I described myself, for the first time yesterday, as a political activist. In response to a question about what I do, at the luncheon for the Inauguration Ceremony for Sarah Lawrence's new President, Cristle Collins Judd. It was nice to finally be able to come up with the answer I've been looking for since the kids left for college. Writer, Yoga Teacher, never totally fit the bill.
I don't think I ever thought of myself as particularly an activist before, but listening to the Symposium on Inauguration morning, made me realize that is exactly what I am, and that it was SLC that allowed me to do so. I don't come from people who are politically active by any stretch of the imagination. I come from people who hide their political views so the Cossacks can't come take them away when the political winds change. But yet when I saw something I thought was wrong, it didn't occur to me that I couldn't fix it. And that is what I got from Sarah Lawrence College.
My activism began in the usual way. The dogs. Our little town park had hosted an off leash dog park for decades. It was heaven, lots of space for dogs to run free, lovely community of dog owners, and one of the major factors in our choosing our house, easy walking distance away. Then a new administration came in and decided this illegality would no longer be tolerated. Five years later, after far too many Park Council Meetings (including one after a six month trial period where all involved agreed that the trial worked great and none of the feared dog incidents came to pass and yet they still weren't going to let us be off leash!)and City Council meetings, carrying sheaves of paper petitions, bending the ear of everyone in sight, and organizing a voting block that was devoted to off leash access at our park as our primary issue, we had a brand spanking new legal right to be in the park, off-leash, in certain parts and during certain times. A reasonable compromise between off leash owners and the people who didn't want to be near dogs. Good government listening to the people.
The strangest thing to me, was the number of people after the law was passed, who came up to me to tell me they never thought it could get done. It was just too much to fight City Hall. It was nice to hear their congratulations, but also really weird. It had honestly never occurred to me that with enough work, it wouldn't get done. We advanced a fair cause, with a reasonable compromise so everyone could feel safe and happy in the park and we had the numbers and facts to prove it. Listening to the First Year students ask important, well thought out, and sometimes very pointed, questions of the eminent guests at the Symposium yesterday made me realize that it was Sarah Lawrence that gave me the unshakeable confidence to question the status quo and to advocate for what I knew was right and just.
Last fall with the kids off at college, I had the time to volunteer to make calls for Hillary Clinton. I called and wrote letters to voters in Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. I was devastated by the outcome of the election. I wasn't sure how I could live in an America that would vote in a reality-TV star over a stateswoman (although I'm pretty sure the awkwardness of the word stateswoman, is a big fucking clue). I was heartbroken and I didn't know what I would do next.
Then I went to the Women's March, and after the March, I attended a meeting organized by some of the women who had met there, in a little suburban church in a nearby town. The meeting was supposed to be in the church's basement and they expected about 200 people. Over 700 of us showed up. The church graciously let us use their sanctuary, so we could all hear and I learned about Indivisible and the Indivisible Guide. (seriously, check them out, they are awesome https://www.indivisible.org and find or found a local group.) We broke down into small groups to put the Indivisible model into action and when no one else volunteered to run our group, I raised my hand. The most damning thing I found out was although Democrats enjoy a 2:1 registration advantage in Westchester County, we almost invariably lose local elections, because only 25% of us turn out to vote in these off-off years. My new goal became to work to change that. And I believe we can, but it's going to take some work.
So now I head up our local Indivisible 6&7 (Westchester County Board of Legislative Districts) facebook pages and send out a weekly newsletter. We've got 100 activists who show up for debates and Town Halls, make calls, knock on doors, write emails, advocate in person and to the papers and most of all are committed to VOTE! I also volunteer at George Latimer (running for County Executive)'s local headquarters and will be at our Farmer's Market tomorrow handing out cards for George, Catherine Parker (our BOL 7 representative) and our Moving Rye Forward (Dem Mayoral and City Council candidates) Team. I am able to speak in public about the things that matter to me, because Sarah Lawrence taught me that as long as I had the facts, I could back up any opinion. And for that I am ever thankful.
Our local elections are one month away. November 7th. And we are going to rock it.
(If you are not yet registered in NY, you still have time http://citizenparticipation.westchestergov.com/voting/register-to-vote If you need an absentee ballot, you still have time http://citizenparticipation.westchestergov.com/voting/absentee-ballots If you do not bother to vote, I will yell at you, and you will never again be allowed to express a political opinion in my presence. If you don't vote, you don't get to complain.)