Local community group meets to address current political issues

50 Ways Rockbridge serves as a platform for students and locals to vocalize their thoughts on political concerns

Abigail Summerville

50 Ways Rockbridge is one of many grassroot groups popping up across the country to tackle major political issues.

The group was formed a few weeks after the presidential election. It started with just five members, grew to 25 members at its second meeting and at its latest meeting on Thursday, hosted almost 150 people. The Old Courthouse meeting room was packed full of Lexington citizens along with a few Rockbridge County High School students. One of the group’s nine founders, W&L Professor Chris Gavalar, put the group’s mission into the simplest terms possible.

“We want to find a way to organize and channel your upsetness into something productive,” he said. “We’re shooting for a true democracy here…we would like all voices to be heard.”

On its website, 50 Ways Rockbridge states that its mission is to promote fairness and inclusion by educating the citizens of Rockbridge county and motivating them to take action. Most of this action consists of writing letters to the editors of local newspapers and calling local representatives, especially Congressman Bob Goodlatte of Virginia’s sixth district.

One of their goals is to swamp Goodlatte with so many calls and emails that he is forced to hold a town meeting in Lexington, which he hasn’t done since 2013, to address citizens’ concerns.

And the citizens have many concerns. The name 50 Ways Rockbridge came from the 50 states, the 50 concerns that the group came up with and the 50 ways to solve these issues.

Some of the issues include immigration, women’s and LGBTQ rights, climate change, gerrymandering by Goodlatte, racial justice, local jobs and training and healthcare. But the leaders made it clear that the process of addressing the issues will be nonlinear because when President Trump makes a move, the group will have to change gears to focus on that issue and counter his move.

At the meeting, participants were asked to group themselves into subcommittees by issue depending on what issue they cared about the most. However, before the chaos of everyone getting up and moving to their subcommittee entailed, citizens had the chance to ask questions and share comments with the group.

Many had questions about how exactly to go about calling local representatives. They were concerned about what to say, and also if their voices were being heard or if the assistants they were talking to on the phone were writing their requests down on a piece of paper just for it to end up in the trash. The founders said that there is a list of talking points on the website, and they reassured that assistants are required to take notes on every call they receive, and some audience members confirmed that they had received letter back from the representatives acknowledging their request.

Even the Washington Post is noticing 50 Ways Rockbridge and similar groups across the country, and a trend of representatives being out of touch with citizens that was once the status quo is now coming to light. 50 Ways Rockbridge is one of many groups bringing attention to this disconnect between representatives and citizens, as well as other issues relating to the presidential election.

The group will host its next meeting in early March.