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!

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.

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. (**See “Pro-Tip” below.)
  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.

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

*Yes. Fred Ross said “she.”

Health, Justice and Victories

Organizing to Win logo with confetti and streamers. Marching women figures are making a champagne toast and holding banners. Text reads Happy New Year 2022.

Originally published in December 2021

Remember all those memes from the end of 2020? When we thought “Whew. 2020 is done. Come on 2021!” And we thought it would be all over, like a bad dream.

As it turns out, 2021 was a little rocky.

Good news: Joe Biden won! Bad news: So did almost every other Republican challenger.

Good news: kids went back to school! Bad news: Delta and Omicron.

Good news: guilty verdicts for Derek Chauvin and Kim Potter. Bad news: police still killed Black people at a rate that is twice their representation in the population.

Good news: 204 million people in the US are vaccinated against Covid-19. Bad news: Don’t visit Idaho, Wyoming, Louisiana, Mississippi or Alabama.

Good news: unemployment is down to 4.2% Bad news: inflation

Good news: workers at Kellogg, John Deere and Nabisco and members of IATSE won strikes! Bad news: employers still act like employers.

Both good news and bad news can inspire us to greater action. In 2022, I look forward to working with education, climate change and democracy protection leaders and activists to build power for justice.

We have the opportunity to build relationships and power in communities that are historically excluded. We have the opportunity to protect ourselves against oligarchy and build our democracy. We have the opportunity to organize to win.

Thank you for your endless support in 2021. I am grateful for the conversations, introductions to new people, generosity with your insights and good will. I hope to return those favors next year and every year after.

May your 2022 be filled with health, justice and victories.

What Are We Willing to Question?

Rally main stage with a purple banner that reads "We Won't Go Back!"
Main stage at 1992 reproductive rights march Photo credit @kvelte

Originally published in November 2021

Earlier this year, I started to think about what I had done in past in campaigns and projects that perpetuated, rather than disrupted, white supremacy, even if I didn’t know it at the time. Most of us do it because we’re conditioned to think that certain practices are normal or “the way things are,” when they are really legacies of white supremacy.

An example? Sure.

In the early ‘90’s, I organized college speaking events for the officers of a national feminist organization, as part of the organizing plan for a reproductive rights March in Washington DC. In Pennsylvania, the president did a week-long organizing tour. I don’t remember all the schools where I arranged a speech, but the list looked something like this: Bryn Mawr, Bucknell, Carnegie Mellon, Franklin and Marshall Colleges, Gettysburg College, Haverford and Swarthmore.

Notice anything? Yep. They’re all private. And then we wondered why the campus delegations to the March were so overwhelmingly white and middle-class.

While I was proud that students represented about a third of the 750,000 people who came to the March, I’m not proud of my role in perpetuating such exclusion. The urgency of building a crowd can’t replace our anti-racist values of inclusion and equity.

Then I started to wonder where else I’d contributed to traditions of oppression and where I disrupted them.

That interest was the genesis for a workshop that I developed with Cat Shieh called “Disrupting Traditions of Oppression in Organizations.” If I was trying to re-examine my usual practices, maybe others are too. Cat had created innovative curriculum for ethnic studies classes and piloted anti-racism, anti-bias curriculum for students, making her the perfect partner for this work.

In the session, we lead a discussion of the characteristics of white supremacy in organizations. Then, we offer several (real-life) scenarios for an exercise we like to call “What’s wrong with this picture?” Participants identify the places where white supremacy rears its ugly head and brainstorm equitable solutions.

The workshop was very well-received at last year’s Organizing 2.0 conference and we look forward to facilitating it again for the Nonprofit Technology Conference in March 2022. (Read more and register here.)

To talk more about disrupting white supremacy in your organization, get in touch!

Sustainable Futures

Organizing to Win has joined with a new venture called Sustainable Futures (SF) to organize with historically excluded communities in Atlanta. Founder Adrienne Rice’s dream is to build “green economy pathways for ‘Black’ and people of color in the South by using the foundational methods of relational organizing.” SF is a Black-woman-led collective of expert organizers and veteran community leaders working to build power in marginalized communities to advance an inclusive economy and environmental justice.

The history of systemic racism in our culture means that any new industry is built by and for white (mostly) men. To fight the double-headed dragon of climate change and system racism, we must build power to create a green economy that is inclusive and equitable. It won’t happen by magic, but the opportunity of a new economy offers a chance to build it right the first time.

The first step is a campaign of house meetings to bring together community members in three or four counties around Atlanta, GA. Next, we’ll work with those community members to measure Atlanta area residents’ understanding of environmental and climate justice issues.

Image of climate stripes representing temperature change in Georgia since 1895. Colors fluctuate between light and dark blue, red and white. Dark red in the last several years. Image credit: https://showyourstripes.info/s/globe/

As the campaign ramps up, it will also be a leadership development opportunity for multiple classes of fellows from historically excluded communities in the Atlanta region. Fellows will learn transformative organizing skills, while building a sustainable future in Georgia. We hope to also introduce the fellows to leaders in the energy, climate justice and business sectors. Fellows will come from partner organizations and the community at large. Unlike many fellowship programs, this program is not limited to students.

