Surviving 2009 Together

I often assess the passing year as the new one approaches. I have mixed feelings about 2009. The start of the year, like the second half of 2008, was really scary at the RFC. The country was in financial melt-down, people were losing their jobs, and that had ominous implications for our fund raising prospects as the year progressed. We also knew that whatever the new administration did (and it sure hasn’t been much!) the legacy of the Bush era repression would not evaporate overnight and that many of our beneficiary families would be even more vulnerable during what promised to be a very deep recession.

As the year progressed our fears eased. We could see that our donors were struggling. People were incredibly committed, but many simply couldn’t afford to give what they had in previous years. However, the drop off was not precipitous, and others who had the wherewithal stepped into the breech and gave even more. I’ve never felt prouder of our community which displayed both compassion and astuteness.

And many of our beneficiaries were just as high-minded. They were in dire straights, but a number of them actually REDUCED their requests so that there would be more available to others. I suppose we should not have been surprised by the community spirit of our beneficiaries, but it was still incredibly moving.

Our donors’ generosity complemented by our beneficiaries’ selflessness carried us through the difficult year. We cut our granting budget by 20% from $400,000 in 2008 to $320,000. Cancelling our 2009 Carry it Forward Gathering accounted for $35,000 of this $80,000 decrease. It hurt to do this, but it was the only way we could continue to provide at least some support to all the children of targeted activists who applied and fell within our guidelines.

It could have been tragic if we had been forced to slash another $45,000, but we didn’t have to. Whether at RFC parties, events, or in response to our mailings and newsletters, so many people stepped up with extraordinary support that we were able to award $35,000 more than we had projected (almost $355,000). So we only had to trim an additional $10,000 from the more than 160 grants we awarded this year. That’s only a little over $60/grant!

I can’t adequately express how relieved the RFC staff and Board felt at having this painful task cut down to a more manageable size.

So we enter 2010 somewhat the worse for wear, but we can savor the bright spots. We had to work harder and will still slip back a little… but only a little. We’re not nearly as scared as we were a year ago, but I wonder how much of that is because we’ve gotten used to rough times.

I’m tracking the response to our year-end letter now. It is our biggest single source of annual support. We’re doing OK, but not quite as well as last year. As we look to 2010 we’ll just keep plugging away as hard as we can. I’ve always been in it for the long haul and knowing the entire RFC community is with me, our staff, our Board and the children we support, is what keeps me going.

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2011 Gathering: Building a Community of Resistance

Left wing families face a serious challenge integrating their politics into their lives. The pervasiveness of international corporate exploitation, consumerism and pacification through entertainment make it almost impossible to live progressive lives that are consistent with their values. Yet without such integration, it is difficult to create the essential culture of resistance and alternative vision that is needed to transform our society.

At the RFC we’ve recognized the need to build progressive infrastructure in order to transmit such values from one generation to the next. This is why, whenever possible, we channel our funds through progressive providers to our beneficiaries. It is also one of the reasons we developed our Gatherings. The program consists of Carry it Forward Gatherings for the children of targeted activists and targeted activist youth between the ages of 18 and 24, and Family Gatherings for targeted activists and their school-aged children.

Last week we held our first Carry it Forward Gathering since 2006. Originally we planned this event for 2009, but in the wake of the crash of 2008, we were forced to cancel it for lack of funds. This time we brought together over 20 young adults, all current or former RFC beneficiaries, for four days of sharing, network building, artistic expression and fun. A few were targeted activist youth, while most were the children of targeted activists, although many of the latter had as young adults become activists in their own right. They were a dynamic and inspiring group. This level of engagement, coupled with our exhilaration at reinstating this threatened program, had a cathartic impact upon me.

We could tell from how they responded to us and each other, that the program had a powerfully positive impact on them all. Moreover, a number of the attendees connected with kindred spirits who, I believe, will provide mutual support for their ongoing organizing work in the future.

I wish everyone in the RFC community could have shared this experience, because no one who did could have doubted its value. While the vast majority of our constituency has expressed strong support for the Gatherings, we’ve received some correspondence from those who have asked that their funds not be used for these events because they question their long-term value or impact. Rather than being a waste of precious resources, the problem with our Gathering program is that it needs to be a hundred times bigger in order to build the communities of resistance that must complement the direct actions needed to transform our society.

While I have little doubt about the importance of the RFC’s work, and am proud of the hundreds and, perhaps by now, more than a thousand children and youth we have helped, I do not have delusions of grandeur. We’ve just taken a few steps on what must be a long journey. But I come away from last week with a profound sense that we are headed in the right direction.
 

PS   We are most grateful to the Fineshriber Family Foundation for their leadership grant, the Puffin Foundation for providing funds for the Arts workshops, the Shana Alexander Foundation for assistance with staffing the Gathering, and four individuals whose generous support has allowed us to move forward with this summer’s program.

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Once Again: Pass it On and Carry it Forward!

(by guest blogger, Ellen Meeropol*)

I did an MFA program to learn craft. Retired from my nurse practitioner career, I promised myself to my writing full time and had no plans to teach. But things happen and I started leading writing workshops. And - it turns out - I love it, especially with beginning writers who are more interested in exploration and illumination than publication.

I love creating exercises that stimulate writers to transform their memories and yearnings into stories. I love pointing out their intuitive use of craft techniques - of sensory detail and narrative voice, of metaphor and subtext, of building tension and conflict - and guiding them to more effective writing. I love the generosity which new writers often display towards each others’ work, their appreciation of each others’ work and talent.

