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!

Five Secrets to Better Field Campaigns

With the 2022 primaries in full swing (goodbye Madison Cawthorn!), many campaigns are in canvas mode. To kick that outreach into high gear, here are Five Secrets to Better Field Campaigns. Subscribe to the Organizing to Win monthly newsletter for more! If the sign up box didn’t appear on this page, just click into any other page.

  1. Save the paper until the end. The door-hanger or palm card should be a voter’s reminder of their conversation with a canvasser, not a replacement for it. If a volunteer hands over the paper at the beginning of the conversation, the voter may read it instead of listening, at best! At worst, they will accept the paper, say “oh thanks,” and close the door.
  2. A voter isn’t “undecided” until you’ve asked at least twice. In theory, an undecided voter will get another knock, phone call or text later in the campaign. In reality, how likely is it that a volunteer will ever find that voter at home again? Seize the opportunity of the face-to-face conversation by giving more information and asking again. The script should always have a special Undecided section for this exact purpose.
  3. I’ll give you the short version.” When a voter answers the door with “I’m in a hurry. I don’t have time right now,” the right response is “Ok. I’ll give you the quick version,” then launch into the regular script. Because the real script is still only about two minutes long. Besides, when are you ever going to find that person at home again? Seize the moment!
  4. What have you heard so far about this race?” Use this question in a script just after the introduction and before giving information about the candidate. It provides for a tiny bit of interaction before launching into a couple of uninterrupted sentences from the canvasser. Plus, the canvasser can get an idea of whether the voter knows something already or has a particular issue in mind. 
  5. Almost every answer except Yes or No is Not Home. The guiding rule is that if the canvasser does not get to ask the question “Can we count on you to vote for our guy/gal?,” it’s probably a Not Home. Unfriendly voter? Maybe they’ll be in a better mood next time. Locked gate? Maybe another canvasser can get in or call. Too busy (and Secret #3 doesn’t work)? Try again next time.  The point is, coding that voter as a Not Home will put them back in the universe to try again.

PS. Undecided Not Home. A voter who is marked Undecided will be removed from the outreach universe; if you’re lucky, they will get a follow-up knock, phone call or text. But a Not Home will forever stay on the outreach list until there’s an answer to the question. 

Bonus: Deletes are rare. Only mark a voter delete if they passed away (and there isn’t a deceased option) or are so rude and obnoxious that you can’t subject another volunteer to their abuse. Sometimes, people are just having a bad day and they’ll be better the next time. (See Secret #5.)

A Drop the Mic Moment

Have you ever had a drop the mic moment? I’ve had one and the recognition came from an unexpected place.

It was during a prep session for an organizing training. We anticipated that the folks who came to this session would have a hard time internalizing what we meant by “organizing.” It was a group who were taught to rely on data to solve all their problems, yet love the romantic notion of organizing.

To be fair, it is a difficult concept to grasp unless you’ve done it. Sometimes we put the label “organizing” on a rally, the field program in a political campaign or a Twitterstorm. Those actions are really mobilizing. We organize before we can mobilize.

During this conversation, I was trying to link together the words that I associate with organizing: together, power, people.

So I came up with “organizing is bringing people together to build power.”

That’s when my boss dropped the mic.

He and I didn’t always see eye-to-eye and he’s usually better at finding a meaningful turn of phrase than I am. So, when he recognized the moment, I knew I had something.

That’s how “Organizing is bringing people together to build power” became Organizing Rule to Live By #10. (See the full list here or on social media below.)

Every Organizing to Win campaign or training starts with opportunities to build relationships, find common values and develop leadership.

If we’re going to bring lasting change to our communities, we have to do more than win. We have to build power.

Parent Power in Education

Blue easel sign that reads Vote Here in white in English and 8 other languages

Originally published in March 2022

Recently, a friend and I were debating the rhetoric around parents’ control over their children’s education. He felt strongly that to give parents a say in curriculum, lesson plans or strategies would be untenable nonsense.

“Do you really want some [blowhard] dictating what teachers teach?” he asked.

“Of course not, but I do want parents to have a voice in their child’s education,” I countered. Aside from the kids themselves, parents know their kids best.

That’s why I’m so excited to help education activists in Oakland to prepare for their next campaign. They’ll be supporting a local ballot measure to enfranchise non-citizen parents of public school students to vote in school board elections.

