Shifting Ground

Nov 9, 2018

Credit April Lidinsky

What’s giving you hope today?  I am charged up. I’m slurping coffee from a gigantic mug with the motto: Wake Up, Kick Butt, Repeat. By my reading chair is a stack of books that includes Rebecca Traister’s Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger. Below that is Roxane Gay’s edited collection, Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture. (Spoiler alert: it IS that bad.) But still, I’m hopeful. 

When I squeak open the trunk of our energy-wise little car, I see the evidence of two years of unbridled civic energy. There are archeological layers of cardboard rally signs with Sharpie’d slogans: “All are Welcome Here,” “Listen to Women,” “Books not Bullets,” “Healthcare for All,” “Believe Survivors,” (oh, there’s more ..) — along with candidate door-hangers from months of canvassing. Sound familiar? 

Whatever your take on Tuesday’s election results, some ground-shifting patterns have emerged, with more women and minority voices elected at every level of government.  If the electoral “wave” metaphor failed us on Tuesday, we certainly are witnessing a seismic shift, made possible, in no small part, by women. Certainly, women don’t all think alike, but our cultural roles have led us to sharpen skills that have political impact.

I am hopeful when I recall the stark early days after the 2016 election. Women drew on their organizing acumen to pull together issue-based community groups. A chapter of “We Go High,” inspired by Michelle Obama’s call to action, began meeting in library rooms as snow blew sideways outside the picture windows. “A Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense” group suddenly had standing-room only at meetings. Our local chapter of “Indivisible” was largely organized — and continues to be held together — by women.  Name a social issue — health care, DACA and immigration policies, Black Lives Matter concerns, reproductive justice and sexual violence — and you’ll see women moving efforts forward. All of us, I’ll wager, have benefited  from women’s unpaid organizational skills —  from pulling together holiday gatherings, to lining up doctor appointments, school committees, block parties, or any number of essential but thankless family and community tasks.  So, you can see why these community groups thrive with many women at the helm.

By late spring of 2017, many of us had long-forgotten what we used to do with our weekends, or what it was like to meet friends at a café just for coffee, rather than to hunch over computers for organizing sessions. We expanded our friendship circles at a dizzying speed,  many of us finding allies and friendship across lines of race, class, religion, and age. I started feeling hopeful again while breathlessly laughing at a “People’s Inauguration” party, learning to dance the “Nei Nei” with women from local mosque and slap-happy children from the neighborhood.  

These coalitions aren’t perfect; relationships across social stratifications can’t be built in a year or two. But I have witnessed enormous goodwill as people have stumbled, held difficult conversations in living rooms and coffee shops, and worked harder to listen. I have seen people with privilege — men, and white women — bending that power by stepping back from microphones, and encouraging women and people of color to run for office.

I am hopeful because more women than ever see themselves as political agents. In those early months of organizing, many women shunned the podium or the press at rallies.  Or, if they spoke, they often read directly from pages of notes, hands trembling. I watched that change over the months, as more women learned how to craft messages that could be heard, powerfully, through dicey microphones, competing with gusts of wind-blown rain or snow. Some of those women have gone on to run for local races … and some won. Others of us became tireless canvassers, or part of the teams uplifting first-time candidates. All of us learned a lot about party politics and are storing up insights for the next time around. 

History also offers hope: I think of Crystal Eastman’s essay in 1920, upon the passing of the 19th Amendment that granted women the right to vote. Rather than celebrating, Eastman calls readers to action. “Now,” Eastman writes, “We Can Begin” — do to the culture-shifting work that really changes people’s lives.  

This week, I’m gathering my energy as I join others to push fragrant garlic cloves into soft furrows of community gardens, and bury dozens of tulip bulbs in my little front yard to brighten the neighborhood. Our hard work is paying off. Here’s to all of us who are shifting the ground.

Music: "Bread and Roses" performed by Monsieur Jack