Opinion

Opinion | Kathleen Hirsch

Civics at the yarn shop

Hanna Barczyk for The Boston Globe

Upcountry, New Hampshire. I’d set out into ski country, hoping to find a pair of size-13 knitting needles, my destination a shop I had never visited. Along the road in these parts, you will occasionally see a woman holding a roadside placard that reads, “Trump: Champion of the world.” I had some trepidation about what to expect once I arrived.

Yarn shops are traditionally a crafter’s demilitarized zone. The talk around the superwash wool is of dropped stitches and baby’s due dates, not — Madame Defarge, rest her soul — rebellion. The closest thing I know to a sorority living room, knitting shops have always been a refuge from the battering world.

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All of that changed this winter with preparations for the Women’s March in Washington. In January, I happened into the Little Knittery in Glendale, Calif. The cluttered and cozy space had morphed into a feverish hub of women stitching pink pussy caps and hurrying to get them on a plane to Washington in time for the event. The phone rang off the hook with recruits who’d heard about the effort and wanted to join.

But that was January. This was February, and I was no longer in happening L.A., with its five Equinox clubs and affluent hipsters. I was in northern New England, where the Hannaford does a land-office business in food pantry stuffs. I found the out-of-the-way store, and was browsing cubbies of cashmeres, when a trio of women came in.

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Soon, I heard the owner on the phone. “Have you heard about these pussy caps? They want three this week.”

Turning, I recognized the pattern. “After the march?” I asked.

I found a notepad being waved in my face.

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“There’s going to be another in April!” The woman pointed to her notes.

“We all went down for the Women’s March in D.C., and we’re headed for more. Three generations.”

I hadn’t expected this. The three — grandmother, daughter, and granddaughter — were from Maine, and they were on a roll.

The owner, whom I’d pegged for a Trumper, came around from behind the counter to join us.

“Well, we are stuck with him until ’20,” she said. “But we have to do what we can in ’18.”

For the Maine troika, the work was obvious. Work toward elections in ’18 and redistricting in 2020.

I could see that the first speaker was warming to the opportunity for some grass-roots mobilizing. “I am a member of a school committee. I know that politics is a little bit of give, a little bit of take. I don’t care what you do! You need to get involved locally. Join a committee, volunteer. Use your voice.

I’d gone in for a pair of needles. I came out with a sense of hope.

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“Right now, I’m sending cards from the Women’s March to everyone I know, to get them to write to their senators and legislators.”

Her daughter spoke up. “We hear so much about making America great, but then we look at European countries where kids can get their education for free, or nearly so. If you want to make America great, start looking beyond our borders. Don’t close them.

“A lot of my friends wrote in Bernie,” she continued. “Even in states where you can’t do that. It was a mistake. They know that now. But the Democratic Party needs to start listening and to build new alliances.”

Through it all the grandmother had been smiling. “We’re all in. We need to be!” she said.

The shop owner nodded until I thought her head would fall off.

“People went to Washington for a lot of reasons,” Ms. School Committee noted. “To protest Trump, assert women’s dignity, support Black Lives Matter, out of concern for the environment, and because we are insulted by the way immigrants are being talked about and treated. This is the new coalition. This is what we need to build. We need to make America great — together.”

I’d gone in for a pair of needles. I came out with a sense of hope: In this most handmade of countries, presently coming apart at the seams, there are hands and hearts where I least expected to find them, ready to untangle the mess and stitch their way toward ’18 – literally and figuratively — shaping a new and sturdier whole cloth.

Kathleen Hirsch lives in Jamaica Plain and blogs at www.kathleenhirsch.com.
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