Florida New Majority: The Fight for Florida

June 19, 2013
Photo credit: Florida New Majority on Facebook

(Photo credit: Florida New Majority on Facebook)

As Goes Florida, So Goes the Nation?
This isn’t a rhetorical question. For many years now, Florida has flickered brightly in that bottom corner of the map, the place to pay attention to if you want to gauge our country’s political temperature.
 
As far as Florida’s leadership goes, few states could be further out of touch with the people who live there. With Tea Party majorities, and a conservative Governor who founded what became the largest private, for-profit health care company in the world, this is hardly a recipe for representative leadership in a state where a quarter of residents identify as Hispanic or Latino/a, another quarter identify as people of color, and 20% are immigrants. Reversing this fundamental disconnect between the decision-makers in Tallahassee and everybody else is the lynchpin of Wellstone Action’s work in Florida, and the work of our partners, and we’re winning change in the Sunshine State the way we always do – through the time-tested Wellstone Triangle.
 
Florida New Majority + SEIU + Wellstone Action = Change
The drive for frontline organizations to take back their politics, to reclaim power on behalf of the people, exists everywhere in America. But few are doing it more successfully than Florida New Majority (FNM). An emerging statewide powerhouse, FNM has moved from the nascent stages of establishing itself just three years ago to securing a serious foothold on Florida’s political stage. FNM’s laser focus on blending voter engagement with social justice organizing, combined with its pursuit of innovative partnerships, is transforming the locus of power in Florida – and it isn’t going to stop there.
 
One particularly cutting-edge partnership was the 2012 Breakthrough Campaign, where FNM partnered with SEIU and Wellstone Action to pull off an impressive grassroots effort to win the election and build an enduring movement. Gihan Perera, Director and Co-Founder of FNM, knew he needed to engage one of the first organizations in the country that really understood how to integrate electoral and community organizing. When it comes to building long-term power in Florida, says Gihan:
 
Wellstone knows how to win that fight – with a decade of experience developing leaders across the country, and a philosophy of how to build progressive power that really works, we looked to Wellstone’s expertise, core values, reputation, and history of winning to help develop our organization to scale.
 
To this end, FNM partnered with Wellstone Action to develop a field program that would leverage the momentum and resources of the 2012 Presidential Election into a permanent hub of progressive power – and the one of the key exciting innovations of this effort was that SEIU housed its Florida Presidential political program within the structure and relationships of a community-based organization. The choice to refute the idea that organized labor should be separate or independent from community partners was bold – but it proved to be the exact recipe for success, one that would ensure electoral victory as well as a permanent progressive infrastructure long after the elections had ended.
 
The Value of Values
Wellstone Action’s role was to help structure this bold approach, to craft a truly integrated organizing model with FNM and SEIU that would leverage the resources of this historic election into a mandate to govern after the polls had closed. Together, we focused on building lasting power in five battleground counties, those counties that would literally determine the direction of an entire nation’s political future.
 
It’s our history and theory of change that most drew Gihan to want to work with us. He says:
 
“We came to Wellstone for a very particular reason – digging in deeper into Wellstone’s core values of authentic leadership, of change rooted in community, of winning on what matters.
 
Wellstone has the technical skills on lock, and your training reputation is as solid as it gets, but what most inspires us to work with you is your model of organizing, developing long-term leaders, winning elections, moving issues. Your vision and values are as important as your core content, and it’s why we look to you as our key strategic partner.”
 
With Wellstone Action’s strategic guidance, and through a series of trainings with our partners and their members, SEIU’s union organizers and FMN’s community organizers trained together, worked together, and won change together through multi-organizational “Impact Teams” based in these five key counties. These Impact Teams leveraged the issue of voting rights in particular to engage thousands of volunteers and made tens of thousands of voter contacts, persuading, engaging, and turning out Floridians to come forward and be counted; and as the polls closed, it became clear that they were the margin of victory in the areas that mattered. We were a critical part of winning Florida, and therefore the country, because of this work.
 
The value of Wellstone Action’s core values can be measured in the form of remarkable results: FNM and SEIU contacted 300,000 voters (four times more than the margin for victory) and cemented the idea that voting is the key to reclaiming Florida for the people. And this was only the beginning.
 
Holding the Momentum
This tremendous electoral success was the springboard for securing the long-term political and electoral capacity of Florida’s communities to take back their state. So FNM and Wellstone Action wasted no time, immediately convening more than 100 organizers to debrief the lessons of this election cycle and continue the work of building power within community. The Impact Teams transitioned to Freedom Clubs – a permanent organizing infrastructure in the five key counties that helped to deliver this election for progressives. Wholly volunteer driven, but anchored under FNM’s continuing leadership, Freedom Clubs serve as neighborhood hubs where activists can come together, in an organized structure, to take action on issues ranging from voter’s rights to immigration reform.
 
Today, Wellstone Action’s job is to help FNM build this Freedom Club model to a statewide scale, working with their field staff to provide mentoring, training, and strategic assistance on how to develop, design, and implement a sustainable, statewide power-building model and advising Gihan and other FNM leadership on how the Wellstone Triangle can help them succeed. Gihan’s own background includes 22 years of organizing, some with labor, some with community-based organizations – and in building his own political organization, he needed to answer the questions about structure and infrastructure, fit and focus. Says Gihan, “That’s another place where Wellstone Action adds tremendous value – their applied thought work on how to build out our model to scale. I worked with Wellstone to sketch out the architecture of our organizing and partnership model. We went from doodles and thoughts on a napkin to an intricately defined field model.”
 
Gihan is the first to admit that his organizational approach is an “experiment in development.” Like many in the country, he and the FNM team are trying to figure out how to build volunteer political leadership that can grow and have a scaled impact, with limited resources between elections. Already this year, the North Miami Freedom Clubs helped to elect the first Haitian woman as Mayor of North Miami. And, as FNM continues to build its team, Wellstone Action is on the ground along with them, and grounded in the approach we know to work – the Wellstone Triangle. As we work together to hone FNM’s operations, the lens we always bring is the one that integrates community organizing, electoral politics, and public policy with leadership development. This is the approach that can change Florida’s political landscape, and bring Florida’s leadership in line with the values of its people, building power in Florida’s immigrant communities, and leveraging the power of Florida’s young people and people of color to reclaim their state.

Perhaps the next question for the country isn’t rhetorical either. Perhaps it’s not a question at all, but more of a statement: As goes Florida New Majority, so goes Florida. And as Wellstone Action continues its strategic partnership with FNM, we’re ready for round two, and another bout of winning progressive change, the Wellstone Way.
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