Moments to remember every day of 2018

By Alex Woodward, OFA Digital Organizing Director

2018 is already rolling full steam ahead. There’s endless talk of November and even of 2020, by God. But such distant sights obfuscate the everyday moments of strength that have pulled us through the tough times, when hope felt more like a Hallmark card than the truth.

So as the end of January nears and 2017 begins to fade further into memory, let’s revisit the story the past year told, with the anecdotes below guiding us through. Let’s lock 2017 away as a year that was challenging and upsetting, but in the end, ultimately a testament to the resilience of the human spirit.

I invite you to step away from the madness that’s become so normal since November 2016, and take a minute to find your own moment of power from 2017 that will keep you going through this year. Hold onto it. You — we — will need it.

2017 began with a farewell to one era and an apprehensive, reluctant hello to the next. As a community, progressives came out of the gate strong. From the very beginning, we marched and we rallied to protect the Affordable Care Act from being repealed and to showed our support for the immigrant communities already under attack. We showed the new administration in Washington that their priorities didn’t reflect those of the majority of Americans, and that they needed to take their responsibility seriously as true representatives. And this huge burst of new activism was felt in communities nationwide.

“My story of hope is special to me because it is not at all unique. The OFA Nob Hill Albuquerque Team had been organizing since 2009. In 2016, there were 30 folks on the email list and 18–20 active members.

In January 2017, we hosted an OFA Living Room Community Meeting. Sixty four people we did not know, or who were friends of friends, showed up, shared their fears, concerns, and hopes. Many reported sleep and digestive problems and a sense of isolation. That night all 64 signed up for #OFAction. Now, the OFA Albuquerque Chapter has three neighborhood teams and four issues teams that work on everything from health care, climate, gun safety, women’s issues, and immigration. The teams, each with its own team leader, have attended a myriad of rallies, marches, press conferences, member-of-Congress office visits, and planning/training meetings, and we’ve actively supported DREAMers and their families and created new partnerships with other groups.

Why does this give me hope? …because people showed up and they keep on showing up — and this story has been duplicated across the country!! OFA ABQ is NOT unique!! A new sense of community has been created. There is an OFA community that has been created in our city, but that reaches beyond our borders through email, Facebook, Twitter, conference calls, and OFA groups old and new!! When hope for our country begins to fade, inspiration is only a visit, a team meeting, a call, a tweet, or an email away.”

— Judy S., NM

“We belong to the Napa Center for Spiritual Living, an inclusive community with the mission to be co-creators of a world that works for everyone. After the Trump election, we knew this was going to be an especially heavy lift. On the day of the first Women’s March, Jan. 21, 2017, some 20 of us gathered at the church hoping to join whatever sister-march in Napa others were participating in. It’s a short walk from the church to where marchers planned to be assembled, and we were walking along what looked to be deserted streets. We had pretty much decided that we might be alone.

But when we turned the corner, to our surprise we saw a street lined with marchers as far as we could see. It took us another 10 minutes to reach the end of line and our faces hurt from smiling and greeting so many along the way. The official count was over 3,000. It was startling, heartening, and amazing that such numbers turned out, cheering one another, being kind and peaceful, happy even to share their determination to turn things around. That day meant everything to me. When I need to tell myself, ‘Stay calm! Keep on!’ I return in my mind and heart to that wonderfully uplifting day.”

— Darlene N., CA

“My favorite memory took place at the Women’s March in Raleigh, NC. I marched alongside my daughter, my daughter-in-law, and my two granddaughters (age 6 yrs and 11 months). What a statement we made!”

— Anne H., NC

This fervor wasn’t short-lived, either. We kept up the pace, showing up at town halls and calling out representatives who were hiding from their constituents throughout February, March, and April. New volunteers stepped up to join the OFA Fellowship Program, where they got trained on the basics of organizing and bringing their communities together—training that turned marchers into long-term organizers.

This power-building worked. At the end of March, this organizer community saw a huge success — a scheduled vote to repeal Obamacare had so little support that leaders in Congress had to cancel the vote altogether.

But we didn’t pat ourselves on the back for a job well done, wipe our hands clean, and walk away. We kept it up.

We marched for science.

In May, volunteer OFA leaders from around the country met in Chicago to regroup. They put their heads together, sharing what had been working in their areas, pooling ideas, and making plans for the months ahead.

Meeting of the Movement, volunteer summit, May 2017

We partnered with others, too, to make sure we were a unified, strong force. We held volunteer briefing calls with folks like Indivisible, and led an online training series on essential organizing skills with Swing Left that were open and free for anyone who wanted to join. We launched a major partnership with other leaders in the progressive movement so that trained OFA Fellows can plug into important advocacy efforts, or even learn how to run for office.

Volunteers didn’t just rally around national efforts, they also got involved locally. Hoosiers worked on getting decision-makers in Indiana to sign the “we are still in” declaration to take action on climate change. Folks in Wisconsin threw themselves into education and advocacy efforts around gerrymandering and the need for fair maps. Fellows in South Carolina built local support around the outdated and dangerous school buses that were still in use, posing a serious hazard to children—ultimately leading the statehouse to overturn the governor’s veto of funding for new vehicles.

