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.

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.”

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!