Just about a year ago, we were starting our Family Gathering. Board members and staff shuttled attendees from the airport to the venue, others stocked up on snacks for late night conversations, and peer leaders (former beneficiaries in their mid to late 20s who had attended previous Gatherings) welcomed kids and teens to their groups and helped parents settle in. The 2014 Family Gathering was a fun, fabulous event that served an important purpose: building community among targeted activist parents and their school-age kids.
Creating these connections is an important priority for the RFC. We achieve it through our grants, which whenever possible are made to progressive providers (summer camps, schools, arts or dance programs, therapists). By supporting these programs, we have a dual impact: vital assistance for the children of targeted activists and targeted activist youth and building and maintaining infrastructure for the transmission of progressive values from one generation to the next.
In addition to providing funding, our grants remind activist parents and their children (as well as targeted activist youth) that they are not alone, because there is a whole community who supports their choices and stands with them. We consistently hear from parents and young beneficiaries letting us know that beyond our financial support, that sense of community is vital. As several sisters wrote to us, “We were so excited when we got the grants for our music lessons. It has been difficult to pay for them since our father lost his job. Thank you for recognizing how our dad was singled out for his stand against war, and for realizing music's importance to our family." Another parent explained, “To me, the grant is a form of validation and encouragement."
It’s not just our grant recipients who feel this way. Our supporters see themselves as standing with these families as part of their community. As one supporter explained: “In the 1950's my father went to jail for being a member of the Communist Party. As a teenage girl it was important to know that someone outside our own family cared what happened to us, knew that we needed emotional as well as some financial support. I know from my experience that the work you are doing is very important.”
A former political prisoner who is now a donor wrote to us that, “assuring each generation of activists willing to put so much on the line that a community of support is there for their kids is vital. As is showing young folks that we are there for them as they step out - into the footsteps of elders – fighting for a more just world. As a child of the McCarthy Days I know well how important that community of love and support is.”
We also strengthen family and community connections though our Attica Prison Visit Program grants. These awards have funded visits for the children, grandchildren and in a few cases great-grandchildren of a diverse group of political prisoners, including Black Panthers, AIM members, international solidarity activists, war resisters and animal rights activists.
For all of our Attica grants, our aim is both to support children and grandchildren by allowing them to maintain family bonds despite separation due to the incarceration of their loved ones, and to show solidarity with political prisoners by helping them maintain their connections to their families. Letters like the following from a political prisoner encourage us that this is the case:
“There are no words adequate to convey how much your help and support have meant to me and my family over the years. If it were not for the Fund’s assistance, we would not have been able to see each other in the first, and most emotionally wrenching, years of my sentence. My children, now young adults, both encountered serious changes and challenges- and our separation made it so very difficult for me to be present and supportive in their lives. It meant everything to me to be able to hold them in my arms and reassure them as much as I could that we’re still a family. The work you do [helps] families, communities (and the movements they are part of) transcend the barriers of concrete and razor wire.”
But beyond prison visits, our primary way of building community directly is through our Gatherings. Held over four-day periods in western Massachusetts, Gatherings offer RFC beneficiary families and targeted activist youth cultural workshops along with recreational and social activities. The programming facilitates the formation of bonds between participants and creates a space to share and connect with others in similar circumstances.
Sometimes the Gatherings are for families with school-age children (as was the case for our Gathering in 2014). In addition, we hold Carry It Forward Gatherings for 18 to 24-year-olds. These events exemplify the RFC’s commitment to building community and combating the isolation that makes activist families vulnerable. They also reflect the RFC’s belief that children and young people in difficult circumstances deserve to have fun, relax and experience some “normalcy.”
We produced a video that’s mostly comprised of interviews with people who participated in our two most recent Gatherings. It’s embedded below since these participants do a good job of summarizing the significance of this sense of community for themselves and their families.