One response to the current political climate is that the number of people involved in political organizing and working for social justice throughout the state has increased substantially.
A recent article in the alternative weekly paper, Seven Days, reported that Senator Patrick Leahy’s office has received more than fifty thousand calls, emails and letters since January 20th; Senator Bernie Sanders’ office has seen a nearly nine hundred percent increase in call volume from twenty sixteen to twenty seventeen; and Congressman Peter Welch’s constituent contacts have jumped sevenfold since last year.
And in southeastern Vermont, where I live, this renewed activism has inspired the creation of a centralized location to find out about upcoming events and volunteer opportunities among Windham County's grassroots justice organizations.
It’s called the Windham County Action Network, or WeCAN, and it consists of more than 40 participating organizations, including ones working for climate justice, racial justice, disability rights, and gun violence prevention, as well as faith groups. Some groups cater specifically toward family-friendly activism, while others focus more generally on strengthening communities.
In addition to a website and Facebook page, WeCAN sends out weekly email updates featuring upcoming local events as well as rapid response alerts that may demand quick action.
Recently, WeCAN helped promote a Brattleboro Selectboard Candidates Forum - at which dozens of community members spilled into an overflow room and listened to the four selectboard candidates address questions from sponsoring organizations, before posing questions of their own. Sponsors included Vermont Partnership for Fairness & Diversity, 350 Brattleboro, and Rights & Democracy. The two moderators, both of whom have long participated in local politics, said they couldn’t remember the last time there was such a high level of engagement.
This month, on Sunday the 19th, WeCAN will be sponsoring a community Action Fair with speakers, panels, and information tables, as well as food trucks, live music, and children’s activities. The idea is to enable organizations both to recruit new members, and to strengthen ties with other groups, especially where there are overlapping goals. It will be a good opportunity to get a bird’s eye view of the grassroots work being done and zero in on particular issues.
As the acronym implies, WeCAN aims to collect information and streamline communication to make it easy for people to step up and take action.