“I Do Have the Power!” Reflections on a Postcard Party

By Sheffra A. Williams, Author

                     Flying With Two Wings:  Finding and Living Your Passion 

   “Love motivated me…more than…needs of Democrats in District 22…”

I lived in Concord; that postcard party was in Orinda. There were a lot of other things I could be doing, like that article I needed to finish writing for a client.   There I was, instead, on a Wednesday, mid-week, on my way to a get-out-the-vote activity sponsored by Commit to Flip Blue.  A person I care deeply for had recruited me to help out; he drove; I had time to think. I had to admit, love motivated me more than the needs of Central Valley Democrats in District 22.

I had already “done my share.” Earlier in the week, I volunteered a change in one of the postcard scripts shown to me to assure me how organized things would be. I immediately began to edit it. Rather than, “Vote for Andrew Janz,” as the beginning line, I changed it to read, “672 votes out of 228, 378 clinched the Democratic victory in Pennsylvania!”  The reader would be immediately placed in a winning story.

I had no clue that the story I told myself of who I was and the purpose for my life would expand exponentially that evening, or that I would write about that postcard party and remember it for the rest of my life.

Jackie Moreau, host of the event, greeted us warmly in her lovely home, and introduced us to five other participants seated at a table. Things appeared “benign,” if one views massive change as “upheaval,” getting a new pair of lenses, or like Plato’s description, “being blinded by the light. A centerpiece of tasty looking hor d’oeuvres was surrounded by postcards, a map of California printed on one side, and tools to personalize the cards, like colored highlighters and sheets of sparkly, multicolored, peel-off happy faces. Printed scripts could be customized, or I could write my own message. Guidelines provided structure. Incredibly well organized, I thought. 

                     “[Nunes] had a de facto narrative of the people in it…

                                          “Peasants in the feudal ages!“”

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Introductions to other attendees were brief.  I figured we would have plenty of time to chat during hand and fingers stretches.  One participant was Isabel Ehringer, a co-founder of Commit to Flip Blue. Another was Ellen Nelson, steering committee member working on District 4, there for training on how to host a postcard party. Two other individuals were relatively new to the experience, and my friend, the man among us, head down, writing, letting his words on his postcard stand alone, no need for peel-off happy faces.

I skipped the food and drinks, read the scripts making the case for replacing Nunes with Andrew Janz, then asked a few questions.  The introductions and settling-in soon turned to silence.

I have a “connect-the-dots” kind of brain, different from my “recruiter.”  He maps things, locations and landmarks, and remembers the names of dogs, but not their owners. My brain forms patterns of dots related to the behaviors of people, then connects to metaphors.  In a short time, the fact that Nunes had not held a town hall meeting for District 22 in ten years made sense.  He had a “de facto” narrative about the people in it!  His perception of them simply had to be this:

They were disinterested in their lives and the lives of their children and neighbors, and dependent on their representative’s goodwill and interpretation of their needs.  He had no need to listen; they had nothing to say!

                                                    “Peasants in the feudal ages…”

Where else had history indicated such a narrative, I asked myself? 

“Peasants in the feudal ages,“ came the answer!  Nunes’ “de facto” narrative explained his behavior! Like the lords and kings of the dark ages, he had no need to listen to peasants. Of course, it had been ten years since he held a town hall meeting! 

It was time to toss out that tale and the inflated hubris that floated it!

Andrew Janz fights for people, because he listens to them! Andrew Janz honors the law that no President, Member of Congress or fortune 500 CEO can flick away.  

I was riled up!

Suddenly, a phrase came to mind,  “You do have the power!” I placed it just after the salutation, “Dear Valued Voter,” then slid in the, “672 votes out of 228,378 clinched the Democratic victory in Pennsylvania! The impact slapped me on the head. My alertness increased along with my pulse rate.

       Another phrase slipped from my brain…Go exercise your power…”

I shared it with another woman named Jacque who sat across from me. Wow, that’s great, she said.  She decided to use it, too, and so did Isabel. At the time, she maintained an email list for Commit to Flip Blue of over 7,000 addresses and oversaw the publishing of the newsletter. Given Isabel’s commitment to the work of communicating to so many, I appreciated her acknowledgement.  

Voices soon quieted; everyone focused on the postcards.

Another phrase slipped from my brain onto the postcard just before I wrote the closing, thank you, and before I added my “first-name-only” signature.  It was, “Go exercise your power! It framed the first affirmation, “You do have the power,” and together said, that I, this anonymous writer, knew the truth about who lived at the address I wrote on the card (We only had addresses, no names):  That person had power!

                          “They looked at me as if I were a magician.”

I shared that script change, too. Others commented on the phrasing and added it to their scripts.  They looked at me as if I were a magician.

“I’m a writer,” I said. It is a skill, art and a way of being in the world. I think in metaphors. Most writers do. I have these assets; you have others.

I shared a little about my passion of helping others to see the gifts embedded in their stories. They have often forgotten or ignored these gifts.  Clues can be found in the books they read, the games they played and especially, how they spent their alone time, among other factors, prior to the age of twelve. It’s what my researched based book, Flying With Two Wings: Finding and Living Your Passion, (Sheffra Williams-Sam) written in 1989, is about.

