Safe Canvassing or Someone Always Calls the Cops Part II

volunteers preparing to canvass. About 100 people standing on grass in front of trees cheering with their fists raised in the air. There are a house and a canopy in the background and a canopy on the side. The sky is blue and clear.

As canvassing season heats up again, I’ve been thinking about how to keep canvassers safe.

From traffic.

From the heat.

From dogs.

Also from residents and police officers who haven’t read the memo that canvassing is first Amendment protected free speech. Especially if those canvassers are people of color.

Safety for canvassers means more than working in pairs and using crosswalks.

It also means protecting canvassers of color from harassment by residents and the cops.

If you are also thinking about ways to protect canvassers from this particular appearance of white supremacy culture, here are a few tips. They can help prepare your team for safe canvassing and deal with incidents if they happen anyway.

With these steps – and probably others – you can keep your campaign on track and support the canvassers

“They Said It Out Loud!”

A CMJ Collaborations logo appears in the upper right corner. Head shots of a white woman, Black woman and Asian American woman are in the other four quadrants.

A few weeks ago, my co-conspirators and I facilitated our quarterly workshop called “Disrupting White Supremacy Culture in Nonprofits.” It’s based on the Characteristics of White Supremacy Culture in Organizations, developed by Tema Okun.

Some of the comments we hear in the workshop and outside of it are:

Hard Questions

“Do you have to say white supremacy? Doesn’t that turn off some people?”

“How do we talk to people who aren’t comfortable with the words ‘white supremacy’?”

“You’re not concerned that people will walk out?”

“Wouldn’t it be better to say DEI or anti-racism?”

I love those questions because it gives me an opportunity to talk about the culture part of white supremacy culture.

When someone is uneasy with the terms, I start out by saying “No one thinks you have a confederate flag in the closet!”

The issue is the culture we’ve all internalized because it’s all around us.

The fault is not in being born in a place and time. The fault is in not questioning our socialization because it’s uncomfortable or might seem threatening.

Disrupting White Supremacy Culture in Campaigns

The workshop came to life when I started to wonder what I’d done in my campaigns that perpetuated, rather than disrupted white supremacy culture. I thought if I was asking these questions, other people might be thinking the same thing.

So I called a friend – a teacher and expert in anti-bias and anti-racism education who has designed ethnic studies curriculum – and said “Hey, do you want to do a conference workshop with me? Less about theory and intellectualism and more about everyday life.”

A New Workshop is Born

The initial Disrupting workshop was born.

Our third co-conspirator saw the recording of the workshop and said “Wow! They said it out loud.”

The three of us have been working together ever since.

We work with nonprofit organizations to create programs that disrupt white supremacy culture.

But TBH, we’re not for everyone. So, we created a workbook to help organizations (1) determine where they are in their own journeys to live up to their values statements and (2) find the best partner to do it.

The “How to DEI” workbook is free. Download it here.

If you lead an organization that is exploring how to live up to your values statement, check it out! I’d love to know what you think.

Organizing Strategy


The organizing cycle portrayed by four yellow circles arranged in a diamond shape with dotted lines connecting them into a circle. There is a line drawing of a handshake above the first circle. That yellow circle reads Outreach and Listening Build relationships, leaders and power through one-on-ones, canvassing, and house meetings. Moving clockwise around the circle, the line drawing above the next yellow circle is a fistbump. The words in that circle are Research Move from problems to issues. Issues are specific, measurable and can be linked to a person or people responsible. The next line drawing is five fists raised in the air. That yellow circle reads Action Come face to face with the person and/or people who have power to address the issue. The final line drawing is a set of fists in a circle. That yellow circle reads Evaluation What did we win? What did we do that worked? What could we do differently? What's next?
credit: NEKO

Recently a very good friend and political campaign ally said that sometimes she doesn’t know what I’m talking about:

“I have to admit, sometimes, even I don’t see it. I mean, how does bringing people together build power the way you talk about it?”

That’s the thing – organizing isn’t visible.

The rallies, voter turnout, lobby days at the Capitol, marches, civil disobedience – that’s all mobilizing.

When I meet with leaders of social justice organizations, unions and other nonprofits to talk about working together, I usually hear about one or more of these situations:

  • A pivot from advocating, lobbying or canvassing to a long-term organizing plan.
  • Frustration that their work to engage members and community leaders has not been successful.
  • A vision of member leadership structures like an organizing committee or regional action teams.
  • Organizers and organizing directors who need support building skills, confidence and strategic vision.

