Our Candidates (might) Make History!

photo of Zekiah Wright, a Black nonbinary person with short twists and glasses, wearing a grey jacket, white shirt and bow tie. Photo of Stephanie Wade, a white trans woman in a blue patterned dress, sitting in a grey Adirondack chair on a brick patio with a palm tree behind her.
(l to r) Zekiah Wright and Stephanie Wade

You’ve heard all the election recaps right? Democrats did better than expected. Some races still too close to call. No red wave. Blah, blah, blah. Let’s move on. . .

. . . . to runoffs. No, not that runoff.

The Organizing to Win runoff!

In addition to working with clients on organizing structure, I worked with two candidates this cycle, both in local races.

Stephanie Wade – Seal Beach

Stephanie Wade is running for city council in the lovely, little beachside city of Seal Beach, CA. She made it to the runoff and will face her main opponent again in January. We’re confident that Stephanie’s lead (at press time) of 56 votes will hold up – if we do everything right.

If (when!) she wins, Stephanie will be the only veteran on the council in a city with a major Naval installation and the only surfer on the council in this surfer town. Her progress is historic, as she would be the first trans woman elected in Orange County.

Our biggest challenge is showing Stephanie’s deep commitment to a community where she’s lived for just a year. (She jokes that she’s so Seal Beach that she’s like a Soviet dissident who reminds us how much we love America.) With a side of transphobia. The good news is that she is a master at building relationships. With her charm, my strategy and a powerhouse team of volunteers, we’ve built a winning campaign.

Zekiah Wright – West Hollywood

I also worked with Zekiah Wright, a quiet star on the West Hollywood leadership scene. They take on issues with a values-first approach, accepting the challenge of talking about their bold, progressive views. They are one of the most authentic and uncompromising candidates with whom I’ve worked.

Z was one of 12 candidates running for 3 seats on the WeHo city council. For two weeks after election day, they were in 6th place and I thought “we ran a good race, but it wasn’t enough this time.”

But wait a minute now . . . .

In one day, they leapfrogged into fourth place! At press time, they are only 18 votes out of third place. And counting.

Z would make history as the first non-binary person and first Black person on the WeHo city council.

So how did these two relative newcomers make such an impact?

Relationships and communication.

Stephanie never met someone she didn’t want to get to know better. Zekiah never met a hard question they didn’t want to answer. Both candidates focused on building relationships – and the rest comes naturally. Win or not, they are both well-positioned to have impacts on their communities from now on.

Stay tuned to OTW social media for updates!

Weird

a pair of white hands holding a scrap of paper that reads "This new girl is weird." Background is an open book on a table.
📸 : @cottonbro studios

“I like being weird. People remember you that way. They say ‘Hey, I remember you. You’re the weird one.’”

-Sylvia Gordon (aka my mom) circa 1980

You know how there’s one kid in every school that no one likes and everyone bullies?

Yep. That was me. Every day from 3rd to 8th grade.

Because I was one of three Jewish kids in the district (including my sister)?

I was a girl with opinions?

In third grade I was the new kid and it just stuck?

Because a popular girl got in a fight one morning with her parents and took it out on me?

Who knows? (Before you ask, teachers were no help. My third grade teacher said I was too sensitive; I needed to develop a “thick skin.”)

Somewhere around sixth grade, I started to realize that there were other people who were treated badly just for being who they were. And then blamed for it.

Let’s be clear. Six years of bullying is not the same as six hundred years of oppression.

The experience did give me an affinity for other people who struggle with acceptance because someone thinks they’re “weird.”

My mom’s “weird” quote was partly about embracing uniqueness. However, the stronger message was that bullying was more about the insecurity of the bullies than it was about me.

Bullying and White Supremacy Culture

Just like racism and antisemitism aren’t about people of color or Jews. Hate is about the insecurity, fear and inhumanity of the haters. It’s about their discomfort with questioning a version of “normal” that rejects everyone else. The return of antisemitism, rise in extremist violence and rehabilitation of hateful rhetoric all point to a return to a Jim Crow culture.

When the dominant culture puts the burden of undoing racism on people of color, we are blaming them for being “too sensitive,” just like my third grade teacher.

White supremacy culture should not be normal. If we’re going to build the culture that our value statements say we want, we have to question what’s “normal” and what’s “weird.”

Janedra Sykes, Catherine Shieh and I offer customized white supremacy culture disruption programming to explore these questions in nonprofit organizations and campaigns. Programs could include training, facilitated employee resource group conversations, white supremacy culture review and relationship-building exercises.

