Being As Hopeful As a Gardener

To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow. ~Audrey Hepburn

Gardeners are some of the most optimistic people I know.

And this is one of the dreamiest times of year, if you’re a gardener.

There’s no heat to contend with. No plague of grasshoppers or aphids. No drought, no flooding rains.

There are just dreams.

And seeds.

Lots, and lots, of seeds.

I get seed catalogues from all over the country this time of year. I pour over them, circling the varieties that I want to try, tracking them in a messy physical pen-and-paper spreadsheet. Let’s see … this sunflower gets six feet high and blooms in 57 days… that one is taller… could go in the back…

It’s that way every year. I dream. Order my seeds. Put a plan in place… And then all hell breaks loose.

I get super busy. Or we go out of town and my seedlings die en masse. Or we get a 95 degree day IN MAY followed by a cold snap of 65 degrees a day later. Or a family of crazy-adorable bunnies moves in and devours my entire garden while I admire their wee bushy tails and mutter “well, at least they’re well-fed…”

Things happen.

But every year, I get a little better at anticipating the pitfalls.

Last year, the Year of the Adorable Bunny Family, I learned what NOT to plant outside of a raised bed. (I also learned that bunnies are huge fans of sunflowers and african daisies. Who knew?)

The year before that, I learned to start seedlings AFTER we go out of town. (Seedlings are delicate creatures, you know.)

And the year before that, I learned how to cover my plants for the frosty days that surprise us after hot weather has arrived. (I think the neighbors get a kick out of seeing me in the middle of the night frantically covering plants with every bed sheet we own.)

I’ve … learned. Grown. Evolved. Adapted.

I now have a catalogue of experiences to draw from when the next problem arises.

That’s what you earn by persisting with something for years.

You see what works, and what doesn’t. It’s not that every year will be the same – it won’t be. But flexibility is borne of experience with crazy-@ss stuff, and as a gardener I’m learning how to weather it.

We’re all learning how to weather it.

The past four years have been crazy, indeed. But every year there’s been an election of some sort, and we’ve learned.

We saw what worked in our neighborhoods and our towns. What messages people latched on to… what they rejected. We’ve seen candidates rise and fall.

We’ve seen how much work there is to do in the districts we haven’t tended for years. (Just like that area in my backyard that I let get too weedy…) And we’re starting to see the fruits of our labor in the ones we’ve been working.

Hopefully now, looking back at the garden in your backyard, you can see just how much you’ve accomplished. Because year after year you’ve been coming back and doing the work – whether that’s calling Congress or donating to candidates and organizations or registering voters – whatever it is. You’ve been tending this garden, and it’s further along now than it was before you.

And now here we are, you and I, looking out at the beginning of another season.

And that brings me to another point that I think is really important these days. Because frankly, it’s really easy to get caught up in the enormity of it all. In the whirlwind of terrible we see every day. It’s tempting to just … shut down. To stop listening. To pull back. To turn away. It can be hard to keep that fire of optimism going when there’s so much going wrong.

But that’s the thing about gardeners. They garden. No matter how awful last year was or how many obstacles stand in the way. They garden because there’s always potential. There’s always hope.

Just like gardeners garden, activists … act. Engaged people … engage. It is … definitional. And just as with gardeners, there’s a fair dash of hope baked into all of it.

We know without hard work things will get worse. But we also know that with hard work things can get better.

We all need to hold onto that hope. Hold on to that optimism. Now, maybe more than ever.

So I hope you, like me, are taking stock of your garden. Coaxing your seedlings along. Reviewing the lessons you’ve learned – that have all made you into the amazing, engaged individual that you are today.

I can’t wait to see what we grow this year.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some seeds to plant.

Let’s get to work.

Actions for the Week of February 18, 2020

Tuesday: Sound the Alarm

Obviously one of the things we need to do this week is sound the alarm regarding Attorney General Bill Barr’s active use of the Department of Justice to benefit Donald Trump’s allies. Please call your members of Congress (your House Representative and both of your Senators) and ask them what they are doing to preserve the rule of law. This is a big, big, big hairy deal, folks. So let’s put some pressure on them to speak out and use their positions of power to help preserve what truly makes America great.

Script: Hi, my name is ___ and I’m a constituent at ___. I’m calling to find out what Congress(wo)man/Senator _____ is doing to protect the rule of law. We’re seeing Donald Trump’s administration use it as a personal tool for the president. That is not the way our government is supposed to work. What’s Congress(wo)man/Senator ____ doing about it?

wednesday: Show You’re Watching! Trump Wants to Defund Your Libraries

The Trump administration issued its proposed federal budget, and oh boy is it a doozy. Among other terrible-awfuls, it proposes steep cuts to social programs like Medicaid and Medicare, the State Department and the EPA … and eliminating the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services.

