Kathryn, Action Group Network has known you since your founding after our first NY gathering, so we are especially pleased to share your great work with more folks. So good to talk to you. In many ways we owe everything to you guys. We launched at the very first Action Group Network meeting so nothing makes me happier than talking to you!
Tell me a bit about Collective Agency. Collective Agency is a collective of more than 250 media creatives from across the country, all dedicated to amplifying progressive voices. We create all kinds of social-first digital media for all kinds of progressive organizations, from large well known national orgs to local grassroots orgs.
Fantastic, and what is your title? I am Executive Director.
Tell me, what have been some of your favorite projects to date? If you had to pick one or two? The one I talk about all the time is one we did in our second month actually - it was through Action Group Network- with the Santa Cruz Action Group. We produced a 6 panel comic strip featuring a little boy dressed up as Super Man and it was called “Immigrants Make A Family Plan”. It was very simple with versions in both English and Spanish - and it illustrated how an immigrant family could make a plan to ensure that in the event that a parent were deported by ICE, their child wouldn’t end up in foster care. It was so simple; so effective; and so charming. It’s truly one of my favorite projects to date. There was just a clear way this comic strip could be useful and the art, by artist Danica Novgorodoff turned out beautifully; Our team was very proud of that one and , I loved it
And how about a second? We have so many projects we’re proud of, it’s hard to pick but if i had to I would maybe choose the video series we made in partnership with Indivisible. Call to action videos before the elections.
Was this the midterm elections? Yes, the midterm elections. We made videos to get people out canvassing; a bunch of GOTV videos; polling; videos; all to galvanize volunteers and engage grassroots audiences to take action. I also really love the media campaign we created to challenge our collective bias against women Candidates for CheckYourBiasAmerica.com.
And on the whole, how have clients reacted to your projects? Specifically or generally? That’s a great question. Our clients are amazing, and they’re very grateful and positive. They clearly appreciate the work we do. And, they’re often policy wonks and that’s why they’re so good at what they do. They understand the content and the facts that need to be conveyed to the public. But that also means they want to hit people with facts facts facts. So, sometimes it's a challenge to work with a client and make them a video that we know is not going to be effective at getting their audience to take action.. That’s difficult because the best thing we can do for them is help tell a story. Stories literally change people’s brains.. Facts don’t inspire people to action, stories do. What these organizations often don’t understand is people don’t want to to know the facts right away. They’ll first decide, emotionally, whether they align with a cause. And then they’ll go to their website to get the facts that will support their emotional alignment.
So, we all need to do a better job of understanding what mediums work best for what. and we have to help our clients understand why it is that we need to tell things in story form. A story can give people the message that will then inspire them to act and learn more and go to that website; and look at those facts that those wonderful policy wonks really know and have ready.
That’s true. I think this interview might help people realize that there’s a time and place for everything. Both the creative aspects of media that help inspire action, and the actual substance behind that media such as the various facts that people work very hard every day to collect. I think this will enlighten a lot of people. Thanks for talking with me Kathryn, I look forward to sharing some of your projects with our audience. Thank you!
Tell us about your group - what is Wolf-PAC's mission? Wolf PAC is a non-partisan grassroots organization that’s 98% volunteer driven. We’re about fighting corruption in the federal government. For us, the root issue right now is campaign finance reform. Pay to play politics should not be how the system functions. It’s pervasive, it’s the stumbling block for every other issue -- climate justice; war; money in politics; this corrupted system basically defines how Congress responds to those issues. We are a group that’s trying change that by amending the constitution.
Amend the constitution? How do you plan to do that? We’re using the path of an article 5 limited convention. The constitution essentially gives you two ways to propose an amendment: Congress can do it, which is traditionally how it’s been done, or the states can call on Congress to call a convention for a specific purpose on a specific issue. Ourissue is campaign finance reform. We want to deal with the disastrous effects of Supreme Court decisions like Citizens United vs FEC. There are half a dozen others that you could point to, but that’s the most well known. We’re going that route because we consider it the best path right now, it’s part of a greater strategy called the “multi-pronged approach,” if you will. Congress has been unresponsive, so we’re calling on the states to speak out for what the people need to add pressure for this to happen. Only Wolf-PAC is tackling this issue this way.
