The Third Thirty

A Community Story Project by Window Seat Media

THE THIRD THIRTY 
Amplifying the Voices South Sound Elders

"Olympia is a diverse community, and capturing the stories of our seniors helps illustrate this point in a very tangible way. I was amazed by each of the stories captured in our class. The experiences of the narrators were varied and unique. When we listen to them all at once, it gives us a sense of the tapestry of history that makes up the community of the South Sound. " - 2019 Cohort Participant

What Is The Third Thirty? 

The Third Thirty is an oral history project that gathers and shares stories from South Sound elders. The purpose of the project is invite people between the ages 60 and 90 to reflect on a question or theme and to share a bit of their truth with our community. The stories are gathered by Thurston County residents – many who are also in their “third thirty” years of life – who enroll in an eight-week long project based course taught by WSM Curator, Elaine Vradenburgh, through Senior Services Lifelong Learning Program. Participants learn the art and practice of oral history, build their listening and interviewing skills, and consider the ethical issues of gathering and sharing other peoples’ stories. Each participant interviews a community member, transcribes the interview in full, and then edits the transcript into a short, cohesive story. We share the stories (with permission from the person whose story it is) at a public reading and conversation hosted and facilitated by WSM, and they live on in the WSM archive.

2020 Story Series

2020 welcomed our third cohort of community oral historians with new guiding questions:

What ingredients are needed for creativity, collaboration, and innovation to flourish – within ourselves and within our communities? What is possible when these values guide our communities? 

Our series is grounded in Olympia, Washington, a small city at the southernmost tip of the Puget Sound, the traditional lands of the Nisqually, Chehalis, Squaxin and Puyallup, the state capitol. We’ll hear from people who lived here or were drawn to this place in the 1970s. This was a period of large scale disruption. People who came of age during this time were born in the shadow of the devastation of atomic bombs and when the South was still segregated. They grew up during the Civil Rights Movement and war in Vietnam, when women were fighting for equal rights and when there was a growing awareness of environmental issues, like health-threatening pesticides and pollution, as well as habitat degradation from industrial scale resource extraction.

Olympia went through a significant transformation during this time – from a quiet town that was rooted in its place as the State Capitol, a transportation hub ,and its waterfront industry to an incubator for creativity and activism that many continue to celebrate as a central part of the city’s identity today. So many of the city’s community-based  institutions - the Olympia Film Society, the Farmers Market and Food Coop, the EvergreenState College - all came to life during those years. They were started by groups of people who wanted to reimagine our food systems, design new ways to teach and learn, create space for independent and experimental art.

We are living through another period of disruption - in the midst of a pandemic and when there are urgent calls for truth and justice for the lives of Black Americans. We are offering this mosaic of voices, not as a way to compare these times or offer solutions, but in the hopes that these reflections and stories may provide some nourishment and care and wisdom as we do the hard work of reimagining a future together in Olympia today.    

This year's project will culminate in a virtual conversation series and outdoor exhibit. Stay tuned for more information this fall! 

What Makes This Oral History Project Unique?

"This class was an exploration of a different kind of listening and a different type of interview. Through the specific class assignment and Elaine's expert coaching, I was able to produce a compelling narrative from an interview with someone I admire deeply."​ -Kris Tucker, Fall 2018 Cohort 
Debe Edden (left) with Lonnie Lock (right)

Oral history offers a method to amplify local knowledge so that we can problem-solve in ways that are more inclusive and just. Contemporary practitioners are focused on gathering and sharing stories from people who have been left out, marginalized, or misunderstood in our largerAmerican narrative. The stories serve as an invaluable primary resource that feed into our institutional memory and expand our understanding of our shared history. WSM is part of this community of practice, and its founding staff, Elaine Vradenburgh, has an advanced degree in the field.

The peer-to-peer nature of the project offers seniors in our community with an opportunity to explore and validate shared experience while gaining insights into the ways in which their particular histories and identities shape their outlook and circumstances. Our stories include community members from different racial, ethnic, socio-economic, and religious backgrounds, as well as regional differences. As one participant reflected: "Olympia is a diverse community, and capturing the stories of our seniors helps illustrate this point in a very tangible way. I was amazed by each of the stories captured in our class. The experiences of the narrators were varied and unique. When we listen to them all at once, it gives us a sense of the tapestry of history that makes up the community of the South Sound. " We find that by focusing on a broad theme and carefully curating a public gathering to share the stories, we were able to surface and engage with challenging and often polarizing issues with safety and respect – for our oral historians, their narrators, and the public who came to listen to the stories.      

We are not only building a collection of stories that people can access online to understand the unique challenges and gifts of this generation, but also a community of practice that is grounded in deep listening, asking transformative questions, and honoring the knowledge that comes from our lived experience. Through the process of both gathering and sharing stories of their peers, seniors have the opportunity to deepen their connection to each other and honor the life and work of their peers.

How To Get Involved

If you'd like to help gather stories or share your story, please contact Elaine Vradenburgh at elaine@windowseatmedia.org.