Financial Fitness for Young Women

by Andrea Davis

Money, death, taxes–all topics most people prefer to avoid. However, Lisa Gabriel and LisaMarie Smith, along with a group of under-40 women, confronted these realities head-on in a workshop on Tuesday, September 12, 2017, at the RCWMS office. Ms. Gabriel and Ms. Smith, of Pinafore Wealth Counsel of Durham, provided a hybrid format which gave basic guidance while encouraging questions specific to the concerns and goals of participants.  

While money can be difficult to discuss, the group was set at ease by the co-leaders. Lisa and LisaMarie began the evening with an exercise inviting each person to write down the first word that came to mind related to money, and one or more burning financial questions. Healthy snacks and hot tea also soothed. Starting from the need to build an emergency account, discussion also covered college loans, tax implications of various decisions, and considerations around life insurance. Relational aspects included implications for households with significant college debt and the possibility of “financial infidelity.” The then-fresh news of the Equifax breach also prompted discussion of the importance of monitoring and protecting one’s credit. Investing and other retirement savings rounded out the discussion.  

Many participants expressed relief at learning more information, while also regretting that some of these lessons hadn’t been learned sooner! We found that we had many similar goals and that our financial knowledge was enriched by the time with our gracious leaders.

Gather the Harvest

On August eighth, twelve women gathered in the RCWMS office for one of our recurring seasonal writing workshops. A number of those were familiar faces, while a few were there for their first Resource Center program. Rebecca Welper led the group, which included women in their thirties through their sixties. The evening included prompts and quiet writing time, with opportunities to share aloud what had just been written. The prompts were based on the “Gather the Harvest” theme, inviting reflection on summer memories, the full moon, metaphorical and literal fruits of one’s labor, and gratitude. To foster an approach to writing as a spiritual practice, participants were encouraged to delve deep into their personal experience and reserve judgment about what they wrote and heard from others’ writing.

Pens flew across pages, and fingers clicked away at keyboards. At first, however, participants showed a hesitance to share, a common occurrence when new groups form. By the end of their evening, everyone found her voice, heard her words aloud, and got supportive feedback from the group. After the workshop, one participant said she appreciated the community aspect of writing together. She mentioned an “intimacy that rises within me at the onset [of the workshop] and remains. It allows for a depth of expression that I cannot always get to when writing alone.”

Connection with each other and depth of expression are what we aim to facilitate when we offer these writing workshops and weeks of writing at the beach. Have you been to one yet? This fall we have several opportunities for you to gather and write together. To see what’s coming next and register, take a look at our calendar. Hope to see you soon.

Freedom of assembly and speech at Tillis’ office

This summer, the RCWMS interns have attended weekly Tuesdays With Tillis protests in Raleigh, NC. You can read Savannah Lynn’s post about a “die-in” staged in June by clicking HERE. Below, Colleen Sharp considers issues related to freedom of assembly and speech at Tillis’ office. You can find out about future protests by liking the Tuesdays With Tillis Facebook Page or following them on Twitter, @TillisTuesdays.

by Colleen Sharp

First off, just so I don’t get accused of a crime, I have to be very clear that this is not legal advice. This blog post is intended to be an assemblage of information so you don’t all have to do the same Google searches I did. You could find all of this information on your own, but I am collecting it here as a resource for you.

To give some context: at Tuesdays with Tillis, we have faced increased restrictions on what we are allowed to do and how we are allowed to protest. We are no longer allowed to get past security in the building to meet with staffers and send along letters, we have been asked to take down signs, and we have been met with city police who now use police tape on traffic cones to block off the part of the sidewalk we’re allowed to be on.

While we’re discussing rights under US law, I think it’s important to acknowledge that the ground we are trying to walk on, and the land we are trying to occupy, is stolen from indigenous peoples in North Carolina, and the government does not have a valid claim to control it. That said, it’s important to know what the consequences might be for actions that we choose to take, regardless of the validity of the policies we’re examining. I’m writing this to help Tuesdays with Tillis protesters figure out what part of the restrictions on our weekly protests are constitutional, legal, or at the discretion of law enforcement.