For those reading, what exactly has to happen for an article 5 to happen? You have to have 34 states request Congress call the convention, and for what Wolf-PAC is doing it has to be requests that are specifically related to campaign finance reform. You can’t have some states calling for a convention on one issue, and others on another, for example, Congress won't call the convention if campaign finance has 5 States, and the Popular Vote has 29 calls, there is no mixing and matching. It has to be 34 states calling for campaign finance reform, for Congress to take action on the convention. And to do that you have to have citizen activists and lobbyists. You need to have folks on the ground that know about the issue and know about the constitution and its nuances who go to our legislators and talk about why that change needs to happen. Only 27 amendments have been ratified of the more than 11,000 introduced, so it's a very tough path, which is why we see the convention request as priming Congress for ratification. You’re saying we need this. We need this so badly we’re bringing it up to you, though if you don't do it we will. It’s democracy! It’s the people saying we want, we need it to happen. It’s the way forward when there’s no other way. It’s our safety switch for when the government’s not responsible. And it requires people like you and I, getting active and doing something with our government, engaging with them, and saying we really do need this that moves things along.
What is your role at Wolf-PAC? I’m the National Coordinator. I started off volunteering like everybody else. I moved into the role of an organizer; following that I moved into the role of community director for New York; and last year I became a National Coordinator. I provide members with the guidance and resources that they need. I work with four states - New York, Pennsylvania, Oregon, and Arizona. They are in a somewhat similar place legislatively.
Is it hard to serve those states remotely? Yes and no. If I were there in person, I’d probably be much more involved in the day to day happenings. Because I can’t be there, I try to help people develop in a way where they have a good support structure, and definable, achievable goals. A movement is not one person, anyway! I or anyone should be able to step away without things falling apart. So we focus on building that support structure which will ultimately be more successful. It’s all about the team, that’s my view.
Any recent successes you’d like to share? With New York, I want to say that our team has gotten a lot stronger, and that makes me really proud. We were successful in implementing a new organizational structure that’s far less top-down. It’s given everyone more of a voice. People get to be heard, and I’ve learned that you may think you have the answers, but it’s more likely you have an answer. And the person right next to you might have a better answer. So you want to be able to hear them and make sure they have the chance to speak. This also makes it possible to share more of the responsibilities and different duties. It makes life and organizing easier!
Upcoming events? Ways people can get involved with Wolf-PAC? If they’re in New York, head to wolf-pac.com/ny. That brings you to our state page. Otherwise, head towolf-pac.com. Also follow us on Facebook and Twitter. I tell anyone: anything you want to do to help, it’s always appreciated. Take that first step to volunteer. I really appreciate when people do that. We are here to help you succeed in whatever it is you want to do. You being successful means we can be successful. We don’t turn anyone away.
Anyone you’re looking to connect with? Volunteers; anyone who’s interested in really changing the way our government works for the better -- conservative; liberal; middle of the road; whoever you are. This is all of our government!
Also those who are opposed to the Article V convention process, because I think we agree on a lot, and can do a lot of good for the country and our state working together. I’m about building bridges and coalitions, bringing people together. This is too important of a problem to disagree about, we can’t let egos and past disagreements hold back the movement.
Reflections on your work so far? Thoughts from the field? I want to say that this movement is far more urgent than people realize. If we are to truly get representation in congress - really get the representation we need - we’re going to need an amendment pertaining to campaign finance reform. We can’t wait on congress to change the laws. Whatever laws they do change will be challenged, as they have in the past. And the Supreme Court has historically favored our more corrupt system. If you want to do something about any specific issue, the realization is that those issues are never truly going to get the attention they deserve or the resources that they need. It’s money that stands in the way, then we have to do something about our campaign finance system. And from what I have learned from the research I have done, the article 5 convention is the strongest path forward for the American people. That’s because when congress is not responsive, the states have the option to change things for the people through the convention. And it is without a doubt, a legitimate process. It’s something that we need to do when our government doesn’t respond. Our movement will push things forward. If congress does it before we get to the convention: great! I’ll retire.