The Organizing Cycle

To address these situations, I develop a strategic organizing plan based on the organizing cycle. (The image above comes from a traditional cycle that many organizers use to plan their campaigns; credit for this version goes to NEKO.)

The rest of the cycle is where the organizing happens –

  • Building relationships
  • Surfacing the most important issues
  • Finding the strategic leverage to win
  • Taking public action together
  • Reflection and evaluation

Building Power

How do we know when we’ve built power? It’s a hot topic for social scientists, campaign analysts and pundits these days. Here are a few signs that your organization is building power:

  • Decision-makers come to you to discuss big ideas.
  • Decision-makers meet with member leaders and activists.
  • Your opponents get less oxygen for their terrible, no-good, very bad ideas.
  • Your members get shout-outs at public event
  • Your members get a nickname (for better or worse).*
  • Candidates come to you for endorsement and volunteers.

Will all of this transformation happen in one campaign? No. A member leader of an education justice organization recently said it took a year and a half to get to their first victory.

If we’re going to transform our communities, we have to invest in them. In addition to money, that means time, brainspace and maybe even internal political capital.

When my friend asked that question, I wasn’t surprised. It helped me think of better ways to talk about organizing strategy.

We Say It Every Year: THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT ELECTION EVER!

volunteers preparing to canvass. About 100 people standing on grass in front of trees cheering with their fists raised in the air. There are a house and a canopy in the background and a canopy on the side. The sky is blue and clear.

In the 2024 election cycle, every race will have larger implications. Those candidates for tiny school board districts in your community? Their potential votes on policy will reverberate nationally. Think book bans, restrictions on access and misrepresentations of US history.

And don’t get me started on what’s at stake in state capitols and Washington DC.

Powerful Elections

Instead of telling voters, volunteers and activists – again – that THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT ELECTION, let’s make it the most powerful election.

Let’s make it the year we organize in addition to mobilize.

Let’s build power in addition to winning.

Let’s plan the campaigns with the goal of bringing people together to build power, using the opportunity of the election to do it. Not the other way around.

What’s that I hear?

“We have a million doors to knock!”

“I don’t get what you mean by ‘build relationships.’ How does that get us to power?”

“Winning is the best demonstration of power.”

“We don’t have time to hold everyone’s hand. We have a campaign to win.”

All true. It’s hard to think long-term with an election-day deadline looming.

But would we be in this movement if we couldn’t do hard things?

Mobilizing ===> Organizing

Here are some ideas for introducing organizing tactics into a mobilization (election) campaign:

  1. A script that includes some deep canvassing elements. Sure a canvasser might spend more than 3 minutes at a door. The voter is more likely to remember the conversation and more importantly, the volunteer will feel less like a turnout machine and more like a community organizer.
  2. Plan some one-on-ones between organizers or campaign leaders and top volunteers. These convos can be recognition for super volunteers. More importantly, they can also help organizers identify new leaders. When a super volunteer starts bringing other people to shifts, you’ve found a new leader.
  3. A campaign debrief that brings everyone together to process the results of the election, their role and the implications. Win or lose, the more people can share their experiences, the closer they become. More importantly, they are more likely to remain involved if they develop relationships with other activists, organizers or leaders.

We want to transform our communities and win after election day too.

Dear Hollywood.

A cartoon drawing of a blond woman bound with ropes with a red circle and slash.

Dear Hollywood,

I’m bored. That’s not why.

I love murder tv. Law and Order (all of them). CSI. Body of Proof.

While there are thousands of binge-watching possibilities, most of them fall into the same tired, old formulas that reinforce white male supremacy culture.

How a Show Makes the List

So, to keep things interesting, I’ve developed three criteria for putting a show on my watch list:

1️⃣The main characters can’t be white men.
It’s boring. Nearly every show that stars a white man has the same plot:

Eek! A young, thin, white woman is murdered, raped or attacked.
Gasp! A big strong man rescues her and/or solves the crime.
My hero! The pretty, thin, white woman or her family are eternally grateful to big strong man. 💤💤💤

2️⃣It can’t take place in LA or New York.
News flash: Interesting things happen in places that aren’t New York or LA. Or any big city.

It’s no wonder conservatives think Hollywood is against them. Big-city characters are so predictable: they make fun of gun owners, mock anyone with a southern or mid-western accent and roll their eyes at religion.

