{05.2016} A Month of MAYhem

‘Twas a busy, full, fun month indeed!

At the beginning of the month, I got to head west to Big Timber with the Northern Plains crew for the annual staff retreat. It was an awesome two days spent learning about organizing and our campaigns and building power and just generally having a lot of fun and being thankful I have such an incredible work community.

Only a couple weeks later, I got to return to beautiful the Big Timber area to visit the Hobble Diamond Ranch, the location for the big benefit concert at the end of July that I’m in charge of planning. While Hannah spent the rest of the day doing one-on-ones with members, I set up shop in a cute coffee shop and got a whole bunch of work done. Makes me wish I could go work in coffee shops more often.

Rosie the Runners

In early May, a couple of the Babes and a whole bunch of our friends ran the 5 mile Montana Women’s Run, which turned out more than 8,000 women (just a handful of men…)! Our team was unofficially dubbed “Rosie the Runners” and we donned blue tops and red bandanas.  Thankful for a community of such strong and passionate ladies in Billings. The smoke from Alberta had been rough in the days preceding the race, but Saturday morning was a beautiful one, and the smoke wasn’t a problem at all. Definitely one of the best “fun runs” I’ve ever done.

IMG_8364Discerning the Bern

Just after our radical reading group started informal conversations (read: starting an impromptu political action brainstorm during a friend’s birthday party, oops) around the presidential race and our roles as citizens and activists/organizers, Bernie’s visit to Billings was announced. Most of us decided to go, and joined more than 3,000 people in welcoming Bernie to town.

We waited in a fast-moving, snaking line for about an hour, and then waited inside for probably another hour. There was a ton of energy in the crowd, which was awesome, and I was elated to see one of our friends and a Northern Plains member, Jen Merecki, introduce Bernie. His speech was awesome – he talked about income inequality, an increase in the minimum wage, equal pay for women, and paid family leave. He called for campaign finance reform, and of course, for free college tuition. He spoke about climate change, about placing a “speculation tax” on Wall Street, about universal healthcare. He spoke of the respect and the debt that we owe Native Americans, a debt that we can never fully repay. Again and again, he called for a political revolution, one that everyone in that crowd knows that we need, but not one that everyone is convinced we can achieve, or whether it’s one that Bernie, despite his fire and zeal, is capable of catalyzing. He fully admitted that he can’t do this on his own – he encouraged us all to get engaged and stay engaged. It can’t and won’t happen without Americans demanding it and working for it.

After my visit home (see next section), I borrowed a book from Kyle for the flight home, a graphic biography of sorts, covering the history and movement rightward of the Democratic party since the 70s or so, with Jimmy Carter’s election, and then going on to Bernie’s history and background in activism and politics. Essentially, it claims that Bernie is finally a true democratic candidate, calling for traditional social ____. It was a good, quick, informative read, although certainly not without a Bernie-bias. Nonetheless, would recommend for anyone who wants to learn a little more about Bernie.

Smitten with the Mitten

Something I had been discerning since early in my year was whether I should fly home to see one of my childhood best friends, Brooke, get married in May. I hadn’t planned on going home all year, nor could I afford it on my stipend. When I realized it was the same weekend as our third and final retreat, I was really conflicted, but as the date grew closer I felt more and more drawn to return to Michigan that weekend and tend my communities back home. After speaking with my community and my JVC supervisor, I was supported in that decision, and so I bought my ticket home and felt confident in that decision.

What made that decision event easier was that I knew a lot of my A2 biddies would still be around, and likely would not if I were to wait until August (the end of my year) to return. Lucie decided to fly in for the reunion, bless her heart, and we had about 36 hours of pure bliss on the old stomping grounds. After some minor flight delays, Kyle picked up me and Lu in Detroit and we made it back just in time to join Ju, Shros, Evan, Ian, Devon, and Andre for a quick pregame and then headed to Skeeps for $1 long islands! Wahoooooo! Can’t tell you how many times we went to Skeeps last summer, so it was only fitting that we would return. We met up with Michelle and Logan (my heart was actually overflowing at this point), and had a super fun night dancing (although RIP to DJ Matt Styles, Skeeps is not the same without you) before closing out the night, in tradition, at NYPD for some late night pizza. We had serious debates about whether the Dixie Chicks or Fleetwood Mac does Landslide better, and about how white pizza is really the only pizza anyone should ever order at NYPD (drooling just thinking about it).

