The First Step in Our Thousand-Mile Journey: A Debriefing of Our Meeting with Congressman LaMalfa
I love sharing stories of my great-grandfather, General Frederick Funston. Not because he was once a renowned military figure during his lifetime, but because he left in his wake a plethora of ridiculously audacious adventures and humorous quotes that make for great storytelling. He also has a miraculous way of continuously popping up into my life even today and in a variety of ways.
Once I discovered my birth family and my relationship to Frederick Funston (the 100 year anniversary of his death was only 9 days ago on February 19th), his life and times became too thunderous and colorful for me to simply ignore.
It was over the course of my double-decade-long-search for my roots that I accidently uncovered Frederick and the trail that he left behind.
Subsequently, I would ultimately return to the surface from this deep familial exploration with a wonderful bundle of ‘notes from the past:’ notes applicable to this day.
Sometimes I think Frederick must be at my side. Nudging me. Passing me his notes. Reminding me of some of his more entertaining citations -- because one quote just happened to pop into my mind last Friday while sitting at the table with our local Congressman Doug LaMalfa -- along with my remarkable cohorts: Shelley Covert Executive Director of CHIRP, representing the Nisenan Tribe; Barbara DeHart, Co-founder of Indivisible Women of Nevada County (IWNC); Caleb Dardick, Executive Director of SYRCL; and Barbara Jones, keyboard-warrior who landed the appointment with LaMalfa through her thoughtful Facebook comments that she regularly posted on LaMalfa’s official Facebook page.
SHOWING UP FOR CHANGE
Only moments before our meeting, the Placer County Sheriff had kindly given
the five of us a ride out of the crowd of 500+ protestors that had converged along both sides of New Airport Rd.; a thousand feet down the driveway from the Auburn Ridge Golf Course and Event Center where we were scheduled to meet Congressman LaMalfa at noon.
Congressman LaMalfa and other representatives, including Congressman McClintock, were speaking at the Mountain Counties Water Resource Association’s Regional Water Symposium that day (an event, ironically, that myself and the other members of my group had our tickets refunded only 10 days prior). The group of protestors lining Old Airport Rd were peacefully demonstrating and asking for a town hall with our Congressional leader, LaMalfa, and had been organized by our very own IWNC and other local/regional Indivisible groups.
Only a couple weeks earlier, Nevada County resident, Barbara Jones, had been contacted several times by LaMalfa’s office causing Barbara to initially wonder if she was in trouble.
“I kept thinking was it something I wrote on his Facebook page?” she would later share with us.
Well, yes and no. It was more about how Barbara communicated to LaMalfa. She was given the opportunity for an appointment because she was not yelling on Facebook at Congressman LaMalfa; she was sharing information and asking him thought provoking questions instead, engaging him.
Once LaMalfa’s staff contacted Barbara, she made a call out on to the Indivisible Women Facebook page and one week later we were all sitting around the table with Congressman LaMalfa and three of his staff members.
CLOSING THE DIVIDE
During this private meeting with LaMalfa, SYRCL’s Caleb Dardick spoke about
his concern regarding the proposed Centennial dam project; Shelley Covert hit upon the importance of federal recognition for her tribe, the Nisenan; Barbara Jones expressed her personal need to keep the ACA alive or replace it with something of its equivalency -- LaMalfa wouldn’t budge on the ACA and genuinely feels it’s up to each and everyone to get his/her own health insurance. Barbara DeHart talked about the rise of Indivisible Women and how in simply a month’s time Nevada County Indivisible groups are already 3,600 members-strong; grabbing LaMalfa’s attention.
I was beaming with pride at the intelligent and heartfelt points that my associates were making to Congressman LaMalfa. Our community’s specific needs and challenges were being well represented. I personally spoke about the homelessness issue and the need for LaMalfa to support upcoming legislation to reduce this. I also mentioned the need for a revolving loan program to help cities finance upfront plans and environmental reviews for emergency housing. He seemed most interest in a homeless incentive/work program we are considering.
Though I knew it was a taboo subject I felt I had to hit upon climate change and that’s when Frederick “whispered” in my ear.
I prefaced Frederick’s quote with, “My great grandfather was 5’4”tall, barely 120 pounds, and known as General Frederick Funston.”
