Welcoming a New Era of Leadership at Wellstone
Today, we announced that Wellstone will have a new Executive Director in Edith Sargon as of May 1st. Ben Goldfarb will continue to serve as Strategic Advisor to the organization through December 2016.
When I joined Wellstone Action nine years ago as the Director of Programs, I was sure I had the best job in the progressive movement. I traveled the country from Albuquerque to Raleigh, Billings to Hindman, Kentucky, and countless points in between.
I had the privilege of meeting, training, coaching, and becoming co-conspirator with thousands of progressive leaders, both aspiring and well established. The one thing they all had in common? A burning desire to change the world and an openness to figuring out new ways to do it. Good luck being cynical when that’s your every day reality!
When I became Executive Director in 2011, the organization was at the tail end of an explosive start-up phase, driven by family and community, by those who were closest to Paul and Sheila, and by others who had never known the Wellstones personally, but knew that a politics that improves people’s lives was something they just had to be a part of.
We had already accomplished a great deal in those wild first years and in that moment, with such an incredible foundation in place, I knew my purpose was to help guide Wellstone to its next phase – one where we truly were a unified center for progressive movement and political leadership development: deeply imbedded in frontline movements for social, racial and economic justice; laser-focused on winning now while changing what’s possible down the road; and durable enough to ignite change for generations to come.
Now, at the beginning of 2016, Wellstone is realizing this future. Today, 80,000 people are Winning the Wellstone Way, and 350 frontline organizations trust in us as partners in transforming public and political leadership. We will be nearly twice the size this year than we were just five years ago, with a team that’s bigger, stronger, and more reflective of our diverse movement than ever before. By every conceivable metric, we are positioned to continue our growth and extraordinary impact.
So it’s at this moment of strength and opportunity that we’ll be practicing what we teach and thoughtfully beginning a new era of leadership at Wellstone.
I will be transitioning out of my role as Executive Director this spring. And I’m thrilled to share with you that our Board of Directors, after a thorough process, has enthusiastically chosen Edith Sargon, our Director of Impact, to be Wellstone’s next Executive Director as of May 1st.
If you don’t yet know Edith, you soon will. Since joining our staff five years ago, she's become a key architect of what’s best about Wellstone's strategy and culture, most recently as the leader of our program team. She knows where we've been and where we're going, holds many of our most important relationships, and is deeply connected to the broader progressive community, having cut her teeth for over a decade in the youth, labor, and choice movements before coming to Wellstone.
Edith's leadership perspective as a queer, immigrant woman of color, her deep commitment to our mission of developing progressive leaders, and her deeply relational approach are among the many reasons I'm excited for her to take the helm. I couldn't have more confidence that she'll take the organization to even greater places. It will be my honor to serve her and Wellstone as Strategic Advisor through the end of 2016.
I am deeply grateful to Wellstone’s Board of Directors for offering me the chance to lead this amazing place. In particular, I want to express my gratitude to our founding director, Jeff Blodgett, who could write a book on graceful founder transitions, and to Mark and David Wellstone for their trust and support in carrying on their family’s extraordinary legacy.
I’m also grateful to the extended Wellstone family – the tens of thousands of donors, supporters, trainers, and partners who make everything we do possible, and our remarkable staff, past and present. I've never been part of a more dynamic, thoughtful, wise, and good-humored bunch. Thank you for all you've done and are yet to do here.
The work I’ve done with Wellstone and with you has been the most challenging and rewarding of my career. I’m grateful for all we’ve achieved together, and excited for all that’s ahead.
I was born in Iran the day the Revolution started in 1979. Or at least that’s what my mom likes to tell people. When it became clear what direction Iran was headed politically, my dad made a brave decision to leave the country. I grew up with stories about the secret police in Iran. About how speaking up sometimes resulted in being taken away from your family, being interrogated and imprisoned for dissenting. I grew up with a very healthy distrust of authority.
As one of the first people in my family to go to college in the United States, I couldn’t help but become an activist. In 2000, a couple of big things happened in my life and in California. I came out as queer to myself, my friends, and the whole campus.
There were also two very important measures on the ballot that year: Prop. 21 was a measure that would legalize the racial profiling of young people and make it so that youth could be tried as adults in court. And Prop. 22 was the precursor to Prop. 8, which said that ‘marriage is between a man and a woman.’ By and large, students of color, including myself, worked to defeat Prop. 21 and white LGBT students worked to defeat Prop. 22.
They both passed. All across the state, our opponents successfully divided and conquered our communities to legislate hate. And because of this painful experience, I have been committed to ensuring that communities aren’t divided anymore – that we actually work across issues and differences so that we can win, together. So that we can all do better.
I spent the next 16 years honing my political and organizing chops – in youth, labor, and reproductive justice movements – and committing myself to developing the leadership our movement needs at Wellstone Action, most recently overseeing our program team and strategy as Director of Impact.
My career has been dedicated to creating opportunities for people to come together and create their own solutions, forging powerful intergenerational and multiracial alliances. For that reason and many others, Wellstone has become more than a place of work for me over these past seven years as a trainer and staff member. It’s become my movement home.
And I now have the honor of succeeding Ben Goldfarb, one of our movement’s most thoughtful and strategic leaders, and a genuinely incredible human being, as Wellstone’s next Executive Director.
Wellstone has always fundamentally been about people. Our legacy started with Paul and Sheila and the community that grew around and with them, and it continues through the hundreds of partner organizations and more than 80,000 candidates, campaigners, and organizers who have trusted in us to help develop the strategies, tactics, and leadership they need to move bold progressive change.
And this is an important moment for our organization and our movement. As a queer woman of color, I came to Wellstone because I was invited to be my full self and encouraged to be all of who I am.
That's true for everyone who works at Wellstone, and I am so proud that our program team is led by a staff of organizers, operatives, and strategists of color – Jessie Ulibarri, our Vice President of Impact and External Affairs, Adriana Barboza, our Director of Movement Building, and Kara Hollingsworth, our Director of Political Leadership – who bring their full hearts to carrying on the Wellstone Way: an authentic, values-based politics that is about improving people's lives.
So Wellstone is going to continue its focus on winning, ensuring that our movement is built on trust, integrity, and a deep investment in each other’s success. We are going to continue our commitment to inclusive leadership that centers race, gender expression, immigration status, class background, and sexual orientation in our fight for social justice. It’s how we’re going to win the world that Paul talked about where “we all do better when we all do better”.
Thank you for joining me, and us, in everything that’s ahead. We are so proud to have you standing with us in this moment.
Incoming Executive Director, Wellstone Action