Changing the Conversation

We are in motion again! Yeah, yeah… our electrons are always vibrating rapidly and the Earth is always rotating and revolving as our galaxy hurdles through the abyss at incomprehensible speeds… But in a larger and smaller sense, we’re back to traveling!

With packs on our backs and instruments in hand, our thumbs (and stunning good looks?) lured six gracious ride-givers, each of whom helped us reach the fine city of Gainesville, FL barely 24 hours after departing Athens. Our sights are set on South America by way of the Caribbean and Mexico. Hopefully some boat-sailing folks will be as open and generous this year as their solid-ground counterparts have been to us throughout 2013 and to this day. So far so great.

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Our beloved friends Adam and Lauraq took us out of town in the Vealemobile where we were promptly picked up by a young couple envying our trip. Then an initially incredulous cop who’d never given hitchhikers a ride before took us well beyond the county line she’d initially mandated we accept a ride to. Before we could even set our packs down a Mormon husband and wife proudly parenting five children brought us down to the highway split where our paths diverged and there, at a gas station, the first person we asked seemed to think transporting us in the back of his US military truck was a swell idea. This National Guardsman has succeeded for over two years now at his personally delegated task of at least three significant acts of kindness every day, thus proving that you can never judge books by their covers or, more literally in this case, people by their camouflaged fatigues. All that felt like enough for one day so we hobbled, under-slept and sweaty, toward the silty brown waters of Lake Sinclair, just North of Milledgeville, and enjoyed a swim beneath the austere smokestack of a Georgia Power plant among swarms of chironomidae before stealth-camping in a grassy field behind some RVs in a storage facility.

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Today our good fortune with good people continues thanks to some lovely Waffle House employees, a ride from an enthusiastic and supportive college professor, and then a long roll with an awake, aware, and alive woman, who very graciously digressed here, en route from NC to her organic farm on the Southeastern coast, with her four cats in the back of the van. Jess pet them.

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Those who’ve remained connected to our sadly neglected blog yet haven’t spoken to us might be wondering what happened with that campaign we made a four-thousand-mile digression back to Athens for… Well, we lost in the ballot box. Tim received 40% of the vote in an off-year local election where under 1/4 of the voting population even turned out. Appallingly, the turnout in this election was actually a few points higher than the average, which, on an up-note, is arguably thanks to all our efforts. We knocked on thousands of doors and met countless wonderful people whose lives and community we feel connected to and a part of in a way we’ve maybe never felt before. And while Athens has four more years of uninspiring, unimaginative, out-of-touch leadership to deal with, some notable accomplishments have resulted from our efforts. An organization is being formed to harness and expand upon the momentum that was built since November against poverty and for social justice. Pulling from our campaign’s slogan, the organization is called Athens for Everyone. Among other more concrete things, Athens for Everyone will continue to change the conversation in Athens, and hopefully, in some small ways, the regional dialogue as well.

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The more avid readers among you may recall my previous entries about the importance of conversation (like this one). Whenever we talked about changing the conversation surrounding Athens politics, we were sure to clarify that we aimed not only to change what it was about, but also who was part of it, hearing it and being heard. Athens has an especially heinous poverty and inequality problem and is no stranger to a whole host of social issues from racism to sexual assault. In a town where the predominantly privileged campaign on their personalities and these issues go ignored, our campaign – Tim’s campaign – was a horizontally organized, radically progressive stand against that convention. More importantly, we stood with folks from the most marginalized parts of town for a bold vision of a more equal and democratic society with free public transit, affordable child care, and living wages.

What made all our time and energy spent worthwhile – to us – was that those conversations on people’s porches, at their churches, in the papers, were about the very important topics typically left out of the political dialogue and that they were especially with the people most affected and least included in that dialogue. We all have a lot to learn from each other and we have a lot of potential to evolve in a positive way together, but none of that will happen without first having such conversations. That brings me to the third aspect of changing the conversation that I think applies to our trip as well: how we talk with each other.

Listening is so important. As is remembering how wrong we might be, and how important others’ stories are, regardless of how little our views and backgrounds overlap. Atypically, our campaign’s outreach hinged on the principles of Transformative Organizing, and we emphasized listening over proselytizing as we went door-to-door. With the electoral experience in our rear-view, we’re back to more geographically diverse “idea-pollinating” and hoping to grow ourselves and engage others we’d otherwise never meet, in conversations about things that matter, in a manner that’s at least somewhat novel… reaching out to listen and learn.

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Now, sitting in front of a Starbucks with an empty wallet, watching a tiny reptile eat an even tinier caterpillar alive, I can’t help but wonder at the meaning of any of this. And while continued reflection and questioning is invaluable, I still think what we’re doing is – at least as much as anything can be – worth a damn. And that’s a nice feeling to own day-to-day. So here’s to a better world and a better understanding of what that world can be.

Athens for Everyone! Everyone for Everyone!

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with love in solidarity,
Jesse
looking across Newberry Road at the cumulus clouds above Gainesville, FL, USA

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