For the Common Good, Year 4

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In January 2017, just after Trump’s inauguration and the ensuing counter-inaugural Women’s March, my wife and I formed a small political group that we named “For the Common Good”.  We had both been politically active for most of our time in the Washington, DC area, but like many, had “coasted” through  President Obama’s second term under the mistaken belief that our beloved President alone could take care of guiding the ship of state.  We did take the 2016 presidential election seriously, donating to both Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, displaying yard signs, working phone banks, and presiding at a Democratic Party table at our polling place on election day.  I even signed up to fill the empty position of Democratic Precinct Chair in our suburban Maryland town and attended the trainings and pep-rallies that went with that job.

Andrea and I had re-connected with some old friends during the 2016 campaign.  Most of us had ended up working for Hillary, and all of us were stunned at the enormity of what we had lost.  We had a few informal meetings and dinners at our home to share our grief, support one another, and begin to plot a response.  Andrea and I are longtime supporters of the MoveOn political organization and we also hosted a couple of political meetings under the MoveOn banner in the weeks preceding the 2017 inauguration.

We were inspired and energized by the Women’s March and began planning to dig in for a long period of political resistance. A younger friend (Andrea and I are both retirees) suggested that we investigate a new group called Indivisible that he had read about on the Vox news-site.  I eagerly studied the group’s founding document – the Indivisible Guide – and Andrea and I both responded positively to the political resistance strategy described there.  But more than that, we were drawn to Indivisible’s call for groups of citizens to join together in regular face-to-face meetings, to support one another as friends and neighbors, and to re-invigorate the kind of grassroots, participatory democracy that we were hungering for.

In late January 2017 we met with a dozen of our politically oriented friends and neighbors to discuss the idea of establishing an ongoing Indivisible chapter.  Some had already read the Indivisible Guide online, and everyone was drawn to forming a mostly autonomous small group of friends that would have an Indivisible affiliation.  I agreed to be the group convener, suggesting that we meet monthly and that we limit our numbers so as to be able to meet in our homes.  Andrea suggested a name for us, “For the Common Good”, to affirm the kind of political culture we were most interested in co-creating. Everyone agreed and I proceeded with the simple process of registering us online.

As we enter our fourth year, I’m inspired at how far our group has come.  I’ve taken my role as “convener” seriously and have helped ensure that we meet one Sunday morning every month.  I maintain a list of member contacts, monitor the group’s email discussions, and create suggested agendas.  We’ve lost 3 or 4 people from our founding group, but have added about that number of new members as well. Other group members have come forward to host meetings in their homes and that has added to the feeling of a group of committed political friends.

When we started the group, Andrea and I were interested in co-creating a kind of support group that also took on specific politically oriented projects. About half of our monthly meetings consist of an opening “go-round” in which everyone is free to share virtually anything they care to.  All of us felt burdened by the daily flow of bad news we were hearing and seeing from TV and radio, print media, and increasingly, social media.  Our group gives everyone an opportunity to share these burdens, to feel less alone, and to join in solidarity in projects of our choosing.  As trained counselors, Andrea and I were well aware of the kind of isolation and despair that often emerges when people feel defeated and depressed.  We weren’t running a therapy group, but an important goal was to provide support when any of our members’ spirits were sagging.

Andrea and I lived in Takoma Park, MD in the 1980’s and 90’s when the town had come alive with widespread community involvement in local, national, and international issues.  We volunteered to serve on town commissions, helped organize annual Martin Luther King Day celebrations, and worked to elect progressively minded citizens to the town Council and Mayor’s office.  We adopted the slogan “Think Globally, Act Locally” and see our work with Indivisible as a continuation of our earlier grassroots experience in Takoma Park.

An early local project that our new Indivisible group took on was a successful, year-long effort to get our county (Montgomery County, MD) to adopt a stronger minimum wage law, up to $15 per hour.  We studied up on the issue, attended public hearings, Council meetings, and rallies, and even set up meetings to lobby individual Council members.  (I’ve written in more detail about this effort on my Blog piece of 11/13/2017.)

Some people in our group were health care administrators and practitioners and wanted to do a deep study of the existing healthcare insurance system and consider some of the new proposals that were emerging — especially Medicare for All. We spent many of our meetings focused on the goal of achieving universal health care, with health care regarded as a universal human right.  We joined forces with an established group called Physicians for Universal Healthcare to meet with Sen. Ben Cardin on two separate occasions. Others of us met with our respective Congressional representatives.  In this we were fulfilling one of the main strategies of the national Indivisible – to meet regularly with our Congress people.

In the 2018 state and county election, many of us attended candidate debates and even worked for specific candidates.  There were a plethora of Democratic candidates in the primaries and our meetings gave us a forum to discuss the pros and cons of individual candidates.

One local issue that occupied us in Year 3 was the State’s proposed construction of added lanes to our congested traffic arterials in the DC-Maryland area.  Our members have attended the State’s formal presentations as well as those of local citizens’ groups opposed to specific aspects of the highway widening.  Earlier this month, we engaged in a successful letter-writing campaign for the state Board of Public Works to delay moving forward until local elected officials had a chance to weigh in.

We had a special holiday meeting last Sunday that included a potluck brunch after a shortened group discussion.  We were all in a festive mood as we were joined by two of our younger members as well as two spouses of established members. Some of us reported on our attendance at a local “Impeach and Remove” rally on the night before the historic House vote for impeachment on 12/18.

The group has clearly become what Andrea and I were hoping for – friends who have come to more deeply know and trust one another, and who are willing to invest time and energy to protect, defend, and advance our precious democratic traditions and institutions.

John Bayerl, 12/26/2019

 

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