Before i met Cassandra i had already lost a bet because of her.
It was Acorn’s Land Day, perhaps 15 years back. Suwelo and i were talking when this young woman walked by and Suwelo said to me “i bet she is an air sign.” In a world in which you believe in astrology, this comment made perfect sense. The woman in question seemed to float by more than walk, aided by flowing garments and the perfect light breeze of the Acorn’s early spring Land Day. But in the world of probability, there was a 3 in 4 chance Suwelo was wrong and i said “i will take that bet.”
Then having made the bet, we had to find out, so we chased after her around Heartwood and Suwelo asked without prompting “What sign are you?” and then realized the question without prompting was presumptive and followed it up by saying “Don’t worry, i am harmless.” To which i reflexively replied. “I am not.”
Cassandra successfully backed the conversation up to something more civil. She got us to introduce ourselves and then she explained that she was in the region having returned from a long trip to India. A trip which would change her life forever in a tragic way.
When she did finally confess her astrological sign, it was Aquarius and i thought i had won the bet, because that was clearly a water sign. Again i was wrong. But the clumsy introduction won Suwelo not only the bet with me, but the attention of Cassandra and they were happily involved for many years after that, and i visited them in several residences in Cville.
Cassandra was unsure of her taken name because it felt too heavy and she could not live up to the embedded assumption that the person with it would have prophetic, if not tragic capacity. Suwelo and Cassandra stumbled for some days trying to find a name (i of course suggested a naming party, but that was not what she wanted). And finally in frustration Suwelo said “i am going to open the dictionary, point my finger blindly into it and we are going to choose the name closest to my finger.” He did. And he pointed at the name Cassandra in the dictionary. She let go of her concerns and embraced it.
Cassandra always wanted to live in community, and many of us wanted that to happen as well. She was an enchanting personality, funny, caring, and empathic. But in India she had contracted an illness she could not shake, nor i believe was it ever really properly diagnosed, which fatigued her in a way that prevented her from working quota (a requirement for these communes). We discussed several different approaches to the problem, but the nature of Twin Oaks and Acorn egalitarian policies made it impossible to swap disability payments for quota. I’ve rarely been so saddened at the ableist policy of my home communities.
Cassandra was a facilitator of lovely small gatherings. My path continued to cross with her’s from the organizing she did with the local poly group in Charlottesville. Mac and i attended a couple of these gatherings back when i was a dual member at Acorn. One thing we lose with her passing is her mastery of how to make people comfortable talking about intimate things. In her more artful way she was gifted in inspiring participants into informal transparency games.
Cassandra also looked at my OKCupid profile and started to tell me all the things that were wrong with it. I realized that i had done it poorly and she offered to help fix it, including answering questions for me to filter out non-poly people from finding high matches with me. Unsurprisingly, after she answered a bunch of questions for me hers and my profiles matched much better.
Cassandra was easy to love and taken from us too soon. She died quietly, in the company of her new husband Randell and old friends from Acorn, Flame and Raven. Thus in essence with the community she always sought.
Cassandra saw a world of people living in harmony in community. She saw and crafted intimate groups taking care of each other in mundane and profound ways. She saw something possible and beautiful. But most people did not believe her, perhaps fulfilling her legendary name. It’s now up to the rest of us to continue her work and dreams.
When the nation was exploding in protests over the murder of George Floyd, some skeptics, perhaps tired of the nations inability to hold Trump for any of his many crimes, said “these protests won’t change anything”. They were wrong.
Viewers of mainstream news could be forgiven for thinking the big effects were removal of confederate statues and the confederate symbol from the flag of Mississippi and NASCAR races. And i fear the biggest effect of the Trump presidency is that many news sources now focus more on telling us what we will get upset about, rather than what is actually important.
However this short list misses most critical reforms and changes, many of which took place shortly after Floyd was murdered. Some terrible laws were cancelled, including A 50 in New York which protected criminal bad cops by hiding their disciplinary records and complaints filed against them. Colorado stripped cops of qualified immunity. LA cut over $150 million from the police budget and redirected it to other community services. Over a dozen police chiefs were forced to resign, including in large cities like Atlanta, Tucson, Richmond and Louisville. Police chiefs almost never resign suddenly or are fired. Letitia James, the Attorney General of NY State made history by being the first AG to sue their own police department for use of excessive force. At one point, i started to track all the things which had actually changed because of this uprising, it ended up being overwhelming by it and i quit.
