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.

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.