I love leading writing workshops at the RFC gatherings for all these reasons and more. Attendees at the Carry It Forward gatherings have usually had some difficult encounters with the world. Some have watched police raid their bedrooms or visited their parents in prison. Some have been bullied in school or threatened in their neighborhoods. They have experiences to share that we need to hear. They have unique perspectives to offer.

Writing workshops offer an opportunity to find voice for our experiences. Often we must write around and around a topic to discover the story. We write many words, sometimes pages of spiraling words and sentences until the right words emerge to express a kernel of truth in a distinct and authentic way. When I lead workshops at the RFC gatherings, I feel privileged to be part of that discovery, to help those words and feelings find their voice.

Writing workshops with the RFC community combine the two things about which I feel the most passionate: changing the world and writing fiction. It doesn’t get better than that.

*Ellen Meeropol is a founding member of the RFC Board and is married to Robert Meeropol. She holds an MFA in creative writing from the Stonecoast program at the University of Southern Maine and has taught numerous writing workshops at RFC gatherings. Her stories have appeared in Shaking Lit, The Drum, Bridges, Portland Magazine, Pedestal, Patchwork Journal, and The Women’s Times. Her first novel, House Arrest, was published in early 2011 (learn more at http://www.ellenmeeropol.com).

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RFC: Family of the Heart

Note: this is a guest blog by a participant at the RFC's Carry It Forward Gathering held in August, 2011 (additional information about Gatherings is available here and on our facebook page here).

I walked up to the dorms of [the college where the RFC Gathering was being held] and saw a circle of people waiting. My heart started pounding as I realized that I was the last to arrive and everyone had already met. I saw Robby, Elli, and Jenn, the big hearts and brilliant minds that make the RFC such a welcoming place. After getting oriented briefly and reassuring my mother that yes, I would be ok without her, and yes, I would call if I needed her (despite the fact that I have lived independently for a fair amount of time) I joined the circle. And let me say, as a person who has experienced a lot of new social situations and a lot of tense introductions, this was nothing like that. I was welcomed like an old friend, people came up to me and genuinely wanted to check in about how my journey was and to find out more about me, what I do, and sharing equally of themselves.

Throughout the weekend we shared jokes, concerns, lively discussions, and new perspectives. I found myself in awe of these amazing young people who are brilliant, passionate, and always questioning. These were my people. It felt like summer camp for really big kids, I didn’t have to worry about anything. Meals, taken care of! Transportation, done! Scheduling, masterful! My biggest concern was, writing workshop or art, swimming or nature walk (these can be very challenging decisions).

The Gathering reminded me of an experience when I was a counselor at a summer camp a few years ago when we were designing the activities and we wanted to incorporate a day themed around family. We spent a great deal of time discussing how to include this theme in a way that would include all of the different kinds of families that exist. We ended up having a day focused on “family of the heart.” Our heart families can be incredibly large and stretch great distances, they can be the people whom we live with and see every day or the ones who teach us about the world, ourselves, and how we fit.

The RFC is really one big heart family where we find support in our hardest moments and ongoing struggles, as well as share in wonderful, joyful weekends that fill us up with the knowledge that even though we are different, even though we may not always be appreciated or encouraged in the actions that we take, we have a community out there that “gets” us.

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Gathering our Strength

(Guest blog by Jenn Meeropol, RFC Associate Director)

It’s been a very busy few weeks at the RFC. My father has been on the road (to Portland, OR for a successful RFC party and then to Paris for international anti-death penalty work). Meanwhile, the postmark deadline for fall applications is today (October 13th) so I’ve been busy fielding inquiries from potential new and current beneficiary families.

While I always enjoy the opportunity to catch up with our beneficiary families and connect with new applicants via phone or email, it can be discouraging to hear these families’ updates, which too often include lost jobs, foreclosures, additional targeting or continued challenges and in some cases trauma, that their children are experiencing. This week in particular has brought several stories from new applicants about torture and police abuse. As much as we want to know about these circumstances so we can offer support, it can be overwhelming to hear about so much suffering.

I’ve found myself needing to take a moment to focus on some of the positives of our work; when I do, one of the first things that comes to mind is the recent Carry It Forward Gathering. Just about two months after the Gathering, I still find myself energized by both the event and the feedback we’ve received from participants and their families (learn more about the RFC Gathering programs here).

The mother of a participant emailed me: “The weekend [of the Gathering] was so great. What [my son] texted his father stands out – ‘This is the most exciting, interesting weekend I have ever had.’ I really want to thank you for this experience. I think it opened him up…. What also happened as a result is [my son] realized he did not know as much as he could/should about his father. He asked questions and his father opened up and addressed them. It was really moving….. Thank you and the RFC so much.”

Another participant told us “It was an absolute honor to meet all of you this past couple of days. You are all True Heroes and getting to know you all and the things you and your families have overcome was an absolute privilege. And I made some great friends in a short time. Cheers to you all!"

Finally, a young man who attended the Gathering shared that “There is a very powerful emotional benefit of meeting other people like you; other people with similar stories…It feeds on itself and there’s a kinship there. I think it’s really positive and really important that we all get to meet each other…The help that we get in isolation is significantly magnified when we all come together and talk about the help that we’ve gotten.”

In a nutshell, that’s what Gatherings (and RFC grants) are all about: combating the isolation that targeted activists and their families too often experience and letting them know that they are not alone. As we review the fall applications and hear too many stories of repression and suffering, it helps to remember that music lessons and therapy and summer camp and bringing people together to share their experiences does help. Thank you to the entire RFC community for making this possible.

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