We don’t want the loudest parents in the room to make decisions for the whole district and we can’t let those obstructionists shut out the voices of the majority. Most parents simply want policies that improve the quality of the education their kids receive at school.

They want a voice in the policies that govern their kids’ education. In America, we call that voting. It’s one way parents can build power.

For this project, we’ll build power by bringing people together using the opportunity of the ballot measure to do it.

Stay tuned for (more) great things out of Oakland.

Organizing and Winning

3 people wearing black t-shirts that read Disarm Hate in rainbow lettering. 2 wearing blue t-shirts that read Brady Campaign Against Gun Violence. 2 wearing t-shirts that read Team Enough. 2 white signs that read #Enough Brady Campaign in blue. 1 black sign that reads Disarm Hate in rainbow lettering. 2 older white women. 1 Latinx boy in his teens or early twenties. 3 white girls in their teens. 1 Black girl in her teens.
Members of Brady United Against Gun Violence and Team Enough prepare to canvas.

Originally published in February 2022

The upcoming midterm elections have me thinking about organizing. (Doesn’t everything?)

A political campaign isn’t organizing. If we’re going to win long-term, election campaigns should be an opportunity for organizing.

Our objective should be to bring people together to build power, using the opportunity of the election to do it.

In 2018, leaders of Brady United Against Gun Violence wanted to strengthen their chapter structure – and win congressional campaigns.

Electing gun violence prevention (GVP) champions wasn’t enough to take on the sprawling power of the gun lobby though. GVP leaders had to build momentum to change the conversation about guns.

Our strategic campaign centered on bringing activists together in one-on-one meetings and house meetings. In these conversations, activists shared stories of their experiences with gun violence and what inspired them to join the movement. They also shared their vision for safer communities and strategized about what it would take to get there.

It turns out, that no matter what activists wanted to do about gun violence, we all needed a better Congress to do it. From there, activists signed up to knock on doors, make phone calls and reach out to their networks about voting for pro-GVP candidates.

We partnered with coalition allies to organize Gun Violence Prevention days in all of our highlighted districts. In one region with several key races, we organized a GOTV party, with stations for five different campaign actions for each endorsed candidate.

In the end, we won in 89% of the highlighted races and members loved the campaign. People who had never knocked on a door or made a phone call recruited others to knock or call with them. Organizers blew past the goals for new potential leaders and engaging members in campaigns.

Longtime leaders built new relationships with local allies and young GVP activists.

And . . . the new House passed a robust background check bill within six weeks of taking office. Candidates aren’t afraid to talk about GVP measures anymore and the National Rifle Association is a shadow of its former self. The gun conversation is changing.

All that in a four month campaign. Just think what we could do if we invested in organizing long term, using the opportunity of campaigns to do it, rather than the other way around.

To talk about what that investment could look like, reply here or get in touch! See this page for more of the Brady campaign story.

Organizing Rules to Live By

image with green background. Photo of Frederick Douglass with quote "Power concedes nothing without a demand" in white letters. Photo of Fred Ross Sr. and Dolores Huerta, with quote: "The mark of a good organizer is the attention she pays to the smallest detail" in white letters. Words read: Organizing Rules to Live By in grey letters.

Originally published in January 2022

Recently, I was part of a facilitation and coaching team for a multi-month training program for new organizers in the education space. As a training team, together we have over 150 years of organizing experience. What I learned from that team . . . Wow. Can’t be found in any book.

Over six months of the training, I heard us share many traditional and not so traditional organizing truisms.

I call them “Organizing Rules to Live By.”

With appreciation and thanks to the Community Organizer Training Program facilitation team, here are the top 10, with attribution where appropriate.

  1. Iron rule: Never do for someone what they can do for themself. (Industrial Areas Foundation)
  2. “The mark of a good organizer is the attention she pays to the smallest details.” (Fred Ross, Sr.)*
  3. People are experts in their own lives.
  4. We can’t be afraid to talk about power.
  5. Solutions should be led by those closest to the problem.
  6. “Organizing is transformational.” (Cathy Sarri, my first organizing supervisor)
  7. People do things when we ask them.
  8. Never thank people for doing something that benefits them.
  9. “Power concedes nothing without a demand.” (Frederick Douglass)
  10. Organizing is bringing people together to build power.

You will also see these rules on social media (@organizingtowin).

Post your own organizing rules to live by in the comments!

*Yes. Fred Ross said “she.”

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