The progressive passion of Indivisible Mohawk Valley’s Sarah Reeske

Sarah Reeske is pictured with her two children.
Sarah Reeske is pictured with her two children.
(Photo submitted)
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Sarah Reeske wasn’t happy with the results of the last presidential election, but she didn’t know what to do about it. While hundreds of thousands of women marched on Washington in January of 2017, she was busy at home caring for her two small children. Then she saw a picture of a little girl in Barcelona, Spain carrying a cardboard sign that said, “I march for America.” It was a cathartic moment.

“I said to myself, ‘what does she know at 8 that I don’t know at 30?’” Reeske recalls.

She answered that question by accepting an invitation to join a local Facebook group for politically engaged women that, under her co-leadership, grew into an organization that eventually became Indivisible Mohawk Valley. It’s website IndivisibleMV.com describes its members at people who were “inspired to go from voters to activists.”

“What I got from the picture of that little girl was that women in America have been okay with having subpar rights,” Reeske says. “I kind of mentally crumbled, and when I built myself back up I was like, ‘I am in. I’m going full blast. Nothing is going to stop me from saving this country because I want the fullest life for myself and my kids.”

Only a year and half earlier she was newcomer to the area having moved from Idaho.

“When I got off the plane I was married, with a two- and half-year-old son and I was six months pregnant with my daughter. I didn’t know a soul in the state.”

Now, three and half years later she is a solo parent, but she has her dream job. Sarah is the Upstate New York Organizer for the Indivisible Project. She is responsible for coordinating the work of over 200 local Indivisible organizations across the state spanning 10 United States congressional districts.

She describes her job as saving democracy and she couldn’t be more passionate about doing just that.

“Our country is very fortunate that a number of grassroots movements rose up in unison to address the grave matter facing our nation,” said Bonnie Zweifel who has been involved in the local movement. “Sarah Reeske was a leading force as she volunteered enormous amounts of time to assist with coordinating the energies of many people.”

“Her enthusiasm is contagious, and she makes people want to get involved,” says Melinda Leising, a member of Indivisible Mohawk Valley.

Mona Perrotti remembers wanting to maintain the momentum of the Women’s March and how she attended one of Sarah’s first meetings, which at the time were known as “huddles.”

“I was impressed with Sarah right off the bat,” Perrotti recalls. “I was really struck by the enormous energy she has. She is strikingly unique with a combination of vision, energy and organizational skills that I don’t think I’ve ever seen before.”

Marlene Bissell, who is also a member, agrees.

“Sarah is fantastic and able to inspire and motivate people on a grassroots level,” Bissell says. “She is an incredible organizer who is knowledgeable and passionate about progressive issues.”

Bissell and her husband Alan traveled all the way from Munnsville to participate in the group’s latest rally on Jan. 3 at Oneida Square in Utica. It was called “Whose House? Our House!” Dozens of people turned out to celebrate the first day of the new congress and the swearing-in of Anthony Brindisi, who will be representing our district.

“I am pumped up to be here,” Reeske said addressing the crowd. “It is a great way to celebrate. this brand-new Congress. We are going to get the change that we want. We are going to say ‘Oh Hell no to the status quo!’ We are keeping an eye on all our elected officials and we will hold them accountable.”

While cars passed by honking their horns in approval the crowd appeared oblivious to the cold as she led them in chanting, “Fired up and ready to go! Fired up and ready to go! Fired up and ready to go!”

“Being out here in the cold, this is what political activism is all about,” Reeske said standing on the cold steps of the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ monument. “This is how we are making change. We are a hearty crew.”

The crowd’s applause was muffled by the winter gloves, but the enthusiasm was genuine as was the affection for Reeske.

“This is the first day of a new congress, a new democratic congress, how fortunate we are to have our very own Sarah Reeske,” Shirley Knop said introducing her.

“Sarah is a force of nature in grassroots political organizing,” Jen Deweerth remarked.

Another success the group celebrated was the election of progressive Democrat Rachel May to the New York State Senate replacing conservative Democrat Dave Valeksy who had aligned himself with Senate Republicans. Sarah Reeske was instrumental in helping accomplish this remarkable political upset.

“Sarah is that rare breed of organizer who builds community while helping people be effective in making change,” Sen. Rachel May said. “Her events are fun, well-planned, and engaging, and her enthusiasm is infectious.”

Reeske plans to keep making political activism “bite sized, local, and fun.” Indivisible Mohawk Valley is hosting a 2019 Kickoff Meeting Sunday, January 13th at 40 Faxton Street in Utica. Information is available on their social media page at facebook.com/IndivisibleMV/. The following week, on Saturday January 19th there will be a Women’s March in Utica. Sarah can quickly list off a variety of ways for people to participate include attending meetings and rallies, writing postcards, making phone calls, donating supplies and providing financial assistance, storing supplies, registering people to vote, even providing childcare so that others can participate in actions.

“The goal of Indivisible Mohawk Valley,” Reeske says “is to make political activism bite-sized, local, and fun.”

Bonnie Zweifel looks back at the work that has been accomplished and the work still to be done.

“We opened our eyes, educated ourselves, and built coalitions. We will build on all this tremendous work from 2017 and 2018 to make substantial steps toward these goals. We will press Congress and the White House to represent and work for the people.”

“There will always be work that needs to be done,” according to steering committee member Betsy Briggs. “But Indivisible Mohawk Valley makes it very rewarding and keeps folks motivated.”

“I just think her energy is just amazing,” said Shirley Knop one of the organizers of the event. “She is so dogged. She keeps pressing and pressing and gets things done. She brings people together and motivates them.”

Though Reeske, is continuing her work “saving democracy” on a state-wide scale and working with the many Indivisible groups in Upstate New York she will always be devoted to the Mohawk Valley group where it all started for her.

“I have so many adopted sisters, grandmothers, aunts, and moms,” she says of the group.

“Indivisible Mohawk Valley has grown into a community that goes beyond political activism and continues to grow,” Betsy Briggs agreed.

“Two years ago, Sarah was a stay-at-home mom with a baby and a toddler who nervously organized a few ‘huddles’ following the Women’s March,” Jen Deweerth recalls. “Now she is a statewide organizer who provides guidance to, and networks with, hundreds of groups and thousands of activists across the country who work to encourage political engagement, win elections, and influence progressive politics.”

“I find that the people who get the most depressed about the whole political situation are the ones sitting in front of the TV and not doing anything,” Shirley Knop observed. “But if you go out and do something, it gives you a feeling of agency and an understanding that you are not just a victim of the situation. In that way Sarah has empowered a lot of other people.”

Mona Perrotti who has been involved in politics since volunteering for George McGovern’s presidential campaign in 1972 describes this a singular exciting time in history.

“Because of the whole grassroots movement ignited by the Women’s March people are empowered,” Perrotti says. “It has unleashed a lot of talent and a lot of passion. I know I am not despairing; all these positive efforts are going to pay off. People who have never been involved in politics before have stepped up and found roles, people like Sarah.”

“We are lucky to have Sarah Reeske advocating in our region,” Sen. Rachel May agrees.

Contact Ron Klopfanstein with your questions, comments, and story ideas. Like him at  Facebook.com/BeMoreWestmo and follow him at Twitter.com/BeMoreWestmo.

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