Rising Together

July 2, 2014

We’ve all had those weeks. Graduations, new jobs, ceremonies, weeks you know will change your life forever. Well, I just finished one of those weeks that I know won’t just change me, but also my community for years to come.

It was powerful. It was inspiring. It was absolutely life affirming.

Eight years ago, Wellstone Action launched the Wellstone Organizing Fellows to train, support, and mentor emerging Minnesota organizers from communities of color. This year, in partnership with Minnesota Voice (the state’s leading collaborative of nonprofit civic engagement organizations), we selected 35 Fellows, far and away the biggest cohort in the history of the program. They’ll spend the rest of 2014, and in many cases the rest of their careers, working with progressive partner organizations registering neighbors, turning out voters, and building community.

Too often, our communities are sliced and diced into demographic statistics that progressives say will swing an election. But swinging that election doesn’t create lasting change, not when the campaign leaves the day after the election, only to return four years later asking for our vote once more.

The Wellstone Way is different. That’s why Wellstone invests in these 35 emerging organizers. Because change over the long-haul means growing unrelenting community power, day after day, month after month, year after year. To do it, we count on highly trained, passionate, smart, focused organizers to launch a movement and sustain it for generations to come.

As the Wellstone Organizing Fellows Manager, I recruited and selected the fellows, and I planned and organized the week-long training that launched their fellowship. I’m so proud of the work we’re doing.

We spent a week at a community center in Minneapolis’ Phillips Neighborhood, talking about how to build leadership teams, practicing compelling voter engagement messages, and presenting plans for community engagement.

You should have been in the room. Even in progressive politics, we don’t see rooms like this nearly enough. A Somali woman from Rochester sat next to single father from St. Paul’s Rondo community, a first generation Latino immigrant practiced his canvassing script with a Hmong American who was the first in her family to attend college. A young American Indian woman partnered with a middle-aged African American man for a canvassing exercise. 

American Indian, African American, Asian, Somali, Latino, and Hmong community members, women, members of the LGBTQ community, and New Americans, are too often shut out of the political process, even in the progressive community.

But as Antoine Martinneau of Minneapolis’ Neighborhoods Organizing for Change put it:

“Building power with some of the most talented people of color in the movement is an incredible feeling. Nothing about us without us!”

Fellows is a program created by people of color, for people of color, and over five jam-packed days, the Fellows learned from our Wellstone trainers, and each other, how to build a lasting movement for everyone.

In the individual stories of each of the 35 newest Wellstone Organizing Fellows is the story of our Minnesota communities. In the work they’ll be doing, we see the promise of our state to truly represent the full spectrum of its people and move us toward a politics that improves people’s lives.

“I’m fired up about the Wellstone Organizing Fellows because organizers of color rarely get a space with one another to talk anti-racist strategies and envision a world where our communities are lifted in a genuine way.” Explained Ho Nguyen of Pro-Choices Resources.

On the last day of the training, after four days packed with dozens of sessions, from case studies on voter rights, to field organizing the Wellstone Way, the Fellows presented what they’ll be doing next, with our partner organizations. All I can say is “wow.” If you ever had any doubt in the power of people to change the course of our politics, you wouldn’t after hearing what’s next for our Fellows.

Now the Fellows are in the field, working in deep collaboration with Minnesota Voice, and with their partner organizations including unions and advocacy groups, schools, community centers and neighborhood organizations. Yes, they’ll do the important work of planning and executing nonpartisan campaigns to register and turnout new voters for this election. But more importantly, they’re building community power and building a state where everybody’s in, nobody’s out, no exceptions.

One thing’s for sure: Change isn’t going to happen because of one election, or even because of one highly trained organizer. It’s going to happen because we invest in our communities, year after year. It’ll happen when our organizers empower their neighbors to become organizers. The roots of that movement, the seeds of change, will come from the 35 Organizing Fellows I had the honor of training last week.

As the training was coming to a close, Ben Goldfarb, Wellstone’s Executive Director welcomed the fellows to the Wellstone family. “We’ve never had a space like this.” He said, “We’ve never had a group like this. We’re rising together, and together we’ll use the Wellstone triangle to build power, to build our communities.”

And over the next five months, we’ll keep track of their work, and their victories, in communities across Minnesota, as we win, the Wellstone Way. So stay tuned!