Experience is the hardest kind of teacher. It gives you the test first, and the lesson afterward. ~Oscar Wilde
The only source of knowledge is experience. ~Albert Einstein
Last week – weeks after our “last frost date” – we got snow.
Big, fluffy, wet flakes that bent over the bright green new foliage they landed on. And with overnight lows of 28, every gardener I knew went into overdrive.
I spent the better part of an evening covering plants. After years of strange frosts (getting stranger by the year, I’ll note) I have a few yards of row cover to throw over tender plants whose feet get cold easily.
But this snow was so late, and so dramatic, that I needed to cover … everything.
And that’s a lot.
My new bleeding heart, which already survived being crushed by a workman’s boot, was flowering. So was a columbine that was so much prettier than I remembered. A deutzia bush was just getting ready to explode into bloom. And the daisy I bought for my husband was finally – finally! – going to come into its own.
Huge triassic looking leaves from a hollyhock that last year topped 10 feet, a newly-resuscitated azalea, the little painted fern that just popped up one day in the strangest spot…
All of them, in danger of being wiped out (or at least severely maimed) by the cold.
I gently tucked the bleeding heart into a pillowcase suspended by bamboo. Other flowering plants got towels. Old sheets. Blankets that were old and ratty enough to sacrifice without guilt.
Dried leaves from my leaf mold cage were layered over and under and around pretty much everything in the garden – whether it was flowering or not.
After years of gardening, I had a number of tools to choose from.
And the experience to use them well.
I had the old sheets, the towels, the bamboo stakes and the yard sign frames (do NOT throw those away – they are the best plant supports you could ask for!). I knew how to drape and tuck and cover without touching the leaves.
And now, a week later (it will flirt with 90 degrees today), the bleeding heart is still blooming. The columbine is still frilly. The deutzia is now a puffball of white flowers.
It occurred to me yesterday, as I took a half hour from my afternoon to transplant something from the backyard to the front yard. I was hacking away at some weeds around a root ball and remembering last week’s mad midnight dash around the garden, and thinking about what we’d talk about today.
Seasons. And legislative sessions. And experience.
Gardening is a lot like activism, if you think about it. There is the planning period, which is often a bit dreamy. And then there’s the chaotic reality of it, when everything that could possibly go wrong … does.
And it takes tools developed over years, and the experience to know how to use them, to manage.
In gardening, as in advocacy, things happen. But every year, I get a little better at anticipating the pitfalls.
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 – you can be sure it won’t be. But flexibility is borne of experience with crazy stuff, and as a gardener I’m learning how to weather it.
We’re all learning how to weather it.
The past half decade has 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. We saw what messages people latched on to… and 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 cultivating.
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.
Because … 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 and shut down.
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.
Let’s get to work.
Actions for the Week of April 27, 2021
Tuesday: Keep Advocating for DC Statehood
Last week was huge! The House passed the DC Statehood bill (HR51) 216-208! And now it gets kicked to the Senate. We’ll need to press our Senators HARD to get this passed.
The GOP taking head machine is all about calling this a Democratic power grab. Hogwash. It’s something DC residents have been fighting for for YEARS. Their license plate motto is “no taxation without representation,” for God’s sake. That they are not able to call in their own national guard and their security depends upon the whims of the federal government should be enough reason to extend statehood.
Script: Hi, my name is ____ and I’m calling from [zip code]. I wanted to encourage the Senator to vote in favor of D.C. statehood. The more I’ve heard about this, the more sense it makes. From the number of people who are now without representation in government to their inability to call on the national guard, extending statehood is obviously the right thing to do. The only thing that seems to be holding it back is nostalgia over having 50 states. Valuing nostalgia over representation for over 700,000 people just doesn’t sit well with me. Please tell the Senator to support D.C. statehood. Thanks!
Wednesday: KEEP HITTING THEM IN THE POCKETBOOK!