The communes also changed. There were disruptive internal protests at these intentional communities about systemic racism and there was a lot of education of white communards about how despite their best intentions they were maintaining racist systems. And in part because of these internal protests POC members of communes started more seriously considering options which had only been discussed before. Importantly, a number of BIPOC community members realized there was a need for a BIPOC led income sharing community near the cluster of communes in Louisa county. And so Serenity Community was born.
While Serenity (taken for the name for the starship in the Firefly TV series) is still forming, it is already making good things happen. One of the things we are especially excited about is that Serenity has taken on the difficult task of dispersing scholarship (discount) tickets for BIPOC and LGBTQ+ folks who need economic assistance to come to QuinkFair. Recently, has also agreed to take on the granting of scholarship tickets to other economically disadvantaged participants.
And while they have been actively dispersing scholarship tickets, there are still more people who want to come to this event than can afford it. If you could help grow these scholarship funds it would be quite helpful. If you are on Facebook, you can donate at this fundraiser or you can venmo 541-505-0803, be sure to include a note “QuinkFair Scholarships”
George Floyds death forced America to admit it had a systemic racism problem and while these important changes are to be lauded, we know the real work lies in front of us, but i am glad and excited to have the talented and energetic Serenity folks help in crafting a more fair and equitable world.
Good festivals build on people’s excitement, this is why so many events are designed around performers and their personalities. But there are lots of other excitements which are available.
As we have been talking about quinks more, people keep asking for examples – and especially what are common quinks? Things that don’t require the heroics of breaking a toxic relationship or the mastery of enlightenment.
Wolf suggested Quink books. Almost everyone has read a book that has changed their life in a way which they look back on positively now. These books hold a power and story for you and as organizers we want to bring that to our event.
On Friday Oct 1st at dinner we will have the participants of QuinkFair bring copies of their favorite books to dinner with the intention of discussing them, why they changed their lives and seeing if that is a message someone else in the group needs to hear.
We ask that people consider bringing a copy to give away. [If that’s not doable (financial challenges, difficulty finding a copy, etc) then you could also print the title and author on one side of a 3×5 index card and write why it was so important to you on the other side. We’ll take photos of these cards and share them on the QuinkFair blog, as well as on Facebook. ]
These are the three clear quink books for me and a sentence about what i took away from them:
That anarchist societies don’t make problems go away, they just shift how they are discussed and decided.
Was a compelling smack in the head about how my blindness to gender and racial inequity did not exempt me from at least learning about them and hopefully doing something about them.
This book taught me that a good author can have me crying by page 4. It showed exhausted heroes who looked a lot like people i loved. And it showed our type of consensus decision making in impossible situations sparking effective non-violent resistance.
What are the books that changed your life and why? Can you provide copies for others to learn the things you did and perhaps other important lessons?
QuinkFair is a transformation celebration borrowing from several festival cultures and striving to spark positive and healing experiences. It takes place on beautiful private land in rural Virginia in the town of Mineral on Oct 1 thru 4. Tickets are still available.
For some event participants this has been a lovely exercise, they get to go to their favorite used book store, shop for the books which help them become who they are and then bring them to the event and press them into the hands of someone who you hope has a similar strong resonance with the book.
Like most white Americans I did not learn the history of the burning of Black Wall St until the George Floyd protests. And I am a bit embarrassed about my minimal knowledge of the history of Union organizing and civil rights. Unsurprisingly I do better with anti nuclear activism history
But the question I find surprisingly few US Americans (including highly educated ones) can answer is “Why was the US attacked on 9/11?” It seems like an important question for us to have a consensus historical answer to. It is not like this was something Osama bin Laden was cagey about. He gave three very specific reason for the attacks on the U
- the US boycott of Iraq which had already killed 600k children
- US construction of military bases in Saudi Arabia
- US political and military support for the Israeli’s war in Palestine
The more you dig into each of these reasons the more reasonable it becomes (if you lived in the region) to think the only way the US will stop doing these things is if you strike them dramatically at home. While bringing these issues to the attention of the world – because each represents an injustice or danger of US expansionism.
But with perhaps the most dramatic terrorist attack in history, in the US least, bin Laden and friends lost control of the message. Instead George W Bush told the country “they hate our freedom” as preposterous as that is. I find that collectively we are much more likely to remember the “Freedom Fries” debate with France that the actual US instigated actions that sparked this retaliation.
