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 to Win

After the 2018 mid-term elections, I was talking with a consultant who had helped a Democrat win a traditionally Republican US House seat. In our exuberance about the Democratic wins that year, we both shared stories of volunteers who had knocked on doors for the very first time. “They want to keep going, but we just don’t have anything for them to do!” she said.

Oh, but you do, I thought.

So, then I got to thinking. . . these red-to-blue House seats are not ours forever. Some of those voters went blue for the first time ever. They are never going to agree with the Democrats on the issues, so there has to be some other way to authentically connect with them if we want to keep winning.

Also, there are potential progressive voters who believe that politics just isn’t about them so they don’t bother. We can show them memes of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King all day, but without a relationship, they still feel in their hearts that their votes don’t matter.

Then I started thinking like an organizer. I bet we have experiences and values in common. If Democrats wanted to win again in 2020, they must start building relationships with voters. (Spoiler alert: they didn’t.)

As it turns out, I was right. Democrats lost 11 seats that they’d flipped in 2018.

Seeing those results, a plan started to take shape in my mind: engage energized and inspired volunteers to bring people together to build relationships with Democratic leaders and potential candidates.

Step One

Train volunteers on deep canvassing techniques. This tactic involves engaging a voter in a conversation. Really. Standing on the front step talking for about 15 minutes. By itself, this conversation can open a space for people to change their opinion. When national organizing network People’s Action opened their deep canvassing results to an evaluation by data scientists, the scientists found that 3.1% of voters moved to Biden support. The conversation moved 8.5% of Independent women voters. (Read the whole 14-page report.)

Step Two

Invite those deep-canvassed voters to a community meeting. Taking the building-relationships theme up a notch, these meetings are small group conversations, not town halls. In each small group, a facilitator asks discussion questions that provide opportunities for participants to tell a story. The facilitator guides the discussion so everyone has a chance to speak and the conversation doesn’t go off the rails.

After the small groups have finished and the groups have come back together, a speaker asks for reports back from each group. In that way, that leader has an opportunity to connect with everyone in the room by telling their own story to relate to each group.

Would this plan lead to a tidal wave of support for climate change measures or abortion rights? Probably not. But that’s not the point. The point is to build relationships.

One of the most important lessons from the Georgia runoff this year is about off-year organizing. We can’t parachute into neighborhoods four months before an election and expect to keep winning. Building real strength requires investment.

If all we do is scramble to win elections every two years, that’s all we’re ever going to do. If we invest in building relationships with voters, we will not only win, but we might also win on the issues that brought us in to politics in the first place. Let’s invest in building sustainable, lasting power.

A plan for a pilot project is coming together. To get involved in building this experiment, email mira@organizingtowin.net. Or fill out the contact form.

Organizing to Win logo
Want organizing tips every month?