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.

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.