I’ll start with the good news: Republican objectors and insurrectionists generally had a bad fundraising quarter. “Members of Congress that are particularly dependent on corporate PACs experienced dramatic declines. Congressman Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-MO), for example, saw his fundraising drop from $274,000 in the first quarter of 2019 to $43,500 in the first quarter of 2021.” (read more at https://popular.info/p/what-we-learned-from-the-first-major)
Does that surprise you?
Probably because most of what we heard dealt with the huge fundraising hauls from Hawley and MTG, who went all in on the crazy (and bought a bunch of email addresses).
A good reminder not to let the headlines determine whether you think the activism your engaged in is working.
This tells us that we need to keep it up, and continue holding corporations to the commitments that they made.
So let’s talk Toyota. (From Popular.Info)
“The first quarter FEC filings reveal that Toyota sent contributions to the campaigns of 40 Republicans who voted to overturn the election results. The contributions, which totaled $62,000, included some of the most bombastic members of the Republican caucus, such as Congressman Andy Biggs (R-AZ). On January 6, Biggs tweeted that he would ‘lead the charge’ and ‘fight’ to overturn the election results. He also promised to ‘produce documents’ during the debate with evidence of ‘fraud.’ …
“Why did Toyota donate to so many members who voted to overturn the election results? In an email to customers obtained by Popular Information, the company said that it ‘supports candidates based on their position on issues that are important to the auto industry.‘ Toyota claimed to have undertaken a ‘thorough review’ and ‘decided against giving to some members who, through their statements and actions, undermine the legitimacy of our elections and institutions.'”
Toyota, this is bad, bad, bad policy. Supporting insurrectionists because you like their “position on issues that are important to the auto industry” is more than disgusting.
So, let’s make sure they hear about that, okay?
Tweet: @Toyota : Hey @Toyota. I see that you made $62k in contributions to the campaigns of 40 Republicans that voted to overturn the election. You value corporate profit more than democracy? Gross. Good to know, and will keep that in mind when car shopping.
Thursday: Let’s Keep Deb Haaland’s Seat!
Melanie Stansbury is running for the Congressional seat that was occupied by Deb Haaland before she became Secretary of the Interior. She’s a state representative for New Mexico, and has a great background providing policy advice both to the Senate and the Office of the President. She came from a working-class family (the vintage image of her mom cutting pipes is a great addition to her campaign website).
First, check her out at https://melaniefornm.com/meet-melanie.
Then, sign up for a text bank with Working Families Party, which is supporting her campaign. Text banks happen each Thursday, so if you can’t make this Thursday, come back for the next one! https://www.mobilize.us/mobilize/event/385662/
Friday: Crip Camp
Honestly, we saw both Octopus Teacher and Crip Camp and we thought BOTH were the best documentaries we’d seen in … well … maybe ever.
But while Octopus Teacher got the Oscar nod, I think Crip Camp has many inspiring messages for us activists. It’s also an excellent dive into ableism, and tackles a lot of issues that I don’t think our current movement pays nearly enough attention to.
If you’ve not heard of it: Crip Camp is the story of a group of teenagers with disabilities who, back in the ’70s, attended a summer camp down the road from Woodstock called Camp Jened. From their collective utopian experience there, we see them develop into powerful activists who propel the disability rights movement. The film includes a great deal of vintage footage of the campers themselves – so you’re able to watch the teenage versions of various disability rights advocates as they find their voice.
It’s funny, irreverent, enlightening, moving … it’s just absolutely fantastic, and should be on your Netflix queue.
(If you needed any more encouragement, it was produced by the Obamas.)
It also has an entire series of lesson plans and parent discussion guides. Included in the lessons is an important one – Strategic Use of Power and Privilege. Check them all out at their website: https://cripcamp.com/curriculum/
DID YOU KNOW YOU’RE A ROCK STAR? I DID. SUPER PROUD OF YOU!
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.
P.P.S.: 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!
Thank you for reading. Thank you for writing. We’re in this together. Don’t you forget it.