The next morning, that same crew brunched at Northside Grill, and then went walking in Argo (the best). The rest of the day was spent playing board/card games, followed by dinner at Blue Tractor (joined then by a few more friends), and then hanging out before going out again. Seriously too much fun with everyone back together again. We went to the watering hole (Jug) but it was too packed to find a table (sobbing), so we settled on Lep instead, followed, of course, by Rick’s and lots more dancing and tomfoolery. The night ended at sweet, sweet Pizza House with pizza, feta bread, and a milkshake. I really could not have asked for a better marathon of a day and a half with my best A2 biddies. Y’all make me so happy!

IMG_8441The next morning was, not surprisingly, a bit of mess trying to pack up and get home in time for the wedding. We made a pit stop at Kyle’s home in Brighton to pick up some clothes and see his parents and pups. I’m the worst and thought that it would be easy to get ready for the wedding in the home I hadn’t lived in for 9 months, so I was dismayed to get home with only 30 minutes to the last-possible-ETD and hardly had time to greet my beloved parents before realizing I didn’t know where my dress was that I had planned on wearing…or my shoes…or the straightener…or a jacket. LOL. I found the dress and the shoes, found the straightener in my closet (after the wedding), wore my jean jacket (too casual, oops), and threw on some red lipstick (can’t go wrong) and made it just in time.

After that chaos had subsided, the rest of the day was a beautiful and joyful celebration of Brooke and Chris! Some of our other longtime best friends, Stephanie and Katie, were also able to make it, and as always, it felt like not a day had passed since we were last together. The ceremony was lovely, and as I looked around the church, I was comforted by all of the familiar faces that were there to celebrate Brooke and Chris. Friends from our neighborhood, our school, our church. Again, I felt even more affirmed in my decision to come home that weekend. After the ceremony, Kyle and I swung on over to Bed Bath & Beyond to buy a wedding gift (sry if you’re reading this Brooke, I couldn’t buy one any sooner!!), and ended up deciding that the “bathroom hardware” gifts, including a nice toilet paper roll holder and a fancy toilet brush, although not the most glamorous or fun of gifts, were certainly essentials that I did not want Brooke and Chris to go without. Kyle almost convinced me to get the ironing board, but I was too embarrassed to walk into the reception with that giant of a gift. Wrapping it would have been a nightmare too, even more so than the gifts we picked already were, ha!

The reception was held at Flushing’s Signature Chop House, and was beautifully decorated. The dinner was delicious, and was spent reminiscing on our childhood tomfoolery as well as catching up on life updates (Stephanie has a 40-year career plan and mine currently doesn’t go past 2.5 months, so that’s nice). Kyle and I danced a ton, which was the best (for me, the true sign of compatibility in a partner is how well you dance together).

I was very grateful to spend Saturday night, all of Sunday, and Monday morning at home in Flushing before returning to Montana. Monday, I got to meet the Bees for the first time since my Dad started keeping them again, a major highlight of my weekend at home.

Will bike for free beer and/or ice cream

As part of the Commuter Challenge, which hasn’t personally changed my routine much because I don’t have a car anyways, we’ve been making full use of our “VIP Incentive Cards” here in the JV house. Namely – Tuesdays mean free ice cream at Big Dipper, and Wednesdays, a free beer at Carter’s, the railside brewery in town. Wednesday’s also mean half-off wraps at Rocket’s, which is great, but it still involves spending some money, so we haven’t consistently taken advantage of that one.

Bike/Walk/Bus/Roll to Work day  was May 20th, and I got to hand out breakfast to all active commuters as part of the Commuter Challenge. We had three stations around town, so I worked at the Southside table along with a woman from Riverstone Health. A chilly, dreary morning did not stop more than 25 bikers and walkers from stopping by our table, the three stations combined serving more than 80 active commuters. It was uplifting to see so many people on bikes and on foot, because it’s not something I see all that often. Also, because I saw so many cyclists wearing helmets (as any smart person would), I finally decided to buy my own helmet that week! Woohoo!