Interestingly, this is another thing the US tends not to recognize – 9/11 did not start these wars. There were already happening, people in the Middle East were already dying because of US policy , but people in the west were just ignoring humanitarian organizations which were trying to call out these injustices. 9/11 was a surprise because we were happily ignoring our policy effects in the Middle East.
While we are fighting the Big Lie, it is important to remember we have likely been duped by other politicians.
This is an ambitious event. We are striving to create a temporary community celebration where we positively change the lives of participants. This experience strives to strike the delicate balance between joyous celebration and transformative self reflection. We want you to have a crazy good time, and we also want you to walk away from the event a wiser, wilder, and more inspired person.
To this end we are trying some unusual things: this festival has homework you need to complete before arriving. We are asking everyone to bring a very specific type of memory. A rememberance where you made a choice and things in your life improved. It could be a little thing, standing up for yourself or taking a small risk. It could be a large thing, like breaking an addiction, falling in love or reaching a spiritual enlightenment. Reflecting back on the lock downs, how are you different in an improved way and how did that happen? This memory will be the core of a story we want you to tell.
Homework for a festival?
What the talented storytellers explain is that the way you improve your story is to often retell it. And this is also the way you understand your own story. But we are often discouraged from telling these types of stories culturally because they are immodest. Yet especially in these extraordinary times, modesty is dangerous and we need to honor and herald these heroic choices.
What event is this? QuinkFair is an event on October 1,2, 3 and 4. It is located in Mineral Virginia to be close to the communes of Louisa county. A festival inspired by many other events and cultures including the rainbow gathering, burning man, and the intentional communities conferences.
The story we are asking you to develop is about a quink from your life, a quink is roughly defined as the opposite of trauma, where after some identifiable event your life improves or you experience a healing. When people share these positive stories we observe two important things happen. The first is that you think more about these experiences and pay attention to how they might happen in your future life and how you might best ride them. And secondly, these are intimate stories of (in part) how you became who you are and this vulnerability brings intimacy with the group.
Beyond crafting a story, we are asking folks to consider presenting about their quink experiences so others might learn from their paths. Examples bondage class, group building with challenge course material, or try your hand with divination at the Temple of Oracles. We discourage the term audience in favor of participant and co-creator or maker.
We borrow from other festival cultures and are strongly committed to both a high consent culture and a decommodified one. Consent culture means we have a shared respect for bodily autonomy and feel safe. For example, one of our the consent examples on the QuinkFair website suggests to “Ask open ended questions- for example, avoid saying “It’s okay if I hug you, right?” Instead try saying “I’d like to hug you, how would you feel about that?”
Decommodified cultures don’t use vendors internally: no vendors, no service fee, no barter, no corporate sponsors, no money based markets, and nothing for sale.
Can we guarantee you will have a quink at this event? Certainly not, but we do have both clever guides and powerful tools to help you find at least where you might look for your future quinks. We also have intentional communities and especially (income sharing) communes coming to present themselves, so perhaps your Quink will be leaving your straight job and moving to a commune in the country?
See who is going from Facebook
Lots more info about this event at www.quink.org
We have a strict “vax or test” covid policy, please understand it before you buy tickets.
There are things Twin Oaks does reliably well and funerals are one of them.
I dislike most funeral formats. Too much religious singing or scripture, often reflecting the wishes of the minister rather than the person who passed. Too much waiting around for people who are not skilled at public speaking struggle to prove they really cared in oft too long and pained presentations.
Ex-member Kate facilitated the funeral in a Quaker style where people shared what they were moved to say. Almost everyone was funny in an appropriate way because we knew it would take powerful joy to cut the tragic sadness of losing this person with incredible potential. Very few prepared remarks (though Carly penned this amazing piece), lots of short heartfelt memories.
As an event organizer, I evaluate this from two perspectives: First is “What would Gwen think?” And I think she would have been very pleased at all these people from her life saying these comic and amazing things about her. She would have felt seen and celebrated.
But the other perspective is what it must be like to be one of Gwen’s girlfriends in attendance. What would it be like to be among so many people whose principal connection with my partner is that they raised her? Would they be like that relative who does not see how embarrassing it is to show these old photos?
No, we are better than that. There were some endearing stories of young Gwen, like the one Tigger, her father, told of Gwen at 4 years crying:
Tigger: Gwen, no one gets their way by whining and crying
Gwen: Dad you don’t know anything about whining and crying.
