Clarification: Associate Dean of the College Lori Schroeder, Visiting Assistant Professor of English Valerie Billing and Professor of English Emily Anderson’s roles at Knox College have no relationship to the creation and their private involvement in “March On: Indivisible Knox County.” The work of this organization does not represent the views of Knox College. The article has been edited to reflect this information.
When Visiting Assistant Professor of English Valerie Billing returned from the Women’s March on Washington, she knew that she needed to keep her activism going.
“When I was at the Women’s March, I kind of looked around me and said, ‘Okay, now is the moment when I need to stand up more for women’s rights, I need to be more of an ally to the Black Lives Matter movement and the NoDAPL movement,’ and just sort of saw that this was the moment. And I think a lot of other people had that moment of reckoning,” Billing said.
By the time she returned to Galesburg, Professor of English Emily Anderson and Associate Dean of the College Lori Schroeder had already gotten to work on developing the March On Knox County Indivisible group, a place for progressive activism specifically for Knox County citizens. This group is not affiliated with Knox College and faculty organizers are acting in it as private citizens — not representatives of Knox.
“It was wonderful for me to return to something that had already been created,” Billing said.
The Indivisible group is one of thousands across the country. The groups all use the Indivisible Guide, a public guide to progressive activism written by former congressional staffers. Billing said that the activist techniques provided by the former staffers were largely inspired by the actions of tea party activists after the election of Barack Obama.
“Generally, progressive activists tend to do things like rallies, and marches and sit-ins, which get a lot of media attention, but rarely actually change things. And when they do change things, it takes a very, very long time,” she said.
Their idea of activism instead is to call congress representatives repeatedly and show up to town hall meetings. The Indivisible group has time in their meetings to make their three daily phone calls, two to the senators and one to the congressperson.
“It’s easy to think, ‘My phone call doesn’t matter, I’ll skip today.’ But when you get around a group of people who are also making phone calls and motivating you, then that’s a motivating factor, I guess,” Billing said.
The phone calls concern issues that are discussed at the meetings. According to Billing, the most important issues to Knox County progressives are the repealing of the Affordable Care Act and ICE raids on undocumented community members.
Post-baccalaureate fellow Emily Roberts ‘16 and senior Allison Pritzl also stressed the importance of making phone calls to representatives at their “Call Your Representatives” workshop in February.
During their workshop, Roberts handed out a worksheet that had information on how to find your representatives, as well as three different scripts for the phone calls. The next day, several attendees met in the Gizmo to make their first phone calls together. They also answered questions about what to call about and why it’s important to call your representatives.
“I think that citizens and residents need to start thinking of themselves as another branch of government. If we’re a fourth branch of democracy, then we need to be active in our participation and I think that the reason why phone calls become important É it’s a way to stay persistently and actively engaged in democracy that once you get used to it, it’s really easy,” Roberts said.
Roberts and Pritzl have also found a sense of self-care and empowerment in their daily calls, which they both do in the morning before they have class.
“Even though it makes me super anxious in the lead up to making these phone calls, in the long term I’m healthier making those phone calls. And that’s why it’s part of self-care,” Roberts said.
While they are not planning another workshop, they think that making progressive activism a part of social life is important, and was an integral part to the success of their workshop, at which there were many snacks and laughs.
“It helps to not make that stuff a chore. Voicing your opinion and making yourself heard shouldn’t be a chore, so doing things to make it enjoyable and productive is important,” Pritzl said.
Sophomore Graham Farley Holmes, the student liaison for the Indivisible Knox County group, agreed that political discussions must be a part of everyday social life.
“When you sit down for dinner, don’t start with, ‘Oh, what did you do this weekend?’ start with, ‘Did you hear that Donald Trump just silenced a Jewish reporter at a press conference?’ Make that egregiousness and that anger a part of your daily routine,” Holmes said.
The day after the immigration ban was introduced by Donald Trump, Holmes organized an event to spread posters around the campus. The posters read: “FIGHT THE PRESIDENT” and “MAKE EMPATHY GREAT AGAIN.” He organized the event via Facebook. On the same day, M.E.Ch.A. plastered the campus with their “#sanctuarycampus” posters.
