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!!

Women in the Resistance

(Sojourner Truth, Library of Congress image)

A friend of mine has expressed frustration that most people who “like” the Gender Shrapnel Blog posts on Facebook are women.  Another friend has counted up numbers of women and men at the many resistance events she has both organized and attended and has found that participants are at least 75% women (both cis and trans).  Another friend and I organized a workshop on women’s rights and gender justice.  Of the 166 people eligible to join the workshop, all of the ones who joined were women.  In my experience, working with women (cis, trans, African-American, Latina, white, living in poverty, and middle-class) on issues of gender justice is effective and rewarding.  At the same time, the roll-taking and roster-building become a frustrating exercise of organizing groups whose members are already fatigued from the daily struggle of losing lives, being threatened, earning less, and having less expected of them.  Sometimes, when the white men do get involved, they’re busy telling everyone else all the things they should have already done, or the ways they should have organized the group, or the strategic plan that should already have been put in place.  They tell you all of this, but then don’t roll up their sleeves to get any of the shit done.  This is tiresome, meddlesome, and ineffective.  We need both the less and the more powerful white men to step up and give a shit.

As more people absorb the realities of the loss of black lives and the lack of justice in the adjudication of these losses, more people understand that it is impossible for an oppressed group to effect change alone.  Nevertheless, in the seven months of active resistance I have practiced (and decades of academic-style resistance), I still don’t see enough cis, hetero, white men involved in social justice struggles. Oftentimes, too, resistance movements forget the embedded oppression of women within the movement itself.  When the Communists did their power play on the Socialists in the Spanish Civil War, they relegated the active fighting women to the gendered roles of nurses and cooks.  The patriarchal Communists decided that there should be second-class citizens, and woman was that name.

This interview by Kaavya Asoka with scholar and activist Marcia Chatelain points to the need across all movements, and specifically in the Black Lives Matter movement, to consider the experience of women.  Chatelain says: “I think any conversation about police brutality must include black women. Even if women are not the majority of the victims of homicide, the way they are profiled and targeted by police is incredibly gendered. There are now renewed conversations about how sexual violence and sexual intimidation are part of how black women experience racist policing. You don’t have to dig deep to see how police brutality is a women’s issue—whether it’s the terrifying way that Oklahoma City police officer Daniel Holtzclaw preyed on black women in low-income sections of the city, or the murder of seven-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones inside her Detroit home. We know that girls and women of color are also dying. The question is: does anyone care?”

Ah, this poignant question—“Does anyone care?”—must be asked at every turn.  When we don’t ask, we don’t care, and women are forgotten.  I believe this has been the fundamental downfall of every justice movement, whether based on economy or social group or both.  I saw it in Bernie Sanders’ rhetoric, gestures, and actions.  The disastrous Democratic Party Unity Tour launched by Tom Perez and Bernie Sanders reinforced the ways in which women in the resistance are supposed to shut up about women’s rights.  I’ve seen it in local and state politicians who appeal to small groups of voters by assuming that women will sacrifice their own rights in the name of the Democratic party, or who assume that everyone in the room has experienced the life of the boy scout, just like they did.  They are perceptive on other social justice issues, just not the ones for and about women.

A coalition of amazing women, comprised of Linda Martín Alcoff, Cinzia Arruzza, Tithi Bhattacharya, Nancy Fraser, Barbara Ransby, Keeanga Yamahtta Taylor, Rasmea Yousef Odeh, and Angela Davis, composed an opinion piece about women’s resistance published in The Guardian in February (2-6-17).  In the piece, they state: “In embracing a feminism for the 99%, we take inspiration from the Argentinian coalition Ni Una Menos. Violence against women, as they define it, has many facets: it is domestic violence, but also the violence of the market, of debt, of capitalist property relations, and of the state; the violence of discriminatory policies against lesbian, trans and queer women; the violence of state criminalization of migratory movements; the violence of mass incarceration; and the institutional violence against women’s bodies through abortion bans and lack of access to free healthcare and free abortion.”  This platform sees women as part and parcel of the whole platform, not as an add-on to get votes and then not care. The Women’s March and the March 8th protests were worldwide and thus have signaled a generative force across the nations, a group of women and men who are willing to envision many types of equality that sometimes criss-cross and sometimes don’t.

(*See more coverage of International Women’s Day here and here. See also this interesting piece on Chinese-American women’s resistance from the 19th century and the ways in which women’s resistance is less visible than that of men.  This academic piece by Mary E. Triece provides a history of three centuries of resistance movements in the United States. It demonstrates the ways in which African-American men and women at times coincided with mostly middle- and upper-class white women’s movements and at times were marginalized from or necessarily separated themselves from such movements.  The piece is interesting and thorough and also addresses Latinx civil rights movements and environmental justice movements.  Sady Doyle’s April, 2017, piece in Talk Poverty provides statistics about women in the anti-Trump trenches in the United States.)

The activists who wrote the February piece for The Guardian have gracefully integrated the issues of the 99% with issues of women, who comprise a disproportionate number of the 99%, and even more disproportionate when you consider race or perception of race.  The less money you have, the less valuable your time appears to be, and the more people think your labor should be free.  Maybe that’s why black and brown women and men and white women do so much of the labor of resistance—a labor that is never-ending and is never remunerated.  We’re used to having to fight oppression and we’re used to doing it as part of the third or fourth segment of the work day.  Some Cuban women have called this “la tercera jornada” (third workday) because they hold a formal job in the labor sector, continue to do the work of the home, and complete the family’s required volunteer labor.

Here’s how to get involved when you’re not sure how:

  1. Just show up at a resistance event and look and listen. This is a solid start.
  2. Read up on the issues so that you can understand them from a variety of perspectives and speak about them in more fully representational ways. Ask questions of many people.
  3. Sign up to do a small task—invite a speaker, reserve a space, bring food, write a protest script, create a Facebook page.
  4. Support the people who are running events. Ask them how you can help.  Tell them you have 20 minutes a week (or an hour or five) to devote to this work.
  5. Have an opinion and express it well and often.
  6. Write to your representatives on a variety of issues. They don’t have to affect you personally.  They just have to matter to someone or to a group of someones.
  7. Understand different styles of leadership. Some leaders work from the trenches, and for free.
  8. Consider intersectional possibilities, realities, and challenges.

We’re in this for the long haul, so we may as well keep growing and moving.