Learning in the Streets

Building strength in numbers. Developing grassroots leaders. Raising independent money. Mapping power relationships.

These are some of the key ingredients that go into building powerful community organizations that can win transformative change – which is why they’re core elements of the Alliance’s flagship Four-Day Organizer Training.

Our training team has been leading the Four-Day program annually for over a decade to build the organizing, strategic planning, and media skills of Alliance affiliate organizers and grassroots leaders.

This summer, there was so much demand that we had to multiply our Four-Day training schedule. We trained a cohort of 21 organizers at our West Coast Four-Day in Seattle in June (hosted by Washington Community Action Network). We ran an East Coast Four-Day for 25 organizers in Albany at the end of July (hosted by Citizen Action of New York – see photos).

And we just wrapped up a special Four-Day intensive for staff from our newest affiliate, the Restaurant Opportunities Centers-United, in New York City.

The Native Organizers Alliance (a project of AJS) also led a tailored Four-Day Native Organizing Training for 28 Native organizers working in Indian Country in June, along with a Native youth training in Montana in July and a condensed organizing workshop for the American Indian Center of Chicago in August.

What makes the Alliance’s training program stand out?

  • We learn by doing. While we hit the books (learning about the history and theory of community organizing), we also hit the streets. That’s how organizers from Washington to Maine and New Orleans to Vermont ended up shoulder to shoulder on a field canvass in Albany a few weeks ago, mobilizing residents of a working class neighborhood to urge their state senator to support a $15 minimum wage for all workers in New York. That’s what we call learning in the streets.
  • We lead with race. Where concerns about “divisiveness” sometimes lead groups to avoid talking openly about race, we teach organizers how to put race up front and centralize a racial justice analysis in their work – including internal training on the levels of racism, integrating racial justice analysis into picking issues and developing campaign strategies, investing in leadership development in communities of color, and leading with race in the media.
  • We’re serious about numbers. From the 80/20 rule for home visits to the 50/50 rule for counting turnout to the rule of 3 contacts for increasing engagement, we know building strength in numbers requires learning the science of effective organizing, setting measurable goals, and then holding ourselves and our teams accountable for outcomes.
  • We build strong ties.Our intense trainings build new relationships among staff and leaders across organizations to strengthen our team going forward. When you find participants staying up until two in the morning sharing organizing stories (like they did in Albany), you know you’re building strong ties.

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With summer winding down, it’s back to school time and that may mean time to hit the books for many… but here at the Alliance, our training team is busy planning the next round of learning in the streets.

Today in Montana: Big Win on Medicaid Expansion

Today, Montana Governor Steve Bullock signed SB 405 into law, making Montana the 29th state in the country to expand health coverage for low-income residents through Medicaid expansion.

Thanks to this bill, up to 70,000 Montana residents who are currently uninsured will be eligible for quality, affordable health coverage for the first time. It’s a big victory for Montana families and communities. But it didn’t come without a fight.

To an outside observer, the odds may not have looked good going into the 2015 legislative session. Medicaid expansion had already failed to clear the Montana Legislature once before. And the Montana chapter of Americans for Prosperity (AFP is the flagship organization in the Koch network) was throwing all its weight behind ginning up opposition and trying to scare moderate lawmakers away from the negotiating table.

But the Healthy Montana Campaign, a statewide coalition of 10 core partner organizations working in support of Medicaid expansion, was undeterred. Through three years of disciplined organizing, the coalition sent a clear message: when it comes to quality, affordable health care, we’re in it to win it. And that’s exactly what they did.

The Montana Organizing Project (MOP), an affiliate of the Alliance for a Just Society, played an integral role in the organizing that made this victory possible, mobilizing its base of members and leaders across the state, including in rural and eastern Montana, to join the fight.

MOP and HMC partners knew it would require a large-scale grassroots effort to overcome the Koch money on the other side. So they started early. And never quit.

In 2014, when MOP ran a nonpartisan civic engagement project focusing on low-income women voters that logged 19,000 phone calls, 3,500 doors knocked, and more than 3,000 “I pledge to vote” cards. They not only boosted turnout in their target universe – they also built a list of Medicaid expansion supporters, and prepared those supporters to take action.

As the 2015 session got underway, MOP mobilized its supporters to turn out at rallies, testify at legislative hearings, make calls to key legislators, and write letters to the editor.

Leaders in the Campaign expected an onslaught of opposition from Americans for Prosperity. But at the first legislative hearing, the Healthy Montana Campaign rallied 250 supporters, including businesses and statewide organizations. Americans for Prosperity turned out fewer than a dozen people in opposition.

Through this show of strength in numbers, partners in the HMC highlighted the difference between their grassroots support from Montana families and AFP’s astroturf opposition.

That set the tone for the debates to follow. And when AFP tried to run town hall meetings in the home districts of swing legislators to drum up opposition, they got out-smarted and out-organized: the targeted legislators showed up, won the crowds over, and turned them against AFP.

