Passing the Baton: Caring for One Another in An Altered Reality
Dear Coalition Friends,
Growing up, my siblings and I heard three consistent messages from our parents: “Make your way in the world by asking as little of it as possible,” “Do the most good for the most people along the way,” and “When you arrive, ask what you could do better.” To my parents’ credit, these were the messages that got them where they are today, my Mom having migrated with her family via railroad to the West Coast as a child, and my Dad having spent 15 years in refugee housing and political displacement, before finally making his way to the U.S. from contested Palestine as a young adult. I’m intensely proud of my parents for these reasons and more — for surviving and thriving and establishing such meaningful legacies. In turn, at various of my own junctures or “arrivals”, I’ve tried to take stock, often in painfully reflective ways: “How have I done? What have I managed? Where have I failed?”
Notice my affinity with failure. Those who know me well, know I can spend hours discussing my failures. And while this post — the Coalition President’s outgoing message — should be a reflective occasion to ruminate on success, I cannot in good faith consider any presidential accomplishments as mine. They are ours.
So, how did we get here (April 15, 2020) so quickly, and how do I account for all that has transpired in the past 24 months — even in the past month, as the ground has shifted beneath us in the wake of COVID-19 and subsequently altered our realities? I can’t account for all of that in the space of a single post, but I can — with equal measures of gratitude and pride — outline some of the Coalition’s accomplishments, pointing particularly to the efforts of a tremendous Executive Board and Advisory Board, of Peitho journal’s tireless editorial team, of Patricia Fancher and Alexis Ramsey-Tobienne (our inaugural colleagues in two new and vital outreach roles), of Casey Miles (our web coordinator from 2017-2019), and of our many dedicated task forces and volunteer groups.
As an organization, we have much to celebrate: not least a new web presence and the migration of Peitho to a digitally native publication; the creation of two new awards to equip our colleagues across all ranks and from underrepresented groups to do the work that they love, as well as an impressive and expansive slate of award winners; the revision of fiscal and actual policies to support FemRhet conference hosts, and to give more outwardly and charitably to affiliate organizations in various stages of growth; the establishment of an active, thoughtful social media presence; and the nurturing of an exceptional volunteer base on social media and in person.
We have piloted a virtual manuscript mentoring program, celebrated the Coalition’s 30th anniversary, begun writing our own histories, and planned — then cancelled — what would have been a visionary session on “Connecting Coalitions, Arts, and Pedagogies of Human Rights” at 4C 2020. We may even be featured in an upcoming episode of Charles Woods’ The Big Rhetorical Podcast.
We have also developed new and more ways and forms of supporting one another in doing the Coalition’s work, revised our Bylaws, created documentation to better assist ad-hoc volunteers in taking on projects, stood in solidarity with sister organizations and allied groups, offered financial support for conference meet-ups and other collaborations, and tried to ensure that our public meetings act simultaneously as tributes to long-time members and past leaders and occasions for welcoming newer members and future leaders. (This becomes increasingly important as we experience generational shifts and anticipate retirements, but this year, especially, we have mourned the passing of two dear colleagues and one past president: Nan Johnson on 8/31/19 and Joyce Irene Middleton on 4/13/20.)
For their work between 2018-2020 on adjudicating existing awards and articulating new ones, revising or articulating policies and guidelines, planning meetups, mentoring at conferences or online, working towards more nuanced graduate student outreach, assisting with Coalition 4C events, and hosting FemRhet 2019, I would also like to acknowledge the following stellar volunteers from our membership: Jen Almjeld, Erin Andersen, Sweta Baniya, Alicia Brazeau, Amanda Brooks, Alexandra Cavallaro, Sherri Craig, Jane Donawerth, Rebecca Dingo, Julianna Edmonds, Mary Fratini, Katherine Fredlund, Cory Geraths, Michelle Grue, Denise Landrum Geyer, Evan Groundwater, Holly Hassel, Gavin Johnson, Rachelle Joplin, Tammie Kennedy, Stephanie Larson, Amy Lueck, Andrea Lunsford, Liane Malinowski, Katie Manthey, Londi Martin, Alexis McGee, Caitlyn McKay, Lydia McDermott, Janine Morris, Sarah Mosely, Kate Navickas, Kate Pantelides, Paula Patch, Dara Regaignon, Becky Rickley, Mary Sheridan, Rebekah Sims, Carolyn Skinner, Patrick Thomas, Erin Wecker, Patty Wilde, and Traci Zimmerman. Without them, none of this would be possible. [Please, if I have forgotten to name you here, e-mail me!]
Absent from this post, of course, are the “failed” initiatives — “failed” in that they are still pressing, still urgent, and still not complete — including our relationship with and plans for future Feminisms and Rhetorics conferences, and our attempts to meet the life needs of a growing membership, not only during the present moment of school closures and social distancing, but also into our new “normal.” Absent are the ongoing labors that come with being a public-facing organization in a moment of such marked shifts in disciplinary ethos, and the challenges of being an organization that is so visibly engendered. Some of these labors have led to stalemate or postponement because the timing wasn’t right, and others have had a profound influence on the way we do business, but are as yet unrealized in concrete outcomes.
There is no easy way to quantify the labors that constitute these less-visible engagements, these “non-arrivals” in one sense, but without them we’d have no way of ensuring our own growth. I am grateful for some of these unrealized aspirations inasmuch as they reflect a deep-seated commitment to doing and to caring. They demonstrate that the Coalition is comprised of many complementary “we’s” moreso than it is representative of a single unified “we.” Caring for one another can be difficult work, and yet I hope we have done it well and are on the path toward doing it better.
Finally, I’m grateful for the labors of the incoming Executive and Advisory Boards, and genuinely excited for their envisioning under the tutelage of Wendy Sharer, our wildly capable yet characteristically humble Incoming President, who has ambitious and important plans. Please join me in welcoming Wendy and this incredible slate of new colleagues.
Outgoing President 2018-2020