Get active: Local women find a cure for the political blues

The M.V. contingent at the Indivisible conference attendees, from left, Lorraine Parish, Holly MacKenzie, Susanna Sturgis, Margaret Emerson, and Kathy Laskowski. — Lorraine Parish

Just about this time last year, I came down with symptoms of some sort of malady that I wasn’t used to: knots in my stomach, occasional heart palpitations, feelings of impending doom and irrational fear (maybe it wasn’t so irrational), and a compulsion to watch cable news 24/7.

I knew it was because of the shocking election results. The only relief I found at the time was to talk to anyone who would listen, which was any unsuspecting person walking through my store, or any of the few friends I had left who would answer their phone (the downside of caller ID). I would engage total strangers in quick political conversations in the line at the Post Office, in the line at the grocery store — anywhere, really, whether they welcomed it or not. I knew I ran the risk of losing a sale, losing a friend, or having a boulder thrown through my display window at night. But most people jumped right in after I easily persuaded them that A) it was necessary, B) we had to remind each other that this was not normal, and C) we have nothing to fear but fear itself (well maybe not … exactly).

Looking for something to do about all this, off I went to the Electoral College Protest last December in Boston, then on to the Boston Women’s March in January. Both experiences relieved quite a bit of my anxiety, but as the winter set in, the symptoms came back, and I found myself thinking, Now what? Then spring and summer crowds began to show up, and I had a nice little supply of fresh, like-minded people to engage in conversations with.

Then fall arrived, which I adore, but anxiety reared its ugly orange head again, so I called my close friend in New Jersey, Debbie, who lives here in the summer. She and I, being almost the exact age, 65, have compared notes over the years concerning our health, but this new phenomenon — whatever you want to call it — had blindsided both of us. She had recently found a remedy: Become active. Don’t just watch the news, sign email petitions, and donate a few bucks here and there. Get moving and get connected. She recommended joining an organization called indivisible.org. Their website says their “mission is to fuel a progressive grassroots network of local groups” who oppose the current administration. (She told me her group in New Jersey had become instrumental in affecting the results of their recent state election, and some of the unexpected election results in Virginia were attributed to the passion and energy of Indivisible.)

I went on the Martha’s Vineyard Indivisible Facebook page, and saw a post about an upcoming Massachusetts conference on Nov. 12, so I immediately asked who was going, and if I could get a ride. It took a few days, but a young woman, Carla Cooper, called me and hooked me up with other Vineyard women who were going. I did not know any of these women, but I immediately felt welcomed by them all.

Kathy Laskowski from Oak Bluffs was our driver, and I, the Vineyard Haven contingent, rode shotgun. Margaret Emerson from Chilmark was in the back, flanked by Holly MacKenzie and Susanna Sturgis, both from West Tisbury; Carla Cooper, from Katama, came on her own a little later. Having no knowledge of their political histories, I began to learn a little of their stories on the way there and back.

Holly, 56, has spent the last year learning how to be an effective organizer in our community. She wanted to turn frustration into action, and that’s why she was going to the Indivisible Conference. “I want to work on building relationships with individuals and groups that are advocates for the issues that matter most to me. My plan for 2018 is to find candidates that support these issues and help get them elected.”

Margaret, 69, was politically active in her early 20s, working as a nurse in free-clinic tents at protests and fundraising concerts. “This past presidential election definitely released my energy to become active in speaking up for liberal causes and in activities I believe will protect our democracy. The Indivisible Conference this past weekend was a wonderful opportunity to learn and network with others active in our state.”

Susanna, 66, has been politically engaged since college, and was active in both the antiwar movement and student politics. She and Carla were delegates to the state Democratic Convention in June. When she learned about the upcoming Indivisible Conference, she said, “I had to go, and I’m so glad I did. The workshops were nuts-and-bolts useful, and just knowing that all these people are out there working in so many ways to get the country back on track — it’s the best antidote to despair.”

Kathy, 64, first forayed into politics when she campaigned for George McGovern back in college, but his loss left her feeling ineffectual. She became a teacher and a mother of four, which left her little time for any kind of politicking. She attended the Women’s March in Washington with her son, daughter-in-law, two daughters, and a son-in-law: “It was life-changing. I am dedicated to the idea that the 2018 elections are crucial in returning our country to the right path. This is what I hope to learn more about from Indivisible, finding ways to shape the coming elections.”

Carla, 53, the founder of our local Indivisible group, had very little interest in politics until she saw what was unfolding during the 2016 election. The morning after the election, she made it her mission to do everything she could to resist Trump’s hateful agenda. She signed on with moveon.org, Swing Left, and registered the group IndivisibleMVY. She also decided to run for state delegate in Edgartown, which sent her off to her first state convention. “I attended the Indivisible Conference specifically because they had some breakout workshops focused on voting rights; this gave me some specific actions to take home and share with another Island group who are working on the same-day and automatic voter registration in Massachusetts.”

My plans for the future, knowing I’m a hopeless worrywort? They are to try and stay involved. The conference we attended last Sunday was a real eye-opener for me. I was heartened by all the thousands of people, all over the country, who are out there working, knocking on doors, phone-banking, and mailing massive amounts of handwritten postcards for candidates they believe in.

I know this is an uphill battle we’re taking on. I’m from Alabama, so I recently contacted the campaign of Democratic nominee for senator Doug Jones. I wanted to hop a plane, go to my hometown, roll up my sleeves and help, but I never heard back. We are hoping to have a postcard writing day here for him; we’re just waiting for addresses. Get this: The Alabama Indivisible groups and Jones’ campaign have been so inundated with grassroots organizations wanting to help, they ran out of addresses to hand out to volunteers! Isn’t that beautiful, isn’t that encouraging, and most of all, isn’t that hopeful?

I recommend to all of you who have felt the way I do, and are having difficulty coping: Become active and get connected; like Susanna said, “It’s the best antidote to despair.”

Lorraine Parish is a clothing designer, with a store in Vineyard Haven. She recommends the following organizations: Locally, MV Dems and We Stand Together (find them on Facebook); and nationally, indivisible.org, emilyslist.org, progressivemass.com, and sisterdistrict.org.