But this is a story of Gwen in control and defiant and it reveals perhaps the most important not-quite-secret ingredient in what makes commune collective child raising so great. We teach defiance.
We teach kids how to hide from their parents when that is appropriate. We teach kids how to know when to break any rule. But more importantly, we teach how to be a conscientious rule breaker. How to know when you’re breaking rules and which rules are silly and should simply be ignored and to know what rules matter and why.
Gwen was the closest thing Willow (my daughter) had to a sister. But in some ways commune life made them much closer than most siblings would be. For almost a decade they were in every class, preschool or play activity together. They ate most meals together, hung out together at most parties and celebrations. And they shared approximately 2 bazillion hours of various video game chats together. Most siblings a year apart in age spend much less time together.
Gwen’s coffin surrounded by family and clan
Understandably Willow is pretty broken up about it. She was crying often during the funeral. I don’t consider myself a particularly great parent. But one thing I feel our family did well with Willow was encourage her to cry things out. No shame in tears, they are expressing needed emotional release. Let them flow.
But I am not worried about Willow though she is clearly hurting. Because emotional resiliency is another not-so-secret ingredient.
Editor’s Note: Though it is a bit old fashioned, i try pretty hard to run blog posts past people who are featured and named in them, to make sure they are comfortable being represented this way. Willow gave her blessing and happily thought i was actually a fine parent. Kate who facilitates sacred ceremonies, was happy to be called out. And Gwen’s dad Tigger approved this text before it was published. Carly shared her letter and amazing pictures. Thanks to Summer for more pictures and Kelpie for edits and tech support. Thanks to all of them for quick turn around on this recent event
I often find people comparing Hitler to Trump and i find it quite problematic. It displays an ignorance of history that US Americans are famous for and it elevates Trump’s impact in a way which feels problematically inaccurate. So let’s just dive in:
Genocide: Hitler is responsible for killing millions of Jews, Romani, disabled folks, and other ethnic and religious minorities. Beyond those murders, millions were tortured, enslaved, and raped. Trump banned people from Muslim-majority countries from entering the US, tried (with varying levels of success) to build a souther border wall, and called Mexicans rapists. Trump sent unmarked Federal Troops after BLM and antifa activists there were a handful of fatalities.
Press: Hitler’s Ministry of Propaganda closed 3/4s of the nations newspapers and all we under strict editorial control, Nazi controlled press dominated almost all media. Trump referred to the mainstream media as “fake news” but was unable to bar reporters he did not like from the White House press corps. He can take credit for the birth of terrible news sources like Newsmax and One America Network, it is unclear if these will survive the lawsuits which have been brought against them by voting machine companies.
Military expansion: Hitler drove the growth military to over 30% of the total population (over 22 million people), as well as indoctrinating children through the paramilitary organization known as Hitler youth. Trump’s military growth was flat compared to GDP and never reached Obama’s highest spending levels. Trump created the Space Force division of the military, which will likely just get folded back into the Air Force where it mostly came from. The US active military is less than 1% of the population (about 2 million people).
Homophobia: Hitler’s Nazis put 100,000 LGBT folks into concentration camps, destroyed scholarly work on sexuality and banned gay organizations and burned progressive sexual institutions. Trump banned new transgender soldiers joining the military, and appointed anti marriage equality supreme court justices. Biden reversed the transgender ban on his first day as president. Trump’s supreme court is his most lasting legacy.
Dictatorship: Hilter’s party took complete control of the government, all other political parties were disbanded and outlawed. The Nazi’s ruthlessly killed hundreds of political opposition within Germany. Trump lost the House, the Senate and the White House and was unable to get a single one of his appointed judges to rule in his favor. Trump’s supporters’ assault on the Capitol was uncoordinated, fanciful, ill conceived, and destined to failure. Hitler burned their Capitol and pinned it on the communists and used that to seize power. Trump got crowds to chant “lock her up”, Hitler did it.
Fascism: Hitler seized control of the entire industrial infrastructure of Germany, this is what fascism used to mean. Trump claimed to be a businessman and capitalist. He moved resources away from the government and towards corporations and established wealth. Hitler built a ruthless, dedicated and effective secret police network. Trump diminished the power of his intelligence services by regularly replacing their heads and firing generals he did not like.
