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My Short Career as an Activist Organizer
Judy Schultz
October 2002

I've always been a follower, liking to be given a task which I can see through to its conclusion, and then get praise for a job well done. I was always the good girl-I let my younger sister be the rebel; my obedience and compliance showed up so much more effectively in contrast to her tantrums and defiance.

I decided at an early age that being self-employed was not for me; it was too important to receive an "atta girl" from a parent substitute, a boss, or a group leader. At the age of 47, escaping a 25-year marriage when the children were off and independent, I got a degree as a tech writer. I then joined the work force-four hours from home, near Boston. I wrote ad copy, pulled together slide presentations, worked as a copy editor for two defense-related companies. I never showed much brilliance, but usually did a "good job," and, for the first time, supported myself. Two layoffs were traumatic, but I kept on plugging. Only when both parents and my estranged husband died, and a love relationship of fourteen years collapsed, all within eighteen months, did I leave Nashua and return home after fifteen years.

Three years passed, and my first independently purchased home, a Woodstock geodesic dome, was sold. I purchased a modest modular home in an unfashionable area a half-hour away in Greene County. The IRA given me by my late husband, that I thought would last me for life, was no longer so strong, I was eating into the principal, and my California daughter, Laura, said at the rate I was going, I could only afford to live for seven more years! I was trying to decide if I really had to go back to work, which Laura told me I should do, in addition to scaling down my standard of living.

Before I moved I'd been a part of a group attempting to rid Woodstock of a CVS drugstore, which swooped in to take the place of the local Grand Union supermarket when the latter corporation went belly-up. Woodstock now had no supermarket, but we already had another drugstore, an Eckerds, just across the street from the proposed CVS. Our impassioned letters to CVS, reprinted in the Woodstock Times, and our attendance at Town and Planning Board meetings, and other efforts went unrewarded. Every letter we sent to CVS was replied to by the same form letter, saying how CVS wanted to be a good neighbor, blah blah.

CVS renovated the building, and was preparing to open. For four months I'd been living a half-hour away from Woodstock in my new home, with a fine independently run supermarket five minutes away. I was asked by Toby, the woman who had spearheaded the anti-CVS movement, if I would mobilize people for the Woodstock picketing as I said I would some fourteen months earlier. Now that I was a distance away, I thought I'd only be peripherally involved, but I was so touched to be asked I said yes.

It struck me often that I had never attempted to get a group of people to do anything for me before, but I was so certain of the rightness of the mission, there was no doubt in my mind it would be a success. I decided that every day, seven days a week there would be four shifts of two hours each, starting at 10 a.m. and ending at 6 p.m.

I was given a list of fifty names and e-mail addresses of people who had been involved in the cause for many months, and I added some new names to it. Toby had additional names of people who only wanted to get e-mail from her so they wouldn't be subject to unwanted e-mail spam or computer viruses. When she received my e-mail for the troops, she would forward it to her list. My intent was to have each time slot filled by at least two picketers, so that no one had to picket alone.

I couldn't believe that with seventy five or so people who were actively interested in getting rid of CVS, that I couldn't get fifty to sixty people to commit to two hours a week. If someone couldn't make her time slot, she would try to get someone to exchange with her, or, in a pinch, I would fill in. I planned to kick off each day by sticking four "Boycott CVS" signs in the ground in front of the CVS building, and would make sure that the first two people showed up, possibly checking in during the day to see how things were going, and then, at the end of the day, I would pick up the signs stuck in the ground so they wouldn't be picked up by CVS employees or by the few anti-anti-CVS people.

The first weekend, two days before CVS was scheduled to open, was the gala kick-off of the anti-CVS effort, and we hired a professional actor whose main gigs consisted of appearing at events such as ours in the character of an old-style, bible-thumping minister, Reverend Billy. He would, in a loud voice augmented by a bullhorn, protest the greed of the large corporations whose aim is to gobble up small towns, eventually causing the town's small businesses to fail. There were shouts of "Hallelujah," "Mercy," and "Amen" scattered through the crowd of over a hundred people. I signed up several people for the picketing that was to continue for weeks, long as it would take for CVS to leave town.

I quickly found that I had two picketers in only a few of the two-hour slots, a few single picketers in a few slots, and numerous slots with NO picketers signed up. Undeterred, I would start the day putting out the signs, then I would picket by myself until the first-shift person or persons joined me. Most rewarding was the occasional passerby who'd grab a sign and walk with us for awhile. By this hit-or-miss method we muddled through the first week. The second weekend was difficult, with so few people signed up, that I marched for seven hours both Saturday and Sunday, partly alone. I marveled that my cranky knees didn't give out. The second week there was a rash of "no shows," so that I was often there marching alone. I wondered if people looking at me saw a pathetic person, a misguided loony, or if they felt guilty.

