By Lola Jamin ‘20
My grandmother, Sharon Kaley, lives in Fairfield, Connecticut, and has recently become actively involved in two political groups: Fairfield Standing United, and Fairfield Stronger Together. She is now part of the Leadership Team at Fairfield Standing United, the larger of the two groups. But why, and more specifically, how did my grandmother (a retired teacher who was never actively involved in a political organization) begin to participate in local and nationwide politics?
Last week, I had the privilege of speaking to my grandmother about the actions she has taken to help in the face of our current political climate. Kaley has been interviewed by her local paper and has garnered much attention for her activism in her community.
From my grandmother’s experiences, Immaculate Heart students can gain valuable insight on how to get involved in the local community and truly understand the importance of staying educated and aware.
My grandmother’s current efforts began when the current presidential situation began to really concern her, and in the face of feeling that she wanted to help, she joined a political group.“I’m afraid,” she explains. “Last month I spoke about being fearful for my grandchildren; I want to make things better for them. I’m trying to make [the world]
better for generations to come…[and I don’t] want to wait for someone else to do it for me.” She says that she hopes “the political environment will change sooner than later and [that] there will be a time when [her] group is no longer needed.” She hopes that we can all manage to stay united even in the face of divisiveness.
In order to take action, Kaley first got started by becoming a member of Fairfield Standing United (FSU), an organization that consists of roughly 650 members. After the 2016 election, she observed that people in her community wanted to get involved in politics and service — so much so that FSU initially found the newly large number of members overwhelming. Yet, when Kaley attended a small meeting comprised of FSU members, she described her experience there as “underwhelming” and that there were, “four people ranting, with no agenda, and no one leading.”
Eager to create a more organized and effective group, Kaley encouraged her friends to get involved and the small local group grew to 50 members, with 20-30 consistent members attending each meeting. Now a more official subdivision of FSU, a name was needed for their mission statement. The name Fairfield Stronger Together (FST) was chosen, with this mission statement:
“Fairfield Stronger Together is a diverse people group that strives for equal opportunity and justice for all. Our focus is for resisting threats to our constitution through peaceful and respectful means.”
Kaley emphasizes the diversity among the group. It is not just one party, she notes, but consists of Democrats, Republicans and Independents. In response to the political diversity in FST, Kaley explains that “we want to deal with issues [that affect everyone] and not with [the individual opinions of the] people.”
As FST began to grow, Kaley found herself leading, organizing and hosting events and meetings. Now, her goal is to get everyone equally involved. “I want others to take
ownership of what we are doing and if it is always me it makes it too easy for everyone. That’s something I learned when I was a teacher; you have to give children the opportunity to own what they are doing, they have to take responsibility.” Now, while Kaley facilitates the meetings, she often works with volunteer hosts in order to equally distribute responsibility and leadership.
So what exactly goes on at the meetings? Fairfield Stronger Together holds postcard writing events, and every now and then, Kaley organizes a phone bank. Both events exemplify how FST aims to reach out to congressmen and congresswomen to both “thank them for supporting just causes,” and urge them to support others. Kaley says that while it is important to face injustices, it is equally important to acknowledge steps in the right direction.
In addition to contacting various political figures, Kaley strives to ensure that everyone who can vote, votes. “We can’t persuade anyone to vote our way,” says Kaley. Instead, she organizes people to make phone calls to ask potential voters if they “are registered? Do [they] need a ride to the polling place? Do [they] know where the polling place is?” Kaley even offers to pick voters up and give them rides to polling places herself. “We never say to vote this way or that way. It’s just that people need to vote. People have died for the right to vote, and every vote counts.”
Additionally, a significant part of FST and FSU are the guest speakers. Speakers range from U.S. Senator Chris Murphy to members of organizations such as Planned Parenthood, from DACA members to immigrants, and in the future, the Connecticut Against Gun Violence action group. This month’s guest speaker for FST is someone from immigration “who will be speaking from the heart,” says Kaley. “She brought me to tears because she has a son at the Fairfield Public School and he is frightened that his mother could be deported.”
While spreading awareness via social media and other news outlets is significant, having guest speakers and victims of injustices adds another level of reality and exposes people to those affected by the Trump Administration policies. The guest speakers are “real people with real fears and anxieties and these people are trying to reach out to everyone to tell them what is really happening in their lives,” Kaley notes.
Meanwhile, my grandmother also takes it upon herself to stay educated and informed. For example, she has attended two Syrian refugee dinners. “I wanted to learn about refugees and immigrants,” she explains. Additionally, she gets information from social media, “which has to be fact checked,” as well as from emails from organizations, and she listens to news channels. “I want to know what’s going on in the world,” she says.
If someone wants to get involved without joining an organization, Kaley suggests that person “encourage people to go vote, without telling them who to vote for. It is important to be aware, to be kind, and to be thoughtful.”
When asked about her thoughts of the current political climate, she concludes that she “is always hopeful. There is something to be learned even from what is happening right now.”