Late Night City Council

Moreover, that morning’s paper included an Editorial on why Billings must take seriously the Complete Streets Policy. The following Monday night, City Council had a meeting to discuss whether to revise the policy (expected to weaken it) or maintain it as is. This topic was late on the agenda, so I periodically checked a Gazette’s reporters Twitter to figure out how far along they were. I had him tweet me when it was time (again, Billings = town, not city), and then I zipped downtown and made it just in time, already 9pm. The revisions were presented (they weren’t bad after all), and the Council spent a lot of time talking in circles about this policy and defending themselves (which might be valid – they’ve gotten a lot of flack when I’m not sure any of them want to totally do away with it). Public comment didn’t start until 10 (I testified again), and the Council didn’t vote until 11pm. They accepted the revisions 10-1. Thursday of the same week, the Gazette posted a poignant editorial on the hearing:

“That said, the late night debate raises concerns. We strongly recommend that when a public hearing is advertised, the public be allowed to speak on the issue before the council members do. The council should adopt a practice similar to that of the Billings school board in which trustees listen to public comment, without interjecting their opinions about the commenters or their comments. When you ask for public opinion, just listen; don’t berate or argue. (Councilmen Rich McFadden and Chris Friedel, please take note.)”


“Bill for First Dude”

IMG_8502Because we had taken the opportunity to see Bernie speak, I figured it was only fair to go see Bill Clinton speak when his visit was announced just days later. I was thrilled to see a “co-WORCer” (meaning someone who works across the hall at the WORC office) and mentor, Margie MacDonald (also a MT Legislator), introduce Bill. Once it occurred to me that I knew the introducers for both Bernie and Bill, I admitted that it was probably best that my position isn’t Americorps-funded (anything even slightly political is considered a “Prohibited Activity” for Americorps members), because as “non-partisan/political” as we must be as a 501-(c)3, that does not mean that our work and the circles we run in are not deeply political and politically engaged, a fact that has been so inspiring and empowering for me.img_8503

I expected Bill to be a more charismatic speaker, so I felt underwhelmed by the speech he delivered. Especially compared to Bernie’s turnout of 3,000, Bill’s crowd of just 400 in a stuffy middle school gym did not have quite the same level of excitement. He spoke about building bridges rather than walls, about creating a clean energy infrastructure, and about debt-free college, rather than tuition-free, which are all things I can get behind.

Cattle Country

We live in a state with more cows than people, so it was exciting when Chuck, one of our support people (a St. X FJV from the 70s), invited us to a cattle branding one weekend. MK and Carol were out of town at the Bucking Horse Sale/Rodeo in Miles City, and Elle had a service commitment all day, so Lo and I, plus her two visiting friends, Shelby and Charlie, headed out with Chuck to his friends’ ranch just outside of town on the land surrounding Pictograph Cave State Park. We drove through the beautiful hidden countryside of Billings, and soon we hopped out of the car to a blaring cacophony of mooing cows. All of the cattle had been rounded up earlier that morning, and the deafening sound of their moos were explained to us as the cries of disapproval from the cows and the calves at being separated from one another in preparation for branding.

I didn’t have any clue what to expect from this branding, but was so happy to find out that we were not invited as observers, but as workers! We were put to work on different jobs/tasks right in the thick of the action as more than 200 calves were branded. The calves were funneled in through a gated “shoot,” and then into the “branding table” space one at a time, where metal arms pulled by levers secured the calf, upon which the table was flipped 90°, positioning the calf on it’s side. One man had to tie and hold down the calf’s back legs; another would bend and hold the front leg; another would shoot a growth hormone pellet just under the skin of the calf’s ear; another would give the calf of shot of antibiotics in it’s neck; another would right down the number and color of the tag on the calf’s ear; another would check to see if it was a bull or a heifer, and if it was a bull, use a tool that puts a tight rubberband around the testes so that the blood flow is constrained and in a few weeks, they will fall off; and finally, another man would pull the proper brand from the fire and brand the calf (there were about four brands depending on which child or neighbor owned the calf). The calves ranged hugely in size, and some were stubborn fighters while others more quietly accepted their fate. My various rotating jobs included the antibiotic shot (I did this for most of the time), pulling up the gate to let in one calf at a time into the branding area, and waiting till at least a dozen branded calves had accumulated, and ushering them back into the largest pin where the big cattle awaited their return.

