Building a Legacy, One Training at a Time

August 28, 2013

Matt Dannenberg will proudly tell you that it was because of a Wellstone Action training that he got hired at his current job. Back in the fall of 2009, Matt was an environmental studies major in his senior year at the University of Wisconsin Madison. He was nervous about his impending graduation, and he attended a Campus Camp Wellstone through the PIRG (Public Interest Research Group) on campus.

The training was eye-opening, and what has stuck with Matt all these years is the quote from Paul Wellstone, “We all do better when we all do better.” That quote, along with exercises at the training that allowed him to practice doorknocking and examine his own leadership style were really helpful for Matt in getting to know himself better, to gain the confidence and clarity about what he wanted to do to impact his own community for the better.

At that Campus Camp Wellstone, Matt met the Field Director for the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters. He sought out an internship there as a way of completing his environmental studies degree, and now, 3 ½ years later, Matt is still with the league, now in his role as a community organizer.

As an organizer, Matt is constantly working to build coalitions, talking with local conservation organizations, and seeing how they can work together to accomplish major policy goals at the state level as well as tackle local issues. Matt says, “It is extremely powerful in having that sense of community and being able to work together.”

An additional reward for Matt is the ability he has had to work within the Native community in Wisconsin. Matt is a member of the Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Chippewa. “Being able to go door-to-door and hear stories about how they want to make their community a better place and being a facilitator in that conversation has been extremely powerful,” Matt acknowledges. “We were able to stop a piece of mining legislation temporarily that would have affected my tribe and members of my family. I never would have done that without getting into a career of organizing, and Wellstone Action helped make that possible.”

Since attending the Campus Camp training, Matt has stayed close to Wellstone Action. While at a training with State Voices, he again met up with staff from Wellstone Action. It got the ball rolling to bring a Native American Leadership Program training to Wausau, Wisconsin last fall. The training was part of the “Pow Wow to Vote” campaign to engage the Wisconsin Native community about their voting rights and why it is important to vote and mobilize voters to the polls during GOTV and on Election Day. Because the campaign hired from the Native community, the training was essential. Many members had little to no political experience, so the training was really a crash course to prepare them for upcoming challenges and prepare them for the campaign experience. It also taught what we call the Wellstone Way of winning change – that this work is about growing a movement, one that will sustain long after Election Day has come and gone. We’re about building communities, in partnership with communities – and Matt’s just one example of the many incredible people we meet along the path who help us do just that.

Ever since Matt’s first connection to us, he was inspired by such a positive experience that he said it was a dream of his to one day train for Wellstone Action. Well, Matt’s dream came true this past spring when he got to test his training skills at a Camp Wellstone in Madison and that this, too, was a huge milestone for him. Matt has become one of the many individuals carrying on the Wellstone legacy:

“Even though I never got to meet Paul or work on one of his campaigns, watching the video of him at the training fires me up. The fact that his legacy carries on this way and he continues to touch hundreds of new organizers a year is an incredible experience to be a part of.”

We couldn’t agree more, Matt!