Elections are my world right now; I work to change dominant institutions and somehow have become very good at it. My earliest memories are sitting under tables in union halls and precinct counting rooms in Chicago. My father was the baby brother to two (count them – two) aldermen and he ran their errands on election night. I carried the folded paper from the man in the hat smoking the big stogie to the locked room, knocked on the door and got my piece of candy. In 1960s Chicago, there was a role for everyone that showed up in an election (even the dead).
Fast forward 5 decades and now I live in the backroom of elections, living in a digital world, making predictions, knowing that elections are all about the numbers; personalities simply keep it from becoming too boring. I knew the 2016 winner in September, in 2017 worked to bring Virginia to within one vote of one seat, helped Black Belt voters send Doug Jones to the Senate, in 2018 helped send by girlfriend’s daughter to Congress in Virginia, claimed the Virginia Senate and House in 2019 so Virginia could become the 38th State to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment and I predict a great 2020 election. In short, I turn out the Black vote now just like my uncles did only I work multiple states, multiple elections and multi-ethnic voters.
Our organization has experienced a 650% growth spurt in the last 3 months. We started as a little grassroots organization with 3 dedicated people and a Board of Directors that expected the organization to stay manageable by a group of dedicated volunteers. Now I give bi-monthly presentations to a few hundred people at a time, host monthly summits of up to 800 people and have groups asking me to speak from Massachusetts to California.
Our shared space is democracy (or rather the desire to achieve it) in the republic. Someone said in our breakout group that elections are a commons and we all need to participate. When people believe that they are no longer part of the commons, strange things happen and we don’t elect the best person for the job.
I have spent the past 15 years of my life advocating for peace, justice, economic security, equal and civil rights and expect that this is how I will spend the rest of my life. I am now telling people that 2020 is simply a milepost on our road to empowering local communities of color to become the leader(s) they want and need and to re-arrange the economy so that it can work for them. A member of my church said it best a few weeks ago, “Stop trying to fix the system because it isn’t broken; it works just fine for the people who designed it. We need to understand the system was never meant to work for us.” What I love about the cooperative model, combined with the theory of dominant institutional change is that it takes everyone back “home” to the way we would want to do things if we hand’t been led astray by the notion of nuclear families and that every person is responsible just for themselves. When we return to the idea of community, when we work together to resolve our collective problems, many of those problems morph into economic opportunity and community rebirth. That’s what I plan to work to achieve.
After 2020 I embark on the next step of working with communities to re-imagine and discover their power by teaching citizen lobbying. As a Federal lobbyist, I have advocated for Medicare for All, the Equal Rights Amendment, a Constitutional Right to Vote and worked on Sen. Sanders Green New Deal. Perhaps my best lobbying moment was asking Sen. Sanders to run for President as a Democrat in early 2015. He wanted to know why I who am not a Democrat wanted to him to run under the banner of the Democratic Party. I explained that if he wanted to be in debates that aired during prime time rather than 1am on Tuesday morning, he needed to pick one of the two major parties available.
There is so much power and possibility in marginalized communities. To say they don’t know their own power is an under statement. No progressive gets elected without their numbers. We need our cooperative movement to become the economic engine for the Movement for Black Lives and the Poor People’s Campaign. As people discover/uncover their social power, they desperately need to turn on their economic power.