Photo from the February 2019 Actualizing Equity event: St. Paul City Councilmember Jane Prince, Ben Passer (Fresh Energy), Carolyn Brown (Community Stabilization Project), Janiece Watts (Fresh Energy), Jesse Williams (landlord), St. Paul City Councilmember Mitra Nelson, Lee Lucas (Community Stabilization Project)
 Actualizing Equity in Small Business and Economic Development
Drawing on the insights of the Alliance-convened Business Resource Collective, our February 2023 Actualizing Equity event explored: What does it look like for BIPOC businesses to thrive on their own terms and how is it done? And what tools do BIPOC businesses need to build and grow in Minnesota?
 Actualizing Equity: Climate and Environmental Justice
While the Inflation Reduction Act will unleash historic federal funding to reduce CO2 emissions, it has sparked critical discussions about its lack of intentionality in centering frontline communities, environmental justice and reparations in addressing climate change and advancing clean energy. How are organizers in the Twin Cities responding to this latest legislation — and ensuring the most historically and systemically harmed communities are prioritized in their work? At our September 2022 Actualizing Equity event we discussed this and more with Janiece Watts from Fresh Energy, Tee McClenty from MN350, Bob Blake from Native Sun, and Dominique Diaddigo-Cash from the Sierra Club North Star Chapter.
 Actualizing Equity: Narrative Shifts for Powerful Movements
Shaping narratives is an essential aspect of community organizing to disrupt and uproot ingrained systems of oppression. By framing and communicating about our campaigns in strategic and intentional ways, we can more effectively mobilize our communities and engage policymakers to co-create the vision and advance the components of a fundamentally more just world. How are organizers across the Twin Cities integrating powerful messaging in their work? At our June 2022 Actualizing Equity event, local leaders joined us to explore narrative shifts that are advancing regional equity!
- Ashley Fairbanks, Creative Director, 100% Campaign
- Corenia Smith, former campaign manager for Yes for Minneapolis
- Eleonore Wesserle, Senior Capacity Builder, We Make the Future
- Mari Ojeda, Senior Policy Associate, Energy Access and Equity, Fresh Energy
- Sebastian Rivera, artist organizer
 Actualizing Equity in Community Organizing: Lesson and Visions from the Pandemic
The COVID pandemic has caused massive shifts in the way we organize and advocate for systems and policy change. To protect our collective health while meeting the urgency of the moment, we had to adjust our strategies and tactics to mobilize our communities and bring both new and long-standing demands to institutions of power. Across issue areas and geographies, the unrelenting uncertainty and peril has taken a toll on our bodies, spirits and relationships — and also made space for new ideas that can make our movements more creative, inclusive and accessible. At our April 2022 Actualizing Equity event, we explored: what challenges have we faced and what opportunities have we embraced?
 Actualizing Equity in Housing at the State Legislature
For generations, an epidemic of housing injustice has targeted communities of color, but the COVID pandemic and resulting statewide eviction moratorium have created broader public attention and targeted policy-making at all levels of government to protect the life and dignity of our neighbors who do not own their homes. Recognizing the critical role of state legislators and leaders in not just mitigating the harm of this pandemic moment but uprooting entrenched inequities for long term systemic change, Equity in Place has identified key priorities for housing policy during the current 2022 legislative session. At our February 2022 Actualizing Equity event, leaders from EIP partner organizations shared the need for and impact of these policies, as well as the narrative shifts we must center to drive transformative change.
 Actualizing Equity in Transit Planning: Insights from the Blue Line Coalition
For many neighborhoods, light rail lines have played a concerning role in pushing out low-wealth residents, immigrants and communities of color from their homes and businesses. For nearly a decade, the Blue Line Coalition has been working to integrate community voice into the planning process and create a different outcome for the Bottineau Corridor light rail extension project from Minneapolis to Brooklyn Park. As the project moved into critical decision-making stages, members of the BLC shared insights from their work and uplifted their new Community Report at our January 2022 Actualizing Equity event.
 Actualizing Equity in Small Business and Economic Development
With new resources flowing to small businesses through federal and state funding, cultural and community-based organizations came together through the Business Resource Collective (BRC) to articulate and amplify the needs of small businesses in our Black, Indigenous, immigrant and people of color communities. At our October 2021 Actualizing Equity event we learned more about the work and impact of the BRC from Denise Butler (African Career, Education and Resource Inc), Tabitha Montgomery (Powderhorn Park Neighborhood Association), Felicia Perry (West Broadway Business and Area Coalition) and Y. Elaine Rasmussen (Connect Up Institute).
 Actualizing Equity in Livability and Community Development
Actualizing Equity in Livability and Community Development
Who benefits from new development, or redevelopment, in our cities? For generations, the answer to that critical question has too often been private interests focused on profit rather than community members invested in collective wellbeing. Across the region, though, the Equitable Development Principles and Scorecard is providing a powerful tool to organize Black, Indigenous and people of color communities, build power for equitable outcomes and create an actionable process to engage with developers and other stakeholders. In this event, we learned how the scorecard itself is evolving to include livability and heard from organizers and institutional allies who are using the tool in their work.
Watch a video of the event here
 Actualizing Equity in Climate and Environmental Justice
Actualizing Equity in Climate and Environmental Justice
Envisioned by the Climate Justice Alliance, Just Transition is a framework focused on building economic and political power to shift from an extractive economy to a regenerative economy. As we emerge from a year of intense COVID restrictions and move toward economic recovery, we know this moment must be a pivot toward the just transition necessary to address the growing climate crisis and repair generations of extraction and environmental harm to communities of color. Join us for a conversation with leaders and community members who are moving Minnesota toward climate solutions that center justice and power for BIPOC communities.
Moderated by Janiece Watts (Fresh Energy) with Sam Grant (MN350), Robert Blake (Solar Bear) and others!
 Actualizing Equity in Transportation
Actualizing Equity in Transportation
From the freeway through Rondo to the absence of reliable transit in the northwest suburbs, generations of transportation investments have bulldozed or bypassed communities of color. But coalition organizing has put equity at the forefront of major transportation projects in the Twin Cities that will have a significant impact on providing mobility access and economic opportunity for our communities — or pushing them out of their businesses and homes, yet again. Join us for a conversation with leaders working across organizations and geography to ensure transportation equity across the region.
Watch the full video recording
 Actualizing Equity in the State Legislative Session
Actualizing Equity in the State Legislative Session
From the eviction moratorium to business relief, 2020 made even more clear the critical role state leaders play in funding and policy decisions that directly impact the health, wealth and sustainability of our communities. As the 2021 state legislative session begins, join us for a conversation with leaders who are working to advance equity agendas related to housing stability, economic development, transportation and climate justice.
Watch video clips from the event on our YouTube channel
Download the recap highlighting Alliance member and partner legislative agendas for 2021
[Actualizing Equity 2020] What We're Taking from 2020: Sustaining Ourselves and Our Movements
What We’re Taking from 2020: Sustaining Ourselves and Our Movements
From housing to public health, community safety to democracy defense, 2020 was an intense and unrelenting year for organizing across every issue. Always leading with love and possibility, leaders of color across the Twin Cities mobilized our communities across issues and identities to advance bold visions for the future, while embracing and visibilizing an ethic of self-care and healing to sustain ourselves and our movements into 2021 and beyond.
At our December 2020 Actualizing Equity event, we explored strategies and practices that we’re carrying forward to ensure we never go back to a “normal” that isn’t liberatory for both ourselves and our communities.
Click here to download the recap resource and see video clips from the event
[Actualizing Equity 2020] From Enforcement to #FundOurLives: Advancing Equity in Community Safety
From Enforcement to #FundOurLives: Advancing Equity in Community Safety
In 2020, the murder of George Floyd amplified to the national and international spotlight the generations’ long efforts of Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) communities to seek justice for the devastating impacts of racist policing and envision new social systems to keep our communities safe, healthy and thriving. Thanks to fierce love and leadership, policy makers and the public are engaged in more robust conversations about how we spend and prioritize public dollars to protect prosperity and security for some while intentionally underinvesting in communities of color.
We know that safety and stability come, not from a reliance on policing and punishment, but from meeting fundamental human needs, like housing, jobs and healthcare. At our October 2020 event, we heard from community organizers from different issue areas who are elevating and advocating for the priorities that #FundOurLives.
[Actualizing Equity 2020] From Moratorium to Mass Movement: How Do We Stop the Coming Wave of Evictions?
From Moratorium to Mass Movement: How Do We Stop the Coming Wave of Evictions?
Our communities have been fighting an epidemic of evictions for years, but COVID-19 has created the conditions for a massive wave of unhoused residents. As camps continue to swell in city parks, data suggests that Minnesota could see as many as 133,000 eviction filings in the final four months of 2020 — 13 times the number we’d see in a typical year — with more than 78% of Minnesota’s African American renters said they have no or only slight confidence that they’ll be able to pay their rent next month.
At our September 2020 Actualizing Equity event, community members, organizers and policy leaders explored how communities are responding to protect their neighbors and what policy solutions we can advance to ensure that we not just survive but cure the injustice of evictions now and into the future.
Click here to download the recap resource
[Actualizing Equity 2020] From Inclusion to Leadership: Advancing Equity in Environmental and Climate Justice
From Inclusion to Leadership: Advancing Equity in Environmental and Climate Justice
Shaking the foundations of organizations and coalitions that have long espoused a commitment to racial equity, recent events have catalyzed a new clarity that deep structural changes are necessary. Our communities have been on the frontlines of environmental movements for generations, but our strategies and solutions have been invisibilized, minimized and tokenized in the historically white-dominant organizations and campaigns that have monopolized financial resources, political agendas and public awareness. At our July 2020 event, we examined how environmental and climate justice narratives and agendas need to not just be influenced but truly led by BIPOC organizers who hold the insight and solutions that can bring real change.
Click here to download the recap resource
[Actualizing Equity 2020] From Relief to Reconstruction: Advancing Equity in Small Business & Economic Development
From Relief to Reconstruction: Advancing Equity in Small Business & Economic Development
The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the uprising around the murder of George Floyd devastated many Black, brown, indigenous and immigrant-owned businesses in the Twin Cities. We know that these businesses play an essential role in building and sustaining the culture, wealth and economic vitality of BIPOC and immigrant communities, and funding from government, philanthropic and private sources are investing in our local “recovery” and “rebuilding.” In our June 2020 Actualizing Equity event, we explored: How do we ensure that short-term relief centers the needs of BIPOC- and immigrant-owned businesses and that new processes and policies around economic development advance the ownership and agency of our communities?
Click here to download the recap resource
[Actualizing Equity 2020] From Commodity to Community: Advancing Housing Equity
From Commodity to Community: Advancing Housing Equity
The COVID-19 pandemic has elevated the undeniable connection between housing justice and community health. Building on the strong base of organizing in the Twin Cities, the current crisis has mobilized more renters and allies to demand that both short term relief and longer-term policy change center the needs and leadership of tenants and communities of color. At our May 2020 Actualizing Equity event we explored: How can we leverage this moment to build solidarity and move agendas that reject the notion that we can reform a fundamentally inequitable system that commodifies housing and instead re-imagine a policy ecosystem that is deeply rooted in tenant and community power and ownership?
Click here to download the recap resource
[Actualizing Equity 2020] From Reduced Schedules to Essential Service: Advancing Transit Equity
From Reduced Schedules to Essential Service: Advancing Transit Equity
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought into the spotlight the role of “essential” workers — who are disproportionately low-wealth, immigrant and communities of color — and revealed the racialized and ableist gaps in the essential services those workers need to protect their health and meet their daily needs — including safe, reliable public transit. At our April 2020 Actualizing Equity event, we explored: how do we proactively combat the current and coming attacks on our already dramatically under-funded and inequitable transit system while also boldly asserting the sweeping changes necessary to prioritize the needs of essential workers, people with disabilities and communities of color not just now, but far beyond this current crisis?
- Amity Foster, Twin Cities Transit Riders Union
- Charles Frempong-Longdon, Sierra Club North Star Chapter
- Finn McGarrity, Move Minnesota
- Martin Hernandez, West Side Community Organization, formerly of LA Bus Riders Union
- Nikki Villavicencio, disability rights activist and ADAPT member
[Actualizing Equity 2020] From Representation to Co-Governance: Advancing Equity in Policymaking
From Representation to Co-Governance: Advancing Equity in Policymaking
In recent election cycles in the Twin Cities, we’ve seen local organizing efforts and groundbreaking campaigns that have elevated leaders of color to local, county and state policy-making positions. But equity doesn’t end with representation. How are organizers and electeds working to advance participatory processes and co-governance that truly shift power and advance policies that bring meaningful change for our communities?
At our first Actualizing Equity event of 2020, we explored these questions with MK Nguyen, Program Manager at St. Paul Promise Neighborhood; Nelsie Yang, St. Paul Ward 6 City Councilmember; Bahieh Hartshorn, Movement Politics Manager at Take Action MN; Chauntyll Allen, St. Paul School Board; and Tram Hoang, Policy Advocate at the Alliance.
Actualizing Equity 2019: A Seat at Whose Table? Strategies for Advisory Committees
A Seat at Whose Table? Actualizing Equity in Advisory Committees
Centering the expertise and lived experiences of those most impacted is fundamental to actualizing equity around any issue. Thanks to generations of tenacious leaders, institutions and government bodies are increasingly integrating community members in more advisory committees around policy and decision-making. Still situated in structures built by and for white supremacy, how can community leverage these openings to build power and reorient priorities, rather than extract uncompensated intellectual and emotional labor in service of incremental change?
At our October 2019 Actualizing Equity event, Chai Lee, Metropolitan Council Member and Program Manager for the Boards and Commissions Leadership Institute at Nexus Community Partners; Ashwat Narayanan, Executive Director at Our Streets Minneapolis; and Tia Williams, Co-director at the Frogtown Neighborhood Association shared their experiences and strategies to participate in and change these processes to instigate real and lasting value for our communities.
Actualizing Equity 2019: Creating Our Vision for Equitable Housing
Affordable & Accessible: Creating our Vision for Equitable Housing
Renters now make up the majority of residents in Minneapolis, St. Paul and many other communities across the Twin Cities metro — and tenant organizing is building momentum to reframe how we approach housing justice. For years, “affordable housing” has been at the forefront of many advocacy efforts, with a focus on ensuring the cost of rent is within reach for historically marginalized, low-wealth households. But we know real housing equity goes far beyond affordability, encompassing tenant screening, unit size, cultural practices and so much more.
Our September 2019 Actualizing Equity event included a panel discussion and collaborative visioning session to continue the leadership of Community Stabilization Project and set a new trajectory for equitable, not just affordable, housing.
Actualizing Equity 2019: Going Green Without Gentrification
Sustaining Equity: Going Green Without Gentrification
Parks, green infrastructure and sustainable development bring a range of social, cultural, health and environmental benefits. But too often the public, private and non-profit sectors do not appropriately address the ‘unintended consequences’ of these improvements. How do we ensure that communities most impacted by environmental harms historically reap the benefits of new and ongoing investments? Where do we have leverage to engage community and embed their priorities in conversations about green development, and where are leaders in different types of organizations seeing success?
At our July 2019 Actualizing Equity event, we discussed these issues with (pictured above from left) Sam Grant from the Public Policy Project / Environmental Justice Coordinating Council; Shruthi Kamisetty from Parks & Power; Seema Kairam from the Trust for Public Land; Mira Kleinfrom the CREATE Initiative; and Stephen Klimek from the Towerside Innovation District.
Actualizing Equity 2019: Securing Strong Community Benefits
Home Field Advantage: Securing Strong Community Benefits
From community benefits to co-creation, local organizing is beginning to shift the calculations around large-scale developments, pressing government officials and private developers to consider and address the potential impacts of their investments on local residents and businesses. In St. Paul, the construction of Allianz Field has raised concerns about the impact of the soccer stadium on affordable housing, small businesses and the communities of color that have long called the area home.
At our June 2019 Actualizing Equity event, Tia Williams and Caty Royce, Co-Directors of Frogtown Neighborhood Association; Mitra Jalali Nelson, St Paul City Councilmember for Ward 4; MaiChong Xiong, Legislative Aide to Ward 1 Councilmember Dai Thao and engaged community members discussed challenges and opportunities to create and implement effective community benefit agreements for large-scale developments.