So, as you can see, this was a family (read: friends, neighbors, and actually family) affair. The above process doesn’t mention the other cowboys that helped round up all the cattle and separate the calves, nor those who were ready to sub-in when another man needed a break, nor the people who just observed. We branded from about 9:30-2:30, nonstop. Afterward, we headed back to the cabin for a well-deserved potluck feast!

Trump in Billings

I didn’t get to go, because his rally was at 4pm on a week day and people started lining up as much as 6 hours earlier (so much for being for the working class), but Trump turned out several thousand people to the Metra at the end of the month in what the Gazette reported as a “45 minute verbal sprint…of political scat jazz,” jumping from one topic to another without ever following anything through to the end, dropping names like crazy, bashing Obama (“the single best thing to happen to Jimmy Carter…as people are no longer looking at Jimmy Carter as our worst president”), and of course, trashing Hillary and Bernie as well. Just a few more cringe-worthy quotes from this great Gazette article on the rally:

When he promised to build a wall across the nation’s southern border, they roared like a May storm dropping golf-ball-sized hail. (<< A reference to the hailstorm that hit Billings the weekend prior, ha!)

“We’re going to win. We’re going to win so much. We’re going to win at trade, we’re going to win at the border. We’re going to win so much, you’re going to be so sick and tired of winning, you’re going to come to me and go ‘Please, please, we can’t win anymore.’ You’ve heard this one. You’ll say ‘Please, Mr. President, we beg you sir, we don’t want to win anymore. It’s too much. It’s not fair to everybody else.’” Trump said. “And I’m going to say ‘I’m sorry, but we’re going to keep winning, winning, winning, We’re going to make America great again.” (Gaaaaaaggggggggg)

To make matters worse, Ryan Zinke, a Montana Representative, became just the 12th congressman to endorse Trump a day before the rally, and our own City mayor, also showed up in support of Trump. SMH.

Trust me, I try my best to understand this political chaos that has been unfolding this past year. I can understand why white, middle-class America is rising up in support of Trump. In fact, both Bernie and Trump are evidence of the political disenchantment that has been mounting for decades. People are tired of politicians making empty promises, tired of big money and big corporations having all the power, tired of feeling ignored and insignificant. And yet, despite all of the shortcomings of govt that those two have uncovered and all of the support their somewhat parallel calls-to-revolution have gathered, Hillary will probably win and will carry on business as usual. There are worse things, of course, but I’m concerned with the likely reaction of all of the people who have been worked up and finally felt heard this past year only to be swept under the rug again. I don’t think they will go quietly…nor should they. Man, I can only imagine what future generations and history books will say about this race and how telling it is of our (civilized) dysfunctional country and our leadership.

So, Billings saw all three presidential candidates (or a representative, in Hillary’s case) this month in anticipation for our June 7th primary.

Other updates:

  • Our garden is planted! Spinach, lettuce, kale, broccoli, strawberries, zucchini, cucumbers, eggplant, brussel sprouts, and lots of tomatoes. Stay tuned, we are anxiously waiting to see what survives or avoids getting eaten by Billings’ rampant rabbit population.
  • Carol’s parents visited, which was a blast and a half! We got to celebrate her mom’s birthday, and I crashed their weekend trip to Red Lodge. They exclusively called me Juj, and it was fantastic.
  • I got lost (not actually, just got myself hopelessly far away on a long run [~20 miles]) on a hot, dry, sunny morning, and unsuccessfully tried to hitchhike home. Two weekends later, I had an awesome 20 miler that I actually mapped out, in perfectly cloudy, drizzly, 55° weather.
  • The wonderful Rainey Lamey, a friend/mentor from St. Mary’s back in A2, came to Billings (her hometown) for a visit, so I got to see her for mass and brunch with her dad and step-mom! What a treat 🙂

Stay tuned in June:

  • We are going rafting/camping with a bunch of JVs near Bozeman during the first weekend of June!
  • Emily and Michelle visit the second weekend in June!!!
  • Lots of fun summer events start happening in June, like the “Alive After 5” outdoor concert series, Symphony in the Park, the Strawberry Festival (?!), movies in the park,  and most excitingly, the local AAA baseball season begins for the Billings Mustangs ($5 bleacher seats)! Besides that, I expect us to frequent the brewery porches around town throughout the month.
  • MK, Carol, and Elle will finish up their 11-month positions at the end of June and will leave Lo and me to fend for ourselves in Billings. Can’t think about this yet. SOBBING.

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