Legal:

Tuesdays with Tillis is legally a picket, meaning that we are conducting an action “primarily promoting or objecting to a policy” in a public, pedestrian/non-vehicular area. Picketing is regulated by Ordinance Section 12-1055 through Section 12-1058 under the City of Raleigh, so please look these sections up to come up with your own interpretations. The requirements of picketing include submitting a notice of intent to picket to the chief of police, and the organizers of Tuesdays with Tillis have been submitting this notice of intent for each week of protest.

Now, for the fun part: the standards of conduct! I’ve learned that I probably should stop going to these protests, because vicious animals are prohibited, and I consider myself to be a very vicious animal. I also should not plan to use my body as a sign, because signs are not allowed to be over 36 inches and because signs are not allowed to have words that would “tend to incite violence” (if you look hard enough you can see that my freckles spell out “punch Nazis” in at least three places).

We are only allowed to be on the outermost half of the sidewalk, not in the street and not in a parking lot (so leave your parking lots at home, folks). We are not allowed obstruct or block the sidewalk, people entering and exiting cars, or the entrance to the building, as I’m sure everyone knows. If someone who really hates health care, justice, or puppies happens to come up to us, and they have already indicated to the police that they want to picket, then the police will make sure that they have their own designated space to picket their cause. However, these puppy-haters are not allowed to physically interfere with our use of the sidewalk or to use language that “would tend to provoke… a breach of the peace.” So, the puppy-haters are neither allowed to blockade us nor to suggest that we set off fireworks in the middle of the street on a Tuesday.

There’s also a section about how everyone needs to disperse if the police tell them to. The interesting part about this section is that the only activity for which the ordinance directly mentions arrest is failing to disperse after harassing an authorized picket, but I suspect that’s not the only activity that could result in arrest at a picket, so I don’t plan to rob a bank while picketing and expect immunity.

Constitutional:

As you probably know, picketing is protected by the first amendment to the US Constitution, and all government entities have to enforce the Constitution. As some of you may know from the country song, “Fightin Words”: “Son, the first amendment protects you from the government/not from me.” The government is not allowed to ever abridge protesters’ rights to gather and speak. Conversely, only the government is required to respect everyone’s right to freedom of speech; I can use my individual power to disrespect the heck out of speech I don’t like.

Now, it’s worth assessing whether the Raleigh ordinance is constitutional: although it’s totally constitutional to assemble, speak, and petition the government, cities can regulate pickets to keep “order,” so I guess we’d better practice lining up our protest ducklings in an orderly fashion. Municipalities are authorized by the Constitution to refuse to allow protesters to block off the sidewalk or prevent access to federal buildings. However, the municipalities’ ordinances cannot leave too much to the discretion of the individual law enforcement officers: so if law enforcement officers are tasked with only keeping “order,” they’re likely to view that as subjectively as we do.

However, these municipalities are not allowed to treat different protests differently based on the content of the speech. So, say, hypothetically, there were a group of our neighbors with silly red baseball hats who had also protested somewhere and did not face similar treatment under similar circumstances: that would likely constitute unconstitutional discrimination. But let’s say, hypothetically,  we wanted to sue for discrimination. We would have to first, find a pot of gold and second, find a comparable example of other groups picketing under the same circumstances who were treated differently.

This has been a very cursory analysis of Supreme Court cases, and I’d recommend checking out Cox v Louisiana, Shuttlesworth v City of Birmingham, Cameron v Johnson, Gooding v Wilson, and all of the footnotes of those cases, if you want to know more. Most of these cases are from the Civil Rights Movement, and a lot has changed since then, but the constitutional interpretations are likely pretty similar.