Not sure what a new normal could look like? Drop the word “weird” in the comments and I’ll reach out to talk about it. For an example, see the Services and Client Anecdotes page.

Are you a Witch?

four women holding blue abortion rights signs with fists raised in the air
photo credit: @AFPandrew @AFPphoto

Don’t you love Halloween? The costumes. The adorable kids. The candy. (The day-after-Halloween candy sales.) The silliness.

I especially love all the witches. And by witch, I mean:

Woman

In

Total

Control of

Herself

Since June 24, there are a whole lot of witches out there. We’re marching, raising money, speaking out, knocking on doors, making noise and running for office. We’re also organizing.

When women, or members of any historically excluded community, take control of ourselves, big things happen.

And that’s what organizing is all about. Every organizing campaign is about more than winning. In the very process of organizing, we transform ourselves and our communities. We take control of our lives and our future. Ask any worker who has organized a union at their workplace. The change is not just about the legal ability to negotiate a raise or better hours. The victory is in the transformation of the workers and the workplace into one where workers have some control.

When I worked with women union members in Florida during an election campaign, it was immediately obvious which members had organized their union and which had inherited it. Many members at long-time-union workplaces already participate in campaigns and contract enforcement.

Workers who had organized their union felt the collective power because they had built it. They were the first to sign up for volunteer actions. Every single member in that unit joined the political action fund. They surpassed their goals for engaging their co-workers and friends in the campaign. They were in total control of themselves.

Organizing is bringing people together to build power. When we have power in our communities, we take control of the decisions that affect our lives.

Be a witch. 🧙‍♀️

Meet the Future of Local Politics

Zekiah Wright, a Black person with natural, short dreads, wearing glasses, smiling and looking up and to the side. Wearing a grey blazer, white button-down shirt and a blue bowtie.

Please meet Zekiah Wright! Z – as they’re known – is running for the city council to protect the unique culture of West Hollywood. Their vision for the city includes more affordable housing, stronger renter protections and more accountable law enforcement. Their experience as an employment and housing attorney means they are ready to take on the toughest issues that California cities face, especially housing.

Did you catch that? “They?” That’s right. Z would also make history as the city’s first nonbinary and first Black city council member. Even in famously progressive West Hollywood, there is work to do.

I’m particularly proud to work with Z because of their outlook on campaigns. When we first met, we connected over our shared belief that campaigns should be about more than winning. They should be opportunities to bring people together to build power. We are totally in sync about the power of a good field campaign!

Want to invest in this emerging leader? Here’s their donation page.

Someone Always Calls the Cops

photo of a middle-aged white police officer in uniform writing a ticket.
Photo by @KindelMedia

During every campaign I’ve ever worked, the field team faces a consistent problem:

Someone calls the cops on a canvasser of color, for nothing more than walking through the neighborhood with a clipboard and some door hangers.

Every. Single. Campaign. And it doesn’t happen to white canvassers.

Some resident, usually white (although not always), calls the cops about suspicious characters roaming the neighborhood. In the best case scenario, the cops roll their eyes at Karen or Chad, notify the canvassers that they’ve received a complaint and move on.

These cops are few and far between.

In my experience, most cops agree with Karen and Chad that Black and Latine people walking through a white neighborhood are up to no good. They track down those canvassers and demand that they leave (and not politely). Not wanting to cause trouble and following our instructions, the canvassers usually do.

By now, you may be thinking “What’s the big deal? The cops ask them to leave and they do. No harm. No foul.”

Lots of harm. Big foul.

There’s the pervasive belief that the cops only talk to someone if they’re doing something wrong. As soon as that person shows they’re not doing anything wrong, all is well, right? Wrong.

Any law abiding citizen who is stopped by the cops for no reason will feel a stigma. Pile on law enforcement’s terrible record of violence against people of color, and we have a recipe for lots of harm and a big foul against justice. Many people of color have lived a lifetime of “the talk;” getting stopped by the cops for no reason must be terrifying.

This throw-back to Jim Crow literally prevents you and the team from getting the work done. More importantly, it’s a manifestation of white supremacy culture that we, as progressives, are committed to disrupting.

Many of us who aren’t people of color automatically leap into “savior” mode and try to fight the power (the cops, the racist residents) right away, before considering the needs of the people who have been harmed.

When it happens in your campaign, there are three steps to take.

