I first met Debra at our Arizona senator’s office. Our paths crossed again at an ACLU Resistance Training.
This time Debra came with her partner, Candy, and shared that for decades, they’ve been organizing to secure their rights and were willing to join with us to continue the work on behalf of others. Truth be told, they offered not only solidarity but a rich education borne out of their experience.
After the training session Debra invited me to her resistance group of women who met every other Sunday. They’ve been doing this since the Women’s March in January and their numbers were growing as more women like me hungered for a sustainable way forward.
I couldn’t resist her invitation.
She followed up with an email describing the agenda. There would be time to discuss current actions, write postcards to government leaders and then an optional dinner. If I wanted to stay for dinner, I only needed to bring something to share and the hostess would provide salad.
The Sunday I attended felt bittersweet, like it was both my first and last opportunity to gather with these women since I’d be leaving to join my family in Burundi in a few days. I would be there for four months—away from the demands of citizenship at this critical time, away from resistance groups like this one. I could not resist Debra and Candy’s hospitality, so I brought my sugar snap pea salad to add to the buffet.
I came through the side gate and walked toward the laughter. Some women were already gathered—all of them older than me, all of them with drinks in hand. The hostess ushered me into the house through the white screen door. On her counter sat a huge plastic bowl filled with mixed greens. I opened my Rubbermaid container and said, “I brought a sugar snap pea salad.”
The hostess looked at me and smiled. She surveyed my bright peas, shellacked with toasted sesame oil and black sesame seeds. “Well, I guess we can just toss them into the salad bowl or maybe serve them separate.”
It was then that I realized my mistake. I brought an individual salad to contribute, but they wanted us to bring ingredients to add to a collective salad. There must be a metaphor tucked in there somewhere.
I was slightly embarrassed, but trusted her to do what was right with my offering. I went outside and filled my glass with sparkling water. I mingled with the women, awash in the warmth of their hospitality. Women kept coming through the side gate, and then passing through the white screen door with their additions to our great salad. The volume gradually grew—the clinking of ice cubes into glasses, the chatter of introductions and the lugging of more chairs across the cement patio until everyone had a seat.
Our time began with introductions, since there were six of us first-timers. The reasons we came were mixed, but the spirit was the same—we wanted to stand with each other for the sake of our community, especially those who find themselves to be most vulnerable under this current pharaoh.
Again, Debra and Candy made it clear that they’ve been organizing for 40 years and they know the terrain. There was pain in their past—how could there not be with the sting of discrimination and withholding of rights they suffered for so long? But through the hurt they became hosts of the deepest sort, making room for our stories, our hopes and even our tears. We spoke of lament and laughter; we confessed the long road of resistance ahead. No one pretended it would be easy. However the promise was that we would walk together. “After all, that’s what the salad is for!” someone quipped.
Stacks of postcards, a roll of stamps, and a variety of pens became the table’s centerpiece. We got quieter as we wrote our leaders about our concerns: healthcare, immigration, welcome for refugees and safety for our Muslim neighbors, etc. Right about the time hands started cramping, we noticed the basket was full of cards and we had done some good work. It was time to eat.
I was among the first to grab a china plate. The salad was chock full of color and crunch—garbanzo beans, slivered almonds, huge chunks of avocado and halved cherry tomatoes. “I decided to just toss your snap peas in with the rest,” the hostess whispered into my ear. And sure enough, my peas glistened among the array of vegetables in the great salad. Of course it was the perfect choice.
As we ate together, there was more conversation about sustainability. Construction of the New City is hard work, and from my time in development work I know it takes years. There must be practices in place to sustain us for the marathon, like eating from the salad we all contribute to and are nourished by. Not only do we eat in the company of others, but we also work together to build a New City founded on justice for all.
Debra added, we need food for resistance. We need joy and resilience for the days ahead, so relaxing and laughing together is part of our resistance.
Leaving the meeting that evening was hard. I felt like I was leaving the resistance at such a pivotal time when my engaged citizenship was needed. Candy came over to say goodbye.
“Remember, we’ve been doing this for forty years, four months away is nothing,” she said. “We will be here when you return, still eating salad together.”
Debra came alongside and echoed those words, “Come back. We’ll still be here!”
I walked to my car, fighting back the tears. These women know the road ahead is long, yet they gave me permission to go to Burundi. I doubt they knew how heavy my heart had been for weeks, so guilt laden that I was leaving when I was needed. While I cried a lot of conflicted tears over the past few weeks, the tears I shed driving home were ones of release. I was free to go to Burundi, and free to come back.
These women will keep doing the work, Sunday after Sunday. They will keep eating, drinking and laughing. They will welcome me back to the work when I return, and we will eat salad, our meal of resistance.