I didn't want people to feel guilty; I wanted them to be inspired and join me. I would send the reluctant troops upbeat, humorous e-mails at night, mentioning the time slots that needed an extra person for the following day, telling them anecdotes from the day's picketing, trying to avoid the negative stuff, such as the man who shouted at me and another picketer, calling us "left-wing trash!" Despite my cheerleading, I heard from only the few steadfast picketers and Toby, who called me "Picketing Queen," and supplied me with much-needed praise and admiration.

I got a call from Toby on Thursday of the second week, at 8:45 a.m. saying there'd be a reporter from the New York Times at the site at 10 a.m. I immediately called about ten people on my list to try to get them to fill out our picketing ranks for the interview. It was drizzling, but I wasn't aware of it as I tore around getting dressed. So, out of the house I went, mad because I didn't have time to call any other people.

A few people were ahead of me at the CVS site, and some of our signs were already stuck in the ground. I stapled together a few signs with handles out of the wood purchased three days earlier, to give to our augmented group of picketers, and I added four more standing signs to the four that were already standing.

That morning, for the second time, the opposition (who reportedly consisted of one "good old boy"-a renegade ex-police chief) posted a sign on CVS property, which was one of a cache of about 30, stolen from where we stored them behind a nearby building. He'd painted out the "CVS"s so the signs read "Stop Toby" on the one side, and "Boycott Teran" on the other. Teran is the real estate company Toby works for. Toby called the police, and the responding officer removed the offending sign.

People kept arriving, so that, at its largest, our group consisted of about twenty people with "Boycott CVS" signs and some homemade signs. The drizzle was unrelenting, but spirits were high. As time passed, Toby muttered to me that if the reporter didn't show up soon there'd be a lot of annoyed and soaking anti-CVSers. By 10:45 a few damp demonstrators slipped away. By the time the reporter arrived, at about 11:15, there were eight of us left, including the filmmaker Cambiz Khosravi, who was shooting a documentary about our struggle with CVS. Little by little, more of Woodstock's activists reappeared and the reporter interviewed almost everyone. He must have been there for two hours, and even submitted to being interviewed by Cambiz. We found that his article would appear in that Sunday's Times.

We were exhilarated and agreed that picketing and being interviewed in the rain made an even stronger impression than it would on a sunny, mild day. We must have seemed slightly mad to be out there in the weather, but also stubborn and unrelenting about the cause we felt important enough to picket for in the rain. I was so happy to get home and strip off my saturated garments. It was hours before I warmed up completely.

The next day it was still raining, and even though I wore a waterproof rain cape, the rain funneled into the folds, down my neck, soaking my clothes. I was marching alone for much of the day. Usually we welcomed the honks and thumbs up signals from passing motorists. That day when I heard a honk and looked up to wave, the male driver gave me the finger. I was thoroughly wet and depressed by the end of that day, and had trouble remembering why it was so important to do what I was doing.

Saturday, it was still raining, and no one signed up save for Kiki at 2 p.m. I had decided not to march that day, except that I wanted to be there for Kiki. I drove to the CVS site, stapled together a few signs, but instead of setting out the signs, I stood and waited on the corner for Kiki. By 2:30, I went home. Kiki later apologized and said that she was parked down the street, and, not seeing any signs, figured I'd cancelled because of rain.

I decided that evening that I wouldn't attempt to schedule people to picket any longer, and I wouldn't put in any more four-to-seven-hour days on the battlefront. I'd threatened several times, when people praised me for my forebearance, that it wouldn't last indefinitely. I guessed that as long as I kept my, sometimes, lone vigil that those passing motorists honking their approval wanted to convince themselves that the picketing was more or less under control, and they wouldn't need to get involved. I was glad so many showed their support, but was also irritated that I couldn't get more people to join me.

So I stopped-cold. Later I found out that some people continued to picket, and new people joined them, although I was no longer there to motivate them. Indeed, I'd begun to feel that my urgings had the opposite effect from the one I intended-I had become the "general," and the picketers the reluctant foot soldiers. This confirmed my sense that I wasn't cut out to be a leader-someone else could have inspired them. I really would have been happy to be a foot soldier, to put in my two or more hours each week, get a pat on the back, and return to my barracks-mission accomplished.

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  Anti-CVS Picketing Continues- I Collapse                          
by Judy Schultz

I hadn't picketed in two weeks. Sharon Stonekey took my place as Picketing Queen. She had proved her mettle by fastening anti-CVS signs all over Woodstock, using a truck and ladder and dozens of staples to make it difficult to rip down the signs. She was aided by Jean DesJardins, a local landscaper. I was impressed by Sharon's athleticism and valor. She also proved to be stubborn and articulate (a perfect combination for the job) so when I scheduled the second major picketing (maybe forty people in all), I was happy to hand the Queen's mantle over to her. I signed up immediately for two time slots, with the understanding that I would also pinch-hit for people unable to show up for their scheduled slots.