Officer’s Discretion:

As you can see, a lot of the legal questions that have come up during the Tuesdays with Tillis are precipitated by the actions of the individual officers and staffers at the federal building. The constitutional questions seem to indicate that if too much in the city ordinance is left to the officers’ discretion, and/or if the officers act in a discriminatory manner, then they are acting unconstitutionally. If the officers act in a manner that is not in keeping with the city ordinances, they are acting in an unauthorized manner. I hope that this information helps you to decide whether or not your rights are being violated, and to act confidently however you choose.

Colleen Sharp is a rising senior from Raleigh studying African & African American Studies and Gender, Sexuality & Feminist Studies. She spends her after-class time working on sexual violence victim survivor advocacy and workers’ rights on campus.

The Art of the Condolence Note

by Amy Dosser

One Thursday evening in July, eighteen women gathered at the RCWMS office to consider the condolence note. When I first signed up for this workshop by Carol Henderson, I think I was hoping for a lecture on the science of writing to the bereaved. But, alas, as Carol demonstrated, writing is an art, and one needs a compassionate pen when communicating with the bereaved.

As usual in the workshops she leads, Carol brought in her own life experience. To discuss which kinds of condolence notes are more helpful than others, Carol drew from losses she has suffered, including the death of her first child (which she wrote about in her first book, Losing Malcolm: A Mother’s Journey Through Grief).

Carol shared several notes that she had received over the years to help illustrate specific wording that is helpful – and some that is less so. The problem letters were too general or contained too many clichés and platitudes. Also problematic were those that purported to know just how the bereaved felt or what she should expect. (Although sometimes it can be comforting to hear these things from someone who has been through a similar situation and is offering possibilities rather than certainties.)

More comforting are acknowledgements of the death and using specific language: specifics about what the deceased meant to us, about things we remember about the deceased, and about ways that we might be helpful. Rather than writing, “Call if there is anything that I can do,” one might say, “I can take you to lunch one day next week,” or, “I go to the grocery store every Wednesday; let me know if I can pick anything up for you.”

Before the workshop, I went through a group of letters that I had received after my daddy’s death. It was interesting to look at them and find the ones that really meant something to me – and still do. They were the ones that mentioned specific things about Daddy and his life: memories they had of my talking about him or things that had stood out to them in his obituary. It made me happy that a friend would take the time to read about my daddy’s life and comment on it to me.

Carol emphasized that the most important thing is that we find a card (or a sheet of notebook paper, for that matter!), sit down, and write a few sentences from our hearts. And so at the end of the workshop, we took what we learned and each wrote a condolence note. We found that taking the time and energy to write a note is a concrete way to let the bereaved know they are surrounded by love. Just this small act conveys volumes.

Carol Henderson and Participants in The Art of the Condolence Note

Tuesdays With Tillis

by Savannah Lynn

Tuesdays With Tillis

Photo Credit: Savannah Lynn

Bodies were scattered across the sidewalk outside of Thom Tillis’s office on New Bern Avenue in downtown Raleigh on Tuesday, June 20th. A news van was parked across the street. Bystanders stood vigilant nearby on the sidewalk, alternately looking over their fallen comrades and up at the dark, glossy windows of the federal building.

RCWMS board member Karen Ziegler, from her position prone on the grass, called the okay, and the “dead” arose.

In a gruesome premonition of the lives that could be lost should “Trumpcare” pass the U.S. Senate, sixty-odd citizens of the Triangle and surrounding areas gathered as part of the ongoing “Tuesdays with Tillis” series of protests. They staged a “die-in,” a nonviolent/civil disobedience tactic; holding tombstones reading “KILLED BY TRUMPCARE” and “R.I.P. MEDICARE,” folks used their bodies to occupy space (“dying” on the ground) and send a message to Senator Tillis. The die-in was added into the usual Tuesdays with Tillis programming: a brief introduction, a round of chanting and circling the building with signs, a reading of letters and an airing of grievances, a few songs, and an opportunity for folks to go two-by-two into the building to speak with Tillis’s staff and write comments in the visitor’s log.