Actualizing Equity 2019: Equitable Transit-Oriented Development
Holding the Line: Actualizing Equity in Transit-Oriented Development
Past exclusionary transportation policies moved people through neighborhoods rather than throughout neighborhoods, destroying rather than building upon the assets of African American and other communities of color. Development surrounding light rail and bus rapid transit can reverse this — if tailored to the needs of people of color, indigenous, immigrant and low-income communities who are disproportionately dependent on public transit.
At our May 2019 Actualizing Equity event, we explored how organizers have mobilized — and are mobilizing — to integrate affordable housing, health. economic development and other equity issues into the visions and implementation of coming transit investments. We heard from Denise Butler, Program Manager for African Career, Education and Resource Inc; Nestor Garcia, Community Outreach Director for the Harrison Neighborhood Association; and Kenya McKnight, Founder and President of the Black Women’s Wealth Initiative — with facilitation from Avi Viswanathan, Program Director for the Nexus Community Engagement Institute at Nexus Community Partners.
Actualizing Equity 2019: Why Density Isn't Enough
Why Density Isn’t Enough
In neighborhood debates about new housing development, the simplified battle of the yard signs and bumper stickers boils down to NIMBYs and YIMBYs — Not In My Backyard and Yes In My Backyard. At that surface level, the dividing line is often density, with NIMBYs opposing increased traffic and building heights while YIMBYs preach the benefits of more housing supply. But that conversation often overlooks the deeper issues related to the role of the private market and the public good. At our April 2019 Actualizing Equity event, we explored the relationship of density to affordability and points of leverage to advance equity over purely private market solutions in housing development and land use decisions in our region.
Actualizing Equity 2019: New Electeds of Color and Leading with Equity
New Electeds of Color and Leading with Equity
People of color, indigenous, immigrant, and low-income communities have always been at the forefront of social change. But systems and institutions intentionally built on a foundation of racism, bias and injustice — designed to benefit white people at the expense of people of color — have excluded our voices and leadership at all levels of government. In recent election cycles in the Twin Cities, we’ve seen local organizing efforts and groundbreaking campaigns that have elevated leaders of color to local, county and regional policy making positions. At our March 2019 Actualizing Equity event, newly elected Hennepin County Commissioner Angela Conley, Richfield Mayor Maria Regan Gonzalez, and Brooklyn Park City Councilmember Wynfred Russell joined us to discuss their impetus for running and approaches to policymaking.
Actualizing Equity 2019: Igniting Tenant Power for Environmental Justice
Igniting Renter Power for Environmental Justice
How do we build power for solutions that address both affordable housing and environmental justice? Through the St Paul Tenant-Landlord Energy Project, Fresh Energy and Community Stabilization Project (CSP) are building a network of renters, landlords, and other critical stakeholders to advance policies; provide education on energy-related issues; and support implementation of collaboratively developed solutions. At the first event of the Actualizing Equity 2019 series we learned how these organizations are mobilizing community and moving shared goals related to housing and environmental justice.
Actualizing Equity 2018: Race, Class, and the Outdoors
Race, Class, and the Outdoors
Due to under-resourced infrastructure and limited choices in where to live, work, and play, people of color, indigenous people, immigrants, and low-income communities are disproportionately barred from accessing natural amenities Simultaneously, those amenities that do exist in our communities have been systematically disinvested in for decades – a reality that community power has been building to change.
At this Actualizing Equity event we discussed how folks are reimagining our relationships with our environment, and organizing to improve parks in communities of color without gentrifying them.
Actualizing Equity 2018: Building Wealth, Building Power
Building Wealth, Building Power
For a prosperous and sustainable Twin Cities, decision makers must prioritize investment in under-resourced geographies and low-wealth communities.
We discussed how we can lift up equitable economic development practices that build on existing assets and allow people of color, indigenous people, immigrants, and low-income communities to build and sustain wealth in their neighborhoods creating healthy, thriving communities.
Actualizing Equity 2018: The Geography of Wellness
The Geography of Wellness
Wellness is not evenly distributed. Invisiblized policies and practices determine which neighborhoods are home to pollution and which are environmentally and economically healthy. As we’ve seen, the burden of inequitable land use policies and regulations falls largely on neighborhoods with people of color, indigenous, immigrant, and under-resourced communities, reinforcing environmental harm and poverty and furthering the wellness divide.
At this event in the Actualizing Equity series, we discussed these historical harms and share our vision of equitable land use policies that enrich neighborhoods, connecting residents to a broad set of choices for recreation, shopping, learning, laboring, and living.
Actualizing Equity 2018: Who Speaks for the Neighborhood?
Who Speaks for the Neighborhood?
True community engagement requires organizations to dedicate time, energy, and resources to building meaningful and mutually beneficial relationships. Within this framework, communities are respected as experts who define the problems, design the solutions, and evaluate the outcomes.
At this event in the Actualizing Equity series we discussed how folks are challenging systems that reinforce the status quo and creating accessible spaces, projects, and processes that allow community members to feel welcomed as their full selves.
Actualizing Equity 2018: Housing Is A Human Right
Housing Is A Human Right
Where we live impacts every aspect of our lives – it affects how we thrive in our community and provides the foundation for our health, education, safety, and economic wellbeing. There isn’t one kind of housing that fits the needs of every Minnesotan, but every member of our community has a right to an affordable, safe, dignified home. At the Housing edition of our Actualizing Equity Series, we explored how that right is denied and disregarded in the face of gendered violence, racism, the (in)justice system, anti-immigrant discrimination, and other forms of oppression.
Actualizing Equity 2018: Navigating the Intersections - How We Experience Mobility
Navigating the Intersections: How We Experience Mobility
Communities encounter different risks and have different needs as they move through the metro region. At the Transit edition of our Actualizing Equity Series, we heard from local leaders who experience transportation in a variety of ways and participate in breakout discussions to share your own stories and strategies for getting around our region while facing racism, classism, ableism, sexism, ICE, xenophobia, homophobia, and other forces of oppression.
Organizer Roundtable: Organizing with an Intersectional Lens
Organizing with an Intersectional Lens
Intersectionality is a theory which explains how people can experience oppression in varying configurations and in varying degrees of intensity when their identities overlap a number of marginal classes such as race, gender, class, sexual orientation, ability and ethnicity. The theory states that cultural patterns of oppression are not only interrelated, but are bound together and influenced by the overlapping systems of society which reminds us that in order to undo oppression of any sort that we must fight against oppression in all its forms.
At a recent Organizer Roundtable, participants shared how they approach their organizing work from an intersectional lens and the difference it makes in addressing systemic injustice. Several important learning points surfaced in the conversation.
History and Meaning of Intersectionality: Intersectionality is a term originated by Kimberlé Crenshaw, the executive director of the African American Policy Forum and a professor of law at Columbia University. The term came into being to elevate the complex, marginal identities that black women inhabit.
- From a recent article written by Crenshaw: “Intersectionality is an analytic sensibility, a way of thinking about identity and its relationship to power. Originally articulated on behalf of black women, the term brought to light the invisibility of many constituents within groups that claim them as members, but often fail to represent them. Intersectional erasures are not exclusive to black women. People of color within LGBTQ movements; girls of color in the fight against the school-to-prison pipeline; women within immigration movements; trans women within feminist movements; and people with disabilities fighting police abuse — all face vulnerabilities that reflect the intersections of racism, sexism, class oppression, transphobia, able-ism and more.”
- Definition of marginalized: “A complex process of relegating specific groups of people to the lower or outer edge of society…to the margin of society economically, politically, culturally and socially following the policy of exclusion. It denies a section of the society equal access to productive resources and avenues for the realization of their productive human potential and opportunities for their full capacity utilization. This pushes the community to poverty, misery, low wage and discrimination and livelihood insecurity. Their upward mobility is being limited. Politically this process of relegation denies people equal access to the formal power structure and participation in the decision making processes leading to their subordination to and dependance on the economically and politically dominant groups of society.”
– from Sociologyguide.com
Intersectionality and Identity: Intersectionality is about understanding one’s own identities and how they interplay with each other. While people are marginalized due to structural oppression and racism, understanding identity gets personal.
- “Race is a constructed reality that is not real. There is a trap that does not acknowledge us for who we really are. How do we move to a conversation on culture instead? Can we reflect on the ways that European culture has dominated and oppressed people over the years? Having this honest conversation about history is necessary if we are going to talk about culture.” – Anthony Taylor, Loppet Foundation
- “There are so many constructs put into place before we get in the room and talk together. I am a descendant of both Europeans and African Americans. When I lived in Boston, I wasn’t white enough. In other spaces, I’ve been told that I am not black enough. And then when I found my voice, people looked at me as the angry black woman. It is important to have these conversations to undo the misconceptions that we hold toward each other.” – Donna Evans
Understanding How Men of Color Can Oppress Women: While men of color are often the target of racism, they can also oppress women by not recognizing the power they hold in public – and private spaces – just because they are men.
- “As a black man who has been discriminated against, I also understand the ways in which I have acted discriminatory toward women and how society at large participates in that as well. We still have to fight at the legislature to make sure that women are treated equitably. Once we have changed these barriers institutionally, we will then be able to refer to each other as human beings.” – Metric Giles, Community Stabilization Project executive director
- “When we first started organizing along the Central Corridor around the three stops, I became co-chair of the Stops for Us Coalition, along with Vic Rosenthal, executive director of Jewish Community Action. In our early days, I was called into a meeting where the people in the room expressed frustration because they felt that the meetings were racist and chauvinist. They felt that the executive directors, not necessarily other community members, were pacifying the women’s voices and minimizing their contributions. This still goes on in other organizing spaces today. We have to stop and become educated on these issues.” – Metric Giles
- “In order to move forward and recover from racism and chauvinism, it is important to become more self-aware and understand the ways that our identities intersect.” – Metric Giles
Understanding How Racism and LGBTQ Issues Intersect: Queer people of color often face homophobia within their own racial and cultural communities, and racism within the LGBTQ community. Understanding the ways in which the two identities intersect can ensure that neither identity is erased in organizing work.
- “I identify as a queer, Chinese American middle class individual and first became aware of how my identities intersect in college. I would attend social justice trainings with people of color and feel as if a piece of me was missing in those conversations. I would then go to LGBTQ spaces and feel just the same because they did not have a racial justice lens. Depending on which space I was in, I realized how I could be oppressed and this made me interested in creating spaces where I could be my whole self.” – Nick Kor, HIRE Minnesota Campaign Organizer and Shades of Yellow (SOY) Board Chair
- “SOY is a place I can be my whole self. We started the organization to create more power for our community of Asian Pacific Islander (API) and LGBTQ individuals. Yet even in this organizing space, there are times when people feel they have more or less power depending on who else is in the room. While we are an API and queer organization, we struggle with other identity issues such as education and class. Sometimes we end up doing oppressive things without realizing that we are being oppressive. Even still, it is important to just start doing the work. You just have to try and you may say the wrong things, but that’s a part of doing the work.”
Organizing from an Intersectional Mind-frame: Intersectionality is a lens in which we can approach organizing work. It requires flexible thinking and an understanding that no one tool can be applied. Fresh thinking is required in each situation.
- “I have been in conversations about equity and intersectionality without shaming others in the room. For me, it is about folks understanding their identities. I am a black woman and bi-sexual and come from a background where that is not acceptable. At times, it gets really personal and is not as structural.” – Karyssa Jackson, Metro Transit Community Outreach and Engagement
- “Our best thinking in this work comes when we make each other our priority. We have to start with ourselves and the people we are working with.” – Nick Kor
- “One of the lies in America is the lie of scarcity such as the scarcity of power. Some believe that if they relinquish their power, that there will not be enough for them. I listen and watch affluent white males and I can smell fear there. But the absolute gain of one group does not contribute to the absolute loss of another.” – Nick Kor
Article: Why Intersectionality Can’t Wait Read more >
Article: Intersectionality Is Not a Label Read more >
Article: Black Lives Matter, All of Them Read more >
Article: The Unique Challenges Facing Queer People of Color Read more >
Organizer Roundtable: Creating a Safe and Accessible Pedestrian Environment
Creating a Safe and Accessible Pedestrian Environment
At a recent Organizer Roundtable, District Councils Collaborative along with close working allies, presented the findings of the 2014 Accessibility Survey which documents specific accessibility challenges for the Green Line stations. The survey also makes recommendations for policy and practice improvements that would promote transit access for people with disabilities. Below are some of the themes that were shared:
Accessibility Goes Beyond American with Disabilities Act (ADA) Requirements:
- In 2012, District Councils Collaborative (DCC) conducted a walkability survey to measure how people would connect to the Green Line Stations. The survey also allowed DCC to hear from residents their concerns related to safety and the physical condition of the pedestrian environment.
- In issuing the survey, there was sharp criticism from the disability community because it did not adequately address accessibility issues for persons with disabilities.
- There are more than 9,000 people with disabilities in the Central Corridor. The majority of those persons are people of color, whites only represent 7 percent of the disability community along the corridor. The sheer need and response to the survey motivated DCC to go back and do a survey that would specifically highlight their concerns.
- The new survey found that mobility issues for persons with disabilities were widespread and pernicious. In addition, the survey found that there is poor coordination among responsible government agencies which leads to deferred maintenance and neglect.
Solutions to Improve Accessibility for People with Disabilities
- Advocates and planners need to include people with disabilities at all stages and levels of decision making.
- There is a need to build community awareness and accessibility before a project is implemented, instead of just after. Advocates and planners need to build motivation within the disability community and encourage everyone to report issue.
“Accessibility issues even made it complicated to issue the survey. It was difficult to get to some areas because there were too many hills or it was windy. There were also days it rained with made it difficult to get things done in a timely manner. In spite of the challenges, it still felt good to get out and do something and to be included in a community-driven process.”
Kari Sheldon, Community Accessibility Expert
“In our Snelling and Dale project, we are intentional about including people with people with disabilities in the planning project. We are also building capacity within this community so that we are not always relying on the same folks.”
Kjensmo Walker, former Administrative Assistant with DCC
“ADA affirms that all have a right to be a part of the society. We have a right to actively engage in our community and
create a community that works for everyone. As much as we possibly can, we have to avoid segregating people with disabilities from programs and services.”
Alyssa Wetzel-Moore, City of St. Paul Department of Human Rights & Equal Economic Opportunity Human Rights Specialist & ADA Coordinator
Role of Government Agencies in Meeting Need
- All government municipalities and agencies are obligated to have an ADA program. Title II says that no persons with disabilities can be excluded from existing processes and also requires that agencies take a look at existing systems to see who is being left out.
- Minnesota’s Olmstead Plan also addresses ADA issues. Created in 2013, the Olmstead Plan is about community integration and making sure that people with disabilities have an opportunity to engage with others in communities that they choose to live. It also focuses on increasing transit options throughout the state.
- With the Accessibility Survey, DCC learned that things are complicated at a government level. There are cities, counties and the Met Council – all who have a responsibility to address ADA issues. Moving forward, advocates need to find out who these players are, who is responsible for what, and how they can interact in a bigger way.
- The Olmstead Plan can potentially address some of the confusion here. It is bringing different agencies together to work across boundaries.
- Survey also provided an opportunity to look at how institutionalized racism in state agencies was a compounding issue for people with disabilities.
- Community engagement is key to improving accessibility and ensuring that government agencies work better.
“Retiring gave me the opportunity to go after the city of St. Paul and the Met Council for their role in perpetuating racism and how that affects people with disabilities. Recently, the Met Council started closing down the rail-to-skyway elevator at night because there were reports of black people ‘loitering.’ Institutionalized racism not only affects people of color but persons with disabilities as well when things like this go unchecked.”
Rick Cardenas, formerly with Advocating Change Together
“Just because you are following the ADA rules, it does not mean that you get an accessible environment. Jurisdictions need to get together and address issues cohesively. Community engagement will help in that process.”