This seemed to pique LaMalfa’s interest, and he jumped in, “He was a general?”
I replied, “Yes, a four-star general known as Fearless Fred which makes his quote I'm going to share all the more ironic.”
And with that, "Fred spoke:"
“Never start a fight with a man....
you can’t outrun.”
This received a collective guffaw from the group and we reflected how, yes, indeed this was particularly funning coming from someone of Frederick’s military standing.
“And climate change really is one thing we can’t outrun,” I continued (thank you, Fred, for the opening).
“We cannot ignore it or address it, divided. We must come together and face it no matter what our political leaning; whether we think it man-made or not. We are already facing it in the form of drought and deluge. We are facing it in increasingly volatile storms. We are facing so many challenges that we can no longer address these issues separated as we are. Ultimately,” I added, “this is a real opportunity for us all.”
LIVING ROOM CONVERSATIONS
I then introduced something known as Living Room Conversations (LRC) even though I was concerned LaMalfa wouldn’t be very receptive. But in all honesty, I really felt that we had nothing to lose.
Living Room Conversations are not new. Local, longtime LRC advocate, Marilyn Nyborg, is facilitating LRCs within Indivisible Women. Marilyn and other IWNC members have been working on folding this into Indivisible Women practices so as to identify common ground through various groups-- so we can ultimately work towards solutions!
I first heard about Living Room Conversations several years ago when I first met
Amanda Kathryn Roman; an extraordinary intelligent and openhearted young Republican who had, surprisingly, moved to progressive Nevada City from the East Coast after only one visit: A YES leadership workshop that we both were participating in in Nevada City in 2010.
It was during this time that Joan Blades, co-founder of MoveOn.org, along with Roman, were germinating the groundbreaking self-guided Living Room Conversations that “could transform distrust and discord into understanding — paving the way for collaborative solutions.”
I explained to LaMalfa the premise of LRC; you get together 6 people in a living room that have diametrically opposed political views and ask them basic, fundamental questions such as, “What did America mean to you as a child? What does it mean to you today? What values did your parents instill upon you?” Ultimately getting us to the root of our humanness. It is within this uncovering of fundamental beliefs that we are able to recognize within each other our own commonalities. (The Tea Party Patriots Co-founder, Mark Meckler, undertook a Living Room Conversation as well. He found it so beneficial, Meckler, ultimately endorsed it)
I let LaMalfa know that this technique was so powerful that many years ago when the LRCs was first being piloted in 2010, myself and a local, conservative blogger by the name of Russell Steele were asked by co-creator, Roman, to partake in the initial test-pilot.
That’s when LaMalfa exclaimed, “I know Russ! We’re good friends!”
I excitedly responded, “Well, amazingly enough, so are we! Even after all these years!”
That’s when LaMalfa asked that if he participated in an LRC could he “invite his wife, Jill, and Russ as well?” We, of course, all said yes to that. We would be delighted….
The colorful conversation continued; LaMalfa, and staff fully engaged in the idea. DeHart and Dardick massaged the concept by suggesting we turn the town hall into a type of Living Room Conversation itself. I suggested we help set the stage by holding LRCs throughout the community before the big town hall. Caleb added that perhaps it could be focused around water….?
We could not have asked for a better response; the channels flew open and LaMalfa and his staff were all ears.
We all chimed in, collectively, “You have some of the most brilliant water advocates, minds and activists living in Nevada County. We are a community that knows how to identify a problem and pursue its solution. We can address these issues, collectively.”
We all walked out of the meeting (that ran 45 minutes longer than scheduled) feeling as though the Great Divide had just gotten a little bit smaller. Our outreach had proven effective as a first step and our genuine offer to conduct Living Room Conversations seemed sincerely welcomed by our Congressman.
LaMalfa, indeed, did seem to be hearing us: We are truly more powerful together than divided.
We know this is just the beginning and that there is a long way to go. But we also know that “The Journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”
It might have been the breeze that was whirling around on the hilltop that day, but I swear, once we all stepped out from our meeting with LaMalfa and into the sunlight, I could have sworn I felt a note being slipped into my hand and a heard a whisper, “Nice first step.”
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