My friend Tory is mobilizing people to support a friend in need. She emails, phones, rephones, has conversations in the hallways. Followers will sign things: petitions, checks, commitments. Her voice is soothing, insistent, and unrelenting. She is unapologetic because she is right.
A few days ago, as I ordered my coffee, I could see outside the window of Peet's, two guys wearing windbreakers, hats, and holding clipboards. Petitions, I knew they would jump me as I sidled out the door both hands holding cups. What was the cause? Probably something I believed in, like the environment or the opposition to capital punishment. That didn't matter, I was wishing for a back door. What would I do? With the coffee I couldn't pretend I was on an uninterruptible phone call, check pressed to the screen, saying "yes, let the lawyers know immediately!" These petitioners know their target audience and my demographic fit right in: of course I wanted to save endangered species or support libraries; of course I wanted control on campaign funding and the legistative hands off my vagina. But I don't want to sign a petition. My shopping, coffee, strolling bubble is a meditative state and it couldn't be intruded upon by the large global issues that plague the earth.
I found another obvious sympathizer and followed her out the door. As the petitioner nabbed her, I made my getaway. Sure my body was filling with shame; I was internally apologetic for the moment because I knew many many dolphins would die without my signature. I wanted to be cynical, like my dad, who would egg on the Jehovah Witnesses who came to our door with theological questions and challenges. But those dolphins....damn.
This trepidation has long roots. I am a girl scout in a small Pennsylvania town. My crate of Girl Scout cookies sits full in the living room for weeks. My mother worries, "Are you going to try to sell any of the cookies?"
"Everyone else got everybody already.... can you ask Aunt A to buy some?" The whole idea of asking people to buy my cookies felt like someone was asking me to wash windows with a Qtip. I didn't have the backbone for it. My parents absorbed the cookie cost for a few years, but after a while, mother demanded I take the cookies back and admit my failure. I was a bad bad girl scout.
Don't get me wrong, I give money. It has a private joy to sit in my house and hit the paypal button for a great kickstarter cause (poetry in prisons) or my NPR station. I have a time and place for it.
Irony comes into every scenario. I am part of a team that runs a foundation, an important foundation and I consider it one of my most important legacies. The VONA (Voices of our Nations Arts Foundations) workshops are for writers of color. We have great faculty, we support writers to find their voices and navigate the literary world where they are most often marginalized or exoticized. We are successful in stories and with people, but financially...well, i'm not a fundraiser, you know, so we're often broke.
I do the website (www.voicesatvona.org), I work on the facebook page, I hire faculty, I develop programs. But I don't raise money and it has now put us against the wall. What can we do? A fundraising campaign! Sure, I gulp. I can do that. I write an amazingly great fundraising letter http://hosted-p0.vresp.com/1087997/2dbe2b81c1/ARCHIVE#like and love it. I feel good, want to fade back and have it go out in the world and do its work.
The first week, a few hundred dollars trickle in. We have needs, our housing costs, our faculty, scholarships for deserving new writers...another sigh. I send out a letter to my friends, a sweet plea, don't you love books? Please! More trickles.
They must know I have this crate of girl scout cookies that are going stale somewhere in my house. I call a few friends. Can you ask your friends to support us? readers? book clubs? Sure they are happy to. Marlene sends out a beautiful plea. Selma plans to hit up her voracious reader friends.
This isn't so bad. VONA is deserving. People do want success for us. I don't quite get to the point of Tory level doggedness but I'm not ashamed of asking anymore. Here's the link again, by the way, because you know writers deserve it! http://hosted-p0.vresp.com/1087997/2dbe2b81c1/ARCHIVE#like
Okay, so now, some thin mint cookies?
Causes Elmaz Abinader Supports