Holmes grew up in Galesburg and is excited to see the amount of activism developing throughout the city, especially through groups like Indivisible.
“I’ve never seen this kind of action taking place, the nearest thing is in 2008 some people got really pissed that Obama got elected and they marched around the high school one time,” he said.
He also emphasized the importance of activism taking place in both Galesburg and Knox, since they are inherently connected to one another through proximity and history.
“The history of Knox and Galesburg are so inextricable that I think it’s kind of silly to separate activism between one or the other. That’s what Indivisible is so good for, it can act as such an effective bridge between the people who care at Knox and the people who care in Galesburg,” he said.
Holmes and Billing both encourage Knox students to join Indivisible. Despite the group being run by Knox professors, it affiliates itself with Galesburg and the surrounding smaller towns. Billing said that many progressives in the surrounding areas of Galesburg, which voted red in the 2016 election, have been surprised by the amount of progressives at the meetings.
“Many of them didn’t realize there were like-minded people living around them, until they started coming to our meetings or our group,” Billing said.
While many groups, workshops and movements have been targeting resisting the Trump presidency in general, other movements on campus have been targeting specific actions, such as M.E.Ch.A.’s sanctuary campus movement.
The movement began about a month ago, when co-Presidents and seniors José Guevara and Marilyn Barnes began narrowing their focus to making Knox a sanctuary campus. They reached out to other club presidents in an attempt to collaborate on ideas and spread the word. After a meeting open to the campus, they drafted their demands and questions for the college.
M.E.Ch.A. has divided into different task forces, including a phone-banking group, an ACM coalition group that is in contact with Monmouth activists, and a Know Your Rights Group. The Know Your Rights group culminated in a panel on Feb. 28, led by a lawyer who could answer questions students had about DACA.
The phone-banking task force will be holding a week-long phone-banking event during the second week of Spring Term, beginning on Monday, March 27. Normally, M.E.Ch.A. will be calling senators and congresspeople for a week in the Ferris Lounge. M.E.Ch.A. meets every Monday in the Human Rights Center at 5:30 p.m. and on Fridays at 4:30 p.m. in the Ferris Lounge.
M.E.Ch.A. has also been active within the Galesburg community, especially with the Hispanic Latino Resource Group, with whom they run fundraisers and events.
“With empowerment comes that will to do something for your community Ñ something that’s not always seen, that unfortunately goes in waves, which I don’t think should be that way. If we start looking through community-oriented lenses, we would be able to solve so much more,” Guevara said.
Guevara emphasized that students should find activism in whatever corner they think is theirs and can have a connection with.
“You do your thing, showing your passion, your resistance and your work is activism. You’re advocating for something specific, and you’re doing it with creativity. That’s something I really encourage for everyone to really find it, with what really fits best for you,” Guevara said.
Junior Carly Miller, who organized the “No One Is Illegal” Rally with sophomore Pei Koroye and Cynthia Saravini, agreed with the call for student activism in art, but to an extent.
“A lot of my professors have been saying things like art is activism, words and stories are activism and resistance and all of that, and I believe that a lot. But I don’t think that’s enough. I think academia does this thing where we vanish in theory and conversation and we’re in this place where for most of us, we don’t have to worry,” Miller said.
Billing urges students to get involved in the community by attending meetings of different organizations in Galesburg. One is the new “Galesburg United Against Hate” group, headed by former journalism professor David Amor.
She also suggested the Knox County chapter of NAACP, which meets the last Tuesday of every month in the Alumni Room. Another group she’s involved with is Swing Left, which is a group that is focused on flipping the house to a Democrat majority in 2018.
There are several other ways to get involved in the Galesburg community, including Galesburg Heart and Soul and the Knox County Democrats, many of which advertise their meetings in the Galesburg Register-Mail. Students can also join on campus groups such as M.E.Ch.A., Advocates for Choice and SHAG.
“It’s really heartening to see the Knox community taking their mission of social justice so seriously because I do think that is an inherent part of the Knox mission, if we want to tout our history of social progressivism and have students sit in the Lincoln chair, then we have to own up to that past as well,” Holmes said.