Carol Swenson, District Councils Collaborative
Making Strides: 2014 Accessibility Survey Read >
Video: First Last Mile Accessibility on the Green Line Watch >
Minnesota’s Olmstead Plan Find out more >
Minnesota’s ADA Transition Plan Find out more >
Organizer Roundtable: Building Power in the Asian American Pacific Islander Community
Building Power in the Asian American Pacific Islander Community
Behind every social movement, you will find people who help define the strategies that community members organize around. These leaders are instrumental in securing tangible racial, economic and environmental justice wins for their communities. At a recent Organizer Roundtable, organizers and other Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) leaders discussed how they were building power, framing issues and advancing racial justice in order to secure tangible wins for their communities. Several themes emerged in the conversation:
Building Power through Community Engagement
Oskar Ly, an artist organizer for Asian Economic Development Association (AEDA), is building power in the AAPI community by bringing together artists and businesses to collaborate on work. One of the ways that she has been able to do this is through the Little Mekong Night Markets. “It was a new way to engage our community,” said Ly. “There were pop-up performances in areas where there was not a lot activities. It not only brought together people representing different interests but was also intergenerational.”
Ly also brings her love for art into her volunteer work with Shades of Yellow, a Hmong Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) organization that works to provide support, education, advocacy, and leadership development. “Here I work with queer artists to help express their stories.”
Sunny Chanthanouvong is the executive director at the Lao Assistance Center, an organization that has traditionally focused on direct service in the Lao community. Like many service organizations it works on crime, housing, and health issues in the community. However, Chanthanouvong believes that true power and transformation comes from increasing the community’s civic engagement and ability to be a part of the decision making process. “Right now, we are doing voter education and helping people understand the political landscape in which we live,” said Chanthanouvong. “We are following up with Councilmember Blong Yang and Mayor Hodges, holding them accountable to what they said they would do when they were running their election campaigns. We are also involved in station area planning with the upcoming Bottineau Transitway.”
Gilbert Achay is the Health Equity Project Manager for the Center of Prevention at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota. Although he doesn’t consider himself an organizer, he brings a much needed community engagement and racial justice lens to his work. “At BCBS, I work to promote health equity around tobacco, food access and healthy living,” said Achay. “I want to make sure that our work is informed by what the community is saying so that those who are most affected by these disparities are able to set their own agenda receive funding.”
The Model Minority Myth
The model minority myth is something that drastically hurts the AAPI Community. Many times the myth leads people to believe that all AAPI are well off and not in need assistance. In fact, data often shows that the community is doing economically better than whites. But for Achay this myth is a wedge strategy. “It denies the reality and experiences of many AAPI,” he said. “1 in 3 Cambodian men don’t graduate from high school. This is not something we always hear – the data only looks at the successes of a few. Pacific Islanders also get lumped in this category which includes Native Hawaiians but also people from Micronesian, Samoa, and Guam. Each of these are unique communities who are often worse off that many Asian Americans with a high rate of drop out and a high use of alcohol.”
Chanthanouvong commented that one way to challenge the myth is through organizing and civic engagement. “In Laos, people don’t know what this means beyond voting,” he said. “But we need to take it beyond voting, and engage, mobilize and hold leaders accountable to what they said they would do to make change.” Chanthanouvong also suggested that data reporting on outcomes in the AAPI community needs to be broken down and lend itself to more truth telling. “Raw data suggests that the AAPI community is as large as the Latino community. The poorest among us tend to be Hmong and then Lao. These things don’t always get interpreted.”
Bo Thao-Urabe, the Senior Director of Capacity Building and Organizational Learning of Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy (AAPIP), also spoke of the role that the myth plays in dividing communities of color. “It was developed to end the Civil Rights Movement,” said Thao-Urabe. “The government wanted to silence black people by falsely insinuating that there were other minority groups who were doing well. Not only is the myth not true, but it does not reflect our constantly changing community as Minnesota is now home to many AAPI refugees. Stepping back from this, AAPI need to grow in our understanding of race in this country – no other country in the world deals with race in the way that we do. Not only do we need to consider how we join the conversation but how we expand to include our voices and experiences.”
Developing an immigrant refugee lens
Achay said that one of the ways to move the race conversation forward is by reframing the existing narrative around immigrants. “There are 1.3 million undocumented AAPI immigrants,” he said. “We can start reframing the conversation by building coalitions with Latinos and other undocumented immigrants.”
Ly said that this reframing can take place through effective storytelling. “Data is important but it doesn’t always reveal people’s lived experiences – storytelling and art does that,” she said. “By telling our stories and the stories of our elders, we build power within our family but also within society at large. We need to not only tell the stories of our past but also of our present. This will help us build power and expand the conversation around race to include us.”
Chanthanouvong said that expanding the race conversation to include immigrant perspectives also requires a sense of ownership and belonging. “The Lao community has been in the country for 40 years now,” he said. “This is now our country, our home too. What have we been doing to contribute and improve it? This is why civic engagement is so important. It is a tool to not only reach our community but to exercise our voice for the public good.”
Asian Economic Development Institute website Learn more >
Lao Assistance Center of Minnesota website Learn more >
Shades of Yellow website Learn more >
Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders: a Community of Contrasts Read >
#IAMBEYOND #ELEVATEYOURVOICE Campaign Find out more >
The Cultural Canard of the Model Minority Myth Read >
2013 ACS Shows Depth of Native American Poverty and Different Degrees of Economic Well-Being for Asian Ethnic Groups Read >
Organizer Roundtable: Organizing in the American Indian Community
Organizing in the American Indian Community
It is important for communities who are affected by systematic and intentional disenfranchisement to take the lead on changing this dynamic. By leading the movement for racial and economic justice in arenas that are important to them, these communities position themselves to be the decision makers and creators of policies that will shape their lives. At a recent Organizer Roundtable, organizers and leaders from the American Indian community showed how they were doing just that. Here is what they had to say:
Jay Bad Heart Bull, Native American Community Development Institute executive director
Jay Bad Heart Bull, president and CEO of Native American Community Development Institute, is a native of the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. He moved to the Twin Cities 15 years ago committed to working for equity and justice in the American Indian community, which he has an opportunity to do at NACDI. “We are collectively working for a brighter future for our community,” says Bad Heart Bull. “We do this through community engagement, particularly redeveloping the strengths and assets of our community. We also do this by rebuilding broken relationships which has left many of us disengaged. We are spiritual and cultural people at heart, we need to rebuild these connections. We are also engaging in a broader conversation about what community can look like.”
Bad Heart Bull says that NACDI is also building power by showing what they can accomplish together. “We focus on celebrating our art, businesses, and developing young leaders in the community,” says Bad Heart Bull. “Our organizing leadership institute helps people develop and hone their organizing strategies. With our cultural corridor, we are able to showcase the artwork of many of our native youth. We also developed a blueprint which highlights the communities’ shared vision and strategies for community development.”
In addition to uplifting and developing the assets of the community, NACDI also works to change policies and systems that limit that possibility. Over the past year, the organization has worked in coalition with other groups in order to do this including MoveMN, Raise the Wage, and Equity in Place. NACDI also played a significant role in changing Columbus Day to Indigenous People’s Day in the City of Minneapolis.
One of the barriers that Bad Heart Bull has encountered in this work is the lack of statistical data available about the American Indian community. This missing information makes it all the more challenging to pinpoint the areas where the community can be strengthened and also limits resources from being targeted in those areas. Bad Heart Bull has also found that sometimes people in the community can sometimes be reluctant to advocating for change out of fear of failure. “As solutions to both of these, I have found that it is best to build authentic relationships,” says Bad Heart Bull. “Relationships are huge in this work. By modeling this value of our ancestors, I believe we are finding our voice and exercising our power in ways that will make for lasting change.”
Robert Lilligren, Transportation Advisory Board member and Little Earth executive director
Robert Lilligren is originally from the White Earth Band of the Ojibwe and a 33 year resident of the Phillips Neighborhood. He is also LGBT. While he grew up in a middle class family, he identifies with many American Indian community members who are marginalized and underresourced.
As a long term resident of the Phillips neighborhood, he has seen the community go through many changes. “Phillips was created by major transportation investments, including 35W,” said Lilligren. “I am convinced that these moves were intentionally put in place to hold blight in. There is a lot of disinvestment here. After two people were shot dead, I got fed up with what I was seeing. A lot of people left the community who had resources and the neighborhood continued to deteriorate. I did some soul searching and not only decided to stay but to create a safe place where children could play.”
“I met a few neighbors and together we did an inventory of the children in the neighborhood. We discovered 40 children in our area who never went outside to play due to safety concerns. We started to meet each other more and brainstorm ways to transform our neighborhood. Organizing at this level brought me into the community more. At the time, we had very little resources to fund our work. Still we were committed to it.”
Around the turn of the century, Lilligren decided to take his community involvement up another level. As transportation and other investments were being slated for his neighborhood, he noticed that there wasn’t anyone from the American Indian community at the table. “I had a base of knowledge about the issues that were facing our neighborhood and so I ran for city council,” said Lilligren. “I wanted to make sure that the community was aware and informed of these developments so that they could make decisions about what they wanted to see.”
As a council member, one of the decision making processes that he brought the community to was the development of the Midtown Exchange. “As that project was being developed, we set aggressive workforce goals in order to ensure that people from the community were hired for these jobs. The community also generated a Memoradum of Understanding about how they wanted to see the city meet the needs of the neighborhood.”
Over his years of work, Lilligren has learned the importance of relationships. “We accomplish more when we work together as a community when we work together and speak with one voice,” he said. “But there is also value in community-government partnerships. Government officials and politicians need to support people in the fray, or in marginalized community. Be strategic, be specific and embed accountability into your work as a person in decision-making authority. And as a community member, you have to exercise your right to vote. People who vote find their needs best met by the government.”
Susan Allen, Minnesota State representative
Susan Allen was elected to be a state representative in South Minneapolis (62B) in 2012. Her election represented a lot of firsts: she was the first Native American woman to serve in the state legislature and she was also the first openly lesbian Native American to win an election at the state legislature. “There are only 800 American Indians or so living in my area,” said Allen. “I was elected mainly by white LGBTs.”
Although a legislator, Allen considers herself an organizer. As a daughter of an American Indian Episcopal Priest whose mission it was to change the way the church functioned, she learned that organizing was critical to survival. In addition to growing up exposed to the nuances of ministry, she also witnessed the American Indian Movement, and saw the effects, both positive and negative, of communities fighting for their justice.
Allen earned her B.A. in Economics from Augsburg College in 1992. From there, she went on to get a Juris Doctorate from the University of New Mexico Law School in 1995 and a Master of Laws from William Mitchell College of Law in 2000. Motivated by justice, Allen has served as an attorney since 1997, specializing in tribal and corporate governance. But when the state representative seat became open in 2011, Allen knew that she could do a lot of good for the American Indian community as well as the LGBT community at the capitol and so decided to run. Now in office, Allen realizes that the real power for change lies in her constituency. “We rely on your help to help us develop the message,” says Allen. “Your presence at the capitol helps the legislation get passed.”
Susan Allen First American Indian Woman Legislator Read >
Native American Community Development Institute Case Study Read >
American Indian Community Blueprint Read >
A Joyous Day but a Day of Remembrance: The First Indigenous People’s Day in Minneapolis Read >
Organizer Roundtable: Moving from Allyship to Solidarity
Moving from Allyship to Solidarity
As we continue to advocate for racial justice in the Twin Cities and beyond, we cannot overlook the significant role of white people. White people’s involvement in the racial justice movement is important, not to lead the movement, but to help clear the way in racist white led systems. White allies can organize and educate other white people to take responsibility for the individual ways in which they have participated in white supremacy and to learn how to show up for people of color.
At a recent Organizer Roundtable, presenters discussed the importance of organizing white people for racial justice. Several themes emerged from the conversation.
Factors that Keep White Supremacy Alive
One of the themes that emerged from the session is that there are various factors that keep white supremacy alive. One of those is factors is complacency with the system as it is. “There is a lot of incentive for white people to talk about race without ever changing the status quo,” said Liz Loeb, Officer of Strategic Initiatives with Harrison Neighborhood Association. “White supremacy is brilliant that way. The system that wants to stay in place has the ability to observe a certain amount of resistance. 1000 chips at the same stone and we don’t know which one will break until it does.”
“I try to figure out why things are the way they are and where the source of the problem is,” said community organizer Roxxanne O’Brien. “I believe it is capitalism. Capitalism is our enemy, as it controls people’s minds and we even kill over it. As organizers, we need to understand the system and the way that it works; we can’t change anything until we understand what we are working against.”
“Class oppression keeps the system of white supremacy in place,” said O’Brien. “It enables this system based on racism to continue. As far as blacks are concerned, we did not start getting called lazy until we insisted that we wouldn’t work for free. Yet, there are not enough middle class jobs to lift low-wealth people out of poverty so we get concentrated in low-wage jobs that do not provide for our families.”
Understanding White Privilege in the Context of Marginal Identities
While whites have privilege as a result of being racialized, it is also important to understand how some have been marginalized based on other identities that they possess. “I grew up in Northeast Minneapolis in the 80s, which was a segregated working class neighborhood,” said Jake Virden, organizer for Hope Community. “Many of the white families around me didn’t have access to a lot of resources. Though poor, many were taught to hate people of color, which made our neighborhood very tense when it became a multi-racial working class community. There was more competition for seemingly scarce resources.”
Loeb also spoke to her own identities that have been marginalized. “As a Jew, I know firsthand what happens when persecution is co-opted into the workings of the state,” she said. “Past trauma leads me to be genuinely afraid of my son growing up in a world of apartheid. The thing that saves me is the immense love when we do community with one another. Coming out as queer and gay in the 1990s brought me into the community I needed.”
“In the past, I’ve been taught that as a Jewish queer woman that I had no place. The system was designed to not work for me and I had to figure it out myself. I first joined the queer community during the AIDS epidemic and began to realize that we cannot fight queer oppression without simultaneously fighting against racism. They are different systems that are deeply intertwined. In the past, I have been tempted to choose one identity or one fight over another. But I have realized that whatever false rewards I have for doing so are not as yummy as community and solidarity with others. What this means for me is taking an inventory of my privilege which I walk in the world and also using that privilege to break a part the power structure of white supremacy that surrounds us. Explicit conversations on racial injustice leads us toward that but as many times as we talk, we need to take action so much more.”
Distinctions between Allyship, Solidarity and Friendship
One of the questions that were posed to the presenters and participants in the room was the difference and similarities between allyship, solidarity and friendship. O’Brien expressed why is was not necessary for people to be friends in order to stand in solidarity with each other. “We don’t have to be friends to support one another,” said O’Brien. “You don’t have to be my friend for me to protect you, share my food with you, or fight for you. Friendships are important but we build those over time. Friendships also are not always public. Solidarity means that whether we or friends or not, we will not separate.”
Virden explained that he saw similarities between allyship and solidarity, but that solidarity meant a deeper commitment over time. “Allyship is a good thing, it’s not negative,” said Virden. “Solidarity implies a deeper level of allyship and means a mutual commitment to vision, action, and a future. The best way to demonstrate solidarity is to acknowledge that whites have more to gain in change than in things staying the same as there are millions of oppressed European people in this very country.”
While Virden saw similarities between the two terms, he also questioned the notion of whites labeling themselves as allies. “Allies,” he questioned? “Can we call ourselves human instead? What is most important to me is that when I look at my maker, I know that I did something to fight against injustice rather than pass the buck.”
Loeb agreed, expressing why she did not get caught up in the terminology. “Allyship and solidarity are not language I use or carry around,” she said. “Instead, I try to ask myself whether I am in authentic and accountable relationships with people. I spent a lot of time in graduate school learning about critical race theory, and while that language is important, I do not find it as useful right now.”
“One way I am accountable to people of color is questioning how I use my time and resources to invest in others. Whites are taught to evaluate the information before making these commitments but that comes more from a capitalistic mindset and acting from this mind frame ends up being a barrier to what I really want to do. Instead I need to trust the experience and wisdom of people of color and put my body in places where leadership of color asks me to be. I also take the same approach when I think about how I use my resources and reparations. I understand that the resources I have access to are the result of me attending an institution which profited on slavery. With this in mind, I designate a certain percentage of my salary to organizations of color and community organizing.”
Whites Organizing in Communities of Color
Based on the desire to be in solidarity with people of color, one of the other themes that was lifted up in was how and if white people should organize in their communities. “Being in solidarity also means recognizing that black people do not need me to organize them,” said Virden. “Things that some of us organizers do in communities of color will get done by people of color, and probably better. Instead, we need to face our own insecurities and organize among the tea partiers, those who are less educated, and other white working class people. If we are not mobilizing them, the white supremacists are.”
