WASHINGTON – As an increasing number of national, provincial/state and local governments are instituting new guidelines, rules, and even mandates that limit social interactions and shut down non-essential businesses to slow the spread of COVID-19, people who are most at risk due to pre-existing health issues are finding themselves having to make difficult choices.
For people with auto-immune disorders or a reduced immune system, every trip to any place where other people are or have been can be deadly if they end up contracting the virus. People who are at-risk and live alone or have no near family or friends to rely on for assistance may be forced to choose between going out to get supplies and medicines they need or doing without. And what happens to their dependents or pet(s) if they do get sick and must be hospitalized?
Gwendolyn Reece, a Pagan priestess of Apollon and Athena based in Washington, D.C., has given this thorny problem some serious thought and come up with a clever and interesting solution based in communities rather than hierarchies.
Her idea is to create a blueprint for local and regional communities to organize and be able to respond to those most in need by bringing them together with those who possess a desire to help and be of service. She also pointed out that while the Pagan community is small, it is also geographically dispersed.
Reece outlined part of what has motivated her to develop a plan:
One of the things that is most concerning to me is that we are in an over-culture of toxic individualism that tells all of us and the people who we love that we should take care of ourselves and that asking for help makes us a burden. We have to fight that.
It would break my heart if I learned that someone I love was suffering and didn’t ask for help or didn’t know how to ask for help.
Part of the idea is to set up an expectation that we are checking in on each other. This situation is fast moving. It would be easy not to notice that someone hasn’t been on Facebook for a week.
The other thing is that by asking what help they are willing to provide, it sets up an expectation of some reciprocal relationship, which also will hopefully make them more likely to ask for help if they need it.
Reece is also a high priestess of Theophania, a coven of the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel, and an academic librarian at American University and has done scholarly work on social network theory. She used the elements of social network theory to help her develop her model, which she has named, Operation We Are Granny Weatherwax.
She drew inspiration for the model and name from Terry Pratchett’s fictional Discworld series and major character Granny Weatherwax, who is a witch in the books and described as:
“… Witches are not by nature gregarious, at least with other witches, and they certainly don’t have leaders. Granny Weatherwax was the most highly-regarded of the leaders they didn’t have.” Wyrd Sisters (1988)
The idea is simple; put the tools for organizing in the hands of those that most need them while identifying those people in positions to help and those who need help.
Social network theory plays a role in all of this by helping to identify three distinct types of power:
- Connector power – reflects the number of people a person knows
- Valence power – authority over or access to resources
- Bridging power – who a person knows or is connected to
Reece has designed the format to utilize roles, which she has named after characters in Pratchett’s Discworld series.
The “Granny Weatherwax” role within a community is a coordinator who identifies those in need of help and those who are willing to help. This role also seeks to find more people who are interested in functioning as another Granny Weatherwax and create their own network which they will oversee. The individual in the Granny Weatherwax role creates a spreadsheet of who needs what and who is willing to help in which ways.
The second role is that of a “Tiffany Aching.” This role checks in on those entered on the spreadsheet and helps connect those who have a need with those who are willing to do a specific set of tasks.
For instance, the spreadsheet might include those who need someone to walk their dog, and those interested in volunteering to walk someone else’s dog who can’t do it themselves. Or the participants who cannot the risk of going to the grocery or pharmacy being connected with those willing to run these types of errands for those who cannot.
Ideally, each Granny Weatherwax would have a maximum number of five Tiffany Achings and each Tiffany Aching would have a maximum of nine people they check in with and help coordinate activities. While the maximum size of a network would be 50 households, many networks could be much smaller.
Reece emphasized that the names of the roles are just that–names picked from a series of books written by a beloved author and recognized by many. Anyone of any gender can be a Granny Weatherwax or Tiffany Aching or whatever they want to call the roles.
“What I most want is for people to activate their social networks so that they can move quickly and help each other. Nobody has to do this exactly how I have designed it. You don’t have to have 50 households in your network to be a Granny Weatherwax…that is a maximum,” Reece said.
She continued, “There are tools here that are meant to help people and lessen the cognitive load so that people can spend their energy getting their network activated rather than having to think about HOW to do that.”
Reece’s sister, Emily has also played a role in helping to develop the various support forms that are available for free on the Operation We Are Granny Weatherwax website.
“My sister, who works at the Census, is a spreadsheet wizard and she made a template that makes it really easy to sort and filter. So, for example, if you have someone who needs a dog walker, you can quickly look to see who all has volunteered to walk dogs and make the link. Part of the reason to find some of this information out in advance is that we can target our requests to just those people who already said they are willing and speed things up,” explained Reece.
Reece also stressed that Operation We Are Granny Weatherwax is NOT an organization.
“This is not an organization and that is intentional. If this were a hierarchical structure and centrally managed, it wouldn’t be nimble enough to be effective. There’s no ‘signing up’ and there’s no leader. If you are ready to do it, go to the Granny Weatherwax instructions and start,” she stated.
She also said that if people who fulfill the role of a Granny Weatherwax and create their own networks opt to create their own websites for their local regions, she would be open to adding links to those sites on the Operation Granny Weatherwax website.
It is a resource to provide individuals and groups with the tools they need to organize what the website refers to as a “glorified phone tree.” For those unfamiliar with the term “phone tree,” it works like this: One person, usually a person in authority, like the head of a community resource group or family sends out a message to select people who make up “a branch” of the tree. In turn, each person or branch of the tree has an “X” number of people they notify when there is important information to be passed along. It saves time so that no one ends up making hundreds of calls and shares the load and responsibility.
Reece believes that the time for us to get organized is now. The global crisis that everyone is facing is fluid and moving at what seems to be a blindingly fast pace. A top-down organization may not be able to respond as quickly as individuals at the highest risk may require. By spreading the responsibility across a network of people, more people can get the help they need, when they need it.
“We can do this. We can take care of each other and the people we love. Pagans are strong and our networks are already powerful. We just need to activate them. I believe in us.”