“We collected over 1000 signatures from Marylanders asking Governor Hogan to sign on to the Paris Climate Accord. We got more than one box of Affordable Care Act information brochures and passed them all out before the sign up deadline. We went to grocery stores, nail salons, restaurants, churches, and even a bar to get the information to the public.”

— Rosie E., MD

“A powerful moment for me was creating my first Twitter account. I’ve been avoiding it for years because I’ve seen how dumb the users can be. However, I made one to battle for the net.”

— Lauren T., FL

In May, district teams began forming as part of the Rubber Stamp Reps campaign— an effort to hold members of Congress accountable for rubber-stamping the administration’s agenda instead of representing their constituents. Volunteers from these districts are helping to bring attention to representatives’ harmful votes as we roll into 2018.

All the while, we kept bringing the heat every single time leaders in Congress tried to repeal the Affordable Care Act. (There were a lot of attempts. It was a blur.)

And that was just the first half of the year.

Still we didn’t slow down. We welcomed even more OFA Fellows from communities around the country—and for the veteran organizers, we launched a program to provide advanced leadership skills so they could coach their own teams of Fellows.

“So many memories. I became an OFA Fellow. Our Denver Neighborhood OFA team hosted an ACA birthday party celebrating the passage of the Affordable Care Act. I assisted in training the next group of fellows. We held a “rubber stamp” event in Rep Mike Coffman’s District CD6, which is flippable in 2018. I hosted phone banking at my home. I have met so many great people, and that gives me hope. Here’s a photo from the Coffman event we held in conjunction with the EDF-Action group and Ceasefire.”

— Christine B., CO

Christine’s #RubberStamp event in CO-CD6

In the fall, our network of OFA supporters and partners took a stand as the administration dismantled the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, just one of its discriminatory policy moves. We marched (again), we formed volunteer leadership teams, we made calls and hosted dinner conversations, all to build pressure for a congressional solution to protect young immigrants — students, professionals, veterans, business creators, sons, daughters, and parents — as they started losing their status.

Milwaukee, Wisconsin

And for the first time in OFA’s history, volunteer teams took on the critical work of pushing for a more participatory, accessible democracy by helping people in their neighborhoods register themselves to vote. Knowing that voter disenfranchisement has many forms, we also teamed up with the National Democratic Redistricting Committee to begin the work of changing rigged, gerrymandered districts that result in unfair representation.

There’s still a ton of work ahead, but it’s within our power as citizens to restore fairness to our democracy.

Atlanta, GA

OFA’s training efforts have always focused on helping volunteers build and refine their skills so that they’re able to be more effective in their own advocacy efforts. For many, that meant getting involved in local elections.

“A day I will always remember was election day in Virginia. My friend and I walked miles in the cold and pouring rain, knocking on more doors than we can remember. We met wonderful people of like minds, all promising us they were going out to the polls no matter how bad the weather was. They often invited us in from the rain and they always thanked us for being out there on behalf of our great candidates. The election was thought to be a nail biter and we were somewhat pessimistic. When the election was called so early, all of our people winning by large margins, we were ecstatic. I feel like that election bodes very well for 2018; I’m very proud and privileged to have been among the activists who worked so hard to win.”

— Susan S., VA

“Democratic wins in Virginia (governor’s race) and in Alabama (senator’s race)—defeating Roy Moore was particularly powerful. Let us keep up working, fight the good fight all the while not stooping to name calling, divisive tactics, bigotry, and all the ugliness that is coming from this White House.”

— Betsey K., MD

Ultimately, we know that we’ll only be able to bring about a more accessible, participatory democracy if we are active in our own communities, bringing neighbors together, and learning from them. We must seek to understand how we can be better at living with, loving, and having respectful dialogue with our neighbors — because if we isolate ourselves from others who disagree with us, we’ll only become further alienated from each other. In an effort to help us all listen more deeply, ask questions more graciously, and disagree more productively, OFA’s training team launched a 5-part series on Effective Conversations to break down what we all think we know, but could do better: Listen to each other.

It’s in this spirit of hope and momentum that we have charged headlong into 2018. There’s a lot more work to do, but the truth is that our resilience and our drive for a better future is still alive and well.

Let’s keep it up.

“I was in D.C for the WMW and seeing so many people there that knew that our country was in unbelievable trouble was comforting and inspiring.

‘For last year’s words belong to last year’s language and next year’s words await another voice.’ —T.S. Eliot”

— Linda Y., FL

“This year I was honored to be presented with multiple citations for outstanding leadership and contributions to the community in my home state of New York. I was acknowledged by my community for all the long hours and hard work I’ve done organizing for action and good in my community and abroad. I had a silent donation filled with prayers for Paris and every cent I could afford. I also worked to promote fraud prevention awareness through Letters to the Editor. I was also proud when my community rose above and beyond for gun violence prevention. Educating the youth and the public about safety, community building, and regulation was my goal for 2017. I felt proud when I found a star from an old national campaign.

‘Kindness appreciates character.’ Thank you, OFA. 2017 was special because of your guidance and efforts overall.”

— Katheline P., NY