1: Protect the Well-Being of Canvassers

Your first priority is the well-being of the canvassers. If they don’t feel safe – both physically and emotionally – they can’t do their jobs, the campaign can’t get contacts and our equity values have been undermined. Talk with the canvassers to ask about their experience and how they feel about it. Ask what would make them feel safer, both physically and emotionally. (And remember, if you don’t share identity with the canvassers, their experience will be different than yours.)

2: Talk to the Cops

Next, call the local precinct to report the incident. Spoiler alert: they will get defensive. However, it’s important to talk to them about it anyway. The cops have to know you’re watching and it will send a message to the canvasser that you took them seriously. (Be careful not to identify the canvassers to the cops. Don’t make it worse.)

The cops will also probably insist that if a resident calls them, they have to respond. Really?!?! There are lots of residents “on the wrong side of the tracks” that might disagree.

If your campaign has a relationship with the appropriate law enforcement union, try asking a union staff person or leader to communicate with their members or counterparts in police management.

3: Report Back to Canvassers

Finally, report back to the canvasser. Tell them what you said to the cops and how you will protect their safety going forward.

Is this really hard?

Yes. Does it take time away from everything else you have to do? Yes. Will it give you anxiety to talk to the cops (on purpose)? Probably.

Not doing it undermines the campaign work, and even worse, our values of equity and inclusion. Disrupting white supremacy culture means disrupting it everywhere, including in our campaigns.

July at OTW: Two Years In

image in the style of a Tarot card. Grey top hat with a dollar sign and red band. Roman number III and a lightning bolt at the top with grey clouds framing the corners. Raindrops fall around the hat. Stacks of golden coins and the words The Capitalism along the bottom.
Image credit: @teenvogue

When I started Organizing to Win two years ago, I didn’t have big dreams of being my own boss. I didn’t care about being a small business owner. There were no visions of entrepreneurship dancing in my head.

I was just frustrated. I had spent the previous year applying for jobs, interviewing, networking, writing resumes and cover letters. Nothing fit. Then, after one particularly weird (not bad, just weird) interview experience, it all clicked.

I left that interview thinking (1) I don’t want that job and (2) why am I killing myself to fit in places I don’t fit? I want to help bring people together to build power. Whether I do that as an employee of one organization or as a consultant to lots of organizations, doesn’t really matter.

The Business that Became Organizing to Win was Born.

Since then, I’ve had some amazing opportunities, like training a cadre of women political leaders in St. Louis, parent leaders in California and education justice organizers across the country. I was also fortunate to provide organizing and training strategy support to environmental justice organizers in Georgia, elect fun and inspiring candidates and help change the conversation about gun violence in our country.

I’ve discovered two main challenges in building this business. First, women are taught not to speak up about our accomplishments or skills. We’re not supposed to bring attention to what we do and we’re definitely not supposed to talk about ourselves. Apparently, I have internalized those rules really well.

These days, I completely break all those internalized rules to post to social media about my work, write about victories and display my expertise in blog posts and LinkedIn. (Not to mention here, in this newsletter!) 😨

(BTW, you can help with this challenge – follow me on social media with the buttons in the footer, and invite a friend to subscribe to this newsletter!)

Next, the last job I had at a for-profit enterprise was in 1991. Everything since then has been nonprofit organizations, unions and political campaigns.

Now, I have to be a salesperson, marketer and, most disconcerting of all, a capitalist. It’s an odd position for someone who fancies herself a union organizer* and anti-racist.

I’ve learned a lot, met some amazing people and I’m proud of the work I’ve done so far.

What’s Next?

I look forward to what comes next. There are a few new projects waiting in the wings but I don’t want to jinx it by telling you before they’re ready!Thanks for your support. If we haven’t connected in a while, let’s chat! Use the contact form to get in touch.

*I can’t count how many discussions I had with union members about why asking co-workers to join the union or the political action fund wasn’t “selling” or “marketing.”

New Campaigns, New Candidates – Brights Spots in 2022

Seal Beach pier and blue ocean in the foreground. Beach and snow-capped mountains in the background

I won’t lie. June has been a hard month. January 6th Committee hearings that reveal just how close we are to losing our democracy. Supreme Court decisions that recognize more rights for guns than for women. Inflation and looming recession. It’s a lot.

With federal elections and policy in such turmoil, I’m inspired by action on the state and local levels. There are bright spots.

