The women arrive carrying ceramic bowls of muffins and popcorn. They introduce themselves and shrug out of winter coats, peel the backs off name tags, jot words on green post-its and find seats around the room.
We set up the easel, the flip chart, the clipboards, the jar full of pens.
We share our names, our role models in the movement, the things that make us smile.
After skimming Parker Palmer’s Circle of Trust touchstones, we give a collective nod to a tenor of inquiry and welcome.
Then we begin.
In threes. Then individually. Then in a raw conversation among ten. One takes notes, another captures the momentum with arrows and stars on the big paper.
For three hours, we speak and listen. We hold our anxieties at bay. We focus on ways we can take effective action to preserve democracy.
The women arrived as strangers. Threading our questions and attention through the center of this circle, we weave community.
My living room, a community center.
Curled on the sofa and perched on kitchen chairs, we define then expand on our common aims. Where can we increase our public involvement effectively? How can we plug our individual strengths into to collective projects and efforts? We are eager to identify gaps in our knowledge and lay out ideas for bridging those gaps.
The women come to build community and expand activist networks. To create mechanisms of support.
To inspire hope and energy for the long game.
We have arrived.
With our questions and doubts.
With our confusion and sometimes crippling anxiety.
With our commitment to preserving what we can of our republic, and to protecting our most vulnerable neighbors.
The women have gathered. We’ve opened into each other.
We talk of immigration and law, of electoral politics and civil disobedience. We consider the possibility that anarchism, at its core, is not firebombs and spray paint, but on-the-ground networks of community and mutual aid — networks that will become even more critical as democratic institutions fragment in the coming months and years.
On the big white flip chart, we map the landscape of civic engagement. Our green post-its leaf across the field, and we notice that our role models step a little further out than we do. The ones who inspire us — Sylvia Mendez, Harriet Tubman, Dolores Huerta — take bold action to disrupt systems of unjust power. We are only just finding our feet. A little uncertain, a little stuck in the safe zone, we haven’t yet gotten beyond calling senators and donating to the ACLU.
In this community center of women in a living room, we explore notions of safety that delineate the borders of our engagement. In individual reflection, each of us lists the abundance of resources and privilege and relationships that can support us as we step a out from ourselves and take the risk of public action in line with our values.
The women hear the low howl of fear, unique in its individual note, yet familiar as it hits the common chord.
Up from even lower thrums a more resonant sound. The pulse belongs to desire, that forever living creature tucked inside each of us who knows we are capable of growing so much bigger than we ever imagined we’d need to be.
Yet now we are here
Needing to be
As mighty as mountains.
We turn inside out
Image: Washerwomen from Bread and Puppet Theater’s “Nothing Is Not Ready Circus” performed in Glover, Vermont, on Aug. 24, 2014. (Greg Cook)