Military Action: Hitler invaded 20 countries. Trump bombed Syria and assassinated an Iranian General. Trump withdrew the US from support of the Kurds in Syria and started the withdrawal from Afghanistan. Trump supported proxy wars in Yemen and Palestine.
Death: Google sez: “Some 75 million people died in World War II, including about 20 million military personnel and 40 million civilians, many of whom died because of deliberate genocide, massacres, mass-bombings, disease, and starvation.” Without Hitler as the charismatic leader of the Nazi party, that probably would not have happened. Trump can take significant responsibility for spikes in mass shootings and racist police killings and assaults, the murders and suicides associated with Jan 6th failed insurrection, unnecessary starvation and abuse on the southern border..
As terrible as Trump was, Hitler was a whole different class of monster.
Minimizing the impact of Hitler by comparing it to Trump’s antics is something someone from the US is more likely to do than someone from Europe or Asia.
What is important and similar in these men is that they both succeeded in driving a significant fraction of their population into doing destructive, damaging things, which are not in their best interests. He held rallies which, visually and content-wise, bear some similarities to rallies in Nazi Germany. QAnon has not gone away, the Proud Boys are seeing a spike in recruitment. Nor is the 2020 election defeat of Trump anything like the 1945 demise of Hitler, this threat is active and must be addressed.
Like Hitler til the end, Trump has not significantly been held responsible for his failures and crimes. Recent raids on Giuliani will put tremendous pressure on him to flip on the former president. Trump may yet face the music.
Edit help from Angie Tupelo
“If the vaccine is effective, there is no reason for people who have received the vaccine to wear masks or avoid physical contact. So maybe it does not work and they are just not telling you that.”
Tucker Carlson on Fox News April 13, 2021
And with this Tucker Carlson announced he is running for president. Trump proved you need no experience nor governance talent to hold the highest office in this land. But more importantly,Trump proved that a good angry story is far more important than the truth, especially when you have the Fox News amplifying the grievance behind the message.
Do i know for sure this is Carlson’s intention, certainly not. I am speculating wildly. But this speculation might be useful, if it encourages us to focus on how the raging culture wars are affecting us. And even if he is not running for president, Carlson’s pronouncement says several other important things. It says Fox News is committed to profits over public health. It says that Fox News is not afraid of lawsuits like the two cases brought by voting machine companies for Fox’s promotion of the Big Lie. [ Each of these cases is suing for amounts which exceed Fox News 2020 annual income of $1.5 billion.] It says we are entering a new realm in which press freedoms and first amendment rights are used to actively disinform people while the government appears unable to stop them.
“But is this really different from Fox harping on Hydroxychloroquine as a covid cure?” you might well ask. I think so. While Trump was in power, Fox could make great ratings by covering him and amplifying the points which made him successful. Without Trump’s lead, Fox is making their own news, and more importantly enabling destructive white suppremisist tendencies of the population by fueling their endless set of grievances. The Murdock network is choosing the build on the alt-facts model after the Trump champion is dethroned.
Trump’s retirement does not mean we get to relax.
I learned a lot of things from Coyote, one of the first things i learned from him was about death. In 2001, a few years after i had moved to Twin Oaks, a long time member Kana died. Coyote said an insightful thing about him. “When someone like Kana dies, you have to become stronger – because they leave the kind of hole in you that you can only fill with yourself.” Today i find that i have to be stronger for Coyote is irreplaceable to me.
But were he consulted, he would choose a different story to be remembered by, one i heard him tell with relish a number of times.
In the summer of 1982, a handful of armed FBI agents arrived at a cabin door in Indiana.
“Are you John Steven Fawley?”
“Would it make any fucking difference if i said ‘No’, officer?” asked Coyote in a most respectful tone.
“Absolutely none, Mr. Fawley”
“Then please come in officers, mi casa su casa” Coyote offered with a wave of his arm in greeting.
Inside they found 1254 marijuana plants growing.
Coyote would admit his role in the crime of growing these plants, he would take full responsibility and tell the judge that he was changing careers and the money would have allowed him to transition from teaching to what would ultimately be taking care of special needs kids.
In his contemporaneously delivered speech to the judge he would promise that “i am not a troublesome individual” the judge believed him, Coyote did no time in jail.