“People of color are experts of their own lives and experience,” said Vaughn Larry. “We know what we are talking about when we speak about our situation and our people. We have the solutions! So when you join movements of color, join them; don’t try to run them.”
“There is an assumption that there are a lot of good allies out there already, but allies can retraumatize people of color and indigenous folks,” said Ashley Fairbanks. “Native-led movements often get co-opted by whites when they think they know better than others in the room because they went to college for organizing. When whites seek to run our movements, they are not there for our best interest; in fact their efforts end up causing more harm than good.”
Article: Explaining White Privilege to a Broke White Person Read more >
Article: What My Bike Has Taught Me About White Privilege and More Read more >
Paper: Staying off the Megaphone and in the Movement: Cultivating Solidarity and Contesting Authority Among White Anti-racist Activists
Read more >
Organizer Roundtable: Art as an Organizing Strategy
Art as an Organizing Strategy
Art is an essential tool that organizers can use in their work to build vibrant communities and win campaigns. Art prioritizes the centering of a creative process to address change and also allows participants to bring their full self to the social change process. At a recent Organizer Roundtable, presenters shared how they were using this medium to organize and transform their communities as well as to address the pertinent social justice issues in our region. Here is what they had to say:
Ricardo Levins Morales, artist and community activist
For Ricardo Levins Morales, an independent artist and activist, it is nearly impossible to separate art from organizing and vice versa. For him, art and organizing is a way to approach campaign work with a sense of creativity. “There are only two kinds of organizing,” says Morales. “Organizing that puts storytelling and narrative at the center of the strategies and organizing that hasn’t figured it out yet.”
In his work, Morales has the opportunity to engage different communities to help them see art as a vital organizing strategy, and particularly to communicate a message that otherwise would not get told. He does this by using visuals, such as posters and t-shirts, which are decorated with powerful truths that challenge stereotypical myths about communities, particularly communities of color. For instance, he was called in to help out undocumented day laborers in New Orleans who were brought in to rebuild after Hurricane Katrina. He created a visual campaign that illustrated that the workers had a right to remain with dignity. “It became an organizing tool in that struggle which created a story,” said Morales. “It made allies out of people who would have otherwise been enemies.”
Malia Burkhart, artist-organizer and somatic massage therapist
Malia Burkhart is both an artist and organizer who works on environmental justice issues. In particular, she uses art, song and organizing to explain to communities what fracking is. This development in her work began when she was preparing for a workshop on sand mining and started thinking thought about how she could engage people holistically so that they could feel free to express themselves. “This was really important in some of the small communities where I have done work in,” said Burkhart. “People were living next to others whom they might have disagreed with and the issue was divisive. I had to think about ways to engage people where all points of view could be heard.”
Burkhart has also worked with the Occupy Movement. One of the key critiques of that movement was that it did not have a centralized form of leadership. Instead of going with a hierarchal approach to decision making, the people that Burkhart worked with were more interested in organizing circles were people were leading themselves. “We wanted to think about how we could bring communities together to demand the change that they wanted to see in government,” said Burkhart.
Amoke Kubat, YO MAMA Institute founder
Amoke Kubat uses art, education, and storytelling to support mothers in her community. She was formerly a teacher in Minneapolis Public Schools and while there realized the lack of connections many mothers felt.
Recognizing the deep needs around her, Kubat launched the YO MAMA Institute which was designed to help mothers get empowered, get healthy and raise healthy children. One of the programs that YO MAMA hosts is the Art of Mothering workshop which uses art for self-expression, skill building and experiential learning and community building with support from local artists who are painters, photographers, dancers, musicians, writers, and more. Asked why she does this work, Kubat responded “Mothering is the most important work in the world.”
Kyle Tran Myhre (Guante), Spoken Word Artist, Activist and Educator
Kyle Tran Myhre uses media and social justice education to build bridges in the community. One of the ways in which he has done this is by facilitating conversations around identity and power in the classroom. “I travel to colleges and use spoken word as a larger entry point into the community,” says Tran Myhre. “I then am able to use art to talk about gender, race and identity.”
Tran Mhyre sees his art as a means to reduce the perpetuation of power based violence through his participation in the Green Dot project, a violence prevention strategy that teaches individuals and schools how to foster safe communities. As a participant in this project, Tran Myhre works with middle school students, teaching them how to step up when they see acts of violence. In addition, he has used his art to fight against homophobia, particularly through hosting Hip Hop Against Homophobia shows. “In Minnesota we have one of the biggest hip hop communities and a vibrant LGBT scene. How do we acknowledge and facilitate those things overlapping?” asked Tran Mhyre.
Vong Lee, Frogtown Neighborhood Association community artist organizer
Vong Lee, a long time resident of the Frogtown neighborhood, uses art to connect his community to issues that are most pertinent to them. He has done this by gathering the most prominent artists in the neighborhood and asking them what their hopes are for their community. This group, called the Creative Thinkers, spearheaded two projects that have contributed to the revitalization of the community. The Lot Squat was a series of performances and Community engagement which helped the community start thinking about creative solutions to foreclosure and the prevalence of vacant lots. The second project, Preserve Frogtown, purchases, renovates and resells vacant houses in Frogtown instead of allowing them to be destroyed. The group was able to purchase its first home in 2013.
Lee has noticed that using arts, has attracted younger kids and youth to Frogtown’s work. “Now everyone is in and it has become more of a community thing,” says Lee. “When there is art, there is heat and people are attracted to that heat.
RLM Art Studio Learn more >
A Love Song, A Death Rattle, A Battle Cry Learn more >
Frogtown Neighborhood Association Learn more >
Frogtown Fresh is in the Air Learn more >
Yo Mama: The Mothering Mothers Institute Learn more >
Arts by Malia Learn more >
Organizer Roundtable: Power of Leadership in the African and African American Community
Power of Leadership in the African and African American Community
Behind every social movement, you will find people who help define the strategies that community members organize around. These leaders are instrumental in securing tangible racial, economic and environmental justice wins for their communities. At a recent Alliance roundtable, organizers and other leaders in the African American and African immigrant communities discussed how they are building power and advancing racial justice so that no one is left behind.
Marcus Harcus, then an education organizer for Minnesota Neighborhood’s Organizing for Change (NOC), shared how he started organizing in the community in high school. As a junior in high school, Harcus recognized the structural racism that was embedded in the school system and wrote students a four page letter speaking out about it. He eventually received formal organizing training from the Organizing Apprenticeship Project (OAP), and has worked on a myriad of issues including employment disparities, foreclosure prevention and education. “I care about a lot of issues, but education is the most important,” said Harcus. “At NOC, I have been able to advocate for more teachers of color and culturally relevant teaching material. I have also been able to speak out against the school to prison pipeline.”
In addition to issue based organizing, Harcus has been heavily engaged in electoral politics both by encouraging people to vote and running for office himself. For him, the intersection of issue based and electoral organizing is all about cultural and political consciousness, and helping people of color understand that they have the power to change their outcomes.
Yende Anderson, a community program specialist for the Council on Black Minnesotans, also talked about her work in cultivating the leadership in the African and African American communities in Minnesota. According to Anderson, her life’s work has been about positioning people to advocate for themselves. In 2004, she co-founded a nonprofit in Minnesota to help immigrant doctors do just that.
She noticed that as doctors immigrated to the United States, that they encountered barriers that essentially limited their ability to practice. As a result, many of these well-qualified and educated practitioners ended up working in menial jobs with little hopes of finding themselves back into the health care system. “So I started working with these doctors and encouraged them to speak their truth about oppression to the system,” said Anderson. “This in and of itself was challenging as many of us came from countries, like Liberia, where speaking for ourselves was not allowed. We were taught that being respectful was to be humble and quiet. But now, they are advocating for themselves and decision makers are beginning to listen to them.”
As the community program specialist at the Council, Anderson works to elevate the skills and expertise in the community. In her role, she helps to advise the governor on issues that are pertinent to both Africans and African Americans in Minnesota. “We also serve as a conduit to resources and policy making tables,” said Anderson. “We work with the community and they direct our engagement efforts. We go to cities throughout Minnesota to learn about the issues that are facing. We then develop policy initiatives from what we have learned and bring those things to the capitol. This year we were able to bring forward 14 bills on human rights, education, arts, and economic development as a result of our efforts.”
Abdullah Kiatamba, the executive director of African Immigrant Services, spoke about how he first started organizing in the African community when he was a refugee in Sierra Leone. “There wasn’t enough food for us and we knew that if we spoke up we could get arrested,” said Kiatamba. “We organized an event with the governor and leaders within the refugee community. And we had our talking points ready. In the end, we sent a powerful statement and were able to get more food for our people.”
As the executive director of AIS, Kiatamba has taken the lessons that he learned while still in Sierra Leone and applied them to his work in Minnesota. As an agency, AIS works to move people of color from the sidelines to the decision making table in order to be able to express their dreams, wishes and needs for their community. “We take this approach because we believe that no one knows your experience better than yourself.”
Most of AIS’ engagement activities takes place within the African immigrant communities in the Northwest Suburbs. Currently, it is working with parents of color in the Osseo school district to change the dynamics in the school system. “In the Northwest suburbs there is a huge population of students of color, and we know that the school’s teachers and administrators don’t know what our students need. So we are working with the parents to define what we want which includes hiring culturally competent teachers from our own community.”
Kiatamba stated that one of the challenges he sees in his work is the lack of civic engagement in the African immigrant community. “Our problems are so institutionalized,” he said. “We need to create more room and increase leadership opportunities for our community. Building power must lead to an outcome. We have to ask ourselves what we are building power for and what is it that we want to change.”
“Sometimes one of the biggest challenges lies within our own community,” said Harcus. “We have to overcome the post-traumatic slave disorder which often causes us to look down upon ourselves. We need to move to a place of more self-love, and also work from a place of love, freedom and peace.”
“One of the challenges that we face the most in our work is our broad geographic territory,” said Anderson. “We know that not everyone can show up for an action in the Twin Cities so we have meetings all over the state. We also are not a monolithic community, we span various cultures and issues which sometimes leads to not having a lot of cohesion. We must work together to build that.”
In order to work together, we must come together. Numbers matter, we need to show up to speak for ourselves,” said Anderson. “We also have to support each other’s efforts,” said Kiatamba. “This is how we build power. You won’t be afraid of the power in front of you if you know the strength of the power behind you.”
Neighborhoods Organizing for Change Read More >
Council on Black Minnesotans Read more >
African Immigrant Services Read more >
Support, Don’t Silence, State’s Minority Councils Read more >
Organizer Roundtable: Organizing for Healthy Communities
Organizing for Healthy Communities
A person’s zip code is all too often a predictor of how long they might live. People living in poorer neighborhoods, disproportionately people of color, often have fewer safe and healthy housing, physical activity, food, employment and transportation options. There is a growing understanding that these social and economic inequities, many of which are perpetuated by structural racism, are key contributors to health disparities.
The good news is that there are organizations in the Twin Cities region who are tackling these issues head on. At a recent Organizer Roundtable, presenters shared the work they are doing to make healthier communities through organizing, advocacy and forming cross-issue, cross-sector collaborations.
West Side Citizens Organization (WSCO) is creating a healthier West Side community by advocating for food justice. They have formed a partnership with Ce Tempoxcalli to accomplish this work. Eleonore Wesserle, WSCO’s former food justice organizer, shared how this unique partnership has allowed each organization to focus on their area of strength. “WSCO works in the policy area, Ce Tempoxcalli does grassroots work,” said Wesserle. “My position doesn’t give me the opportunity to get out and do some of the grassroots work. But without these relationships grounded in the community, I don’t have a leg to stand on in the advocacy work.”
Lydia Nobello, of Ce Tempoxcalli, emphasized the value of grassroots organizing work in advancing food justice and called on organizations to invest in organizing. “Organizers will door-knock, phone call, hold group meetings and do one to one’s with key stakeholders in the community,” said Nobello. “All of these activities will inform the work on an organization. This is why more organizations need to build organizers into the work that they are doing and pay them what they deserve.”
Sandy Ci Moua, CAPI’s community development coordinator, agreed. CAPI is a direct service organization that has been taking a look at embedding advocacy components into their work. “While CAPI has done a great job providing services to immigrants and refugees so that they can be self-sustainable, civic engagement will give our community even more power,” said Ci Moua. “Embedding community organizing into the work of direct service organizations is quite innovative and will change processes over time. But direct service staff need more grounding in the concepts of community organizing and racial equity.”
“It is hard to transition direct service organizations into doing systems work when they have never done it before,” said Joo-Hee Pomplun, Asian Economic Development Association’s director of programs. “In 2010, there was a shift in the focus at the state’s health department which forced many service organizations to transition into advocacy work. But the state did it too fast and many organizations lost their funding as a result.”
“After this, we came together to question the state department’s actions and hold them accountable to its commitment to eliminate health disparities. This is how the Minnesota Health Equity Working Committee (HEWC) was formed. While many of us did not have experience in policy and systems change, we did what we felt was right and jumped on to this work.”
Through HEWC’s work, Pomplun and others have discovered that health disparities is an underlying issue the much larger problem of institutional racism and the lack of people of color and immigrants in decision making processes. “I am a connector and a bridger,” said Pomplun. “I work to connect the community to tables were they have been traditionally excluded. Change in our communities won’t take place until our voice is heard.”
While community engagement and organizing is key to building healthier communities, there is a right way and a wrong way to do it. The right way allows the community to be a part of the process from the beginning. The wrong way emphasizes the status quo by tokenizing the community. “There is this prevailing idea that communities need to come to where the decisions are being made,” said Nobello. “Sometimes organizations and government agencies feel that the community should come to them to hear about the work that they are doing. This is not authentic engagement and doesn’t really give the community an opportunity to be heard. We need to instill a culture and value around really including people in the process, and that process may not always align with we had in mind.”
In addition to creating authentic processes that elevate the voice of the community at decision making tables, there is also a value in forming cross-issue partnerships in order to create healthier places. “People need to breakout of the silos that we have,” said Wesserle. “People working on food justice, need to talk to those working on transportation equity, who need to talk to others working on affordable housing issues. All of these issues, though different, are connected – working together we can create stronger, more resilient communities.”
Minnesota Department of Health: Advancing Health Equity Read more >
Minnesota Department of Health: White Paper on Income and Health Read more >
MPR: Structural Racism Blamed for Some of State’s Severe Health Disparities Read more >
MPR: In the Twin Cities, Where You Call Home Can Say a lot about How Long You May Live (Map) Read more >
Investing in the Health of Our Children and Our Communities Read more >
Health Working Committee Powerpoint Read more >
Organizer Roundtable: Equitable Transit Oriented Development Along Our Regional Transitways
Equitable Transit Oriented Development Along Our Regional Transitways
Equitable transit-oriented development is an approach to creating communities of opportunity that connect residents to resources such as employment, housing, transit and education. Equitable outcomes come about when intentional strategies are put in place to ensure that low-income communities and communities of color participate in the decision making process and benefit from the development that shapes their neighborhoods and regions. At a recent Organizer Roundtable, participants discussed the ways in which they are ensuring equitable development along our existing and planned regional transitways.
Gene Gelgelu, executive director of African Economic Development Solutions, spoke to the role his organization has played in ensuring that African owned businesses benefit from the Green Line development. AEDS provided businesses a variety of training classes and marketing strategies to help them increase their visibility as the Green Line was being constructed. AEDS also wanted to ensure that once the line opened, these businesses had the capacity to attract more customers. But the organization also aspires to work with businesses in Minneapolis and Brooklyn Park in light of the planned Southwest Light Rail and Bottineau lines. “There are a lot of African immigrants in these areas,” said Gelgelu. “We want to make sure that everyone in these corridors take part in decision making and can also benefit from the development.”
Andy Hestness, vice president of Native American Community Development Institute, talked about how the Native American residents in south Minneapolis came together to create economic opportunities for their community. “The community saw that there were many disparities and wanted to take a new approach to addressing them,” Hestness said. “Over the course of three years, people were asked what they wanted for their community.”
A vision document with tangible actions step emerged from the discussions that NACDI held with the community. A lot of it identified how the community was not well connected to the transportation system. “There have been a variety of transportation planning processes in the past and the Native American community did not largely feel that they were engaged in those processes,” said Hestness. “The community wants to be heard, not just in how transit operates but in how it comes together.”
