Tending Fires: A Letter on the Eve of an Election

A tended backyard fire, Lydia Wylie-Kellermann, October 2020.

A few nights ago as the temperature dipped into the thirties, we threw logs on the fire pit and convened a circle. With the sound of children’s laughter as the backdrop and masks covering our faces, we tended the fire, our hearts, and made preparations for the days to come.

In the United States, the coronavirus is spreading at an unbelievable rate while our president travels to hot spots unmasked, spewing hateful, racist rhetoric. He has spread distrust about our electoral process – priming the population for chaos and confusion, all the while ignoring the very real voter suppression and disenfranchisement that has faced people of colour and those living in poverty for centuries. We are a week away from an election looking at the very real possibility of white supremacists showing up armed at the polls and in the street.

So, last night in our little corner in southwest Detroit, we sat around the fire and asked one another to be an affinity group. . . a community. . . a circle who can discern, support, and act together in the face of what is to come. We sang and read poetry and shared how we are doing. And then we organized, preparing to show up and do de-escalation work at the polls where needed.

As I was nourished by that circle, I was reminded how much we need community. It is circles like these that keep me from falling into despair. It is circles like these that help me imagine ways to show up. I often think about the words of Dorothy Day who said, “We were just sitting around the dining room table when we. . .” started a bread line or a paper or a farm. Magic happens when we are sitting around a table together. And what lonely tables so many of us are sitting at these past six months under a pandemic.

I believe that one of the reasons that Geez stays committed to print year after year is because it lands on dining room tables, because it is a tangible reality of community and imagination.

So dearest friends and readers, I hope you are finding ways to feel and touch community. None of us are alone. Knowing our Geez community, I have no doubt each of you have found ways to throw into this struggle. I constantly delight in how many ways there are to fight for justice – one way or another, all our gifts work within that. Below our team shares a bit about the work of our hands and hearts in these days.

As I write this letter, I am aware that our Geez community is roughly half folks from Canada and half from the United States. While it feels like the right time to send off a word of connection, I know this letter may feel more U.S.-centric than we would usually hope to write. Yet I also know that the moment here is sitting heavy globally. So, I hope in one way or another this is a word of hope and love to all our readers.

As we move on into this day, delight in how many communities are gathering around fires and preparing. Summon those rebel-rousing ancestors whose spirits we need now more than ever. Light candles. Fight like hell. Make phone calls. Dance in the long lines. Wear a mask. Walk in the woods. Knock on doors. Read people’s history. Vote. Organize. Laugh. Put your hands into the guts of a pumpkin and bake bread. Tend to your body, heart, and community because while it is indeed imminent and urgent, we must be in it for the long haul.

Lydia Wylie-Kellermann
Editor, Geez

Geez Staff Reflections: What’s Keeping Us Grounded?

I read election news from my home in Canada, where I just came off a paid year-long maternity leave, and have never received a bill for being hospitalized. I read comments from Americans saying they’re moving north across the border if Trump is re-elected. Yet, he has already arrived here – altering the discourse of politics and propagating conspiracy of all the wrong things. I try to look away. Instead, I laugh at Sarah Cooper impressions and smirk at #fakemelania. Like our neighbours to the south, Canada was birthed with colonization and racism in her bones. And yet, today, I find relief in being within the lesser of two evils.

– Michelle Both, marketing and media coordinator (London, Ontario)

In Illinois, we find ourselves with budget deadlocks year after year. We see services cut to our neighbors who need them most, like David who has waited for wheelchair accessible affordable housing for years. An amendment to the Illinois Constitution is the first item on our state ballot this fall, paving the way for a graduated income tax that removes the burden from households making less than $250k a year while still providing a much needed increase in state revenue. I’ve found myself recording the stories of inspiring Latina moms for a fair tax structure and piecing together and promoting podcasts to amplify their voices. Their vulnerability brought me hope and humanness that is hard to find under this divisive national regime.

– Em Jacoby, associate publisher (Chicago, Illinois)

Election season has always been a complicated time for Catholic Workers, given Dorothy Day’s notorious refusal to exercise her right to vote (although she also threw down for the women’s suffrage movement…). So I couldn’t help but wonder what she might say today, at the sight of us registering voters at the soup kitchen last week or signing up for canvassing shifts on election day. But truthfully, I don’t wonder for too long. As November ticks closer, our priorities at the house have focused on deepening our work of hospitality, growing connections with the communities around us, and preparing for whatever else may be to come.

– Kateri Boucher, associate editor and member of the Detroit Catholic Worker (Detroit, Michigan)

I’ve been having a lot of trouble staying focused right now, so instead of novels or watching movies I’ve been re-reading Edgar Allen Poe’s short stories. They’re not exactly calming, but it helps remembering that people of the United States were dealing with many of the same anxieties then that they are now. I’m also highly vulnerable to obsessive politics watching and the only way I can really stay grounded is by phone banking and canvassing. It takes the edge off enough that I don’t need to click refresh on poll trackers ten times a minute, or fall asleep reading Twitter. Plus, autumn is my favorite season, so I don’t mind knocking on stranger’s doors if I get to enjoy the fall trees.

– Dan Klein, circulation manager (Detroit, Michigan)

For me, staying grounded has been required with a one- and three-year-old. I can’t spin out in my fear too long because I need to make dinner, I need to open the paint bottle and put the caps back on the markers, I need to get coats and hats and boots on these little bodies so that we can go out and feel the sun. I am grateful for my children for reminding me that no existential threat takes away the truth that life is also small and present and joy-filled. They keep me grounded so that I can show up in the name of de-escalation and peace keeping.

– Lucia Wylie-Eggert, art director (Detroit, Michigan)

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