Coyote’s birthday was the day after Christmas which is also Chairman Mao’s birthday. And while he had myriad critiques of how the Chinese tried to implement communism, Coyote did have a deep respect for the vision of this revolutionary Chinese figure. Perhaps 50 years ago, and perhaps under the influence, Coyote and friends called the Chinese embassy and wished Mao a happy birthday and commented on the coincidence. The embassy staff person said “Chairman Mao and all the people of China wish Mr. Coyote a very happy birthday as well”.
He wanted to be nimble in his thinking, he did not want to be stuck in habits over substance or ethics. Coyote taught me everything i knew about baseball, about the shortstop being the soul of the team and what kinds of things to say in the club car of a train to sound like you know what you are talking about with respect to baseball. Coyote was a big Yankees fan, had been for decades, had cheered them on as they won numerous world series. We even donned nicknames for a hot minute, with him being Yankees owner Steinbrenner and me being the couch Joe Torre. The idea was he was increasingly stepping away from managing the communes affairs and i was stepping in to replace him.
But then in the summer of 2004, Dick Cheney was invited to Yankee Stadium just before the Yankees beat the Boston Red Socks. He was photographed with Joe Torre and sat in Steinbrenner’s box seats. That was it, Coyote retired as a yankees fan, threw out the baseball hats and other memorabilia and never went back, he dropped baseball as well, and since then i stayed away from club cars conversations about baseball.
But it is another parable of Coyote’s life that taught me the most, a parable i failed to tell him, tho i am sure he would deny it.
Coyote was a smart, literate and articulate guy. But as he grew older he seemed to drift towards being a curmudgeon, people annoyed him, the commune bureaucracy did not function as smoothly as he would have preferred. Having been a high functioning person for his whole life, it bothered him when others seemed to show up with weak effort. Those of us on his informal “care team” spoke about his growing resentments and if there were ways we should try to push him away from them, as he was needing increasing care from the community and all caregivers are volunteering.
And then over some weeks he seemed to chill out and become more grateful and less curmudgeonly. Oh he still had complaints, but they were toned down and less personal. He found his place in the collective which encouraged him to have a different voice.
Unlike most people, Coyote decided he would not become a curmudgeon and instead would be mostly grateful for his circumstance (“i’ve painted myself into a perfect corner” he used to say) and not let his furstrations poison his interaction with others who he was becoming increasingly dependant on.
Coyote was an avid reader and writes to his favorite authors. He wrote to the poet and revolutionary Wendell Berry who sent him back the powerful poem HOW TO BE A POET (to remind myself). Which includes the lovely lines:
There are no unsacred places;
there are only sacred places
And desecrated places.
Coyote’s funeral is this Saturday at 1:30. His final resting place will be sacred for us. It is possible for non-members to attend, but you need to follow the strict rules about social distancing and processioning. Hawina is coordinating outside guests coming to this event. You must contact her (at firstname.lastname@example.org) if you are not a current inside the Twin Oaks quarantine bubble and are interested in attending.
This blog post originally appeared on the Flip 2020 website
We have been in Maine for just three days and we have done a different type of action each day. The plan has always been to do at least one action a day, plus social media, networking to local groups, and fundraising to make the whole project work. And after months of planning, it was very satisfying for this plan to actually be working.
After getting negative results on our covid tests, the starting Flip 2020 team moved from Vermont to Maine on Friday, Sept 18, 2020. We had found out about a Black Lives Matter march and rally in Ellsworth, which is a town of just 8,000 people. We did not expect much of a crowd in this small town in a state which is 95% white. We were wrong.
Over 100 people showed up to an action which was principally organized by two talented high school seniors. This spirited march and engaging rally shows that racial justice is not something to just talk about in Maine; people are taking it quite seriously, which is great news in our efforts to flip the Senate away from the Republicans.
The nature of the Flip 2020 project is that we are always looking for how we can add our content to events that other people have organized. In this case we simply asked the young organizers if Tew could speak to the crowd, to which they quickly agreed with the following results:
I had never seen Tew speak in public before, and I was nervous as he jumped up the small hill to address the almost all white crowd. Within seconds my emotions shifted. He was personable, he was raw and authentic, he talked briefly but forcefully about his experience being a black man in Donald Trump’s America. But he did not let the crowd down. He ended up beat about the hope that these types of actions gave him for really the first time in his life and called on the assembled group to realize that this was the very beginning of the tide turning in this troubled country.