What’s the IMLS? Well, basically is provides federal funding for libraries (and a whole bunch of museums). Grants from IMLS pay for all sorts of projects all over the country, benefitting regular folks like you and me.

Honestly, the American Library Association has put together some of the best advocacy documents I have ever seen. Their resources are worth visiting just to admire their depth and breadth – and to use as an example for yourself if you ever need to provide advocacy materials.

They have a helpful chart to see if your Senators and Congresscritter supported IMLS funding in the last fiscal year by signing the ALA’s funding letters. You can find that here:

From that same link, by scrolling down you can access their advocacy tools by state WHICH ARE AMAZING. You guys, they do ALL the heavy lifting. Clicking on the Missouri advocacy sheet tells me how much funding the IMLS has given Missouri in the last few years, how many libraries are in the state, how many provide free wi-fi (a BIG deal in states with a large rural population) and the various things public libraries do in the state. Using this sheet alone I could have a very persuasive conversation with my member of congress.

And then – it gets BETTER. (Be still my researching heart!) Their state-by-state advocate worksheets list a few key state projects that have been funded by the IMLS, and chart whether legislative leaders in your state have supported the IMLS in the past or not.

So if your Congresscritter’s staff says they’re not interested in funding the IMLS, you can respond with specific questions about projects that have been funded IN YOUR DISTRICT. That’s a much more persuasive conversation, don’t you think? (Note that you can find ALL of the projects in your state at their database here:

I’m telling you … they have literally done all of your heavy research lifting! (Which isn’t all that surprising … we are talking about librarians, here!)

Again, check all of those resources out here:

And then give your Congressperson a buzz and tell them that you expect them to support your local community and fund your library. (And hey – while you’re at it, give your local librarian a high-five.)

thursday: Join the #WeCount movement!

The 2020 Census is approaching and, as you know, your participation matters at whole lot. The Census count impacts everything from public funding allocations to government representation. So when you get your notice in the mail in mid-March, fill it out by phone, mail, or online before the last day of April. (Don’t worry – I’ll be giving you helpful reminders. 🙂 )

BUT! There’s been a hefty disinformation campaign surrounding the Census, so a lot of folks are confused about what’s it’s going to track. That’s where we come in! Your community needs your help to dispel myths about what’s on the Census (i.e. NO information about your immigration status!) and encourage participation. It may be uncomfortable to admit, but the administration has shown that it doesn’t really want an accurate count. It’s going to be up to people like you and me to make sure every person is counted.

That’s why I’m keen on a new project by United We Stand, called They answer lots of common questions people have about the Census, and have a special form to fill out to report misinformation. You can sign up to volunteer with them, too!

Go to – Read over the FAQs so you know the answers, and share with your friends/network on social media. Now you’re armed with information you can use to educate your friends, neighbors, and network on social media! And share that link to report misinformation – I have a feeling that one’s going to be pretty important over the next few weeks…

Friday: Celebrate Black History Month – By Learning History

We’ve reached the middle of Black History Month. There’s worthwhile debate about the month’s origins and purpose (see an interesting round-table discussion HERE). And there’s particular concern about erasure of black history … during black history month itself. So much attention is made to historical characters – MLK, Rosa Parks, etc – that a lot of the actual history of Black Americans is … erased.

(For example, you can read THIS chilling and moving account of slave auctions – and how their history has been erased in modern cities.)

That’s why I’m glad to share a list of films and series curated (and crowdsourced) by Many of the shows share stories of historical events frequently erased in American schooling.

Here’s the list.

  • 13th
  • Paris is Burning
  • ReMastered: The Two Killings of Sam Cooke
  • When They See Us
  • The Get Down
  • Teach Us All
  • The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson
  • Trigger Warning with Killer Mike
  • Roxanne Roxanne
  • LA 92

The complete list with summaries and linked trailers can be found at Do Something here:


P.S.: Why don’t you make someone’s day and send this pep talk to a friend or two? I bet they need it.

If you’d like to sign up to get this pep talk and action list in your in-box each week, you can do that here. Welcome, friend!

P.P.S.: If you want to help support this work you can do so via Patreon at or via paypal at
My deepest gratitude in advance.

Thank you for reading. Thank you for writing. I read and respond to every e-mail. (Really! I really do!) We’re in this together. Don’t you forget it.

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