I’m so excited to work with Stephanie Wade in her campaign for Seal Beach City Council. A new resident of Seal Beach, she chose that city on purpose – for the surfing, for the community, for the small town feel in the middle of hyper-urban Orange County. Like a convert to a new religion, she is more Seal Beach than many long-time residents. 💯🏄‍♀️

Stephanie is part of what is turning into a wave of visible trans political leadership. See Virginia Del. Danica Roem, Palm Springs Mayor Lisa Middleton, Delaware State Senator Sarah McBride, Minneapolis City Council President Andrea Jenkins and many, many more.

She was inspired to run by needs she saw in her community.

“Seal Beach is a dynamic, beautiful community. To protect that special feel, we have to protect our beaches, keep our city safe and be strategic about housing,” Stephanie says.

The campaign will focus on the fundamentals – building relationships with voters, talking about issues and getting out the vote. Steph and I both believe that if we ask voters to vote for her, she might win. But if we build relationships with voters, she can win on the issues that inspired her to run in the first place.

Want to be part of this inspiring campaign? Donate to Stephanie Wade here.

Paid Field Teams: Three Red Flags You Can’t Ignore

Back in 2012, I was talking to a political consultant friend about checking nightly canvasser numbers to maintain the campaign data integrity. He didn’t know what I was talking about.

Wait. What? You don’t review every canvasser’s numbers every night? Total knocks? Dials? Contacts? Nope. He just looks at the totals.

Well, in that case, I can guarantee that those numbers are suspect. Someone is lying.

With planning underway for fall campaigns, it’s time to review the Three Red Flags You Can’t Ignore. The campaign is a race against time; ignoring these red flags could mean the difference between time well-spent in the field and time (and money) wasted.

Numbers are unrealistically high.

When a canvasser* reports that she had conversations with 50 voters at 100 doors knocked, she’s probably lying. How do I know? A good canvasser can knock on about 100 doors in a five-hour shift. Of those 100 doors, they will have conversations with 20-25 people. A canvasser who reports a conversation at more than 40 of those homes is making it up. 

If you suspect a canvasser’s numbers, call a few voters they claimed to talk to. It’s really important to call more than one or two and do it right away. Voters sometimes forget a legit conversation with a canvasser soon after they shut the door.

A canvasser once reported in with a yes, no or undecided for every single voter on whose door she knocked. And then she was indignant when I asked her how she found so many people at home. She was fired immediately.

*Volunteers lie too, but much, much less often and for different reasons.

High undecided or delete numbers.

As noted in Five Secrets to Better Field Campaigns, almost every conversation that doesn’t result in a yes or no is a Not Home. More than low-single-digit undecideds might mean that a canvasser is too timid. (It might also mean they’re trying to be clever about making up fake numbers.)

The script should include a standard Undecided section, so canvassers have an immediate resource to keep the conversation going. My guideline is that I don’t mark a voter undecided until I’ve asked the question “Can I count on you to vote for [candidate name]” at least twice. Also, to build canvasser’s confidence, conduct short drills on moving undecided voters. 

Locked gates, gated communities, broken doorbells or barking dogs should all be coded Not Home, at least for one round. Maybe the next canvasser is more comfortable following another resident through a gate. Maybe the next canvasser likes dogs (some even carry a few dog treats in their pocket!). 

Substance abuse

ICYMI, there’s an addiction crisis in the US. Most field directors find out about substance abuse on their campaigns because other canvassers tell them. (Once, I found out because a team lead found a packet of meth on the office floor.) 

The initial training should include an explicit spoken and written rule against alcohol or drugs at work. (Yes, there has to be a rule.) I usually say “Alcohol and drugs are prohibited here, inside your body or out.” Coming to work high, buzzed or otherwise under the influence is an immediate firing offense, as is carrying alcohol or drugs into the office or on a canvassing route. 

When you inevitably discover someone breaking that rule, the whole team needs the “come to Jesus” talk. Start by apologizing to the vast majority of the team for what you’re about to say; they work hard and obey the rules. Then read them the riot act. The message must be loud and clear that drugs and alcohol are not allowed. 

During this talk after the meth incident, I was touched when another canvasser said he appreciated my toughness because he was in recovery and struggling with his sobriety. He was working hard to win the election and his own health; he didn’t need to fight someone else’s addiction too.

Note: For many of us, this section probably sounds pretty harsh, for personal and systemic reasons. We believe that addiction is an illness that needs treatment, not isolation. But we’re not social workers and we’re here to win. Try including an offer of resources for addiction recovery in your come-to-Jesus talk. The national substance abuse referral and information hotline is 1-800-662-4357 (English and Spanish).

Most canvassers are a hard-working, honest, nice people.