It was a huge relief to me to be rid of the responsible role of Picketing Queen; I was too thin-skinned and too needy of "atta girl"s to continue in that role. It depressed me when slots were left unmanned, and I took it personally when supporters complained that there were no picketers in front of CVS as they drove by. For two weeks I averaged five hours a day in front of CVS trying to fill in for missing picketers, and to make sure that no one was left unpartnered. Then I'd be hurt and furious when the people I was there to support didn't bother to show up. I huffily decided I'd had it with being an organizer.

The Wednesday following our second mass demonstration I went to picket in my newly scheduled time slot. Sharon was there, and we got caught up on one another's news. A woman walking by carrying an Eckerd's bag informed us that CVS was attempting to open a third drugstore in a residential neighborhood in Kingston, and one hundred fifty people protested-it looked as if CVS was going to back down. This was interesting news, indeed.

A young guy came up to us and asked us what has become the most-asked question-hadn't we figured out that CVS was HERE, and that there wasn't anything we could do about it any more? Sharon and I patiently explained that the boycott was quite successful, and that we had every expectation that CVS will ultimately close the Woodstock store-maybe in six months, maybe in a year. This was perhaps a bit more confident than we, in fact, feel. Sharon and I reinforced one another's impression that pouring on a lot of energy early on would help close CVS soon rather than allowing it to suffer a lingering death.

Sharon told me that there was a "Deep Throat" within the Woodstock CVS store who told her that the day the large group of picketers descended with our six huge twice-human-size puppets (one was a dragon, representing the CVS corporation), the employees were frightened of us. I laughed, knowing that we were all really gentle people, and that the most we'd do is try to get them to see our point of view. We were all sympathetic toward the employees, knowing that they were earning poverty level wages. Our quarrel was not with them.

Sharon also decided that since she wasn't having much more success than I had filling twenty-eight two-hour slots, that she would cut out twelve slots by eliminating Tuesdays through Thursdays, and concentrating on Fridays through Mondays, the busiest days in Woodstock. I applauded her decision, one I'd been reluctant to make.

After less than an hour of picketing, I began to have chest pains. I'd experienced these a few times before, but always at home, at which time I'd take a couple of aspirin and sit or lie down. I told Sharon I needed to go to Cumberland Farms across the street to get some aspirin. I was feeling worse as I went in the store, and got a bottle of water from the refrigerated case, returning to the front counter to ask for aspirin. It was everything I could do to try to look normal; I was starting to feel faint. The woman clerk asked if I wanted a small packet of Excedrin or a bottle of Bayer aspirin, and we finally settled on a small bottle of Bayer. I told the clerk I was experiencing chest pains and needed to take aspirin to alleviate them.

While searching my pockets, I remembered that my money and credit cards were locked in my car, parked a block away. By this time I was perspiring and, unable to stand upright, and had to rest my head on the counter. I asked if I could just swallow a couple of aspirin with the water before I went to get my money, and the clerk said: "I can't do that; everything is recorded on film, and I'll get in trouble." She asked me if she should call an ambulance, and I said "No," I just wanted to take some aspirin. She was adamant about not letting me have the water and aspirin.

Then I asked if I could just sit down; I was starting to feel shocky. She said "Sure," so I slumped to the floor near the coffee machines, too faint to feel embarrassed. A lot of people came into the store, would glance at me, then turn away at the sight, I guess, of such abject misery-was I drunk, on drugs, or what?

The clerk asked again if she could call an ambulance, and again I said I was sure I'd be all right in a few minutes. She also tried to call her manager (I guess to find out if it was ever O.K. to bend the rules and give a possible heart attack victim a couple of aspirin) but couldn't reach him. I was covered in sweat, and unable to plead my case and say: "Your boss will be really annoyed if you let a customer die on the floor without at least offering her a couple of aspirin."

Finally a well-dressed woman customer, who had just come into the store, noticed me (it was hard not to, with me sprawled wantonly on the floor in front of the coffee machines), and asked if she could help me. I explained my problem the best I could; even this was a big effort. She asked the clerk if she could give me some aspirin, and finally the clerk sold her a small packet of Excedrin. The customer gave me two with a small cup of water. By the time I swallowed the pills I was already beginning to feel better. I continued to sit on the floor as I returned to normal.

My friend Alice came into the store at around that time and asked if she could help, and I told her I was just recovering from chest pains and would be fine in a few minutes, and did she have any money to give the nice lady? I'd forgotten that she was supposed to deliver something to me while I was on the picket line; I thought she'd just shown up coincidentally. The two of them went outside. Later I found out that Alice had to run home to get money, and, by the time she returned, the compassionate lady was gone. I was feeling much better, hauled myself to my feet, and left Cumberland Farms with as much dignity as I could muster after making a maudlin spectacle of myself in front of dozens of onlookers.

I joined Sharon in front of CVS and continued picketing for the next hour, feeling completely normal once again. In the future I would have to carry aspirin and a bottle of water with me when I had to leave home, to avoid future public displays.

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