The best laid plans… This was going to be our first regular People’s Assembly of 2017, and we were going to get right down to work on coming up with ideas for projects to address the issues we’d identified at previous assemblies. But just as we were getting ready to begin, we received a request for solidarity support.
A few days previous, one of our neighbors—Gaelyn Porter—heard voices, male and female, outside her house. Someone clearly said, “Put it there.” She looked out the window in time to see a white diesel pickup truck speed off. The next morning, she discovered that what the police and news stations called a “cow carcass” had been dumped on her property, and 70 or so nails had been scattered by the household’s vehicles. Neither she nor the home’s other residents know of anyone, personally, who would have reason to do this.
Gaelyn lives on the corner of a well-trafficked road. Her house is hard to miss: over the past year, she and her housemates have been slowly enclosing their wrap-around porch with Pride flags.
She, and many in the community, believe the carcass-and-nails incident was in response to those flags.
The Tree Streets neighborhood in Johnson City—indeed, the city in general—isn’t the smartest place to perpetrate an anti-LGBTQ hate crime. We have a surprisingly large and connected LGBTQ community, and an equally large community of LGBTQ allies. By the time news of the incident broke, the South Side Neighborhood Organization was working to make Pride flags available to anyone in Johnson City who wanted to fly one as both a show of solidarity and a statement that we will not put up with hate in our communities. The Pride Community Center also made flags available; we had a bunch on hand, thanks to that group, at our February 8th assembly. PFLAG Tri-Cities Tennessee has also ordered Pride flags in various designs for those who want one.
Gaelyn showed up at our assembly Wednesday night just as we were about to start. She explained that she was doing an interview with a local news station in half an hour and she was nervous. She also thought it would make a statement if, while the news crew was interviewing her, a crowd of supportive folks were there. Also, she told us that the same people had come back by her place just the night before, apparently to clarify the information the news had gotten wrong: “It was a pig!” they shouted before peeling away. Craziness.
So we took a (very quick and enthusiastic) vote and decided to march down to her home with flags, candles, and signs, and support her. No one, I think, regretted the decision. In fact, we were all glad that we had a group available and ready to mobilize for our community. This time, it was just fortunate that we were already assembled. We’re working on setting up a system that can mobilize people at a moment’s notice any time.
We had around 30 or 40 people in the yard by the time the news crew showed up, and back at the meeting afterward, we had a good 40 people stick around for the assembly.
Our assembly got started an hour later than planned. I was still ramped up from marching back at a quick pace, in hopes of avoiding being caught in another downpour, so I’m sure I sounded like I was racing through the introductory part of the meeting. Also, given the late start, I dropped some things from the introduction, like a summary of what had gone on in the previous assemblies and some more nuanced explanations and examples of what we were about to do.
Basically, the main portion of this assembly was devoted to brainstorming ideas to address the issues people face in our region. Everyone had a flyer with a list of those issues, and we broke into small groups for the actual brainstorming. The group I sat in on spent a good bit of time talking about immigrant issues. One of our group members works in admissions at ETSU and explained to us the obstacles undocumented immigrants face in getting higher education, even if they attended and graduated from Tennessee’s public K-12 school system. There’s definitely discrimination going on there. These people are even barred from opportunities, like scholarships, that are available to people coming from other countries.
After our time was up, a representative from each group read out the project ideas their group had come up with, and we collected their papers so that we could post the ideas on line. (You can find them right here!) Our next task is to discuss and explore each of these ideas. We have to figure out if an organization is already doing that task, and if one is, are there gaps in what they’re doing that our project could be shaped to? If no one’s doing that project locally yet, are there organizations outside the area who would be able to help us get it underway? What skill sets would the project need? What resources? What organizations, institutions, or businesses in or outside of this area could we collaborate with to expand our resources and skills? Are there grants available for that type of project? Would we have enough volunteers willing to commit to the project? What would “success” look like for that project?
The discussion period lasts through March 9th and will be conducted on our online discussion forum. All are invited and encouraged to participate. There’s even a thread where you can suggest additional project ideas.
March 10th, we’ll open up voting on the projects. We’ll be mostly trying to ascertain where the greatest interest is, and where the greatest willingness to commit time and energy is.
Toward the end of March, we’ll have our next People’s Assembly. The date, time & location for are still to be determined. In a couple weeks, we be post a “Doodle” online to gather info on when would work best for everyone. (Shout out to Nat from our Skills Building Working Group for introducing me to Doodle!) At this assembly, we’ll go over the results of the voting and discuss what we what to do. We should leave that meeting with an official list of first projects we’ll commit to, we’ll start building lists of people willing to work on each of those projects, and we’ll get some people to volunteer to anchor the project groups’ first meetings.
Other things that happened as this assembly:
The Public Education Working Group has put together a draft of Points of Unity for the Northeast TN People’s Movement. That draft is available here. Please read it and share your thoughts and suggestions. Public Education will finalize the document using this input, and at the next assembly we’ll vote on adopting it. They’re working out the date/time/location of their next meeting. If you’re interested in joining the group, there’s a form for that on their website. They’ll add you to their email discussion listserv, and you’ll get info on upcoming meetings and what they’re currently working on.
The Community Outreach & Support Working Group is working on hosting two events in the near future, a volunteer event in March and a barbecue/picnic in May. They’re also compiling lists of community resources so that, whatever you’re facing, you can hit up their website and find a resource to help. Their next meeting will be Friday, February 24th, and 6:30 pm at ETSU (room to be confirmed). You can join their working group here.
The Skills Building Working Group has identified four main areas that folks seem most interested in developing skills in: Health & Wellness, (Community/Activist) Relationship Building, Campaign Building, and Community Defense. They have done a lot of work identifying local/regional trainers to provide workshops in these areas, and their members are now researching locations and seeing what it’ll take to bring skills training here. Also, there will definitely be a “Health & Safety in the Streets” workshop happening at the end of this month, Next Door @ the Acoustic Coffeehouse. Dates are TBA soon. If you’re interested in receiving notifications on classes and workshops, sign up for the mailing list. If you’re interested in working with the Skills Building group, you can join here. And if you’d like to teach a workshop in any of the identified areas, let the group know here.
Until next time… Don’t forget to participate in the project discussions! And if you want to make sure you receive the link to vote on projects next month, sign up for the Northeast TN People’s Movement mailing list or like our Facebook page.