs, and volunteers for additional breakfast service (Mentoring Initiative)
  • Worked to create greater awareness of Title IX issues and greater protections for public school students (LGBTQIA/Women’s Rights, Racial Justice, and Mentoring Initiative)
  • 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)
  • Encouraged greater participation in and interaction with the city and county school boards

Resistance

  • Shown up—to protest the pipeline, immigration injustice, gun violence, a Supreme Court nominee, and corruption surrounding the Mueller investigation
  • Shown up—at candidate talks, forums, and rallies
  • Held weekly, biweekly, or monthly issues group meetings and big group meetings
  • Monitored governmental corruption
  • Revisited our mission statement and reinforced it, all the while entertaining lively debates about how best to research, educate, and act
  • Created t-shirts, a banner, magnets and stickers to share the word about 50 Ways
  • Reformulated our attractive, lively website for resources and action
  • Maintained a large e-mail database for daily communications with 50 Ways members
  • Learned—a ton
  • Sent hundreds of postcards to our representatives and to our neighbors to get out the vote
  • Knocked on hundreds, probably thousands, of doors to get out the vote
  • 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
  • Accepted generous donations from community members
  • Survived, together, so far

Resist, Construct, Repeat

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.

We have:

Resisted

  • 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

Built Community

  • 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.