NACDI took an assets based approach to address the disconnection that the community felt from development projects, such as the Hiawatha Light Rail Transit Line. Over the last few years, the organization and surrounding Native American community has reclaimed Franklin Avenue as an American Indian Cultural Corridor. The Cultural Corridor not only connects the community and visitors to the transit line, but it provides an opportunity for people to experience and engage with American Indian cultures in public gathering spaces, arts, Indian-owned businesses, restaurants, and interactive learning environments. They are working to develop the American Indian Cultural Corridor as a regional asset and promote it as the first American Indian destination corridor in the country.
La Shella Sims, a community organizer with Metropolitan Interfaith Council on Affordable Housing (MICAH) and member of the Southwest Light Rail Transit Equitable Development committee, talked about the work that the committee is doing along the SWLRT. The committee is advocating that equity is central to the project’s development, and are particularly focused on equitable transit oriented development opportunities at the proposed station stops. “There are a lot of benefits that come with light rail, such as jobs and housing,” said Sims. “But communities won’t realize those benefits unless they are a part of these projects from the beginning. Unless you are aware, you won’t be able to ask questions about what is going and challenge the power dynamics.”
To ensure that equity is central to SWLRT’s development, the committee in partnership with Harrison Neighborhood Association and Headwaters Foundation for Justice, has been creating a scorecard that includes various principles for creating transit oriented development. It includes land use, economic development, housing practices, and transportation trend and will be used as a tool for grassroots communities and neighborhood groups to measure development projects proposed in their communities. “The goal is to be able to use this and apply it to all of the corridors,” said Sims.
“A true example of equitable transit oriented development is right across the street,” said Vaughn Larry, Aurora St. Anthony Neighborhood Development Corporation’s (ASANDC) crime prevention organizer, pointing to the Episcopal Homes development out the window. “The property came up for redevelopment and ASANDC, Neighborhood Development Center (NDC), Model Cities, and Episcopal Homes came together to create a mixed use housing development for seniors. It is a perfect place for seniors – it has stores and other amenities that they might use at the bottom and it also connects them to the LRT right outside their door.”
“The development was one phase of a very long process,” said Model Cities CEO Beverly Hawkins, Ph. D. “The first phase was Rondo Library and the housing development on top of the building. We also have plans to do a project on the northwest corner of University and Dale. We wanted the development at this intersection to be a catalyst for other development on University Ave.”
“This is what equitable development looks like,” said Hawkins. “It’s not just about engaging the community in a development process, but about whether or not the community owns the development and about whether or not they are benefiting from it.”
Others joined in to share what equitable development looked like to them. “It’s also about participation in that process,” said Hestness. “And not token participation. Equitable development means that you have to find the institutions like Model Cities and NACDI that have deep relationships in the community and who are bringing the communities’ vision to the forefront. Their vision guides the development process.”
“Equitable development also necessitates thinking comprehensively,” said public policy advocate and organizer for JUST Equity Veronica Burt. “As the Green Line was being developed, government officials would often ask us what was the one thing that we wanted for the community. But to have in your mind that there is only one thing that the community needs, you are already starting out with an unequitable framework. When you are talking about issues of equity for communities that have had a long history of disinvestment, you have to realize that a one-size fits all solution won’t cut it.”
Universal solutions certainly don’t work in communities consisting of people from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds. “This is why cultural competency is also a key component to equitable development,” said Gelgelu. “In as much as every community is different, the people in a given community are also different and have different needs, wishes, and expectations depending on the culture that they are from. This has to be taken into account as development projects happen in and around our communities.”
American Indian Community Blueprint Read more >
Video: Profile of Model Cities Watch >
Equitable Development Principles and Scorecard Read more >
African Economic Development Solutions website Learn more >
Living Cities’ Equitable Transit Oriented Development Definitions and Terms Read more >
Reconnecting America: Mixed-Income Housing Near Transit Read more >
Organizer Roundtable: Latinos in Action
Latinos in Action
Our region’s demographics are changing rapidly. Now more than ever, there are more people of color and immigrants of color living in the Twin Cities, and by 2040, people of color will make up 43% of the population. Even so, racial disparities remain. Many communities of color and immigrants have limited access to essential opportunities that have the potential to improve the wellbeing of their families.
Fortunately, there are organizations and other important entities working to end this injustice. They are building power and leveraging the communities’ voice to secure tangible racial, economic and environmental justice wins. The Alliance recently convened a series of roundtables focusing on organizations in the Latino community who are doing just that. Several principles emerged that other communities can apply in their own issues and campaigns.
“Organizing begins at home” – Sara Lopez, Powderhorn Park Neighborhood Association organizer
When Lopez was first hired at PPNA, she noticed the incongruence between the organization’s progressive leadership and its connection to the Latino community. Before she began to organize in the larger community, she first challenged the organization’s understanding of the Latino community and then sought out ways to involve the community in a greater way. “I believe that organizing begins at home,” said Lopez. “I started having conversations with our board of directors and the board’s advisory council about how we could do things better. From there I engaged the Latino community and identified places where we could work. I also met with other organizations who were already doing work in the community – they helped me think about strategies of community engagement.”
“We have to establish trust in the community,” – Maria Isabel Ambriz, Northwest Resources for Families
Ambriz is an organizer who has been working in the Latino community in Brooklyn Center and Brooklyn Park for the last six years. She was encouraged to change the health outcomes of the kids in her community and used soccer as a medium to do that. “I reached out to my nephews first and asked them to pass out fliers to invite the other kids in the community to come play soccer,” says Ambriz. “I found a field and only 5 kids showed up to begin with. But I kept positive and was persistent in what I wanted.”
“I also kept my promises. While I didn’t have any money to build a big program, people saw the passion, energy and commitment that I had to the community. This is important because we have to establish trust in the community which is built over time. 25 kids are coming consistently now, which gives me the opportunity to work with them in other areas as well.”
“We are only fighting for our rights” – Veronica Mendez, Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en Lucha
Mendez has been working at CTUL for 12 years as a community organizer. In this role, she has been helped janitors recover their lost salaries. “In the last six years, we have recovered 6.2 million dollars for our members,” said Mendez. “Although we have made progress, the companies that our members work for are still not following the law and treating them fairly.”
“The problem is that the system exploits our labor to benefit the rich. When the president of a company makes in one hour what our workers make in a year, there is a problem. We are living in poverty and we have to have rights. We are only fighting for our rights.”
Gloria Castillo, an organizer with La Asamblea de Derechos Civilies, also talked about how her organization is securing rights for their constituents. La Asamblea, a faith based organization, works on immigration reform, voting, transportation and housing. “We’ve done a lot of work around the Dream Act in our community,” said Castillo. “But this work makes me feel more like a doer than a dreamer. I dream about going to Disney Land, I don’t dream about voting. I am working toward being a voter.”
“We need access to information,” – Eric Garcia Luna, Senator Klobuchar’s office
Luna, an outreach director with U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar’s office, spoke about some of the challenges that he has encountered in organizing his community. “I find that we are sometimes hesitant to get involved in government processes and civic engagement,” confessed Luna. “As an immigrant, you have a sense that our being here is only temporary because there is not a good structure to integrate into society.”
Part of the reason the community feels disconnected is because of barriers to information. “We need to figure out how to breach the information gap,” Luna said. “We need access to information for our community that is translated into Spanish. We also want to be included. Involve us in the decision making process.”
At the same time, organizations cannot assume that they have done good community engagement just because materials are translated into Spanish. “A year ago, I received a call from an organization who was giving out grants for home repair and they wanted help translating their grant materials into Spanish,” said Lopez. “But after the grant period was over and the organization issued awards, we found that no one who received the grant spoke Spanish. We went out into the neighborhood to find families to apply for the funds and found out there needed to be more economic capacity and education around the grant program before people could apply. So we provided training and families were finally able to apply and receive funding. This proves that community engagement needs to be done in a more complete way. Without approaches like these, many Latinos are left out of programs – even ones that are based on ideas of equity.”
“We need to be at decision-making tables to make systemic changes,” – Suyapa Miranda, Chicano Latino Affairs Council board member
Miranda, originally from Honduras, came to the United States with her family when she was only 3. Her family tried hard to eliminate speaking Spanish at home so that they could better assimilate. But she still spoke with an accent, which was seen as a disability at the school she attended. Because this label hindered her educational experience so much, she committed to returning back to the school to volunteer and work with other kids. “One thing that was disturbing was going back and seeing that things had not changed,” said Miranda. “Before there were 3 or 4 kids with accents, now there were 40 and they were all labeled with having a learning disability. I started to work with some of those kids and realized that there was a bigger problem.”
“This led me to start volunteering on every committee and board that I could,” said Miranda. “In order to make systemic changes, our community needs to be at these important decision making tables. I find it interesting that we have these huge policy issues, but they are not worded for most people to understand them. Had people known what the policies actually are, they would be at these tables.”
Hector Garcia, executive director of the Chicano Latino Affairs Council, also believes it important to bring community representation to decision making tables to influence policy. “In this region, you don’t always see Latino, Asian, or African American representation in meetings were policies that can benefit the community are being discussed,” said Garcia. “But CLAC is committed to bringing the community to those tables. That is why CLAC and the other councils exist. Many people have criticized us for doing this, but if there are no people from our communities at those tables, our needs won’t be heard. It is important to have people at these tables representing our interest in order to get results that will really benefit the community.”
Support, Don’t Silence, State Minority Councils Read more >
Chicano Latino Affairs Council website Read more >
La Asamblea de Derechos Civiles Declaration of Emancipation Read more >
Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en Lucha Campaign for Justice in Retail Cleaning Learn more >
Organizer Roundtable: Becoming Better Allies
Becoming Better Allies
No matter what a community is organizing around, good external allies can help us succeed. But truly good allies can be hard to find! At a recent Alliance Organizer Roundtable, presenters discussed how organizers and social justice advocates can be better allies to communities they work with but aren’t members of.
“Throughout history, the term ally has meant a sacred relationship,” said Danielle Mkali, a program officer with Nexus Community Partners. “The word itself has Latin roots which means to bind to. So when we think about allies, we should think about how we bind together. But we also need to think about how we move and create things together. In order to create, there has to be a dream about what we might be able to do.”
Mkali also illustrated a few principles in forming allyships. “We have to acknowledge the environment that we are working within,” she said. “As I understand the setting, I use the term that bell hooks uses – white supremacist patriarchy. My experience is that this seeps into everything and requires constant attention and resistance.”
Another principle that Mkali shared was that of love and the need to give one’s heart and soul to the work. Mkali explained that the formal organizing training that she received didn’t emphasize that but taught her theory. “In order to have the fortitude to work and preserve in this violent system, it takes a lot more than having the right theories,” said Mkali. “Without heart and soul, we won’t take the necessary risks to bring about change.”
“Allies are crucial to the work,” said Monica Bryand, Headwaters Foundation for Justice program director. “We accomplish a lot more when we work together.”
Bryand told of how when she worked for St. Paul Travelers she started a GLBT network with another colleague. She explained that straight people also expressed interest in being a part of the network. “We said yes because we needed everyone,” said Bryand. “Our friends who were straight had a lot of power. They helped us work with executives and corporations to change workplace policies and practices. They also had conversations with their peers about the GLBT movement and why it was important to be inclusive.”
Bryand also spoke to the intersection of race and the GLBT movement. “Being Latina, it wasn’t just about gay rights but race,” said Bryand. “But as a person of color, I experienced some internalized oppression and assumed that because I was gay, the Latino network would not want me to be a part of it. But they did.”
“When I think about what it means to be an ally, I think of someone who brings out the best in an individual,” said Rick Cardenas, co-executive director of Advocating Change Together (ACT). “In this work I have encountered a lot of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Being in relationship with them, my concept of what ‘smart’ is has changed. It’s strange how people are classified. People with disabilities need a lot of support in a lot of areas, but everyone needs a lot of support in a lot of areas.”
Cardenas also talked about the need for empowerment and leadership development so that people with disabilities can make their own decisions. “There is a lot of discrimination towards persons with disabilities in that a lot of people want to help them, but there is a fine line between helping and hurting,” said Cardenas. “In my work I try to emphasize not being caretakers for people with disabilities – allow them to develop and think in the way that they are able to. Assist and be cognizant in the least restrictive manner. And don’t make decisions for people – they find that offensive.”
“I’ve been struggling to understand the difference between allies, friends and partnerships,” said Marsha Cressy, organizer and director of Minnesotans Standing Together to End Poverty (MNSTEP). “Nothing happens that is worth very much alone. We go faster alone, but we go further together.” She went on to talk about the key being low wealth people to build capacity for themselves. “It is easy to say what is not an ally,” said Cressy. “At a meeting addressing homelessness, a woman said that she had a better perspective than those who were homeless because she had never been homeless, so knew not how to be. We can’t be allies with one another when we embody these prejudices.”
Cressy shared another example of what an ally is not. “In the past we have partnered with organizations who were trying to get funding or some other resource to do this work, in the end they only thanked us and didn’t help us to increase our own capacity,” said Cressy.
For Cressy, an ally is someone with whom she can work and feel success and valued. “I have benefited from people who have increased my ability to do this work and who have helped me navigate the system,” she said. “This type of relationships helps me feel like something other than ‘other.’”
Jamie Utt, a former teacher, has learned a lot about what it means to be an ally and particularly around how white teachers can be better allies to students of color. His first lesson in allyship happened while he was in college when a professor of his called him out because of his unchecked privilege. “He told me that if I was going to do this work I was going to screw up a lot,” said Utt. “Then he advised me to recognize when I screw up, listen accountably, and work to do better the next time.”
Such lessons have served Utt well as he now understands that being an ally is a process not a destination. “As the term ally becomes a part of mainstream conversation, I hear people talk about this concept of being an ally as a noun where they self-label as an ally,” started Utt. “But the idea of an ally can never be a noun, we have to position it as a verb and understand that it is never a place we arrive to.”
“I like to think being an ally is a lot like thinking about the North Star,” said Utt. “The goal is not to land on the star but to walk forever in its direction – there is no end point to which you can ever land on the star. The same is the case with being an ally.”
ADDITIONAL RESOURCES AND LINKS
No More Allies Read more >
Challenging Racism and the Problem with White Allies Read more >
Calling In: A Less Disposable Way of Holding Each Other Accountable Read more >
So You Call Yourself an Ally? 10 Things Allies Need to Know Read more >
Organizer Roundtable: Challenging White Privilege in the Policy Making Arena
Challenging White Privilege in the Policy Making Arena
In October, over 40 organizers from around the region joined us for the last discussion in our Organizer Roundtable series: Challenging White Privilege. Presenters Nekima Levy-Pounds, Peggy Flanagan, and Owen Duckworth, shared how they have experienced white privilege playing itself out in who has power to set the agenda, frame issues and negotiate outcomes in the policy arenas. They also spoke of how they have navigated privilege and racism in those places.
Nekima Levy-Pounds – “This work is not for the faint of heart”
Levy-Pounds, a law professor at the University of St. Thomas, opened the discussion by describing how she began challenging policymaking. She became motivated to use her gifts and talents to break away from the status quo and address the problems facing the community due to racial disparities in the criminal justice system. “I wanted to use my position to build a program around the issues,” says Levy-Pounds.
Levy-Pounds met with the head of the NAACP and other leaders in the black community to unearth the drivers of the disparities in the justice system. She discovered that the GangNet database, a system that police officers used to identify potential gang members, was a factor as it unjustly profiled and discriminated against people of color for even associating with gang member. “If I was standing outside my church on the East Side of St. Paul speaking with a gang member, I could have been added to the database,” lamented Levy-Pounds.
Levy-Pounds started to hold community forums around the issue which confirmed that there was more confusion than clarity about how the database functioned. Teaming up with the NAACP, the University of St. Thomas and the community, Levy-Pounds set out to reframe the dominant discussion around the use of GangNet and wrote a report that showed how the system produced disparate results in communities of color. The community then used this data to challenge the law at the legislature and do community engagement around the issue. “Ultimately we did get the law changed – we did win,” said Levy-Pounds.” “The gang database was shut down and we are now advising on a national level. When you are doing this type of work, you really have to know what you want,” says Levy-Pounds. “You have to commit to stay in the fight until something happens. This is not for the faint of heart.”