Meet Ilona, Co-founder of Movement School! (April 2019)
Can you tell us a bit about what Movement School is trying to do? Movement School is training the next generation of organizers. We aim to win more elections with people powered campaigns to strengthen the progressive movement. Our organizers help the progressive movement empower the voiceless in creating a vision for the future, gaining the political power to achieve that vision, and becoming a unifying engine for positive change in the country. Trainings and technical boot camps, located in New York City and a few other key areas around the country will focus on practical skill-building. These trainings will be developed in partnership with community groups to help achieve local power.
How did Movement School come about? Throughout my experience working on campaigns, I often found myself very underrepresented in these spaces. That bothered me. Campaigns have the power to transform communities and if we do not ensure that the community’s voice is at the forefront of these operations, we are failing. There needs to be more intersectionality at the table and that is exactly what movement school strives to do in order to help create a more inclusive democratic process. Therefore, my co-founder and I developed a series of webinars while working on the Ocasio campaign in order to train volunteers from the community on the skills that are needed to run campaigns. This series snowballed into a 10-week intensive online training program that is currently training 52 campaign fellows who upon graduation will be equipped with the skills to run their own campaigns.
That sounds like a very important need to be filling in the space. Can you tell us more about the programs you've created? We’ve built a 10-week campaign simulation that will teach our fellows the in and outs of running grassroots campaigns. Our training defines what it means to run progressive grassroots campaigns that are representative, culturally competent, promote healthy work environments for all hands on deck, and most importantly are effective in engaging and mobilizing the communities they seek to represent. With this skill set our fellows will be equipped to become the next Campaign Manager, Field Director, Communications Director, Finance, or Technology Director of the next major political game changer.
What drove you to first get involved in the political space? I've always been very civically engaged, being involved in different service projects back home in Scranton. When I moved to NYC for college (I'm currently a senior at John Jay College of Criminal Justice), I wanted to continue working in the field, specifically with marginalized communities. I quickly learned that a way for uplift these communities is by ensuring they have representation at all levels of government and community decision making processes. So, I got involved in political campaigns where I started out as a volunteer canvasser and eventual became a senior staff member for various campaigns including Alessandra Biaggi and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Those are exciting campaigns to have been a part of. Can you tell us more about your experience there? Yes, I first started out as a paid canvasser working on some campaigns that the WFP endorsed. On day one I was handed a package called “turf” and I immediately had questions. I asked the Field Director a million questions including “what is turf?” “what is a universe?” “how do you calculate these numbers?”. These questions helped me achieve super volunteer status as the next campaign I worked on did not have a Field Director at the time and I seemed to be saying all the right things. This role quickly turned into a full time position with the campaign as their Field Director at 19 years old. Although losing that first campaign, it motivated me to participate in various skills trainings and programs that helped sharpen my technical skills. I then went on to become the Field Director for Alessandra Biaggi and then the Deputy Organizing Director for Alexandria Ocasio Cortez.
I know you're just starting out, but do you have any successes with Movement School that you can share? We are so proud of our inaugural cohort of campaign fellows!
Accepted fellows... Range from 18-57 Come from 28 different states Are 82% POC 80% are from working class backgrounds 66% are women 5% identify as non-binary And 20% live with disabilities
We are so excited for them to graduate and be at the forefront of changing the political landscape!
What's coming up next, and how can people get involved with Movement School? We are currently planning a series of community engagement events, boot camp trainings, and launching our 2019 organizing project. For people that want to be involved, definitely keep up with our social media and sign up for our newsletter. Be part of the movement!
Anyone you're looking to get in touch with? If you share the experience of feeling shut out of places due to the color of your skin, your sexual orientation, your disability, or your marginalized status, Movement School wants to help you achieve leadership positions in the progressive movement.
Meet Anna and Michelle of Let NY Vote! (March 2019)
Can you tell us a bit about your group? What is Red2Blue’s mission? Red2Blue works around the country and deploys volunteers from across the country to work to flip seats: congressional, state, and local. Volunteers have expertise in peer-to-peer texting; designing websites; managing candidate social media accounts; and organizing canvass trips, phone banks, and post carding.
