OUR Alliance: Julia Freeman on Community Leadership

In 2019, the Alliance marks its 25th Anniversary — and a leadership transition! We know that our successes have come from coalition and community power so we’re lifting up the reflections and achievements of leaders from our network who have advanced our collective campaigns for regional equity. We want to hear from you! Share your reflections in this short survey to be recognized in our 25th Anniversary celebrations.

Julia Freeman knew it could be done. Just six weeks to save 900 affordable units from demolition? Plenty of time — especially with the Alliance as a key partner.

In 2004, the Brooklyn Park City Council voted to place a bond referendum on the ballot to raise $35 million in property taxes  to purchase and demolish 900 affordable housing units along the Zane Avenue corridor. Living in Brooklyn Park at the time, with a long history of labor and community organizing, Freeman was a central leader in a coalition to preserve those units — a coalition convened by the Alliance that included Community Stabilization Project, HOME Line, Housing Justice Center, MICAH’s Organizing Project for African-American Congregations, the Organization of Liberians in Minnesota, and SEIU Local 26.

Now a Senior Organizer at Voices for Racial Justice, Freeman recalls the Alliance provided essential resources to help manage the compressed campaign timeline, anchoring the organizing efforts with staff, logistics and strategic advice. But even more important than that, the organization didn’t come in with the intent to direct the campaign, but to follow and amplify the expertise of the communities most impacted.

“There was a time when the Alliance was doing more leading than they should,” Freeman says. “And community said, ‘We don’t need you to lead for us. We need you to support us. We can lead ourselves.’ Not every organization can do that. The Alliance actually elevates the community and partnerships so the work is what we did together, not what we did on the backs of Black and brown people. ”

In the Brooklyn Park fight that ethic was essential. The coalition engaged tenants and impacted community and centered their issues and leadership in outreach to media, policymakers and the general public. Ultimately, it worked: the ballot measure was defeated 20,000 to 12,000.

During the housing fight and beyond, Freeman came to appreciate the way the Alliance leverages power and relationships at the local and regional level to bring community to the table. “The Alliance is always mindful of community in meetings with commissioners or elected officials, so they can hear directly from impacted residents why affordable housing is important, why mixed-income housing is important,” she says. “Making sure those relationships they’ve bridged and fostered are available to community is a powerful thing, so community can come in and speak truth to power.”

For Freeman the referendum was just the beginning of her work with the Alliance. In addition to being a key leader in the Stops for Us campaign (stay tuned for more on that effort in coming weeks!), she was a member of the Alliance board, including serving as Vice Chair. But beyond the policy victories and infrastructure wins, Freeman grew her personal power, as well.

“I learned how to staff a coalition, how to be part of a coalition, how to get consensus — all of that has been valuable in organizing and the education work I do now,” she says. “Since the Alliance, I’ve been the chair of another board, too, so it fostered my leadership — in a good way.”

What have you learned and leveraged from the Alliance and its coalition work? Share your reflections in this short survey to be recognized in our 25th Anniversary celebrations! And don’t forget to sign up for our party on September 26!