Shows that take place in the middle have more possibilities for laugh lines, culture references and local color.

3️⃣No Damsels in Distress (DID).
Women don’t need to be rescued every five minutes. If you’ve seen one rescue-the-screaming-woman-scene, you’ve seen them all.

More importantly, every time a woman stands around screaming while a man fights off attackers, it sends a message: women depend on men to save them.

As every single mom (and my married mom) will probably tell you: don’t depend on a man to save you.

So much of Hollywood perpetuates white male supremacy culture.

It’s so tired.

My Watch List?

What shows meet my criteria? It’s a short list, but here are a few.

🌟Somebody, Somewhere
1️⃣ a straight, overweight, white woman and a gay, white man, both almost 50.
2️⃣Manhattan, KS
3️⃣No DID. The two main characters rescue each other from loneliness, boredom and depression.

🌟Shots Fired
1️⃣A Black male assistant US attorney and a Black woman investigator
2️⃣a fictional town in North Carolina
3️⃣No DID (unless you count the two mothers who lost their sons to police corruption.)

🌟Claws
1️⃣a Black woman nail salon owner
2️⃣Miami, FL
3️⃣The nail salon owner is the main rescuer.

The white, male supremacy culture in our media limits creativity to a formula.

Disrupting white supremacy culture isn’t just about passing better laws & electing different people. It’s about changing our culture.

We know the culture-makers can do better, because 👆🏻. When will the rest of #Hollywood learn?
——————-
If you’re interested in disrupting white supremacy culture in your organization, join Catherine Shieh, Janedra Sykes & me for “Disrupting White Supremacy Culture in Nonprofits,” 10/26/23, 9am PDT.

A New Face for Education Justice

Sasha Ritzie-Hernandez, a young Latinx-Afro-Indigenous woman, smiling, wearing a white shit and black and white checked jacket. She stands in front of an outdoor mural with red lettering that reads Growing our roots reclaiming our Fruitvale. Additional colors in the mural are yellow, brown, green, red and grey.
credit: @niahred27

The new Oakland Unified School District Board got off to a rocky start this year. (Stick with me. This is complicated.)

In January, the city clerk declared the wrong person the winner of the District 4 election the previous November. (Yes, really.) 

To complicate matters, the real winner was already serving on the board from District 5. Thanks to redistricting, his home is now in District 4, where he decided to run so he could stay on the board when his term in the old District 5 expires at the end of 2024. After discovering the mistake, the clerk declared him the real winner in the new District 4, leaving a vacancy in his old District 5 seat.

Lawsuits ensued.

When the Dust Settled. . .

When the dust settled, a judge declared him the valid winner in the new District 4. So, he resigned his seat as the representative from the old District 5 and was sworn in as the representative from the new District 4.

If you got all that, you might be wondering who now represents voters in the old District 5. Since March, no one. And, there’s a frustrating 3-3 split on every consequential issue facing students, teachers and school personnel.

Enter Sasha Ritzie-Hernandez.

Sasha is running in the special election to fill the vacancy in the old District 5. It’s a very diverse district – which very closely matches her own identity. Sasha became a US citizen just after the November 2022 election, registered to vote right away and, in January, decided to run for school board.

Last year’s Oakland school closure crisis told Sasha everything she needed to know about the relationship between the district leadership and parents. Meaning, it needs work.

Her priorities include:
🏫 Safer, more supportive school environments for teachers, staff and students
👩🏻‍🏫Full, equitable staffing at every school site
💲Equitable budgets that reflect community priorities
🤝🏻Stronger partnerships between the board and community members

As we’re both organizers at heart, we’re taking an organizing approach to this campaign. Conversations at the doors might be a little longer. House parties might surface issues and new leaders no one knew before. Fundraising call time might look a little bit like one-on-one meetings.

Sasha is everything we need in politics right now. To learn more about her (and contribute to her campaign), check out Sasha for Oakland.

A Civil Rights Legend Creates a Moment

photo of Tennesse State Representative Justin Jones, a young multi-racial man in a blue denim shirt posing with a middle-aged white woman in a dark blue sleeveless shirt. Both are smiling.
credit: @montalvoftw

Netroots Nation was 🔥this year! 

I don’t usually geek out about meeting people who are all over social media, but this was different.

This was Justin Jones, one of three Tennessee state representatives who offered more than thoughts and prayers in response to yet another mass shooting. And was expelled from the state house for his trouble.