What are your roles at Red2Blue? Michelle: Founding member and one of co-leaders who helps organize overall. Anna: Founding member and lead organizer for texting.
Any recent successes you’d like to share? Yes! In 2018 we ran texting for 147 Democratic campaigns in 18 states. Over 1,600 engaged volunteers reached 3.9 million voters and helped candidates such as Zellnor Myrie (NY), Katie Muth (PA), Elissa Slotkin (MI), and Lauren Underwood (IL) win.
Since we’ve started, we’ve worked for 199 Democratic campaigns. Not to mention we helped Laurie Pohutsky flip a Michigan State House seat, texting 28,000 voters in her district and identifying over 800 supporters who pledged to vote for her. On election day she won by 221 votes.
That’s fantastic! Upcoming events? Ways people can get involved with Red2Blue? Right now we’re in the organizing phase. But texting will ramp up in August. We will be supporting candidates in the state of Virginia for sure. We’ll be having house parties and more, but the qualifying deadline is later this month, so it's still a bit early to bring on new volunteers. That said, come May, we’re going to start house parties to raise money and get people engaged. Stand by for how to get involved in that work and in our work in New Jersey.
Anyone you’re looking to connect with? Definitely. Racial justice is fundamentally important to us. We are always looking to support candidates of color and support work in communities of color or more broadly that advance racial justice.
How about what you’re grateful for? You’ve been doing this work for a while now. Any moments come to mind that you want to share? Michelle: How grateful I've been for having the opportunity to have done the work and met the other people doing the work. There's an interesting way in which with things so massive happening on a national and international scale, sometimes you feel helpless. And the only antidote to that is the hard work and partnership that comes from getting busy. I would want anyone who's thinking about getting more involved and wondering whether they have the time, to consider how powerful an experience this is.
Anna: Same. It's been incredibly inspiring to meet people from across the country who are willing to put their lives on hold to help candidates win back seats -- no matter where those candidates are from. It makes you feel hopeful at a time when the news is anything but.
Can you tell us a bit about your group? What is Let NY Vote's mission? Let NY Vote is a nonpartisan, statewide coalition of grassroots networks, civil rights and civil liberties organizations, re-entry communities, good government groups, unions, social service providers, immigrant rights groups, and everyday citizens fighting to modernize New York's elections. Our goal is to (and we're doing it!) pass simple solutions to improve our elections and make registering and voting more accessible and equitable for every eligible New Yorker.
Great! What is your role at Let NY Vote? Director of Organizing. I'm also a Grassroots Co-founder. I serve as the liaison between members of the grassroots, the established organizations that we work with, and individual, concerned citizens. My role is to distill complex information from the experts in the organizations who have been working on this for decades into clear educational information, toolkits, trainings, and action items so the grassroots can get directly involved in making change on the state level.
Any recent successes you’d like to share? There are so many! Well for starters, we passed the first set of progressive voting rights legislation in over 100 years, since women's suffrage. Things already signed into law include early voting, portable registration, pre-registration for 16 and 17 year olds, and having one consolidated primary day. Early voting is huge. We fought hard for early voting - not because it expands or increases voter turnout -- it's not necessarily proven to do either of those things -- but because it makes voting more equitable. The people who can't get off of work on a Tuesday are the ones who are already underrepresented and left out the conversation. By adding in early voting we're able to make it possible for these folks to have their voices heard.
That's fantastic! You should be so proud. I am! And beyond that, a couple of weeks ago the New York Board of Elections sued New York City to keep translators out of polling places. This was the Friday before the election. Well, between Friday at 4 pm and Monday at 9 am we were able to rally; fill the court room, and ultimately their injunction was refused. Translators were able to be in the polling places on Tuesday.
Word is you're experiencing wins by the week. Is this true? We just got the Voter Friendly Ballot Act passed! It isn't even up on our website yet. And a less tangible win, to me, is that this whole coalition came together somewhat organically over the past few years, and we didn't have capacity to do proper organizing before. Since I came on full time last December we've really been able to strengthen the grassroots network, all of whom organize their own events and do their own work and are taking control of things on the local level around the state. This is a truly grassroots-owned-and-driven coalition. I'm really proud of that.
