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!!

Scattered

Anger, frustration, curiosity, and love fuel many of my blog posts—not all at once, but usually two at a time, and sometimes in unusual combinations.  This week I feel too scattered by the national news and life’s day-to-day busyness to feel fueled by any singular or dual emotion.  Last September, I wrote a blog post, titled “Day of Reckoning,” to organize my thoughts and plan my actions.  Today’s post shares a similar impulse but will also reflect how all-over-the-place I am in this penultimate week of classes of our winter term. I am operating on a constant sad, mad, hanging chad, baghdad, ironclad, stalingrad simmer about the state of the union.

The murder of Stephon Clark, another unarmed black man, in his grandmother’s backyard has brought our nation to a new low.  Yesterday The New York Times said that the killing of Clark “reignites a furor,” which seems to me an unfortunate way to frame this most recent in a long line of race-based killings.  This phrase renders invisible (again) the consistent work done by Black Lives Matter and the significant collaboration taking place now between Chicago teens and Parkland survivors to address broad issues of gun violence across race and class.  (*See this March 5th piece from CBS Chicago and this March 14th NPR piece about Chicago students’ approach to the Natioanl Walkout.)  I am confused about and frightened by our nation’s continued refusal to address what is truly an epidemic.  How can we talk about democracy in any sincere way when we are killing citizens and suppressing voters’ rights?  Of course, our 242-year-old nation has all too comfortably settled into an EZ chair of smug self-satisfaction about being the world’s finest democratic nation, all the while ignoring a history of slavery, a past and present of colonialism, and an imperial and imperious approach to judging other nations’ governing styles.

I have become sensitive to the criticism that my blog posts and in-person political comments are “too negative.”  How can I paint the killing of unarmed people in a positive way?  How can I regard a “president” who created a paper-towel-toss television game show out of the destruction of Puerto Rico as anything but deeply narcissistic and destructive? I try to adopt critical postures that allow me to think through theory, practice, history, and current events in order to see positive, negative, and neutral points.  I don’t see us making any progress on the Black Lives Matter project because our nation’s knee-jerk reaction is to link the protection of black lives to the immediate mortgaging of police force, which is to say, a weakening of the militarized, hypermasculinized police forces who haven’t learned the lessons of Ferguson or of any other death of a black person since then.  (*See related posts: Black Lives Matter, Damn It; Charlottesville (and Lexington); Women in the Resistance; Mary Beard’s Manifesto.)

We learned this week that the 2020 United States Census is slated to include citizenship questions—a fraught proposition in fraught times.  This proposal incorporates “build the wall” rhetoric in one simple question about who belongs and who doesn’t—the very same questions we should consider when we think about institutions of colonialism, genocide, and slavery that have shaped our nation.  The very same questions we should ask ourselves when we look at the United States legacy of gun violence.  I draw some comfort from seeing 12 states challenge this most recent move of Trump’s House of Whites, and I hope that my home state of Virginia soon adds its name to the list of challengers.  Local, regional, and national bipartisan efforts to change unjust gerrymandering laws also reassure me that good people can work together to do the right thing.  That’s positive, right?

Mueller’s work and, bizarrely, Stormy Daniels’ exposure of Trump’s lying and cheating in personal and professional realms seem to indicate progress in revealing this “president” for the liar, cheater, groper, racist, misogynist {fill in the blank} that he is.  We must protect Robert Mueller’s ability to get this job done correctly and forthrightly.

In the meantime, I take great stock in massive, nationwide protests, regional efforts to collaborate on projects for the greater good, and local community groups who resist on so many fronts.  In the past two weeks alone, our local community has: announced the first general meeting of the newly chartered NAACP chapter; sponsored an immigrant rights clinic; witnessed its middle- and high-school students organize and bring to fruition their own walkouts; held women’s history and women’s rights events; protested the Atlantic Coast Pipeline; initiated conversations about farms and farmers; seen teachers draft a letter advocating for increased safety in their schools; and encouraged a broad slate of excellent candidates for regional office.  There is much to celebrate here, and we should do so.

Thanks for reading this scattered post.  Stay tuned for a possible guest blogger for next week’s post to offer a different voice after 88 consecutive weeks of mine!  (Damn.  I just realized that, if you’ve read 88 Gender Shrapnel Blog posts, I should send you a prize of some sort.)

(Yard signs in adjacent yards.  Pennsylvania, 2017. )