Tuesdays with Tillis has been filling this space from 11:30am to 12:30pm every Tuesday (rain or shine) since the presidential inauguration in January. It was started by a group of citizens and is kept going by Karen Ziegler and Nancy Jacobs, who email out the week’s issue and program faithfully. Every week, protesters focus on a different topic, usually one that is imminently relevant in the landscape of U.S. politics. What with the debate raging about the possible repeal of the Affordable Care Act and replacement with what is being called “Trumpcare,” healthcare justice has been the Tuesday topic for the past couple of weeks. Past topics include reproductive justice, Russia’s potential interference in the U.S. election, the release of Trump’s tax returns, and the refusal of Sen. Tillis to meet with constituents. The day of the die-in, however, was one of the best-attended Tuesdays since the event’s inception in January. CBS News and other outlets ran coverage on the protest.

Tuesdays with Tillis protesters are asking for Thom Tillis to hold a town hall with his constituents in order to discuss some of the issues that have been on the minds of North Carolinians recently. Though asked by CBS to comment on the day’s protest, Tillis gave no response.

Resource Center staff members have been attending the weekly protests regularly; look carefully at the videoclips and you can spot Jeanette Stokes, as well as interns Colleen and Savannah. Come out and join us every Tuesday morning at 310 New Bern Avenue!

Welcome Interns!

We’re thrilled to have two Duke student interns working with us here at RCWMS this summer! Welcome to Colleen Sharp and Savannah Lynn!

Colleen is a rising senior from Raleigh studying African & African American Studies and Gender, Sexuality & Feminist Studies. She spends her after-class time working on sexual violence victim survivor advocacy and workers’ rights on campus.

Savannah is a rising senior from Raleigh, North Carolina, studying Psychology and Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies. Her spare time is filled with her dogs, her books, her tea, and her journals.

Dolphins

Every January, May, and September we host a week of quiet and writing for women at the beach. This essay, written by one of the participants at a recent writing week, gives a glimpse into the careful observation and deep reflection that can occur during these workshops.

Dolphins
by Linda Denton

Pelicans, in a long, low-flying line, skim over the splashes and spouts of the pod. Dolphins, at least thirty of them, separate into three groups to feed. They look like diners choosing food at a long buffet, then going back to their familiar tables.

Other seabirds are feasting as well, on a huge school of fish running in the shallows. The air is full of cormorants and gannets, mature and immature differently colored. One brave gray-feathered chap drops into a swirling circle of sleek black skin and white froth. There’s a pause in all activity as birds and mammals reassess. Then all begin to eat again, in silent agreement, or perhaps just concession; there’s enough for all, and time should not be wasted in fighting.

I watch the dolphins jumping and blowing for nearly an hour as I write by a crow’s nest window at Pelican House in Pine Knoll Shores, North Carolina. After saying goodbye to two of the good women I’ve met at this weeklong retreat, I return to my perch to find the dolphins gone, but the birds swirling above. I type for a few minutes, and when I look up again, the black dorsals are again visible, rising up, sinking down, as the amazing animals swim gracefully through the cold waves. As the free dolphin show continues, I see within one curling green translucent wave two dolphins riding the surf. They are completely still, perfectly balanced, supported and carried as if on an invisible waxed board. I lose sight of them behind the foliage of the dune.

I am amazed at their nearness to shore; if the water were warmer, I could easily walk out to where the closest ones feed, barely beyond the first breaking whitecaps. How would a human’s legs change the age-old circle of life, were I able to enter their world? No doubt the fish would depart in fright as my twin towers of flesh wandered out. And as the fish changed course, I assume the birds and dolphins would as well, even if they weren’t frightened of me themselves.

I’ve heard of wild dolphins coming close to people who need help. I don’t know if these are sea stories or truth. But I can think of nothing more wonderful, nothing that would inspire more awe, than to be approached in the ocean by such a creature. How amazing, to touch and feel connected to a sentient being whom I hold in such reverence. To feel intimacy and bonding with the beautiful beings that represent our oneness with the sea. Oh, to swim with these creatures without constraint. It might feel like…communion.