So I had to get a photo. 

Tennessee state representative Justin Jones, a young, multi-racial man in a white suit, with Alicia Garza, a Black woman in a white suit and Reverend Jesse Jackson, an older Black man in a grey suit, seated in a wheelchair. Jones, Garza and Jackson clasped hands and raised them in victory. Two other Black men in grey suits appear with Jackson. The background is the stage at the Netroots Nation conference.

The history-making moment? 

When Rev. Jesse Jackson joined Jones and Alicia Garza on stage at Netroots. 

The night before he announced his retirement from the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, Jackson made a rare public appearance to tie together the threads of three generations of US justice leaders.

Parkinson’s is slowing him down, but his signature call and response generated a deafening chorus from the crowd. His speech re-awakened the faith of thousands of activists in the righteousness of the fight for justice.

Three generations of US leaders on one stage. Each of them seemed to recognize the meaning of the moment.

Other highlights of the week included the California Caucus meeting, a session on deep canvassing, a panel discussion on messaging about public safety and my own workshop, “Someone Always Calls the Cops: When Karen or Chad Dials 911 on Your Canvassers.” 

Pile on meeting dozens of people I’d only known by video or chat, and the conference was an overwhelming success.

Emerging Education Justice Leaders

color map of the state of Utah. A silhouette of a fist holding a pencil is superimposed over the map.

Last weekend, I met the present and future of education justice in Utah. 

Parents, students, organizers and activists came together to find consensus on the most important issues in their communities and build their organizing muscle to win. 

My privilege was to facilitate sessions about understanding power and building an organizing framework. The curriculum was a mix of organizing theory and practical applications. Woven throughout the workshops were discussions of how white supremacy culture shows up, dealing with out-of-touch (but powerful) community leaders, and the difference between organizing and mobilizing. While I have led sessions on all the topics we covered, this weekend became more about mentoring junior facilitators than teaching. It was 🔥🔥!

In Spanish and English, these emerging and established leaders role-played, asked questions (and then answered them), connected dots and laid a foundation for progressive power in Utah. 

After a bootcamp day and a half of workshops and a mega house meeting, they came to consensus on the first issues to take on: 

  • A new high school in the historically excluded neighborhood of Glendale (Salt Lake City)
  • Belonging and Representation in Schools
  • School-based Safety, including trauma and mental health care

Over the next few months, they will continue to fine-tune their organizing skills, reach out to neighbors, conduct research meetings and identify specific levers they can pull to make a difference for students and families.

They will build power.

Organizing Means More Than Winning

📸: @ucf.edu

A few months ago, I met with the co-executive director of a statewide organization that has been instrumental in transforming his state. It hadn’t voted for a Democrat for president since 1964, then voted blue in every cycle since 2008. They’ve also legalized marijuana, restored voting rights to thousands of returning citizens and passed a voter’s bill of rights.

His organization is thinking through some local action strategies to complement their state political work. In the course of our conversation, he mentioned several campaigns they’re brainstorming.

💡organizing with parents to establish safer routes to school for students who faced gun violence at a bus stop

💡challenging the terrible working conditions of gig workers

💡regaining control of a city council from the rigid grip of developers

Build Power In Addition to Winning

Each time he mentioned a policy idea, I thought about the wider impact they could have if the focus was on building power in addition to winning.

✊🏻The opportunity of bringing parents together could build power for systemic change in the school system.

✊🏻Bringing gig workers together could create momentum for structural changes in the exploding economy in the region.

✊🏻Bringing residents together to challenge the grip of developers could bring much-needed transparency to city government – and all the improvements that come with sunshine.

This organization has been part of dramatic wins in this state for decades.

Powerful Questions: What Does It Look Like When. . .

Just think of the impact they will have when they add bigger questions to their planning:

❓What does it look like when parents have the power to create schools that provide an equitable education?

❓What does it look like when workers have the power to negotiate with their employer as equals?

❓What does it look like when low-income residents have the power to hold their elected leaders accountable?

True equity and justice depend on power. We can win every campaign we launch, but if we’re not building power, we’re always going to scramble.

That’s why I organize with the objective of bringing people together to build power, using the opportunity of the campaign to do it.

To be strategic, every campaign, training, coaching session or disrupting white supremacy culture program should have two purposes: winning in the moment and building power for the long-term.

What would you transform in your community if you could build power in addition to win?

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.