Underwire: January 2021

Last month in this column I lost a few customers by chiding anti-maskers, supporting the Democratic Senatorial candidates from GA, and suggesting that the Republican Party was unfit to lead us through the pandemic. One former client said she never received messages like that from successful businesses like Kohls or Nordstrom, as though ass-covering corporation speak was the standard I should aspire to.

As promised, my husband and I did a little vote canvassing in West Atlanta in the week before the election, and we savored the special treat of being on the winning side for several whole hours before the President’s assault on the Capitol hurled us back into our familiar state of anxiety and dread, with an unsatisfying sprinkle of I-told-you-so.

Knocking on doors is the opposite of posting on social media. Instead of trading curated best-life selfies and witty quips with friends and followers in your familiar algorithmic bubble, you’re slogging through a strange neighborhood in the cold, interrupting strangers in their sweatpants yelling at their kids and awkwardly trying to make contact across an unknown range of cultural divides.

Getting registered voters to the polls

In my mid-twenties I was 50% fiery leftist and 50% fixated on Hispanic men. This took me to Nicaragua, where one day I came to an epiphany. I was riding in the back of a pickup truck through Nicaraguan hills, on my way back to the city of Matagalpa. I had come to see for myself whether the Sandinistas had created poetic socialism or a Leninist dystopia. To that end, we had been visiting a coffee farmers collective in the mountains. Listening to them bicker about who was going to rebuild the footbridge across the stream didn’t sound like either one of the media versions of the revolution. Actually they sounded exactly like my neighbors back in Los Angeles. It occurred to me that I could be doing the same work right in my own neighborhood in LA, a nameless, barely zoned patch along Virgil Avenue, straddling the border of Silver Lake and East Hollywood.

I went home and started knocking on doors. Local concerns ranged from epidemic crack dealing to stolen rakes. Pretty soon we had a neighborhood organization formed. We needed a name to apply for City grants. In those days the upper middle class areas liked to rename themselves as this or that “Village,” so, snickering, we put ourselves down as the Virgil Village Neighborhood Association. The association faded away after a few years, but the crack dealers are gone, the sidewalks are lit, the trees we planted still bloom every spring, and the neighborhood is still called, with a completely straight face – Virgil Village.
¡Sí, se puede!

This photo is not of my ‘Sandalista’ group, as we were affectionately called, but of a similar one during the period, MADRE.