Linda Denton is a neonatal nurse living and writing in Chapel Hill.

Image: Jeanette Stokes

Coming Out of the Shadows

By Rebecca Welper

On an unseasonably hot Saturday at the end of April, sixty people, many of them new faces to RCWMS, gathered with our full queer, spiritual selves, to sing, share, and re-imagine our stories and faith journeys. “Coming Out of the Shadows: Connection and Spirituality Among LGBTQ Communities,” our first ever LGBTQ festival, took place at the Recreation Center at Lyon Park in Durham, just a few streets over from our hometown saint Pauli Murray’s childhood home.

Longtime fixture of the Durham dance community, Tony Johnson, opened the day with a moving solo dance to Josh Groban’s “You Raise Me Up.” Music was interspersed throughout the day, with Randa McNamara’s soulful rendition of “Old Devil Time” and Kathleen Hannan leading everyone in singing her original creation, “Fathomless Pull.” In her invocation, Marilyn Bowens, pastor of Imani MCC, invited everyone to honor our LGBTQ ancestors and bring them into the sacred space with us.

Workshops celebrated Pauli Murray; offered prayer as movement with dance and yoga; and provided queer perspectives on the Hebrew Bible, our activist forebears, and how to heal from spiritual trauma. Other offerings included free Tarot and Reiki sessions and a panel discussion on disparate faith journeys.

Workshop leaders and panelists represented a variety of faiths and backgrounds, ranging from Dr. Anathea Portier-Young, professor at Duke Divinity; to Saba Taj, founding member of Durham Artists Movement; John Paredes, who serves on the board of the Chapel Hill Zen Center; Karen Ziegler, former MCC minister; and Noah Rubin-Blose, who organizes with Jewish Voice for Peace.

The day was rounded out by a delicious lunch provided by Cris Rivera and Beth Stringfield at CMR catering, talking circles for processing the day’s events, and a closing circle dance and thread ceremony to remind us of our ongoing connection to each other.

Being Mortal

Over the course of the past few months, Duke professor Jehanne Gheith and Duke student Katherine Zhou facilitated a workshop on Dr. Atul Gawande’s best-seller, Being Mortal. A group of seventeen members participated in the biweekly discussions, generously hosted at the beautiful residence of Dot Borden.

By delving into the book, the discussion group focused on discovering individual end-of-life priorities, bringing up death in conversation with loved ones, destigmatizing death in society, and developing personalized plans for end-of-life care. To support this process, the facilitators guided participants through targeted exercises, including working with Go Wish cards, writing prompts, and mini clearness committees.

Throughout the discussions, the group members shared many vulnerable and intimate moments together, talking about some of the things that scared or worried them the most. There were heartbreaking occasions where some of the participants’ lives reflected the intense topics covered in Gawande’s book. Through it all, the group was a transformative and healing place, where participants could feel safe and grow together.

Wishing to extend their time together, several members of the group met the week after the group ended to see Gawande’s Frontline film, Being Mortal. They are now are sharing haikus they wrote in the group and considering other ways to continue this discussion.

Mother May I?

On March 10-11, 2017 thirteen women gathered for “Mother, May I? A Narrative Leadership Workshop.” Reverend Jan Gregory-Charpentier, DMin and Senior Pastor at First Congregational Church in Westbrook, CT, came back to Durham for the second year in a row to lead this popular seminar.

During this year’s weekend intensive, the women explored their relationships to their mothers through three lenses: 1) the genogram; 2) personal mythology; and 3) the Myers-Briggs personality indicator. Dr. Gregory-Charpentier had participants write the “Ten Commandments” of their mothers (everyone knew what these were in about three seconds!). The group delved deeply into the mother-daughter relationship, looking especially for how it had shaped their sense of themselves and how they relate to, manage, and inhabit their own sense of authority. By the end of the weekend’s intense and gratifying work, the group of women had bonded with each other and came away with new insights about how they carry themselves in the world.