I have spent most of my life wondering how, if at all, I could make a difference. It’s a lofty ideal, but it didn’t mean much because I never allowed myself to get past the part where I wondered about the difference I could make. For a variety of reasons, I could never advance past the “ideal” stage.
Thirty-three days ago, I attended the rally for Unite Against the War on Women. It was an absolutely perfect Arizona morning, and the event was held on the lawn in front of the capitol building in downtown Phoenix. That morning, I signed a few petitions and left my name and e-mail address at the table staffed by the National Organization for Women. I was lucky enough to snag a vintage 1970s coat hanger in support of abortion rights that Dianne Post had brought. My wife Melissa and I stood and listened to the speeches as I bedecked my purse with the dozen or so pins I had gotten from Planned Parenthood and NOW. We even put a Planned Parenthood pin on the harness of our puppy, Panchito, to show that he was a good liberal pet.
We listened silently to Panayiota Bertzikis tell her tale of misery at the hands of the US Coast Guard. For a little while, I stood next to a tent under which was standing a prospective candidate for the state senate, Scott Prior, and spoke with a complete stranger named Gail Mokry Shoultes, apparently a local activist.
After we left the rally so that we could attend the Phoenix Pet Expo, I said to Melissa that everyone seemed so nice, and I asked, “Wouldn’t it be cool to get involved with something like that?” She just nodded and said, “Food,” disappointed that she wasn’t given the opportunity to show support for a food truck while I showed support for the cause.
Within a week, there were many people from that rally whom I had come to know on Facebook. Simply from making a few comments on some posts, I was swept up in a frenzy of activism that has not abated since. There were a few lessons I learned rather quickly. One is that there are way too many righteous causes here in Arizona for one person to be able to join all of them. There was a rather steep learning curve as I had to evaluate and extricate myself from a few movements about which I had more questions than answers. For a short time, I supported a cause that was doomed from the start, which then devolved into a cause to find a cause, and then it just became sad.
But it was all good. I was learning, I was talking, and I was meeting some off-the-charts wonderful people, so many of whom I had mingled with the day of that rally but didn’t know it. A few Facebook messages here and there along with an offer to help his campaign led to getting to talk to Scott and Cara Prior on a regular basis, which has become somewhat of an early-early-morning habit that makes having to get up at 2:00 AM more enjoyable. (Not a lot, just more.) Through this, Melissa and I attended a fundraiser for Scott this past Saturday, where we then were able to meet some more interesting people: Scott’s mother, for one, and a lovely, passionate woman named Barbara Njos, who works tirelessly as a Democratic activist, among other things.
Through a few chance comments after joining the Facebook group for the Phoenix/Scottsdale chapter of the National Organization of Women, I have become involved with the most dedicated group of women (and a few men), ranging in ages from 17 up to I’m-too-polite-to-guess, all working to make our corner of Arizona and the world one in which people’s rights are honored, not politicized. At the first meeting we attended, I was blessed to meet one of the guest speakers, Jane Fendelman. Through introducing myself to her, that chance encounter has led to an association both personal and professional, and I anticipate that, in a few weeks, that association will pay off for both of us in a tremendous way.
NOW has also brought Karen Kondej into my life. Karen is a tireless, friendly, and utterly determined woman who serves as the president of this chapter. She has simultaneously befriended me, taken me under her wing, and encouraged and supported my ideas. As well, she has enabled me to meet so many other women who, like me, just want to create a little justice and equality in our own backyard.
Most wonderfully, she encouraged me to speak in person to Dianne Post, one of our members who is an international human rights attorney and one of the most uninhibited, powerful people you will ever want to meet. (Honestly, I was scared shitless of her, but Karen told me I had little to worry about. She was right.) Karen was also gracious enough to accept my offer of help with anything that involved writing – press releases, etc. That led to my being able to suggest maybe a garden plot for our commemoration of Military Sexual Trauma Awareness Day.
I also got to meet Olga Tsoudis, Rebecca Chow, Daphne Thompson, Sarah Grau, and, Panayiota Bertzikis. It has been with Panayiota that I have begun to see just how much the most casual of thoughts or ideas can turn into something you couldn’t have imagined. We sat at the meeting that night, which was, apparently, longer than usual, and at the end, Jane Fendelman gave a presentation on sexual abuse. At one point, she was kidding around and asked Panayiota a question, and she blushed as she laughed, without answering. In that one moment, she had endeared herself to me. There was an intensity about her, as well as a shyness, which, mixed with that simple blush, overtook me. Here was this woman, a survivor of a brutal rape while in the Coast Guard who has gone on to speak out internationally about military sexual trauma, and she was just this shy, vulnerable woman. Not weak, by any means, just shy.
The next morning I e-mailed her and asked if I could write an article about her experiences. Now, I’m not a writer. I blog, and I’m only marginally talented at that. However, I couldn’t let it go; I couldn’t get her story out of my head. A little bit of research and a very poor idea of how to interview someone were all I had when I sat down with her last week and we talked. When she left, I was excited but still pretty clueless as to what I was going to write.
It was only on Sunday that the final piece of that puzzle came together, again, purely by chance, a collision of souls, if you will, when I met Luisa Evonne Valdez. A question about herbs (she is, among all the other fantastic things that she is, an herbologist) for our community garden project at NOW led to her sharing with me that she was also a victim of MST. She then very graciously agreed to talk to me. (I would find out that not only had Luisa’s story not been written about before, she had not even talked that much about it to anyone.)
With that, the story was all but done. I wrote it two days ago and posted it yesterday. In that time, I have made two new acquaintances just from putting that story out there, and who knows where those acquaintanceships will lead.
One rally, a few comments, a couple of meetings, and, through no real ability, just a willingness to toss a few stones in a pond, I seem to have begun to have the kind of an effect I want to have. If I can do it, then anybody can.
Building a community based on progressive change is never a task one is able to complete. It is as if, for every three nails you hammer in, two seem to evaporate. In the end, though, the effort has as much, if not more, of a bearing on the world than what our individual results might be. We each add a tiny bit with our advocacy, our empathy, our passion for equality, and what we give ripples out from each of our actions, forming a wave that, in the end, is too mighty to stop; this is where we have our greatest effect.
Pretty fucking cool when you think about it.