Peggy Flanagan – “Be intentional about building relationships with others.”
Flanagan, the Children’s Defense Fund of Minnesota’s executive director, shared some of her own experiences navigating white privilege in policy making. As a member of the Anishanabe tribe, she expressed her desire to ensure that people from her community have access to decision making tables and are eventually able to be in positions where they are the ones making decisions. “When I think about what it means to have privilege, it means thinking it is okay to do drive-by organizing, where the decisions have already been made, and authentic community engagement does not take place,“ said Flanagan.
In order to open up decision-making spaces for Native Americans and other people of color, Flanagan has recognized the need to name race and white privilege. “White privilege is a loaded term in Minnesota,” said Flanagan. “We seem to be comfortable talking about diversity but we are very uncomfortable talking about race. The progressive community puts itself on a pedestal and can’t have the needed conversation.”
Flanagan also described the tokenized nature of organizing that comes out of white privilege. “Tokenization is the mode of operating in the nonprofit world in Minnesota where the same people get called on again and again. It is important to provide opportunities for new leaders to be recognized and supported for their intelligence and experience. This means that we need to be intentional about building relationships with others.”
Owen Duckworth – “Power and race dynamics are at the center of policy discussions. Who has the power determines who gets to make the decisions.”
Duckworth, a coalition organizer with the Alliance for Metropolitan Stability, started by sharing his own identification with privilege and class as a result of his skin color. “My dad is from England and my mom is from Seychelles and is of African and Chinese heritage,” said Duckworth. “There are certain perceptions about who I am because of my light skin color. And I grew up in a middle class family in the city of Milwaukee. As a result, I am keenly aware of my privilege.”
Duckworth went on to share how he has experienced white privilege playing itself out in the policy arena. In his work with affordable housing, he has witnessed decisions about people of color taking place without having people of color present in the discussion about their communities. “Yet there are no tables of leaders of color who sit together making decisions for white people,” Duckworth said.
Duckworth also expressed his frustration with policy advocates who believe they are doing racial justice work when they are not. “There is an assumption by certain advocates that they are being equitable by mentioning the word ‘equity,’” Duckworth said. “I worked with residents in North Minneapolis around the Bottineau Light Rail Transit development, which gave me an opportunity to hear their concerns about being displaced with the new development. When I raised their concerns with some transit advocates at the state capital who believed they were doing equitable work, the response was ‘don’t they want gentrification?’”
“We have to recognize that power and race dynamics are at the center of policy discussions,” said Duckworth. “This is why understanding who is developing the policy and framing the issue is so important in moving the region forward.”
ADDITIONAL RESOURCES AND LINKS
Organizer Roundtable – Challenging White Privilege (1st Session) Read more >
Organizer Roundtable – Challenging White Privilege: Taking it to the Next Level (2nd Session) Read more >
Organizer Roundtable: Challenging White Privilege - Taking it to the Next Level
Challenging White Privilege – Taking it to the Next Level
White Privilege refers to the unearned benefits white people enjoy simply because of the color of their skin. While this privilege comes at the expense of people of color, white people cannot maintain this system of privilege without compromising their humanity and the well-being of our region.
In September, over 50 people joined the Alliance for the second part in our Organizer Roundtable series on Challenging White Privilege. Presenters shared how their organizations have challenged white privilege in their work and are beginning to reap the benefits as a result.
Beth Newkirk, executive director of the Organizing Apprenticeship Project (OAP), described how her organization began to apply a racial analysis to its work. “We often received positive responses about the training itself but hit the wall in the outcomes,” Newkirk explained. “White trainees got on a job path were they fit in and were developed. Trainees of color also got jobs, but they were really bad jobs where they were often marginalized. People started to get mad at us and asked how we had the audacity to train them to go out in the field without doing something about the field. We knew their experiences had to do with their race. The question was what we would do about it and how do we change?”
OAP understood that the driving force in this disparity was race. And so they put together a strategic plan to look at what they could do to prepare their trainees to make a difference in the field. They brought in the Applied Research Center (now called Race Forward), a racial justice think tank, to help them look at what it would take to change their organization and impact other systems that perpetuated racial injustice. It was an 18 month process that lead to the creation of OAP’s annual racial justice report card, a report that evaluates how the state’s legislature is leading with race in its policymaking efforts.
Alan Malkis, a former board member of the Alliance, shared the organization’s journey with racial justice and inclusivity. “10 years ago, the staff and board took a look at the organization and saw that it was mainly white,” said Malkis. “We started from a place of wanting to diversify, but several board members encouraged us to do more than that by having a racial analysis when it came to our work and membership.”
After those conversations, the Alliance’s board and staff decided to go through a racial justice training with the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond. For many members, this training was essential because it helped them get a better sense of white privilege and racism, and also because it gave people an opportunity to learn from one another. “We did have some push back though,” says Malkis. “Some board members thought that putting race at the center of our mission would prevent some organizations from joining the Alliance who otherwise would.”
“Sometimes people hesitate in naming race,” said Newkirk. “But if you don’t talk about it nothing changes. We have to think hard about how to talk about racism and find ways to bring people to a common place.”
David Nicholson, Headwater Foundation for Justice’s new executive director, formerly a program officer with the organization, started by sharing how racism operates in Minnesota. “In Minnesota, racism is often covert. It’s not talked about, it’s internalized,” he said. “Our job is to make overt what is covert through healing and love although it will be uncomfortable and awkward.”
Over the years, Headwaters has worked to make the covert the overt in its work and outcomes. “Headwaters started out as a giving circle comprised of middle income people with lots of wealth and privilege,” Nicholson said. “About ten years ago, we saw that there was a mismatch between our donors and the communities that we gave money to. We wanted to change that.”
So Headwaters started the process of restructuring their organization, starting with the donors, but also looking intently at the board and other areas of their work. “A lot of people left as we made those changes,” said Nicholson. “Now we have a grant committee in place from the very communities that we give to, many of the committee members are women of color under the age of 35. We also looked at the board and those who were making decisions. The board is now made up of 18 people – 1/3 are donors, 1/3 are community activists, and 1/3 are community leaders.”
Several roundtable participants and presenters spoke of the importance of naming race in public policy making and in the legal profession. “As an attorney, I have witnessed racial disparities in the prison system,” said Sophia Vuelo. “Blacks are incarcerated at much higher rates and Minnesota ranks the 4th highest state where this a reality. But I find that many attorneys refuse to acknowledge that there is a racial bias here.”
“In the work that I currently do at Ramsey County, I started to see that even if we are saints, the policies that we have in place would yield racist results everytime,” said Malkis. “Anyone in the legal profession needs to read the New Jim Crow, a book that talks about the racial bias in the prison system, and then start naming race in their work.”
“We can’t always change people’s perceptions,” said Nicholson. “But we can change policies and practices and achieve better racial outcomes.’
ADDITIONAL RESOURCES AND LINKS
Organizer Roundtable – Challenging White Privilege (1st Session) Read more >
Race Forward Read more >
Racial Equity Minnesota Network Read more >
Challenging White Supremacy Workshop Resources Read more >
Organizer Roundtable: Challenging White Privilege
Challenging White Privilege
White Privilege refers to the unearned benefits white people enjoy because of the color of their skin. While this privilege comes at the expense of people of color, our country’s system of privilege also compromises the humanity of whites and the well-being of our region. At an Organizer Roundtable in August, the Alliance gathered organizers for the first in a three part series of discussions on how we can challenge this construct. Five principles emerged that we can apply in working to transform this system.
1. White privilege is dehumanizing
Ned Moore, a community organizer with Minnesota Center for Neighborhood Organizing, shared how white privilege negatively impacts everyone. “Privilege corrupts; it’s a corrupting force in our mind, body and soul,” he said. “If our liberation is bound together, we all have something at stake which calls us to a process of personal transformation.”
Moore went on to share a story about La Asamblea de Derechos Civiles, a faith-based group which organizes immigrants from predominantly Latino congregations to build power to change the immigration system and the underlying political and economic structures behind it. He spoke about a recent incident that La Asamblea encountered when they went to Ohio to speak with immigration issues.
“We were attacked in Ohio,” read a text that Moore received from Antonio Alvarez, a leader with La Asamblea.
Moore quickly learned that a white man had learned that the group was coming to town and decided to confront them. He greeted the group with a racist barrage, mostly directed toward the children who were a part of the group. Moore wondered what La Asamblea did in response.
“We prayed for him,” said Alvarez. “Of all of us that were there, he was the one who was truly suffering. We came here in an act of love for our community and to seek justice. This man came because his mind is poisoned and his soul is rotting with hatred.”
As Moore recounted this story, he emphasized that working through issues of white privilege isn’t just for the benefit of people of color who are marginalized in our society. “Being a voice of justice calls me to stand up for others, but myself as well,” said Moore. “This means that we can’t just settle for mediocre justice or the Minnesota Nice way of doing things.”
2. The importance of recognizing one’s privilege
Barb Rose, a partner with Side by Side Associates, spoke to the need for people to recognize and own their privilege. “As a white woman, I struggle with white privilege because I am a part of the dominant culture,” she said. “For me, it means that I have to be up front and center about it and intentionally build relationships with others who are different than me.”
“As a biracial person, I carry a lot of privilege,” said Sasha Houston-Brown, an organizer with the Native American Community Development Institute (NACDI). “As organizers, it’s important that we all have this analysis. People often approach community organizing without acknowledging their privilege. They come in asking to be the voice for the community instead of being an ally and checking their privilege at the door.”
Houston-Brown explained that while NACDI takes an asset-based approach to its organizing and looks to the community for the solutions she has been in other organizations where that is not the case. “Diversity and conversations about privilege often come afterwards” she said. And this affects the way white people understand and work on issues of justice. “When we think about equity and equality, a lot of times it gets framed from the dominant white perspective. But equity looks different from what dominant society says.”
3. The need to be accountable
“When I first met people who were white and called themselves allies, I thought it was great,” said Kia Moua, another partner with Side by Side. “But I have observed white people try to go at it and change the world inappropriately. That’s why there needs to be accountability and self-reflection that happens on a regular basis at both a personal and professional level.”
4. Knowing when to step up and step back
“You have to understand how to step up and step back appropriately,” said Rose. “I’ve learned a lot about this from other white allies and how they navigate this dynamic.”
Brown also emphasized the importance of white people understanding that they cannot speak for people of color. She spoke about a situation she encountered while working at MCTC. “A group formed to look at the different issues of racism that were taking place on campus but all of the people who ran for leadership of that group were white women,” said Brown. “They came to the position from a place of having a biracial child or being married to a person of color. For them, this was a way to process and deal with their privilege but it didn’t mean that they should take a role to speak for the community.”
“Learn when to sit back and be quiet,” said Moua.
5. The need for training
Malik Holt, former executive director with Harrison Neighborhood Association, spoke to the importance of people receiving training about how to work through issues of white privilege most effectively. “I attended college at the University of Minnesota in Morris, which is quite rural but has a reputation for attracting people of color,” said Holt. “While I was there, a group I was a part of brought in a pilot program called the Color of Fear. This program taught us how to work on issues of internalized racial superiority and internalized racial oppression.”
Holt went on to share how Harrison has gone through similar training. “In 2004, we started sending resident leaders through trainings with the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond,” he said. “This experience taught us that antiracist analysis is the only way that we can get to poverty reduction. Our organization is now creating places for dialogue so that white people can have more opportunities to work alongside people of color.”
Upcoming editions of The Link will share lessons from part two and three of this roundtable series. Those sessions focused on tackling white privilege at the organizational level and in the policy-making arena.
Video: Cracking the Codes – A Trip to the Grocery Store Watch >
People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond Principles Read >
How to Talk to Someone about Privilege Read >
Organizer Roundtable: Creative Placemaking and Equitable Development
Creative Placemaking and Equitable Development
Creative placemaking is generating a lot of excitement in communities around the Twin Cities region. Artists, neighborhood residents, developers and land-use planners are partnering to create unique destinations that will bring a deepened sense of value to places where people already live. Yet, how do we design places that strengthen a neighborhood’s economic opportunity without displacing residents and businesses?
In December, the Alliance gathered organizers from around the region for our final Organizer Roundtable of the year: Creative Placemaking and Equitable Development. Presenters Erik Takeshita, Jun-Li Wang, and Jill Mazullo shared how current placemaking efforts in the region are also spurring equitable development.
Wang, the artist community organizer with Springboard for the Arts, defined creative placemaking as the act of people coming together to change undervalued public spaces into welcoming places where community gathers. Mazullo, the director of communications and development with Envision Minnesota, expounded on this, saying that placemaking is the act of transforming a place from one you can’t wait to get out of to one that you never want to leave. “It pairs the whimsical with the concrete,” Mazullo said.
Takeshita, the deputy director of Twin Cities Local Initiative Support Corporation (LISC), shared that creative placemaking must help both people and places prosper. “If people do better but the neighborhood doesn’t, they leave,” Takeshita said.
The reverse is also true. Residents can be displaced when a neighborhood improves, yet planning doesn’t take into account the needs of the surrounding community and the increase in cost of living.
Takeshita illustrated a three-prong approach to creative placemaking. Firstly, he emphasized the need for creative placemaking to be done with intentionality. “We have historically and are constantly making places. Whether we are doing so intentionally or creatively is another question,” he said. Intentionality helps to ensure that a project has goals that are not only met but evaluated for their effectiveness.
Secondly, there is an economic development component of placemaking. As placemaking designs attractive spaces, it draws residents and businesses alike who will invest in that community and cause it to grow. According to Takeshita, this will create a stronger community fabric which in turn allows people to survive and thrive well into the future.
Lastly, he talked about how organizing is a component of placemaking. Organizing seeks to engage the community in meaningful ways, and invites them to share their opinions, suggestions and expertise. “It has to be done in such a way as to bring people together and give them confidence that they can do something to improve their communities,” Takeshita said. This in turn can lead to the project being more accessible, which will make it a success.
Creative placemaking should also stimulate a greater sense of public shared spaces or semi public spaces. Currently Springboard for the Arts in partnership with the city of St. Paul and Twin Cities LISC, is exploring this with a project called Irrigate. Irrigate is an artist-led creative placemaking initiative that is focused on bringing vitality to the Central Corridor during the years of the light rail construction. It aspires to give artists and residents a voice in what is happening in their community, which will in turn change the landscape of the Central Corridor. To date, Irrigate has trained 380 artists to do projects that will have a positive impact on the community and its surrounding businesses, “by mobilizing artists to engage in their community.”
Mazullo told about a creative placemaking project in St. Paul that was led by the Hamline Midway Coalition and Frogtown Neighborhood Association in 2010. With the coming CCLRT development, the city of St. Paul designated Charles Avenue as a bike boulevard. But the neighborhood partnership, called Friendly Streets, was determined to come up with a creative, resident-driven process for redesigning Charles Avenue.
Through a series of block parties led by Friendly Streets, Mazullo explained, residents were able to get involved in the process of designing the future of Charles Avenue. Art exhibits placed throughout the neighborhood gave the community a visual of what the avenue could look like, which then allowed them to share what they preferred. The approach that Friendly Streets took to engage the community was novel, in that it met people where they were – most likely people who would never attend a public meeting or hearing to share their opinion.
Robyn Hendrix, an Irrigate artist, shared that she was also hired to work on the Friendly Streets project. “The experience was life changing for me as an artist. I was able to provide input on longterm concrete urban planning and it was integrated with lighthearted activities that spoke to my passion.”
For communities looking to start creative placemaking projects Mazullo suggests not to wait until the perfect project emerges. “Start fast, start small and build off of that,” she said. Small projects provide people with an opportunity to see immediate results, which can then be transformed into something more intricate and detailed.
Project for Public Spaces Learn more >
Irrigate: Year One Impact Watch video >
Get Connected! Engaging on Creative Placemaking with Envision Minnesota See presentation >
Ten Tips for Creative Placemaking Read article >
The Friendly Street Movement on Charles Avenue Read article >
Organizer Roundtable: Community Engagement – A Powerful Tool for Transitway Equity
Community Engagement – A Powerful Tool for Transitway Equity
At the Alliance’s Organizer Roundtable in October, more than 30 people joined us to hear how community engagement is an important factor in making sure that underrepresented communities benefit from public transportation investments. Currently, billions of dollars are being spent to develop transitways throughout the region, which have the potential to connect more people to opportunities throughout the region. Infrastructure developments in the past, however, have largely left out the voices of communities of color, immigrant communities and low-wealth communities.
