When I was a kid and heard of a political party, I naturally assumed it was a party like I was used to attending. You know ... balloons, cake, ice cream and similar fun!
It didn’t look so fun as I had to watch presidential debates and televised politics when my parents commandeered our single black-and-white TV with the rabbit ears antennas. The speeches went on and on, interrupted by cheers and applause. I guess history was being made, but it was tedious when you’re young and “The Wild Wild West” was being preempted by politics. When I got older it seemed a bit more interesting, but still not what I would call fun.
Locally, there is a group of citizens in Cottage Grove who are working to do just that – bring fun into local politics. “Dedicated to promoting good politics and great people in South Lane County and beyond and having fun while doing it”: that is the motto for the Cottage Grove Blackberry Pie Society.
“Maybe you’ve seen the Blackberry Pie Society’s bumper sticker on local cars. It says ‘Bring Back Facts’ in a large font next to our pie-themed logo,” said Leslie Rubinstein, Blackberry Pie Society chairperson. “I know I have and must say I fully agree with the sentiment. Facts are something that I take seriously – in fact, deal with every day. If we can’t agree with reality-based facts we are in deep trouble.”
In addition to spreading this message around the Grove, Rubinstein says, “We also have a website that publishes political cartoons with national themes by a local artist.
And don’t forget about the fun part.
That will be in play at the group’s event, a “Political Party,” from 3-5 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 22 at The Cottage Events Venue, 2915 Row River Road. Billed as 49% fun and 51% politics, tipping the scales in favor of politics.
“From its very beginning 16 years ago, the Blackberry Pie Society has always aimed to combine politics and fun, and this ‘Political Party’ does just that. On the political side, there will be opportunities to get involved to help shape the 2020 political landscape. On the fun side, there will be refreshments (including the moniker blackberry pie) and merriment. This event offers a chance to get to know each other and learn how we can work together to support progressive outcomes in the 2020 election,” Rubinstein said.
What has become the Blackberry Pie Society (BPS) was born in the form of a handwritten appeal tacked on the bulletin board at community gathering spot, The Bookmine on Main Street. It directed folks who were tired of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and fearing four more years of the same under George W. Bush to gather in a local backyard.
A surprising number of like-minded people showed up and the basis of Cottage Grove-based political action had found itself. As the group started to coalesce it was soon apparent that to get more effective it would need to organize officially. The group had rented an office in the old Cottage Grove Hotel and was serving as the local headquarters for the John Kerry campaign
In order to get canvassing materials from the Democratic Party of Lane County, the group needed a legal status. Former state senator Tony Corcoran helped turn the group of individuals into a full-blooded Political Action Committee (PAC) with a tongue-in-cheek set of bylaws.
It was reported that humor written into the bylaws by Corcoran was both enjoyed and appreciated by the staff at the Oregon Secretary of State’s office in Salem. I can only imagine how receiving a lively document could brighten the day of bureaucrats accustomed to having to plow through pages of dry legalese as a daily task.
The Oregon state PAC was originally going to be called the Apple Pie Society, as in “As American as apple pie.” However, since the group had rented a space in the Cottage Grove Hotel, which already had the Apple Pie Antiques shop, this could have been confusing. So the name Blackberry Pie Society, a slightly thornier moniker, was chosen instead.
And rather than what you might think of a nonprofit PAC that is out there funneling money around and shaking down folks and lobbyists for money, the Blackberry Pie Society is about the facts.
The bank account is under $500 and it puts all of its money and time into providing speakers, and volunteers to do the footwork of supporting causes and candidates it believes in.
During campaign season, the group supports progressive candidates by canvassing, text-banking, distributing lawn signs and arranging for candidate forums. Those BPS forums have included ones for East Lane County Board of Commissioners, Cottage Grove Mayor and City Councilors, South Lane School Board and Bond presentation, House Representative District 7, and one on STAR Voting in Lane County.
For the past five summers the Blackberry Pie Society has participated in the annual Bohemia Mining Days parade in Cottage Grove, another example of having some fun with politics. There is a lot of that humor that was injected at the very beginning of the BPS still alive and well in the organization.
“This is the group you want to be in touch with when you get your ballot,” said Cathy Bellavita, Blackberry Pie Society secretary. “Maybe you don’t recognize all the names, and/or you don’t know who to vote for. We’ve got you covered. Our palm card of endorsements for each election, along with our amusing ‘Menu for Political Change’ of election tips and suggestions will guide you,” Bellavita said.
In off-election years, the group sponsors a speaker series that features a variety of political and government officials.
Past speakers include Grover Steve Novick, Ivan Maluski of Friends of Family Farmers, Rep. Cedric Hayden, Lane Commissioner Pete Sorenson, City Manager Richard Meyers, then-Lane County Sheriff Byron Trapp, and State Sen. Floyd Prozanski.
BPS also has a weekly Action Alert email keeping you on the cutting edge of all things local politics and cultural events. Check out its website at BlackberryPieSociety.org.
While the BPS leans progressive, it still focuses on facts, reason and civility. Living in a small town means you run into each other regularly. You share the sidewalks, stores and barstools with people you may not agree with.
Gail Hoelzle said it best when she was quoted in the Eugene Weekly story, “Pie Any Means Necessary,” by Donny Morrison, in its Jan. 16, 2020 edition: “In Cottage Grove, you know how to talk with people that you fundamentally disagree with and still respect each other as human beings – and I think that it’s the only hope for this country,” Hoelzle said.
Due to limited space, attendees are asked to confirm via [email protected]
Have fun, get facts, meet new folks, raise a glass and see how you can make this a better place. Talking is always preferable to arguing, with facts above rhetoric, and Pie for all!
Contact Dana at [email protected] or 541-942-7037.