Sometimes, an adult may not have had books to read or stories others told to them, but they had experiences that, when mined, showed what they valued.  Such was the story that Jackie, our host revealed as participants took a break, stretched their hands and fingers and reflected on age twelve and younger.

                “Jackie… when she was five… from Ecuador…        

                               ”her anything is possible attitude...”

Jackie came to America when she was five, from Ecuador. A boy in kindergarten relentlessly bullied her, fueling her intolerance of bullies. Her response to him ensured that he never teased her again. We learned of her work in her mother’s factory while a child, doing the work of adults to help her mother. Her “anything is possible attitude” makes her an asset to Commit to Flip Blue or whatever cause is lucky enough to get her focus.    

               “…She went to a ball…dressed in wool leggings, suspenders…”

                                           “…voted best dressed woman there…”

Another participant came from China in 1945.  She was a refugee unable to go to  England, which was the original plan. It changed because her family was told that it was unsafe there and to come to America. She went to a ball, not knowing how to ballroom dance, dressed in wool leggings; suspenders held up her skirt.  She got voted the best-dressed woman there, the gift of acceptance from strangers in a strange land.  She attended the University of Chicago, where her analytical mind took to the school’s belief in teaching analytical thinking as the cornerstone of education, regardless of the field.  Honor and truth in living and in play where some of her key values.

Whether others shared a story or merely held space for someone else to share one, there was a palpable power in that room.  Before it was over, they all hugged one another, closer now than when they met.  I was not left untouched.

             “Touched by a Book at Half-price Books in Concord…May 2…”

My passion is facilitating such processes, although I had no intention of doing that at the postcard party. I shared my next engagement as host and facilitator of “Touched By a Book,” at Half-price Books in Concord. My intention was to show how relevant early childhood stories are and how sharing builds community. I had been featured there as a community building focus of the store in March and early April, and now with a final event on Wednesday, May 2, 2018 from 7 to 9 PM.    I was stunned and excited when Jackie and others said they would come to that final event.  What a gift! It would be wonderful for them to add their stories to the conversation. 

A question that Jackie and others had answered nudged me while I spoke about Touched by a Book: “What had I experienced prior to twelve that related to some basic tenants of Democrats, like fairness in power and protection of the weak?” 

            “Ten years old….I taught her the body language of a boxer…”

Jackie’s story guided me to the answer: I was ten years old and in my front yard after school, teaching a classmate how to be a fighter! Three sisters, all daughters of a preacher, constantly bullied her.  I taught her the body language of a boxer, what I imagined today that I picked up by watching fights on television: That stance, center of gravity close to the ground; how to scowl her face, lower her head, keep her fists tight, raised to her face, elbows near her side! The sisters were angry and came to my house. “Who told you to interfere,” they complained!  My classmate’s fear had disappeared! She never had to throw a punch! I became a martial artist at the age of forty-two!

Another scene followed.  I invited another student home to take a bath; she did not have running water. I remembered her mother being angry that the bath messed up her daughter’s hairdo.  I knew there was something wrong with her prioritizing of how her daughter looked over cleanliness. My adult life became helping professionals and business owners to gain personal empowerment; I did not connect the dots of political values to my childhood until hearing Jackie’s story!

                      “…memory of kindergarten…Is there any racial                  

                                   discrimination in Jamaica,” I asked?

Story does not stop; it unravels, travels and unearths what has been left behind. On the way home from the postcard party, memory of kindergarten slipped in between the lull of conversation with my friend. I was five when a guest speaker from Jamaica spoke to my class about his country.  He asked if anyone had a question. I was the only one that raised my hand.  “Is there any racial discrimination in Jamaica,” I asked?  I was aware of political oppression then!

Other memories followed: My love of world history, my teacher, Mr. King who encouraged me; my competition in speech contests throughout Oklahoma; that speech I wrote,  “Democracy and What It Means to Me,” and one judges critique: I was too emotional!  

     “You do have the power!”

I remembered the article I did not want to lose time over by going to the postcard party. It was about a CEO and owner of a sports massage therapy company who, as a child, understood the relationship between the inner and outer structure of her body.  I saw the inner and outer structure of my life, the personal and political. My adult stance towards politics had been to leave the protest and postcard party type of active engagement, except for phone calling and donating a little money, to others.  I can no longer choose between the two. 

It was through the communal fires of storytelling, created by a “get-out-to-vote” effort, that I got to expand the vision of who I am and what I value in the communal sphere. It is in the collective gifts of all of us, that we gain the power to create amazing results such as what happened in Pennsylvania and is happening in Oklahoma. 

I hope you will attend a postcard party, or get face-to-face with others any way you can. Share the stories of the Democratic values that inspired you when you were little, but even better, ask others to tell you their stories.  It makes great conversation especially in getting-to-know-you type settings. Why not call a friend, or several, and rsvp to attend a postcard party?  Why no now? Go to www.committoflipblue.com. You do have the power!  

I welcome your comments and stories at williamssheffra@yahoo.com.  Thank you for reading!

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