In 2011, the Community Engagement Steering Committee came together to challenge the way transitway development decisions were traditionally made, calling for increased communal presence early and often in the process. Together the CESC is working to establish regional standards for community engagement, so traditionally underrepresented communities are brought into the process of creating an equitable transit system. One of the things that the CESC has identified is the lack of consistency in community engagement across the region. Many communities do not know about the upcoming development decisions that are taking place, and those who do know often lack the resources to bring people to decision-making tables. Yet there are groups along many of the emerging transitways who are bringing together their constituencies to change this dynamic.
Ann Beuch, a member of the CESC and a community organizer for the Blake Road Corridor Collaborative, shared how her organization is engaging residents along the Southwest Corridor. BRCC has brought together immigrant communities, residents and government representatives through discussion circles and community-building projects. As a result, they have increased community awareness of the upcoming Southwest LRT project, and residents have been able to express their concerns. BRCC’s level of engagement will go a long way in making sure that residents remain connected to development opportunities in the community.
Communities around the region are recognizing the opportunities new transitway development may bring. Kenya McKnight, resident leader with the Northside Transportation Network and another CESC member, talked about how the Northside community is organizing its residents and neighborhood leaders to make sure that the community plays a role in shaping its own vision with the upcoming Bottineau Light Rail Transit project. McKnight says that building relationships with key public officials is essential for communities who want to make their voice known in transitway development. NTN has connected with Hennepin County officials and other government leaders throughout its engagement process. In turn, McKnight believes that these leaders have responded to residents’ needs along the way and good working relationships have been formed. The community would not enjoy these successes if they had not found a way to advocate for themselves.
Likewise, the CESC has been working with government agencies such as the Metropolitan Council to ensure that communal voice is heard and sought after as development happens in the Twin Cities region. Recently, the CESC made a presentation to the Metropolitan Council Committee of the Whole that outlined their input into the agency’s Thrive MSP 2040 plan. That plan will outline a regional development framework for the Twin Cities over the next several decades, and could play an important role in institutionalizing better community engagement practices.
Rick Cardenas, a co-director with Advocating Change Together, talked about the importance in making sure that the unique needs of his community are represented in the decision-making process around our region’s transitways. ACT is an organization run by and for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, people who are often overlooked when development comes to their communities. Yet, many people with disabilities are heavily dependent on public transit, so they need to also be able to advocate for their needs and wishes. Rick says that one of ACT’s engagement strategies is simply being present at meetings as key decisions are happening. By being present, Rick shares that the community is able to speak for themselves.
Cardenas sees the upcoming transitways, and particularly the Central Corridor Light Rail Transit, as an opportunity to better connect people with disabilities to benefits throughout the region. He said that nearly 70 percent of people with disabilities are either unemployed or underemployed. Also, people with disabilities disproportionately experience problems with finding housing that is accessible to them. Yet, if these emerging transitways are built right, they have the potential to connect people to new housing and employment opportunities throughout the region.
For Beuch, McKnight and Cardenas, Community Engagement Steering Committee has not only given them an opportunity to bring the needs of their own community forward, but has also allowed them to create regional standards for community engagement so that communities have the support they need. “Community engagement gives us a stronger voice,” said McKnight. “Together we can advocate for one regional standard across multiple corridors.”
The Twin Cities is fortunate to have a group of community leaders working to change the way engagement happens in their neighborhoods. As the CESC continues to bring residents who are knowledgeable of their own communities to the decision making table, it will ensure that underrepresented communities benefit from the major public transit investments planned for our region.
All three of these organizations are Corridors of Opportunity Outreach and Engagement grantees. You can learn more about this grant initiative at www.engagetc.org.
The Steering Committee Presentation to Metropolitan Council Committee of the Whole Learn more >
National Case Studies in Community Engagement
The Community Engagement Steering Committee is researching national best practices on
community engagement, looking for models to adapt to the unique needs of the Twin Cities. Here are some models that stand out from
The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning Citizens Advisory Committee Learn more >
Georgia Stand Up, a community alliance working to ensure community benefits from the Atlanta Beltline transit project Learn more >
The city of Denver’s public involvement strategies Learn more >
Organizer Roundtable: Transit - More than a Ride
Transit – More than a Ride
by Ebony Adedayo, program coordinator
In September, the Alliance for Metropolitan Stability gathered organizers and planners from the Twin Cities region for our latest Organizer Roundtable: Transit – More than a Ride. Participants discussed the District Councils Collaborative of St. Paul and Minneapolis’ Trusted Advocate Project.
Adapting a model that was successful in Seattle and Oakland, the Trusted Advocates helped Metro Transit better plan for the future network of transit in St. Paul’s Central Corridor area by engaging cultural and geographic communities along the transitway. In 2011, The District Councils Collaborative (DCC) approached Metro Transit to find out how the organization could help with its Metro Transit’s study, which would look at how people intended to use the bus in conjunction with the Central Corridor light rail transit line. The connection was timely because Metro Transit wanted to make sure that its engagement efforts around the study connected to specific communities, particularly communities of color and immigrant populations. Together, DCC and Metro Transit identified the Trusted Advocate model as a strategy to connect with traditionally underrepresented groups in this engagement process.
The Trusted Advocate model utilizes individuals who have established relationships with underrepresented communities to do meaningful engagement and to connect those communities to the public decision-making process. The DCC contracted with nine organizers from communities of color, immigrant communities and the disability community along the corridor. These Trusted Advocates were given a great deal of flexibility and freedom to develop engagement strategies. Throughout the summer, the Trusted Advocates engaged more than 1,200 people along the corridor, nearly half of whom were transit users.
Jill Hentges, community outreach coordinator with Metro Transit, said that the traditional way that Metro Transit did engagement was through open houses or large meetings. “Yet as I participated in the Trusted Advocate Project, I realized that one on one conversations with members of the community was even more effective engagement tool,” Jill said.
Henry Keshi, a Trusted Advocate responsible for outreach in Prospect Park, agreed that one-on-one engagement was a powerful tool in the process, but he found it challenging to get people to invest five or 10 minutes talking with him. He struggled to help people in his low-income people from his community, from various cultures representing various needs, to see the bigger picture and understand why their input was valuable to this project.
Trusted Advocate Kjensmo Walker agreed that one-on-one engagement had its challenges, but by deeply engaging with the community she learned strategies to circumvent problems. Initially, she struggled to engage people representing the disability community. She felt that disabled people were already singled out because of their disability, and so approaching them on the bus or in another public area sometimes brought more unwanted attention. She started to approach different agencies that offered services to the disability community and discovered that finding contacts through them was more challenging than she expected. However, she quickly learned of Advocating Change Together, an organization run by and for people with disabilities, and the relationships that she formed there gave her insight into how to best engage this diverse community. As a result, she was able to do better engagement and learned that the concerns of this community where quite similar to those in other communities–how would the LRT connect to employment opportunities and housing throughout the region? She also found that people with disabilities were concerned with how they could use Metro Mobility in conjunction with the LRT.
DCC Communications and Outreach Coordinator Karyssa Jackson said that one of the early challenges was the disconnect between the information the Trusted Advocates needed to effectively communicate with the community, and the short timeline on which they were trained by Metro Transit. Hentges agreed, but said that when you are working with two different types of organizations with two different structures, you have to learn to be flexible. She said agencies and nonprofit organizations need to learn to be patient with one another and set realistic goals and timelines.
Joan Vanhala, coalition organizer with the Alliance, said that one problem with transitway development is that the community sees the developers and the government agencies working on it as one unit. The agencies, on the other hand, see themselves as separate entities with different roles and responsibilities. Getting agencies to respond in a coordinated matter needs to be a goal for projects of this magnitude, so that the community is well informed and know that they can have real answers to their questions.
La Shella Sims, an organizer with MICAH shared how her organization is looking at engagement solutions that worked along the Central Corridor as potential models for the Bottineau and Southwest Transitways. She wondered how communities could get agency buy-in so that they could replicate similar projects in the future. Hentges said that it is essential to present authentic community engagement as a proven way to move the work forward. When agencies know that community engagement will help them accomplish what they are already trying to do, they will respond.
Keshi said that when this project first started, the concept of the Trusted Advocate Model was a novelty in this region. “Everyone learned something along the way, no one could say that they were an expert in anything,” he said.
But now, months after the launch of the project, the community, DCC and Metro Transit have all gained expertise in a new model of community engagement. These partners in the Trusted Advocate Project will walk away with valuable tools, lessons and advice to make sure that the needs of the community are sought after and represented along the CCLRT moving forward.
For more information about the Transit Advocate Project
Metro Transit Learn more >
Transit, More than a Ride: Enriching Community Voices in the Central Corridor Transit Plan Learn more >
Organizer Roundtable: Facilitating Meetings that Work
Facilitating Meetings that Work
by Ebony Adedayo, program coordinator
In August, the Alliance for Metropolitan Stability gathered organizers and activists from around the region for our Organizer Roundtable on Facilitating Meetings that Work. Presenters Irna Landrum, Phil Sandro and Metric Giles shared strategies that they have used to facilitate meetings that stay on task and produce meaningful change. Roundtable participants also contributed their own insights on facilitation, including how to use tension and creativity to move a meeting forward.
Irna Landrum, Summit University Planning Council executive director, started the conversation by saying that an effective meeting sometimes warrants smaller pre-meetings to set the agenda and give people an opportunity to express what they sometimes will not in a large-group setting. Phil Sandro, senior program director for the Higher Education Consortium for Urban Affairs, also emphasized the importance of pre-meetings, saying that they are a helpful tool for preparing people to discuss a heavy, controversial topic before an actual meeting. Phil went on to say that it is important for people to establish their own ground rules at the start of a meeting if they know that there will be subject matter that will set people at odds. “When people are allowed to create their own ground rules, they often stick to them better than the facilitator does,” he said.
Phil continued by saying that effective meetings give everyone who wants to speak an opportunity to say something – even those who are less prone to speak up in a public setting. He suggested that offering participants a chance to evaluate the meeting out loud was one way to do this. “You can ask your meeting participants, ‘What is working?,’ ‘What could be better?,’ and ‘How do we change it?,’” Phil said.
Eleonore Wesserle, a program associate with Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy and an Alliance board member, shared a story about a time she was invited to facilitate a meeting. While planning the meeting, she was under the impression that the hosts would be responsible for turning people out to the meeting and that it would be heavily attended. On the day of the meeting, she was surprised to see only a handful of people there. She asked, “As a facilitator, how do you deal with unexpected issues like this?” Metric Giles, a community member and volunteer with the Community Stabilization Project, said that this type of scenario presents an opportunity to the meeting planners to evaluate why more people did not attend. He expressed that it is important to reach people where they are. “Don’t get stuck and make people come to you,” he said. “Go to them as well.”
Sara Lopez, an organizer with Powderhorn Park Neighborhood Association, expressed that it is important for event hosts to set clear outreach strategies to get people to a meeting. “Get out and introduce yourself, if that’s important,” she said. “Community outreach is sometimes difficult, but not if you go to where the people are.” Others agreed that people do not often come out to a meeting if they do not know the meeting hosts. Phil mentioned that this underscores the importance of establishing relationships in the community and learning about the self-interests of participants. Vanessa Perry, program manager with Envision Minnesota, said that it can be helpful for organizers to connect with local leaders before setting a meeting. Metric agreed with Vanessa, admitting that he sometimes gets offended when people come into his community without telling him.
Irna suggested a few ways to address the tension that often comes up at community meetings. First, she said that it is necessary to name the tension in the room. Without doing so, some people in the meeting feel marginalized and left out. Second, she addressed the topic of rank, saying that many individuals have an unspoken power that can create conflict and tension in a meeting. “If I can find ways that I can make the person with the highest rank just as uncomfortable as others, that is powerful,” she said. “If I am having a conversation about racism, I make room for white people to get uncomfortable. If I am having a conversation about gender, I make room for men to get uncomfortable. Comfort gives way to the status quo.”
Irna continued by saying that tension, and the anger that it often produces, can sometimes produce great results. “I don’t want to diffuse anger, I want to use it creatively,” she said. Phil also said that he does not see tension or anger as a barrier in meetings, but that facilitators have to find a way to avoid letting participants be disrespectful as a result of the tension. He said that it is sometimes good to allow people to pause, take a moment to write down what they are feeling, and then come back to the meeting to address those feelings.
The strategies that each presenter and roundtable participant shared are valuable insights into how to facilitate a productive meeting. This is important because productive meetings allow organizers and advocates to develop concrete action plans for their issues and campaigns. When a meeting is unproductive, it is not only the meeting that suffers. The issues that communities are organizing around also lose momentum.
The Role of the Facilitator Read more >
Make Meetings Matter Read more >
I Am Brown Learn more>
YWCA Racial Justice Facilitator Learn more >
Organizer Roundtable: Communities of Color and Immigrant Communities as Economic Assets to the Region
Communities of Color and Immigrant Communities as Economic Assets to the Region
Back in May, the Alliance for Metropolitan Stability gathered over 30 organizers from around the region for our Organizer Roundtable on Communities of Color and Immigrant Communities as Economic Assets to the Region. Speakers Hector Garcia, Lisa Tabor, Va-Megn Thoj and Terri Thao shared the strategies that they are using to harness the power of these communities and to make policymakers aware of the economic potential that these communities bring.
Hector Garcia, executive director of Chicano Latino Affairs Council, opened up our time by sharing the history of immigration in the U.S. According to Hector, immigration has always been an economic engine in our nation. The contributions that immigrant communities and communities of color have made over the years have greatly enhanced the economic growth of the country. However, there has been a growing resentment and resistance to immigration. Hector attributes this to ethnocentrism, and myths which inaccurately suggest that both documented and undocumented immigrants are the root of our nation’s economic problems.
Additionally, there are disparities within immigrant communities and communities of color nationwide and in Minnesota. In Minnesota, immigrants and persons of color experience high unemployment and foreclosure rates and lack access to quality education and health care. These disparities have created a deep economic divide between communities of color and immigrant communities and their white neighbors. However, as Hector explained, the prosperity of our communities and our nation is tied to the people around us. This shared prosperity means that it is in everybody’s interest to eliminate these disparities, otherwise the region as a whole will suffer.
Hector believes that the region’s developing transit corridors present an opportunity to make this shared prosperity and growth a reality. According to Hector, the development of these corridors enhances the common goal of growing the economic base of the region and also lessens the disparities that communities of color and immigrant communities along the corridor experience. For example, he explained how the Central Corridor LRT project benefits economically from the community and likewise enhances the surrounding community. The CCLRT will be successful because the community will use the service to connect to employment and housing in local communities and throughout the region. The community and its residents will benefit because they can capitalize on the opportunity to create cultural and business districts that will be frequented by riders of the rail line, which will enable them to provide for their families.
One organization that has capitalized on that opportunity is Asian Economic Development Association (AEDA). When the CCLRT project first began, AEDA began to think about how to keep University Avenue businesses open. As a result of the recession, many businesses had been forced to close their doors, and AEDA did not want to see the same thing happen during the light rail construction period. In response, AEDA helped to establish Little Mekong, an Asian cultural district that they hope will attract new visitors to University Avenue and help small businesses thrive.
Va-Megn Thoj, the executive director of AEDA, explained that retaining the strength of these businesses is important not only to their families and communities, but to the region as a whole. Many whites are older and are now beginning to leave the workforce, which will leave a gap in the region’s economy. However, younger immigrants and their families are filling this gap and now make up a large percentage of small business owners. As the region’s demographics continue to change, the number of immigrant-owned businesses will grow, which in turn will strengthen our region’s economic vitality. In order for the region to thrive, it is imperative that these businesses be given the resources needed to survive.
Va-Megn said that many of the businesses along the corridor only attract a small niche of customers now, but branding the area as a cultural district opens up the opportunity to attract even more customers. Va-Megn believes that Little Mekong will not only be a destination within the Twin Cities, but has the potential to attract tourists from around the nation and globally as it expands.