Upcoming events? Ways people can get involved with Let NY Vote? Head to our website, letnyvote.org. We change our take action page regularly. For people who want to get more involved, there are tons of grassroots toolkits and everything anyone could need to do outreach to reps, press, or the public. That's all accessible to our grassroots organizers on a private page, and anyone is welcome to come on as a grassroots organizer to access that. Also, join the statewide or regional google groups, or join our regular Tuesday calls and trainings. If you want to get involved at that level, email [email protected].
Anyone you’re looking to connect with? Yes! Let NY Vote grew out of and has thrived because of grassroots coordination and support. We're always looking for people who want to volunteer on statewide work and on campaigns. Anyone who wants to do design; communications; writing; help with overseeing lobbying efforts; organizing efforts. We're also always looking for people who want to phone bank and text bank. Finally, local chapters are still in the process of forming. We're looking for people to join a local chapter or start one of their own. Folks can also check out our events page to plug to at local events.
Meet Sara of Downtown Women for Change! (Feb 2019)
Can you tell us a bit about your group? What is Downtown Women for Change’s mission?
Downtown Women for Change is a grassroots organization founded by New York women committed to preserving and advancing women’s rights, supporting women and girls in the U.S., and working to elect progressive, democratic, pro-choice candidates to political office with a focus on female candidates.
What is your role at Downtown Women for Change? Communications team
Any recent successes you’d like to share? Last fall, DWC held a Night of Action and fundraiser at the Lower Eastside Girls Club for candidates Alessandra Biaggi (SS- 34), Max Rose (NY -11 US Congress), and Katie Muth (PA State Senate 44), all of whom went on to win their races. We also heard from inspiring speakers Councilmember Carlina Rivera, Councilmember Helen Rosenthal, and the Lower Eastside Girls. DWC members organized numerous get out the vote and fundraising events. Since the election, DWC has hosted a panel discussion with female New York State Assembly and Senate members on legislation affecting women in NY State and how our members can ensure that legislation is passed. We have mobilized in support of the RHA and related bills, we have lobbied in Albany, and, as members of the True Blue Coalition, have joined with other organizations to form the New York People’s Agenda. We have joined with other feminist advocates to form an advisory group, the “Women’s Table" with the Lt. Governor, met with our colleagues Latina Institute for Reproductive Health and WHARR to protect reproductive rights nationwide, and endorsed Dawn Smalls for NYC public advocate. We are currently in the process of organizing our efforts on behalf of the ERA.
Upcoming events? Ways people can get involved with Downtown Women for Change?
DWC is active in many ways. For example, in the next few weeks the following events are scheduled: We are co-sponsors of the Fair Elections For New York town hall on February 23. We are hosting Alessandra Biaggi’s first fundraiser of the year February 28. We are testifying at the NY State Budget Forum on March 2. We will be lobbying with Planned Parenthood in Albany March 12. See our calendar for DWC events and partner events!
Anyone you’re looking to connect with?
DWC welcomes female activists at all levels, with all levels of experience. We are a self-funded organization that offers a wide range of activist opportunities.
The November 2016 election sparked an opportunity to revive and strengthen the progressive community as thousands of recently activated organizers stepped up to help and lead. That first year, we saw a surge of energy build at a frenetic pace, responding mainly to the incessant noise and attacks from the current administration. The benefit of so many newly involved also brought the burden of duplicative efforts and the difficulty of organizers, activists, and leaders finding each other in an efficient and productive way. How does one know who to work with, who to support?
These opportunities and challenges led to the creation of ActLocal. ActLocal is anchored by an alliance between Action Group Network (AGN), Wall of Us, Action Together Network (ATN), and RISE Stronger, who are using their combined resources to support and connect over 1,000 leaders across the country. In November 2017, more than 100 partner groups worked together to hold ActLocal events in 13 cities, bringing together emergent leaders, community leaders, faith leaders, leaders of large organizations, and seasoned grassroots leaders. We support these leaders as they continue meeting and building power locally. In 2018, we will hold ActLocal events in 15 new states. And, every day, we connect and engage with leaders in the ATN Leaders Network so they can communicate, build relationships, share best practices, and troubleshoot together between events.
