Choose your battles: How small fights can make change happen

Quote: Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and  courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy. — Dale Carnegie

When I first started grad school, the professor who ended up becoming my thesis committee head said something to me that stuck with me the entire time I was working on my Master’s Degree. “I know you want to change the world,” he said. “But just focus on writing your thesis.” He was right. I wanted to make change happen.

It turns out, he knew that first-hand from his own pursuits. Ever since I can remember, my heart has pushed me to do things for others. I wanted to use my words—my writing—to create change. I often get so mired in the details—wanting to do more for those who need help, but not even knowing where to begin. Until an incident hit me pretty directly, and very hard.

Duh—this story begins with roller derby

When I first started playing roller derby with the Springfield Roller Girls, I was so intrigued by a skater named Rusty Razorskates. She started playing with SRG before returning back to Kansas City for awhile and skating with Dead Girl Derby (now Fountain City) until she returned back to Springfield.

I thought she was such an amazing girl. Not only was she all tatted out with a great haircut and, often, wild hair colors, but there was just something fascinating about her. She was so laid-back (until she went to hit you on the track) and friendly. She played hard, she skated hard, and loved hard. And everyone loved her in return.

I got to travel with her to several bouts, which meant lots of after parties and lots of dancing, as well as lots of time on the track together. Her name came from a Scissor Sisters song, so when the band came close to Springfield one summer, we knew we had to go see them play, and to this day, it’s one of the most unforgettable shows I’ve ever been to because of her.

Not long after that show, I moved to the Kansas City area and she ended up in Chicago for work, where she continued playing with the Windy City Rollers. I hadn’t seen her in years, except via Facebook, where I continued to enjoy watching as she lived an incredibly full life, trekking across the globe, biking and skating, and never knowing a stranger.

That brings us to October

Our small derby community was devastated to learn Rusty Razorskates was killed in a car accident in her current city of St. Louis. The more I probed, the more horrified I became.

Long story short, she was in the passenger seat of a car, which was T-boned. The driver exited the car to start a fight, realized Rusty wasn’t doing well, and took off on foot, resulting in a hit and run. Technically, she was killed on impact, but her body was kept on life support to stabilize her until her organs could be harvested as an organ donor. She ended up saving 5 lives. None of that surprised any of us.

What did surprise her friends was the fact that the car (which had expired tags) had been towed, no arrests had been made, it didn’t even make local news, and there seemed to be no justice in sight.

We couldn’t rest knowing that information. We had to make change happen.

We decided to fight

A group of us, led by Mallory’s best friend, Ivry, wanted justice. But we knew we couldn’t just sit and wait. We all started brainstorming what to do. As a writer with a journalism background, I went into contact mode and got in touch with media across St. Louis, Chicago, and Kansas City and raised my own questions: If a hit and run happened to our friend, how many other people does this happen to?

I only got one bite, but it was a big one. The reporter started making calls as soon as we talked.

At the same time, other friends were reaching out to St. Louis police, to detectives, to the businesses that surrounded the accident scene. We all refused to settle for complacency. That’s all it took to make change happen.

Roller derby connections helped once again

While Mallory’s circle of friends was grieving, so what the St. Louis roller derby community, when former Arch Rival skater, the Siege, died from ovarian cancer. I knew my friend and neighbor, who is both a retired Arch Rival derby girl and law professor at the University of Kansas, was grieving, too. I let her know I was thinking of her and told her I was also mourning a derby sister. She mentioned she had tagged a friend of hers in a Facebook post I wrote about Rusty after I explained nothing had been done.

“She’s a St. Louis alderman and she’s running for mayor of St. Louis. She’d be a good person to talk to,” she told me.

It turns out, this connection was what would propel an investigation.

The alderman, Cara, is a good friend of my neighbor’s and it turns out, Rusty was supportive of her mayoral campaign. I contacted her via Facebook, and she in turned called me to discuss what had happened. By the time we hung up the phone, she swore she would contact St. Louis PD and thanked our group for advocating on Rusty’s behalf. She said for many others in this situation, there are no advocates ensuring justice is served. That’s heartbreaking.

Days later, we received word another of Rusty’s friends had been in contact with Cara. She said the police department was taking the incident very seriously thanks to so many people pushing knowledge of it up the chain. At the same time, another woman in the group reached out to area businesses, who found footage of the accident, which detectives picked up and were able to use to find out who was driving the car.

For now, we are waiting for an arrest. And once that happens, we will celebrate. But in the meantime, we’re all still hurting and missing our friend, who didn’t deserve to have her life cut so violently short.

It takes more than one person to make change happen

Alone, I couldn’t have done much of anything. Not hearing back from most of the media I contacted could have stifled my passion alone. It took the support of an invested network of individuals who held tightly to the belief we could make change happen.

Before I end this, I was also devastated to learn of the death of another derby girl after both Rusty and the Siege passed away. Sam-I-Automatic from Fountain City died by suicide just days after Rusty and the Siege. It’s been so hard seeing our Midwestern roller derby community suffering. But what I saw between these three massive losses was an outpouring of love, a community that was banding together to tell stories and celebrate three incredible lives, and a bunch of women who supported each other through our own grief to keep their sisters’ fires burning.

I’ve said this for years,—I am grateful for my derby community. I have so much hope for what we’re doing for Mallory. That justice will be served. That a lack of action will become a thing of the past in St. Louis. And that together, we can see our collective energy truly can bring about change in world filled with so many injustices.

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