After the action we went to dinner with the organizers. We learned that weekly rallies, (and starting this week marches), have been happening in this small town since the execution by police of George Floyd on Memorial Day. We heard stories of their harassment by pro-Trump hecklers and of their plans to do more, despite the opposition.
Saturday is the big Farmers Market day in Maine and on Sept 19 we worked tabling with the Lisa Savage campaign in Cumberland, Maine (in the Portland area). This was where we learned first hand about how friendly and reasonable Maine is. Typically, when you hang out in the parking lot of a farmers market doing political work you spend the day hearing different excuses as to why people can’t possibly talk with you. Cumberland was not this way at all. Generally, people were happy to take our small fliers.
A surprising number of people stopped and engaged with us, often for long conversations. We had several conversations in which we felt like we really landed and people said they were changing their voting strategy because of our conversation. Maine has a slightly complex, but extremely fair ranked-choice voting system, which is the subject of an upcoming blog post. In essence, ranked choice voting prevents the type of third party spoiler situation which so often plagues independent party runs for office.
We got to work with Kelly, who is the field director for the Savage campaign. If you are ever going to run for office, you need someone very much like Kelly. Campaigns have a tremendous number of moving parts, including a slew of hard-working volunteers with a wide variety of skills, preferences, and availability staff need to take into account. Kelly’s spreadsheets have spreadsheets and her upbeat personality and quick wit make her the perfect person to model how to approach people at a Farmers Market. Kelly plans to move to Washington after the November election and continue to work for Senator Savage.
On the way back from the Ellsworth rally on Friday we learned of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s passing. It was a body blow to all of us in the car, who had just come off a very hopeful action. Everyone understood that the already high stakes of this election had just gone up again.
This informed our actions on Sunday morning. When our team met we discussed how we were going to show up at the vigil planned for downtown Portland that night. Facebook said 400 people had RSVPed to this event, which would make it one of the largest crowds we were likely to see in our time here.
But vigils are tricky in terms of doing political work. You need to be very careful to not run over the spirit of what is happening. You don’t want the event organizers or the participants feeling like you are disrespecting what they came there for. We went through lots of different ideas: should we create an event after the vigil, do a piece of street theater, order a bunch of pizzas and try to strike a conversation with participants as they left? In the end we decided all of this was too intrusive and went with a more subtle approach.
We would hand out a postcard, something commemorative of the great justice’s passing. We ultimately decided we would do an original piece of artwork depicting RBG on one side and a description of our group and Ranked Choice Voting on the other. We did not have that much time and we had a bunch of things to do, so we split up our task. Spencer would do the original artwork, I would write the text for the back of the postcard. Tew and Charles would scout the city of Portland, for where we could be in Monument Square to be effective but not intrusive. We needed a banner that we could use not just at this event but at others as well. Tew and Charles considered a dozen options before converging on the one we chose.
Cars went out, keyboards hummed and pens made quick work of what turned out to be a pretty impressive piece of original artwork, especially given that there was only 30 minutes to do it and basically no room for mistakes. The Staples staff was surprised when Charles took over their offices to complete our banner, but as is our way, we were gone before anyone kicked up a fuss.
We made it to the rally and read the mood of the crowd. Several speakers talked about how RBG would want us to follow her lead and fight tirelessly for democracy in the face of rising authoritarianism. We started offering folks the small postcards. Some people were clearly bothered by anything being given out at a vigil, but because the artwork was respectful, compelling and timely, the vast majority of people we silently approached were happy to take this piece of memorabilia and Tew quipped we would be up on refrigerators throughout the Portland area. In 40 minutes over 300 postcards had moved to the hands of happy recipients, including all of the event’s speakers.
In the car home, we did our regular micro evaluation. What worked, what didn’t and what we would do differently next time. What worked was this group which barely knew each other, pulled together as a team, had folks with strengths doing what they were good at and we easily rejected dozens of bad ideas with no one’s ego being hurt for suggesting something we did not agree on. What did not work, was that my text on the back of the postcard was a bit long and thus the font to get it printed was smaller than we would have liked. What we would do differently next time would be to get to the event earlier and build more of a connection with the organizers.
But what was clear, was that after actions everyday for our first three days, we were on a serious roll. Tonight we’re off to prepare for another BLM action in Bucksport, another small settlement which is showing up in a big way for racial justice. If you are looking for a ray of hope in these troubled times, it might just be in these surprisingly active tiny towns in the North of Maine.