Some do the work because it’s a job, but many do it because it also represents their values. It’s hard to talk to strangers for five hours a day if you don’t believe in the cause.

Unfortunately, there are exceptions. Even more unfortunately, those exceptions must be fired. Out of respect for everyone else. To maintain the integrity of your data. And because we’re here to win!

Need someone to design and run a strategic and rigorous field campaign this fall? Let’s talk!

A Culture of Violence

With guest co-author Sylvia Gordon (aka Mira’s mom)

Text of the Second Amendment to the US Constitution in black colonial script on a white background with a green border. A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

On December 14, 2012, Sylvia turned 71. Also on December 14, 2012, Adam Lanza made sure 28 people at Sandy Hook Elementary would never turn 71. Sixteen of them wouldn’t even turn 7.

If that memory is a shadow over Sylvia’s birthday, we can’t imagine the extreme trauma that families in Newtown feel every December 14. Or families in communities that are torn apart by preventable gun violence every day.

The murder of more children on someone else’s birthday in Uvalde TX moved us to tears. Again. Not only tears of sadness for the parents and children who will never celebrate another birthday, but tears of anger and frustration.

Why does this keep happening? The thing is, it’s not just Adam Lanza. Or Dylan Roof. Or Payton Gendron. Or Omar Mateen. It’s the hostage situation the extremists have put us in and our culture of violence.

Out-of-control lobbyists have taken us hostage, preventing legislatures from passing common sense reforms. Also, there is a huge, gaping, black hole of leadership on the pro-violence side of this issue. (Yes, we said “pro-violence.”)

We must free ourselves from our captors and pass some new laws. Universal background checks on all firearms transfers, even gifts. Mandatory firearms training and liability insurance. Safe storage off-site, staffed by a licensed attendant. A ban on assault weapons. A ban on ghost guns. No gun ownership before age 25. A ban on large ammo clips. A national registry of gun violations so someone whose gun has been taken away in New York can’t get a new one next door in Pennsylvania.

And here’s the big one: repeal the Second Amendment. We have a well regulated militia. When the framers wrote the Constitution, there was no common defense of the newly-established nation. Now, we have the best trained and equipped military force in the world. We trust the members of our armed services to keep us safe. Also, if you support the police, then support their calls for stricter gun regulation.

Even if our wish list was fulfilled, it wouldn’t be enough. If we don’t address our culture of violence, then white supremacists, extremists, and plain old angry white men will find other ways to take their anger out on innocent people. Where is the leadership from gun owners? From conservatives? From the NRA?

We don’t ask people of color to solve racism, so why are we asking people who don’t own guns to solve gun violence?

Gun owners and people opposed to common sense gun reforms must step up. Real leaders will send the message to their sister and brother Second Amendment advocates that frustration, anger and fear of change are not excuses for violence.

Being angry is ok.* Owning guns is ok. But not together. It is not ok to take out anger by spraying gunfire on innocent people.

We are waiting for the pro-gun crowd to prove to us that gun rights advocacy and hate don’t go hand in hand. Until conservatives and gun rights advocates start shutting down the replacement theorists, white supremacists and otherwise disaffected (mostly) white (mostly) men with guns, we will continue to call them pro-violence.

*Anger that’s not ok: white supremacy. Transphobia. Misogyny. Homophobia. You get our point.

Root Causes and Organizing Strategy Coaching

tree silhouette with deep roots on white background.

Big news!

Starting this month, Organizing to Win’s (OTW) mission expands to include white supremacy disruption consulting and organizing strategy coaching.

If you read the Organizing to Win newsletter regularly (thank you!), you may have noticed an emphasis on what is sometimes called diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). While DEI programs are important, I prefer to talk about disrupting the root causes of injustice – white supremacy culture. While none of us committed crimes against humanity like slavery or genocide of Indigenous people, many of us benefit from their continuing legacy. It is up to us to break down that white supremacy culture and begin building a culture of justice.

While each OTW white supremacy disruption program is customized for the organization, key elements include exploring identity, building relationships and an emphasis on unlearning and learning new. Caution: light bulb moments ahead! 💡

Throughout my organizing career, some of my best ideas came when I could “think out loud.” I’m grateful for the support of more senior organizers who offered feedback and gently moved me back on track when I got diverted.

I look forward to providing that support to others. Starting in June, I’ll offer one-on-one and small group coaching. In these sessions, we’ll focus on talking through challenges, building skills and applying new training to real life situations.

To learn more about these ideas for your organization, see the newly updated home page. Or contact me here!

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