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

Family Values?

(Poster from a vigil/protest, Lexington, VA, June 14, 2018)

Last week, I was walking our dog past a neighbor’s house.  I called a “hello” to the elderly neighbor, who sat in a chair under a tree in his beautifully tended garden, a garden I have watched him plant, water, and weed for over two decades.  He said “hello” and then asked if I was a teacher.  When I said “yes,” he asked what I taught, and I replied with the simplest answer possible, “Spanish.”  “Damn Mexicans,” he said.  I walked on, feeling shocked (even though of course I know how many people in this racist country subscribe to such beliefs), hurt (in a representative way, knowing that this comment towards me is nothing compared to comments made against others, which are absolutely nothing when compared to real acts of hatred and violence committed against real people), and angry (why wasn’t my dog pooping in the beautiful garden at that very moment?).

This little comment from a neighbor who I thought for years was a kindly old gardener should give us every bit of evidence we need that the United States has taken a more dramatic turn, almost two years into the Trump regime, towards violent, racist acts and, in particular, significant gaslighting effected daily through the fast-paced, absolutely wacked GOP spin-machine.  The New York Times reports (6-15-2018), “’I hate the children being taken away,’ Mr. Trump told reporters on Friday morning in front of the White House. ‘The Democrats have to change their law — that’s their law.’  A short time later, he wrote on Twitter, ‘The Democrats are forcing the breakup of families at the Border with their horrible and cruel legislative agenda.’”  The very next line of the The New York Times piece says, “But Mr. Trump was misrepresenting his own policy.”  The GOP spin machine does not even realize how good they have it, when newspapers such as The New York Times continue to soft-pedal the language of Trump’s lies, which, in turn, normalizes his racist, xenophobic, misogynistic, and blatantly anti-family platforms and actions.  While Trump voters continue to sport bumper stickers that say, “Don’t believe the liberal media” and “NRA.  Don’t let them take your guns away,” the so-called liberal media is struggling to keep up with reporting and rebutting the extensive lies told by this dictator and his kleptocratic cronies.  (*See this 6-14-18 related piece from Slate.) The lies run so long and deep, and their reach allows the regime’s inhumanity to stretch to every corner of the United States and to many corners of the world.

I probably do not need to remind you that on this day, Fathers’ Day in the United States, the Trump regime is actively separating children from their mothers and fathers at the borders, placing children in privately-owned detention centers, and constructing an actual tent city for these young children left alone in western Texas.  We see the news—not fake, completely verified—in every outlet and confirm the stories—that 1,995 children have been separated from their parents over the last six weeks; that a Honduran man committed suicide after being separated from his family; that a Guatemalan woman was picked up by ICE and deported, leaving her young child alone.  These stories are heartbreaking in the aggregrate—the staggering numbers of separated families—and in the particular—each and every case of a parent separated from a child for a minute, a day, a week, indefinitely, and often at great and likely insurmountable geographical distances.

In addition, recent news from the Department of “Justice” reveals that the United States will no longer grant asylum to victims of domestic abuse or of gang violence.  These policies demonstrate again the entrenched racism and misogyny of the Jeff Sessions DOJ.

The academic realm offers us many lessons about and depictions of the gradual erosion of civil rights and democracy.  We do not have to dig too deep to find acute moments of U.S. history at which parents and children have been separated: the institution and business of slavery and separation of African-American parents from children; the creation of “Indian schools” to separate Native children from their parents and force them to assimilate into white culture; United States internment camps of Japanese individuals and families.  This 2016 article from Human Rights Advocates (University of San Francisco School of Law) details the steps in denying civil liberties, which lead to the dehumanization, torture, and sometimes death of specific groups of targeted peoples.  Chilling subtitles of the article include: “Arbitrary Deprivation of Liberty”; “Structural Violence and Discrimination”; “Degrading Treatment” (health concerns; sexual abuse; immigration workers); “Right to Counsel” (beware the officials who believe that migrant children make good immigrant rights lawyers); “Private Detention Facilities.”  Note this warning by the authors in their conclusion: “Accountability for violence against children in these detention centers is difficult to achieve because the actors are private businesses and not the State. The incongruity here is that the government contracts private companies to deal with social and economic issues that are entirely the concern of the State. This unique task blurs private and State responsibilities. This issue should be included in national action plans on business and human rights in efforts to implement the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.”

*Consider the historical context of this 1941 Dr. Seuss piece and relate it to today’s realities.

Add to all of this the multiple reports (including this one) that Trump will withdraw the United States from the United Nations Human Rights Council, and you find an even more deliberate and dire picture of the politics of inhumanity in these United States.

The heroic work of the ACLU, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights Coalition (CAIR), the thousands of Indivisible groups across the nation, and many other major legal and political resistance groups is not enough to get us away from this regime.  We need Republicans—politicians, party leaders, voters, Republican-leaning people just going with this flow—to decide finally that it is time to express vociferously their discontent with the Trump regime.   I know many of you.  I am your neighbor. I am related to you.  I work with you.  I cannot accept that you accept this increasing dehumanization and cruelty.  When will you decide that enough is enough?  This is not just one person (me) moralizing about others’ lack of action, but rather a whole nation watching the corrosion and corruption of its high-level governmental officials, watching the erosion of civil rights and democracy, watching itself implode.  This cannot possibly be what good people want for themselves and others, can it?  This cannot possibly be what people mean by “family values,” can it?