I started Organizing to Win with a vision of bringing people together to build power. The SF model is so exciting because we are focused not just on influencing a politician, electing certain leaders or influencing policy. We are creating an entirely new economy, led by the people closest to the problem of that double-headed dragon.

Check back here or on the Organizing to Win social channels for updates -including the launch of SF’s social media and website.

Same Skill, Different Day

With guest co-author Ash Lynette.

protestors with heads down and fists raised
Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash @clay.banks

As organizers, Ash and Mira see our roles as bringing people together to build power. Ash is a senior resource organizer at the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights (EBC). Mira is the founder and organizer-in-chief at Organizing to Win. 

Mira recently tuned in to a video interview of an alumni director that reminded her of a conversation with Ash about how similar fundraising and organizing are. Mira expected to learn about alumni programs, but re-learned a completely different lesson. If she replaced the words “alumni” and “fundraising” with “members” and “organizing,” it could have been either of us in that interview!

In both EBC’s concept of “resource organizing” and traditional organizing, we are bringing people together to build power. Authentic organizing centers the people closest to the struggle; in the case of EBC, that’s mass incarceration. Activists organize peer-to-peer fundraising events to leverage not just their own money, but also their connections. This expansive view of fundraising shifts who has power in fundraising itself, just as organizing transforms power in society.

To be good at both kinds of organizing, we have to build relationships and partner with members and other stakeholders.

Mira recently applied that lesson to raising money for a volunteer organizing committee. This ad-hoc group of strangers came together to organize a local action that was part of a national Day of Action for voting rights. After humbly bragging about her extensive experience organizing large actions, the team realized that their greatest need was money, not renting porta-potties or negotiating permits.

Remembering several conversations with union leaders about their mutual values of equity, justice and people power, Mira reached out to talk about the action. Several conversations later, she had raised almost half of the budget.

At EBC, the Resource Organizing Crew (including formerly incarcerated people and supporters) creates messaging and outreach tools to support members in their peer-to-peer campaigns. They created a toolkit, sample social media posts, and a webinar that walks new volunteers through how to run a peer-to-peer campaign.

The strongest campaigns start with the strongest relationships. Whether we’re bringing people together to build power or raising the resources to make it all happen, our ability to build authentic relationships matters most. 

Building relationships and asking people to take action are fundamental skills for successful fundraising and organizing. If you’re an organizer, check out the EBC Resource Organizing Crew page to learn how fundraisers apply the concept. If you’re a fundraiser who wants to build a deeper organizing culture at your organization, let’s talk

Ash Lynette (they, them) is a proud resource organizer in the Bay Area, California. At the Ella Baker Center, Ash works with EBC’s supporters to help folks draw the connection between their political work and their efforts to fund the movement. They love going on hikes, thinking/talking about the end of capitalism, and hanging out with their tiny dog. 

Nine Minutes and Twenty-nine Seconds

"Justice for George Floyd" in script lettering on a portrait of George Floyd mounted on a tall steel fence. With red fluttering decorations hovering around him.

Have you been following the Chauvin trial? I sure have. It’s actually news. It’s so rare that a white police officer is held accountable for murdering a person of color.

As I’m following the testimony, I have a couple questions.

First, at least six Minneapolis police officials have testified against Chauvin – in one day. One of them is the chief of police. Where have these people been???? Are there really only six cops in all of America who want to see justice done? Only six who value honesty more than a unqualified fellow officer? Only six who think the department’s reputation with the community is more important than the “thin blue line?” Or is it possible that the racial justice awakening of the last year got to them too?

I’m glad to see this new attitude, if there is one, but how many people had to die first? Surely there would be more trials and more convictions – and probably less death – if more cops would speak the truth instead of protecting questionable co-workers.

Also, are we worried that even if Chauvin is convicted that the response will be “See? The system works. The one bad apple was convicted. Done.” Yes, a conviction will send a message that even white police officers must obey the law. So, I do hope for a conviction. (Come on! A knee to the neck for 9 minutes and 29 seconds? How does that not result in death?)

My concern is that the problem is not just one bad apple. It’s 400 years of treating people of color as if they’re guilty until proven innocent. It’s a system of “public safety” that’s not safe at all. It’s socialization that teaches us that people of color are scary and dangerous – especially Black people. It’s tacit and explicit permission to use official violence against people of color because there are rarely consequences. One conviction might be a step in the right direction; we have so much more work to do to rid ourselves of this system of white supremacy.

I’m bracing myself for the defense witnesses. Let’s see how many ways the defense can try to convince us that what killed George Floyd was his high blood pressure. Or previous drug use. Or an unruly crowd. Instead of a knee to the neck for #9minutesand29seconds.

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