Revelations of a Rural Progressive in the Deep South
Momma said I was never lazy. She said all she had to do was get me started. I believe that to be the gospel truth. I remember volunteering for the Obama Campaign in June, 2008 and wondering: what in the world had I had gotten myself in to? I volunteered for six weeks and committed to thirty hours per week; almost a full time job. What I didn't know is how much was involved. Initially I thought, I'll call a few people, register some voters, and be done with it. I couldn't afford to donate cash but time; that I had.
We (volunteers) attended sessions in Atlanta that gave us ‘organizer’ training; they sent us out to register voters on a Saturday morning and I did not do very well at all. It was a busy Atlanta corner! How in the world was I going to come home to a county with 20,000 people (80%) Republican and do any better? The field organizers doing the initial training in Atlanta had to be crazy.
I gave up mentally before I tried. We committed to do two house meetings and a voter drive that weekend before we left the training. What in the world was I thinking? I left my clip boards and pens in Atlanta that the campaign had given me. I called the Manager at the local Jesup grocery to ask permission to set up a table to register voters. I asked if he’d donate the clip boards and pens, while listening to him I'm thinking to myself dog gonnit; isn’t that a shame? Why did he say Yes? Clipboards and pens; How many do you need?
So early, on that first Saturday morning, my alarm went off and I hit the snooze button. I hit snooze again and again. My mind began a rambling conversation something like "fool, what do you think you are doing?", "Are you really going up there by yourself?”, ”no one in Atlanta will know if you don't go" and "they don't know what it's like down here in the woods".
Then my self talk transitioned to "You'll know", "God knows", "You made a commitment," and "You made a promise." Words and values my upbringing taught me kept coming fast and strong. I laid there becoming more and more uncomfortable. My inner conversation turned to thoughts of a movie called Field of Dreams I remember thinking, You wanted to turn it (the movie) off but as you kept watching it you learned a moral lesson about not giving up, no matter what. That's what's important. I was transformed and inspired by my memory of that movie on a morning in late June 2008. I remember how it made me feel; I cried watching that movie and I was humbled that morning with spirit because I knew what I had to do. My goodness! I still love that movie! As I lay there my thoughts began to change, "If I get up and go down there, the people will come." "If I build it they will come." "If I build Obama a base, his supporters will come!"
So I dragged myself out of bed and got to the Harvey's Grocery in Jesup Georgia late to set up my table. I bought red, white, and blue, balloons to prove how patriotic I was. I decorated the table and was about to sit down when a white mini-van pulled up alongside. A bearded older gentleman with the bluest of eyes looked dead at me and asked, "Hey! Are you with that Obama campaign?"
Startled, I said "No sir!"
He frowned and looked at the woman driving and looked back at me. "Are you doing a voter registration drive?"
I nodded my head slowly and said, "Uh huh, Yes sir, bi-partisan."
He narrowed his eyes while reflecting on my answer and slowly started shaking his head back and forth while saying softly under his breath, "That's funny, someone called me last night from Savannah and told me that if I showed up here today, I could help do a voter registration drive for Barack Obama."
I looked at him and said, “Well, Heck Mister! You scared me half to death; Park your car over there and come on back; I am volunteering for the Obama Campaign.”
I learned that day how important a team is. Although I was alone the night before my first voter registration drive in my hometown of Jesup, Georgia, my Team, #26 Savannah, phone-banked until they recruited volunteers to help me early that morning. They found me support. I was an hour and ten minutes late that morning due to fear, isolation, and apathy. The bearded man is a Pastor who used to vote Republican. He talked about being raised and living prejudiced for years and about the "plantation-minded south and how much work needs done." He said he watched the now famous speech then Senator Barack Obama gave in Philadelphia, March, 2008 on race relations in America, A More Perfect Union and how that changed him. He shared things with me that day that made my heart glad that I was able to be there for him to participate in the Democratic process under such challenging circumstances. It was quite an inspiring time.
I always think about that day and tell this story because it proves one thing. Peer pressure in rural organizing is a killer of the very best intentions. Deer in the headlights 'doesn't have anything on us.' Internal angst propelled me forward that day and Organizing Change in Georgia with Team Rural has continued that way. Pastor Jimmy (the bearded man) was motivated by his own internal angst that morning; he drove to that store three times before finding me. I am humbled every time I think about our beginning. The Bible says ‘in a fear inspiring way I am wonderfully made' and we are. Team Rural is made in a fear inspiring way. We all are. We are proof that just getting started is the hardest part.
We organized for our President Barack Obama; now we are organizing on the local level. We have indeed started organizing the very social change in Georgia that we need. We are fulfilling our nations' and our communities' unspoken desire for healing from racism and prejudice. Internal angst as a nation propels us toward a better day, a more perfect union. As one of my best friends likes to say, that feels really, really good.