Lisa Tabor, executive director of CultureBrokers, LLC, shared how her organization is working to create cultural destinations in other areas of the region. In collaboration with other community organizations, CultureBrokers helped to create an African American Heritage Guide to the city of St. Paul, called Spirit of Rondo. This guide walks visitors through the history of African Americans along the corridor, and profiles the lives and accomplishments of prominent leaders in the community. Lisa explained the importance of marketing the community in this way is to draw people in and build a local economy.
Lisa also spoke about another destination, the World Cultural Heritage District, also located in St. Paul. This district captures the energy and assets of St. Paul’s multicultural community and enables those cultures to build social and economic capacity. This district has given way to several projects intended to help Twin Cities residents to see cultural diversity as an economic advantage to the region. One of these initiatives, Intercultural City, helped to sponsor the recent visit of urban planner Charles Landry to the Twin Cities. The Ethnic Cultural Tourism Collaborative is another project sponsored by CultureBrokers. The ECTD Collaborative members work together to leverage Saint Paul’s ethnic cultural assets for the economic benefit of the community.
Terri Thao, a program officer at Nexus Community Partners, explained how Nexus has played a pivotal role in supporting initiatives that expand community assets and build social power in communities of color and immigrant communities. Terri explained how from its inception, Nexus has been committed to eliminating the disparities that are so prevalent in these communities. As an intermediary organization, Nexus connects dynamic, culturally based community building strategies with the best of mainstream community development approaches to achieve more equitable and sustainable community revitalization. This community building approach enables the communities of color and immigrant communities that Nexus works with to build assets and wealth in unprecedented ways.
This effort does not come without its share of challenges. Terri shared that one of the barriers in doing this work is in finding the funding to sustain the work. Other presenters echoed this sentiment, stating that sometimes foundations only support short-term projects with immediate measurables. Lisa explained how this approach to funding can be limiting to organizations that are focused on systems change. “Changing systems and alleviating poverty takes time,” she said.
Hector also shared that another barrier to this work is the reluctance within certain communities to accept immigrants for the contributions that they can make to society. So many times immigrants are seen as liabilities and not given the opportunities that they need for their families to thrive. VaMegn shared that AEDA has experienced this same limitation and felt that it is important to encourage people to change their mindset. Immigrant communities are neither a liability nor a threat. They have a valuable role in ensuring the wealth and prosperity of our entire Twin Cities region.
The fact of the matter is that the prosperity of the region is tied to these communities. If we want to have a strong economic region, communities of color and immigrant communities have to be a part of the equation. By recognizing and leveraging the assets that these communities have, organizations like CLAC, AEDA, CultureBrokers and Nexus are not only building wealth in these communities, but are making our entire region stronger in the process. As we move forward, we will need to continue put aside the myths, the fear and the institutional racism that impedes progress here, and all work together to create a place where every community can thrive.
Organizer Roundtable: Organizing for Equity - Sharing Lessons from PolicyLink's Equity Summit
Organizing for Equity – Sharing Lessons from PolicyLink’s Equity Summit
On Wednesday, January 18 the Alliance for Metropolitan gathered over 40 organizers from around the region for our first Organizer Roundtable of 2012: Organizing for Equity – Sharing Lesson’s from PolicyLink’s Equity Summit. During this session, four members of the Minnesota Delegation to the summit shared their personal experiences of the conference, how it applies in their work and our region, and what they think stronger work, both together and individually, for equity could mean for our region moving forward.
Neeraj Mehta, Nexus Community Partners program officer
Last summer, Nexus began working with Alliance for Metropolitan Stability and Minnesota Center for Neighborhood Organizing to organize a delegation of Minnesotans to PolicyLink’s Equity Summit in Detroit in November. Initially the team envisioned that the delegation would be 50 or 60 people from our region who were either working on equity issues or concerned about integrating a more equitable approach to our region’s growth and development. However, when more than 100 people applied to be a part of the delegation by the application’s deadline, it became clear that we needed to do more to ensure that as many people as possible were afforded the opportunity to go to Detroit. And so, together, the team solicited foundations and other organizations for scholarship money and we raised over $100,000. As a result, we were able to have a delegation of over 150 people, the largest delegation in the country.
There were several goals for our delegation. We wanted it to be cross sector, and represent a myriad of organizations, cultures, faiths, who were working on a variety of equity issues. We also wanted the delegation to be able to increase their knowledge and be able to move forward collaboratively to work on equity issues in our region, putting our learning into action.
Throughout the conference, Neeraj spent the majority of his time in the hallway and lobby areas. This was important for him because he wanted to use that time to get to know people who he did not already know. He wanted to get to branch out of his work and develop wider connections that could only be built through networking with others.
Sessions that Neeraj participated in during the summit solidified several ideas that were in some ways nobrainers for him while at the same time it prompted him to ask questions about moving equity forward in our region. He already understood that not everyone benefits from the investments in the region. He already understood that having our heads stuck down in our own work and in our own silos, disconnects us from the larger work that is being done across the region. And he understood that equity is important in ensuring benefits for everyone and building cross-sector connections. However, he wondered how we move forward in building a strong region, while at the same time strengthening smaller local communities, neighborhoods, and place-based organizations? And with this, how do we ensure that we do not privilege certain communities over and above other communities? And finally, as we are making more investments in infrastructure, transportation and employment opportunities for all people, what is the larger work that needs to take place so people do not have to leave their communities to access these opportunities?
Nancy Pomplun, Asian Economic Development Association Community Building and Organizing director
As a child, Nancy was quite an introvert and observed everything around her. Yet this drove her to be an active participant as she grew older, and get involved in the issues affecting Asian Americans. She believes that as we gain knowledge about different issues, it is our responsibility to do something about them. This caused her to develop her voice to speak out on behalf of certain injustices and ultimately led her to become an organizer.
Since she has been an organizer, she has realized the importance of having the right messaging. Reflecting on the disparities within various Asian American communities, and other cultural communities, she saw that many people try to frame their issue as the most important because they have the worst disparities. She questions this messaging strategy, and is motivated instead to tell about the strengths of the community.
This is not to say that the disparities are not there, because they are. Nancy attended the summit because she wanted to join a movement committed to eradicating those disparities. While there she learned of several initiatives around economic development in different communities across the nation. She is inspired to bring these ideas to her work along the Central Corridor. With the construction of the light rail transit and other development opportunities that it brings, many in the Asian-American community fear gentrification. However, Nancy sees that development could be a positive and could also lead to improving the wages and standard of living for the communities that she serves if implemented with equity in mind.
Hashi Shafi, Somali Action Alliance executive director
Hashi shared that he has been involved in the Somali community in Minnesota for the last 15 years. He has worked on a variety of issues that have affected the wellbeing of his community such as education, transportation and jobs.
Accessibility of the Central Corridor Light Rail Transit has been one of those issues that Hashi has organized around as the director of Somali Action Alliance (SAA). In 2007 the SAA organized around the West Bank station so that it would be a benefit to the Somali community in the area. With the help of the community and allies from the University of Minnesota, SAA was able to move the station closer to the West Bank residents, which allowed those residents to understand the political power that they had. As construction of the CCLRT is underway, one of the issues that has emerged is the availability of affordable housing. SAA has been able to engage the surrounding community to advocate for equitable development to ensure that residents are not displaced as a result of this construction project.
When Hashi learned of PolicyLink’s Equity Summit, he was immediately intrigued. Although he had been to other conferences before, the fact that this particular one had a strong policy orientation stood out to him because inequitable policy decisions had affected his life and the life of his neighbors. For Hashi, the conference gave him confidence to build both local and national allies in the fight for justice and equity.
Joan Pasiuk, Transit for Livable Communities bicycling and walking program director
Minneapolis is one of four communities around the U.S. selected as a pilot demonstration project to show that biking and walking is a viable transportation option. $28 million has been invested in the Twin Cities to create bike paths and bike lanes on main streets. The investments have paid off in that last year, the Twin Cities was noted as the top bicycling community in the nation.
Yet what do these things mean for equity? How can bicycling and walking be a part of the equity equation? These questions surfaced in Joan’s mind as she prepared to attend the Equity Summit.
The conference emphasized that equity, or just and fair inclusion, is the superior economic growth model for our nation. For Joan this meant that “if people of color in our nation do no succeed, then our nation will not succeed.” In this regard, Joan posed the question of how we can frame equity through a positive economic lens noting that by continuing to frame it only as a social justice issue that “we are only preaching to the choir but not expanding it.”
With these ideas in mind, Joan has been looking at strategic opportunities to integrate her learnings into her work. One of the things that has already begun to happen for Joan is raising the awareness of equity and what that means for transit among staff at TLC. Prior to the summit, Bike Walk Twin Cities, which is a project of TLC, had begun to implement ways to serve the community through different projects. The Sibley Bike Depot’s Community Partners Bike Library is one of those projects and collaborates with 19 organizations to make bikes and education accessible to under-served communities, encourage lifelong bicycle use and increase livability and access throughout the Twin Cities. Other Bike Walk Twin Cities Projects are the Nice Ride Minnesota bicycle program, Bike Walk Ambassadors Community Outreach program and the St. Paul Smart Trips program. As inspiring as these programs are, Joan noted that it is often easier to find funding for a start-up initiative rather than funding for maintaining initiatives and projects that are already on the ground. Yet funding for ongoing work is key to creating a more equitable, sustainable community.
Although each presenter came away from the summit with a different experience, each echoed the need to anchor equity more prominently in our region. Many organizations and communities are already doing great work in raising awareness around and reducing racial disparities in employment, transportation, the environment and affordable housing, yet there is an opportunity to build a collaborative, cross sector network of organizations and individuals committed to equity. If you are interested in this work, please check out EquityNow TC on facebook.
Organizer Roundtable: Do-It-Yourself Media
On July 29, 2009, the Alliance for Metropolitan Stability held an Organizer Roundtable that brought together Twin Cities’ organizers to discuss current social media tools and how they can be used to elevate our organizing campaigns. Mary Turck, editor of the Twin Cities Daily Planet, and Bill Toth, Web 2.0 intern for the Headwaters Foundation for Justice, presented at the roundtable.
Mary Turck kicked off the roundtable by talking about citizen journalism opportunities in our region. The Twin Cities Daily Planet, an online news source, republishes from over fifty local community and ethnic publications as well as working with citizen journalists to create original news stories and opinion pieces.
Mary discussed how to get organizing stories published in the Twin Cities Daily Planet and other media outlets. It’s important to have a track record of good story ideas, to have specific stories of people and their experiences, and provide assistance with the story such as contacts, photos and videos. For instance, for a story on the rising rate of foreclosure, a story, a photo (or video) with permission to post it, and the phone number of someone who has been through a foreclosure would all be major assets to an editor or a reporter. If your story doesn’t get published, you can offer yourself as a resource for your area of expertise to help build your relationship with media outlets. Mary advised organizers to be sure not to overstate their achievements and to keep their stories focused.
The Twin Cities Media Alliance, the parent organization of the Daily Planet, offers an extensive program of free citizen journalism classes and media skills workshops for those looking for more.
Beyond the resources offered by the Twin Cities Daily Planet, Mary also discussed communications and media tools to reach both your constituency and the broader community. There are almost an unlimited number of tools, but a few are crucial starting points she mentioned include:A web site is a fundamental tool for connecting people with your organizing effort and helping people learn more about your issues. If your campaign is part of an existing organization, a web page within that organization’s web site can also serve this function.
- An email list is essential for keeping your constituents informed about your issue. Build your list of contacts by collecting email addresses at each meeting, event and gathering. Don’t just use your list for fundraising solicitations – use it to inform people when you have something important to say.
- Twitter and Facebook: To reach new people, use social networks such as Facebook and MySpace. Make it easy for your staff and constituents to communicate your message by posting entries on these web sites. You can use social media to:
- Tell stories directly related to your organizing campaign. Heifer International is a wonderful example of compelling, people-centered storytelling.
- e-Organize. A current excellent example is the Obama Administration’s ‘tweet your senator’ project, which asks citizens to send a tweet to their senators about their support for health care reform. This type of e-organizing is easy to do and is more personal than an online petition.
- Blog. A blog is a type of web site that includes regular entries of commentary and is typically updated several times per week.. With a blog, you can also organize support by asking blog visitors to attend an event, write their legislators and take action. A blog is not for every campaign or organization.A successful blog requires a dedicated staffer or volunteer to regularly produce content. A terrific example of an effective blog is the Minnesota Budget Bites Blog by the Minnesota Council for Nonprofits. During the legislative session, it provided frequent updates on the state budgeting process, and continues to provide updates that are solid, detailed and factual.
- Text messaging also has the potential to keep your members, issue supporters and constituents informed. Text messaging and tweeting were used extensively during the Republican National Convention demonstrations to keep demonstrators informed of the current status of different actions.
- Sharing photos and videos. Flickr, YouTube, and Blip.TV are all great tools to get images and messages out to a wider audience by sharing photos and videos. This type of media sharing is also a useful tool for connecting with mainstream media. For example, you can share links to your images with the media as part of your press releases. Remember to give media outlets permission in your press release to reuse your images.
- Google Reader and Delicious. To help you keep informed on your issue, Mary suggested the use of Google Reader and Delicious. Google Reader feeds you news relevant to your interests, and Delicious offers social bookmarking of web pages, so you can keep and organize your resources and sources. These resources also allow you to share resources and see what other people are viewing.
Bill Toth discussed his work developing Headwaters’ Web 2.0 presence. Web 2.0 is a term for user-generated content as the driver for interactive web site traffic. It allows you and your community – not the mainstream media – to define how your message is presented. Bill has been working on a project to interview Headwaters Foundation grantees on their grassroots organizing campaigns with the goal of posting these stories online as a way of communicating Headwaters Foundation’s mission.
Bill focused on two main forms of do-it-yourself media: Twitter and Facebook.
- Twitter is micro-blog that limits each entry to 140 characters. Posts focus on what you are doing, thinking or reading at the present moment. Each post that you make to Twitter is called a “tweet.”Tweets can be posted stream of conscience, or can be organized by subject matter. “Hashtags” are a way to categorize your tweets and to follow a specific issue on Twitter. To use a hashtag add #(topic name) at the end of your tweet. You can search for subjects using these hashtags: for example, search “#green” to find anything anyone has posted on green topics. To see a complete list of hashtags, visit hashtags.org. With Twitter, you can choose whose tweets you follow – both individuals, organizations and even events will have a Twitter presence. You can also live-blog an exciting current event through Twitter to keep your followers up to date as something happens.
- Facebook fan pages are like an extension of personal profiles but are used for organizations, businesses and celebrities. Fan pages have additional features, such as the ability to message all fans. You can support your communications efforts by posting short stories, videos, photos or news items to your fan page. For instance, Headwaters Foundation posts news about recent grantees and posts stories from their annual report. As another example, if you were organizing a demonstration, you could use your page to create an event, invite all your fans, and suggest that they invite their friends.Bill suggested that when you post to Facebook or your web site, make sure you tweet the same information (and vice versa) so that people are connecting to you as much as possible. Bill also recommended considering using MySpace. Although Facebook pages have become more prevalent, Myspace is still the #5 most visited web site.
Where to learn more
All of these different tools and technology can be a bit overwhelming. Most, however, are free. You don’t have to be a complete expert to begin to use social media tool. It is important to just start using them and learn as you go.
You can also learn from other organizations, and should in fact interact with them. On Facebook, follow and partner with other organizations fan pages. For instance, Mainstreet Project and Headwaters post on each other’s pages. The same can be said for Twitter. Re-tweet (send another person’s post) if you like something, making sure to give credit, and this will encourage other people to reciprocate.
Mary suggested that if this is all a bit dauntingly technical, visit Common Craft, which provides free three-minute educational videos on complex topics such as Twitter, Facebook and blogs. Alternatively, Twin Cities Daily Planet will offer hands-on classes on Web 2.0 topics. Mary encouraged roundtable participants to organize a group of at least 5 people, find a location with internet access and invite her to teach a class.
About Organizer Roundtables
Organizer Roundtables are one of the Alliance’s strategies to build a network of organizers that work on issues related to growth and development in the Twin Cities. Roundtables are led by and for organizers and are held monthly at the Alliance’s offices in Minneapolis. Please check our web site at http://thealliancetc.org/ for upcoming roundtables.