The final deal on Medicaid expansion in Montana isn’t perfect. It includes some provisions the HMC strongly opposed – like mandatory premiums (up to 2 percent of the recipient’s income), a co-pay of up to 3 percent, the ability to remove people who earn above 100 percent of the poverty level and fail to pay their premiums from the program, and a sunset provision.

But the Campaign won on its two most important goals: making sure the final deal accepts all of the federal funding available for Montana, and ensuring that everyone earning up to 138 percent of the poverty level (about $16,000 for a single person) will be eligible. That means up to 70,000 low-income Montanans who’ve had nowhere to turn will be eligible for quality, affordable health coverage thanks to Medicaid expansion.

The passage of Medicaid expansion will also help small, rural hospitals across Montana – hospitals that may otherwise have faced closure due to funding shortfalls – to remain solvent, preserving access to health care for rural communities and preserving good-paying health care jobs in those communities.

The work for quality, affordable health care in Montana isn’t over, of course. While today’s signing of Medicaid expansion is a great stride in expanding health coverage, there’s still a lot of work to do to make sure getting health coverage translates into getting health care, especially for women, Native Americans, and rural residents. MOP and the HMC partners look forward to engaging in the Waiver process to ensure that as many Montanans as possible get covered and get on the path to quality care.

There’s a lot more organizing and more fights ahead to make health care reform fulfill the promise of eliminating race and gender-based disparities in health access and outcomes in Montana. The Montana Organizing Project will be in the thick of that work.

 

 

From Grape Boycott to Great Buy-cott: Colorado Groups Bring New Spin to Old Idea in Campaign for Immigration Reform

The grape boycotts organized by the United Farm Workers in the late 1960s were part of a groundbreaking strategy to engage consumers in the fight for fair treatment for immigrant farmworkers. Fast forward to 2013, and groups in Colorado campaigning for economy-boosting buy-cott.purpleimmigration reform with a path to citizenship are putting a new spin on a tried and true idea. Instead of a boycott, they’re organizing a “buy-cott” to push immigration reform forward.

The website for the Colorado Statewide Buy-cott explains the basic idea driving the effort: “Vote with your wallet and shop at local businesses that support comprehensive immigration reform with a path to citizenship!”

And that’s exactly what residents of Denver, Aurora, Pueblo, Greeley, Longmont, Ft. Morgan, Grand Junction, Durango, Glendwood Springs, Carbondale, Aspen and other cities and towns across Colorado are doing from August 4-10: they’re putting their spending money to work in local businesses whose owners have declared their support for immigration reform with a path to citizenship.

The statewide buy-cott is a joint effort of a range of Colorado-based groups, including the Colorado Main Street Alliance, Colorado Progressive Coalition (CPC), Rights for All People (RAP), Colorado National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Bend the Arc, and Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition (CIRC).

The participating organizations announced the buy-cott with a series of local press events around the state on July 29. The idea has clearly caught on: nearly 400 local businesses across the state have signed on to the effort and put up a poster in their business windows declaring their support for immigration reform with a path to citizenship.

The buy-cott has generated lots of local press coverage, too, including in major papers like the Denver Post and in smaller local papers and media outlets across the state.

 

Small Business Owners Support Immigration Reform with Roadmap to Citizenship

Small business owners across the country are weighing in on the immigration debate. Their message: small businesses support immigration reform with a roadmap to citizenship.statue of liberty

At May Day rallies tomorrow, around the country, small business leaders will be addressing the crowds; speaking up for comprehensive immigration reform. It seems a good moment to remind ourselves where exactly small business owners stand on this issue. Read more

Tax Havens for Big Business? Small Business Owners Say ‘Not so fast’

Multi-Partisan small business owners spoke out earlier this month, further distinguishing their interests from those of Big Business.

Wednesday, in his post “Has the Budget Crisis Du Jour Got You Down?” Bill Daley pointed out that if Congress were to close one tax loophole on offshore accounts, it could be enough to create a ‘job stimulus’ program the country has not seen since the beginning of the Great Recession. Read more

Does the U.S. Chamber of Commerce speak for small business? Maine small business owner says: “No!”

Melanie Collins, a small business owner and leader with the Maine Small Business Coalition, traveled to Washington, DC on October 19 to speak at a press conference outside the headquarters of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Her message was simple: “The U.S. Chamber of Commerce doesn’t speak for small business, and it doesn’t speak for me.” Read more

Maine Small Business Owners Challenge Political Intervention by U.S. Chamber of Commerce

Members of the Maine Small Business Coalition are challenging the political intervention of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce after it announced a $400,000 attack ad in the race for the open Senate seat in Maine left by the retirement of Olympia Snowe at the end of this year. The 3,400-strong MSBC had a clear message for the U.S. Chamber: go back to Washington. Read more