Working together on ActLocal has shown us that the progressive community is far from fractured. Leaders are able and willing to put smaller differences aside and work together to build power in this moment of crisis. While organizing ActLocal events, creating resource and partner directories, engaging with our network, and analyzing data collected from leaders across the country, we are seeing first hand how network-building is strengthening the landscape. The swell of energy continues to grow, leaders are rising, and larger organizations are finding ways to leverage this energy.
Survey results gathered from participants in ActLocal show that, regardless of living in a rural, urban, blue, red, or purple area, 73% of leaders share the priority of electing progressive leaders up and down the ballot and across the country in 2018. And, 96% of these leaders are already working on and executing plans to make that priority a reality. Through our continued contact with ActLocal leaders, we also know that they are building the local bench of progressive candidates from amongst their ranks and shaping policy through coordinated education and action.
Nevertheless, leaders face challenges as they navigate the shift from resistance to replacing representatives and build oppositional as well as electoral power. We will continue to use our research and combined resources to help leaders find the tools they need to win. We are working with our partners and creating new partnerships in order to simultaneously amplify their work and address leaders’ obstacles to success. These resources as well as information about partners and local leaders will be listed in accessible, easy-to-navigate directories on the ActLocal website. And, our support of in-person gatherings will bolster relationship development necessary for network building and provide information leaders need to win campaigns and elections. We believe in building these events from the ground up, with the input of local leaders driving the process the entire time. ActLocal prioritizes bottom-up organizing and empowers local leaders by trusting their judgment and ability to facilitate change within their communities.
In this moment, we have an opportunity to gain and build local power together quickly. We have the numbers, creativity, and justice on our side — in addition to the collaborative spirit progressive leaders bring to the table. By working together and combining our strengths, we will be coordinated, efficient, and effective — and we will win.
Join us in 2018 as we:
Host ActLocal events in 15 new states
Support follow-up gatherings in the 13 original ActLocal locations
Expand and deepen our directories of local leaders, partners, and resources
Connect and engage our network of leaders
Provide targeted research to discover resources leaders need
Familiarize yourself with voting restrictions and major litigation that could impact voting access with help from the Brennan Center.
If you had elections in November, debrief on your experiences with your group members to see what you can learn for 2018.
Start planning now for Spring fundraisers (see Spring 2018 for some ideas).
Research the candidate landscape so you can coordinate civic education forums in the Spring to help your group members learn more about who is running as well as get them excited about the upcoming races.
Encourage members of your groups to:
Find out who is running for offce and begin volunteering for and donating to candidates that they support
Research the time and location of local government meetings and attend them to understand the issues being discussed in your community
Consider running for local offce with the help of Emerge, She Should Run, Emily’s List
ActLocal was the first nationally-coordinated but locally-focused gathering of progressive leaders since the 2016 Presidential election. Held one year before the 2018 mid-term elections, ActLocal events, featured master workshops on topics such as allyship, electoral cycles, effective calls to action, and coalition building, and included dynamic keynotes by progressive leaders such as Senator Cory Booker, Move On’s Karine Jean-Pierre, New York’s Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, Congressman Keith Ellison, The New Georgia Project’s Nse Ufoot, Mickey Scott Bey Jones from the Faith Matters Network, Jason Kander from Let America Vote, Former United States Secretary of Labor Robert Reich, and American labor leader Dolores Huerta.
Speakers Andrea Hailey, Civic Engagement Lab, Lizette Escobedo, SEIU 2015, Dolores Huerta, Co-founder United Farm Workers & American Labor Leader, Cat Plein, Pantsuit Nation at ActLocal Los Angeles.
Events were held in both geographically and politically diverse states. While ActLocal supported events in some of our country's biggest cities where progressive energy is strong, such as Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, and the Bay Area, we also supported the battleground states of Ohio, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Virginia, the light red states of Arizona and Georgia, and the deep red states of Mississippi, Louisiana, Wyoming, and Kansas.