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Columnist Sara Weinberger: Get out of the house, get inspired

  • A girl carries a message during a protest against white nationalism Aug. 13 outside City Hall in Northampton in the wake of violence in Charlottesville, Va., on Aug. 12. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO



Sunday, August 20, 2017

“It’s like sleeping next to a fire,” the gentleman standing next to me remarked. He was quoting blogger Jennifer Hoffman, who likens the current political atmosphere to a threatening forest fire.

The metaphor resonates with me. Since President Donald Trump’s inauguration, I increasingly feel as if we are living at the edge of a precipice.

It was the morning after the white supremacists’ march of hate in Charlottesville, Virginia. The anxiety over Trump’s recent game of chicken with North Korea had played havoc with my sleep, but on this morning the thought of torch-wielding neo-Nazis on the streets of Charlottesville eclipsed even the threat of nuclear war. How can we contain the fire of hate threatening our country?

I was so motivated following the January Women’s March. I never left home without making a phone call to a legislator. I organized, marched, and rallied every chance I had.

Seven months later, I felt depleted and discouraged. My motivation was waning. Trump’s repugnant response to the violence in Charlottesville was my wake-up call to action that beckoned me to the Sunday morning meeting of the Bad Ass Activists, a local resistance group. They meet every Sunday at 10:30 a.m. at Click Workspace on Market Street in Northampton.

I expected the group to be dominated by aging activists like me. Instead, I entered an intergenerational space, and was warmly welcomed by Chelsea Kline, Tanya Rapinchuk and Lisa Berkovit, three of the four Generation Xers — the other is Hannah Gyovai — who organize Bad Ass meetings, speakers, and weekly actions. The Bad Asses formed as an antidote to the suffering so many people experienced after Nov. 8.

Chelsea describes the key to the group’s success as, “Knowing there is a consistent time and place where people can drop in … and take the edge off their feelings of hopelessness and horror.”

The organizers bring a range of skills and interests to the table, from activism focused on gender equity to creating community, to baking tasty treats for their meetings. They have families and day jobs, but are compelled to show up each week, believing that their voices matter.

Even on this sunny Sunday morning, people were working at every table, taking actions on issues chosen by the organizers, writing postcards, letters, and making phone calls. Several introduced themselves to “newbies” like me.

I noticed Rachel and Pam Hannah, two members of my synagogue, working at a table. Pam said they began coming as “a way to have some regular touches with doing activism in a group,” after realizing that “working in isolation wasn’t sustainable.” Their 7-year-old son, Gabe, usually joins them. Children are welcome here.

I had always told my social work students that activism is less scary and more fun when you join forces with others. I felt so positive and empowered in the company of thousands of demonstrators parading through the streets last January. Lindsay Sabadosa, of Northampton, coordinated the Massachusetts Women’s March and hasn’t stopped to take a breath since.

If you attended the march and rally for health care in Northampton last month or learned how tasty resisting Trump could be at the recent Impeach Pie and Voter Registration event, you can thank Lindsay and her team of local activists. As the organizer for the Pioneer Valley Women’s March, she and a steering committee of six local women focus “on getting people out of their homes and into communities” through monthly activities. I recently met with Lindsay, accompanied by her young daughter, at the Haymarket Café in Northampton to learn more about her work.

I often tell my friends that if only I lived in Boston, I could advocate at the Statehouse every day. Lindsay dismisses distance as a barrier to resistance. The Pioneer Valley Women’s March brought people to the Statehouse to lobby for the Safe Communities Act, as well as for Women’s Advocacy Day. She encourages those new to activism to understand “that the Statehouse is their building.” The Pioneer Valley Women’s March recently helped students at JFK Middle School in Northampton take to the streets to march against sexual harassment.

Lindsay refutes those who believe it’s pointless to rally in the progressive Pioneer Valley “bubble.” In her words, “I’ve heard so many times there’s no sexual harassment, racism, and discrimination in Northampton. These things are happening and we need to march against them. Two thousand people in Northampton voted for Trump. Marching builds community. You get out to march and you’re inspired. You get to speak your mind through your feet.”

The publicity that comes from marching and rallying can influence others.

The Badass Activists and Pioneer Valley Women’s March are only two of the many western Massachusetts groups taking action to safeguard human rights and democracy locally, as well as nationally. Find out what they and other groups are organizing through Indivisible Northampton’s calendar at http://www.indivisiblenoho.com/events/

Get out of the house and get inspired!

Sara Weinberger, of Easthampton, is a professor emerita of social work and writes a monthly column.