Saturday afternoons, a growing mass of adamant voters gather in the little scarlet-carpeted chapel on East Thach Avenue. What started as a few political outliers has become a brigade of devoted members looking to make waves.
Formally the Auburn branch of Pantsuit Nation, the newly named Alabama Together group, is working on a mission statement and public platform at its monthly meetings.
According to its website, Pantsuit Nation blossomed from a small group that started privately posting on Facebook in October 2016. This team of social media activists planned to attend the polls in pantsuits to “[create] a troll-free space in which Clinton supporters could enthusiastically support their candidate.”
After just 24 hours, the group’s population had skyrocketed to 24,000 members, and the growth didn’t cease. State and local chapters formed and once the election passed, each chapter was left with a rhetorical, “What’s next?”
The support-giving and activism group switched gears after the election, taking the roles and platform of a non-profit. This transformation moved the Auburn branch to consider a change of name, as the primary focus of the nationwide group had morphed.
Driving home from the local “commiseration party,” Sharyn Pulling, member of Alabama Together and lecturer at Auburn, thought to email a select few from the original group in search of a refined mission.
“We ended up inviting a lot more people,” Pulling said. “It became five people, then 90 people at our December meeting. We decided then to hold monthly meetings.”
At the first meeting, the original team surveyed those that attended on their interests and passions. The results from those surveys led to focus groups that devote time weekly to furthering the group’s mission. Healthcare, education, politics, environmental action, diversity, information and facts and social issues are the current focus groups that meet.
The response was completely unexpected, Pulling said. Those few startup members were under the impression they were alone in their leanings.
“Before the election occurred, we all thought of ourselves as these little pockets — these little progressive pockets scattered all about town,” Pulling said. “Sometimes we meet each other and find each other.”
She said there is a definite divide — an isolation. But in the wake of a few meetings Pulling has found, there are more than she believed in the start.
Cathy Colquett came to the meeting in search of like-minded people looking to fight for a change. She attended her first meeting in January and connected personally with the healthcare group’s mission.
“I think it’s great to see the grass-roots group — to see people coming out of the woodwork who haven’t ever been politically involved,” Colquett said. “I was so depressed after the election and you come here and see all the like-minded people wanting to do something. I think that’s why the latest healthcare bill got defeated. There were people like us that went, made phone calls and did what needed to be done.”
Pulling said the group’s most daunting challenge has been focusing on a few select goals, as she said the new administration has given them so much to work with. The work toward solidifying ideals and direction has begun and continues to develop after each meeting.
Each group circles up after a conjoined meeting to discuss ideas, next steps and actions that can be made. Many members have visited their representatives, participated in marches and called the community together in search of their desired change.
Colquett said the healthcare group is currently working to communicate the facts with larger groups to make the community more aware of what is coming down the pipe in the next few weeks.
“We are trying to create a call to action,” Colquett said.
The education group is also working to build awareness of legislation. Ellen Abell, member of the education group, said her group’s focus is to become aware of education bills and changes as they come down the line. Abell hopes to help build the same awareness throughout the community.
Each subgroup huddles together in circles, discussing issues and steps toward action. Alabama Together meets monthly for a group meeting followed with a social gathering afterword.