I first learned to organize in a soup kitchen in Southern Indiana. Our first action was taking over a city council meeting in a fight for affordable housing. One after another, 40 members stood up and told their story of being homeless or damn near. We didn’t win that night, but we were on to something.
Hungry to learn more, I went to the Monroe County Library and found a book about community organizing. The author wrote of organizing networks with strange names like the Industrial Areas Foundation, ACORN, and Gamaliel. One group took busloads of people to protest at the homes of bank CEOs. It was called National People’s Action.
Never in a million years did it occur to me that I’d have the honor to spend 25 years with National People’s Action and People’s Action, and 14 years as Director.
That run will come to an end later this year. I feel certain now is the time to pass the baton.
Why now? People’s Action is in the best shape it’s ever been. We are fresh off running the largest deep canvass program in an election, ever.
We are powered and proudly governed by our affiliates. Our national team is talented and deep, and we are in the best financial position of our history.
Being the Director of People’s Action is more energizing and fulfilling than it has ever been. I also know that means this is exactly the right time to make a successful transition.
We have an excellent team to lead us through this transition, including the boards of People’s Action and People’s Action Institute (a letter from our boards here), our management team, and outside support. We’ll post the opening in due time and this will be an open search.
My next move is to focus on reaching people untouched by our current organizing sector, help train more organizers in the fundamentals, and tell the stories that show what’s possible when we see each other. Some of this will happen in partnership with existing organizations, some will require starting new things. Time will tell.
People’s Action is at its best when we spot things that need to be done, but are not yet in motion. Here are some moments when we’ve done just that.
When the 2008 financial crisis hit, it was like crickets — with no action anywhere. So, we moved tens of thousands of people into the streets. This street heat helped in the fight to pass Dodd-Frank Financial Reform, create the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and win $26 billion in principal reduction for underwater homebuyers.
Sensing the organizing field was jumping from crisis to crisis, we created our Long-Term Agenda to the New Economy, a forty-year framework to win the battle of ideas, build governing power, and advance structural change that reorganizes power to our advantage.
We launched our Movement Politics program, to help run powerful electoral programs grounded in organizing. We took a network that did not do elections to one that delivered many decisive votes in 2020.
When there was a need to consolidate forces to meet the moment, we brought multiple organizations into one family to form People’s Action. The scale of our 2020 work would not have been possible without the deep experience of so many USAction affiliates who had long been doing elections, or the activist base built by Campaign for America’s Future.
Our members saw a need for an ambitious housing agenda that moved from defense to offense. Those members launched the campaign for a #HomesGuarantee which is reshaping the national debate about what is possible and necessary to address the housing crisis in this country.
At a time when progressives were writing off rural communities, we launched a fearless race-forward rural organizing project, engaging well over a million rural voters. Our deep canvass program has since held hundreds of thousands of conversations to move people on the exact issues the Right is using to divide us.
Then a pandemic hit. Our team adapted, and built a national distributed organizing program that in four months recruited 35,000 new volunteers. In tandem with affiliate organizations, these new volunteers sent tens of millions of texts and talked with hundreds of thousands of voters to elect Joe Biden and Kamala Harris and defeat Donald Trump.
I’ll be moving on as director, but People’s Action remains committed to figuring out what is needed but missing, and how we can hit an uncrowded lane to help our members and people like them win.
As you will see in the months ahead, the people in this family have momentum. The ass-kicking organizing this moment requires will continue.
Whether in public housing in Harlem, neighborhoods in Aurora, Colorado, or a soup kitchen in Southern Indiana , we will help organize the unorganized, seize the federal moment, and grow a “we” big enough to win for the long haul.
Thank you for the support you’ve given to me and People’s Action and to our boards for supporting me in this decision. The best is yet to come.