Women’s groups organizing locally to take political action

Terri Mateer and Lynn Herring at Outdated in Kingston. (photo by Violet Snow)

When Terri Mateer and Lynn Herring, both volunteers at the Women’s March on Woodstock, sat down a week later to write postcards to their congresspeople, they met with Penny Truex at the Kingston café Outdated. Within two hours, they had seven other customers working at their table and an email list of 17. Their group, called Upstate and Updated, is one of many small collectives that have sprung up in the Catskills and elsewhere to channel the enthusiasm generated by marches held around the world on January 21.

“What’s so interesting to me,” said Herring, “is that women are leading these groups. Men are coming in on the fringes, wanting to help us, but the women are on the front line. This is a real upside to Trump. We found our power, our voices, and we’re seeing we can make a difference.”

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The national women’s march movement suggested writing postcards to congresspeople as the first of “10 acts in 100 days” following the marches. Truex brought a stack of antique postcards to the first meeting at Outdated. Because she is hard of hearing, the women were talking loudly as they discussed what to write. When she noticed people at other tables listening in, Mateer stood up and invited anyone interested to join. Since then, the group has been holding a postcard session at Outdated every Saturday at 11 a.m.

“People are enraged and feeling helpless. We’re trying to move that energy in a positive direction,” said Herring, who recently met with Republican Congressman John Faso’s staffer Ryan McAllister to discuss the Affordable Care Act. “Ryan had a sheet and was checking off what we were talking about. Phone calls and post cards do matter. If a congressman gets a bushel of post cards on their desk, they’re going to pay attention.”

Given that most of the Upstate and Updated participants are middle-aged or older, the group is educating attendees in how to use their electronic devices to get current information and connect with others through social media. People are also discussing how to talk to neighbors, find out if they’re registered to vote, and if not, help them sign up. On a conference with the tactical organization Swing Left, Mateer learned, “We’re a swing district, and to the north of us is another one. They believe the House is winnable by the Democrats in 2018 if we can get people out to vote.” She added, “Did you notice our district is shaped like a pussy hat?”

For information, go to the Upstate & Updated page on Facebook. The group will meet on Saturday, February 18, at Outdated, 314 Wall Street, Kingston, 11 a.m.-2 p.m. The February 25 meeting will be held at the LGBQT Center to make signs for the March for Education Justice on March 4, also in Kingston.

 

Catskills Indivisible

Catskills Indivisible takes its name from the Indivisible Guide, which went viral on social media after the election. The authors of the guide are congressional staffers who took lessons from the success of the Tea Party in pushing through their agenda under Obama. The Indivisible premise is that the biggest priority of politicians is to get reelected so they can continue to do their jobs. Therefore, they can be swayed by letters, phone calls, and visits from their constituents, especially when the communications arrive in concentrated doses, best served up by local groups who stay on top of the news.

Catskills Indivisible has been meeting since mid-November in Willow, said Laurie Osmond, who emphasized that her political activities are personal and in no way linked to her role on the Onteora school board. “After the election, I felt like I needed to do something,” she said, “because in my opinion, this is not about normal politics. It’s not ‘Boo hoo, my candidate lost.’ Trump represents something deeper and darker. I emailed 70 friends and said maybe we should get together and meet and talk. Fifty people showed up.”

With a professional background as a producer, project manager, and writer, Osmond decided to make use of her attraction to research and detail. She’s been gathering information on the political situation and sending out emails to a list that now numbers 225. “I verify everything I send out to make sure it isn’t clickbait, sensational stuff,” she said. “We’ve continued to meet every couple of weeks, writing postcards, making phone calls, sharing information.”

Because of Faso’s position on the committee to reform the ACA, said Osmond, “we have a unique opportunity. It’s important for his constituents to let him know how they feel about making health care affordable for everybody.”

To find an Indivisible group or a similar local group, go to https://www.indivisibleguide.com, which currently lists 25 groups within 25 miles of Woodstock.

 

Woodstock Action Coalition

“I don’t want to fight Trump,” said Rachel Holt of Woodstock Action Coalition. “I want to get him to do the right thing.” She and Betsy Mitchell met to figure out how to channel the sense of power and unity generated by the women’s marches. They considered their own strengths — Mitchell’s 30 years’ experience running a business and Holt’s skills as a musical director. They started by throwing a party at the Bearsville Theater on January 27 to celebrate the marches and encourage galvanized marchers to connect with each other.

One problem, said Holt, is the plethora of groups and issues. How do people decide where to take action? To address that sense of overwhelm, an Action Coalition trade fair has been scheduled for March 11 at the Bearsville Theater. Local groups can set up booths in the theater, and the Coalition will offer a questionnaire people can fill out, identifying their skills and interests, so each individual can be matched up with a group that needs a particular skill or is working on a particular issue.

When a group decides to organize or attend an event, the Coalition will help disseminate that information so other groups can join in. The Coalition is in the process of applying for 501c3 non-profit status and can serve as an umbrella for other groups that want to hold events.

Mitchell and Holt have training in group dynamics and mediation, experience they will apply to Coalition meetings. “In Woodstock, everyone is creative and artistic and has their own idea,” Holt observed. “It’s tricky to get a lot of alphas to work together.” They will also teach people to research news and distinguish the real from the fake.

For more information, or to sign up for the email list, go to http://woodstockactioncoalition.com. The Coalition will meet to strategize on Saturday, February 18, from 10 a.m. to noon at the Peterson House (Commune Saloon) in the Bearsville Theater complex.

 

Focus on Faso

When Sheila Isenberg marched in New York City, she not only felt invigorated but also was encouraged by seeing so many men and younger women participating. She decided, instead of sitting at home and getting depressed, to organize a group. Compiling a list of women who had been on the bus to New York, plus a few other friends, including three younger women, she invited them to a meeting at her house. On February 14, about 20 people showed up, including Laurie Ylvisaker, Gayle Jamison, Sara Henry, and Suzanna Cramer, who brought her 10-year-old daughter.

The group, which does not have a name yet, is keeping their plans simple. “Our intent is to meet once a month,” said Isenberg, “come up with an action, do the action, come back and tell the group how we did, and come up with a new action plan.” They felt the most effective work could be done locally, with a focus on Faso and on the possibility of ousting him in the 2018 elections. “We’re going to find out who might be running against him, hopefully a progressive woman, and support her.” They will seek a meeting with Faso, and four women will research issues, coming up with a list of points to discuss with him. Some of the group will join Faso Fridays, a weekly noontime gathering of activists in front of the congressman’s office.

Also discussed at the meeting were such topics as how keep positive, how to have a cordial dialogue with Republicans, and the importance of working in groups. For Isenberg, these activities hearken back to the sixties, when she joined New York Radical Feminists and started a women’s consciousness-raising group. “I’m sad and upset that we have to do it again,” she said, “but what can you do?” She feels it’s important to choose specific issues to work on, to keep from getting swamped by the deluge of information. “And,” she said, “we have to keep our sense of humor by watching Saturday Night Live and Stephen Colbert.”

 

At the moment, this group is only for women. For more information, email isenberg@hvc.rr.com.

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