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"Building political power" and "people-powered movements" are two phrases that have become organizing buzzwords over recent years. But what exactly do either of them mean? We dig deeper into both in the third episode of As the South Votes.
While major elections are underway at the state and federal levels, more groups are shifting their strategy to invest in year-round community organizing. Recognizing that people need engagement not just a few weeks before an election, but all the time, organizations like the Texas Organizing Project and Florida Rising view elections as just one of many entry points for improving the means and conditions of communities across their respective states.
Brianna Brown, Co-Executive Director of the Texas Organizing Project, walks us through what it looks like for her, as a fifth-generation Texas, to build political power across predominantly Latinx and Black communities in the state. Brianna spoke to us about what it means to grow a voting block, and how TOP has created intervention points that can break through the status quo and help achieve meaningful changes in people's lives—getting deep into TOP's value alignment, how they work cooperatively with community members, and the reality of doing this kind of work in the Lone Star State.
"Our membership is who we're accountable to and who we're working alongside," Brianna explained. "Our folks are directly impacted by the issues that we organize around. So immigration reform, legal reform, health care justice, housing justice, education justice and we also do some climate and economic justice work."
Not long after our conversation, the state's Republican party unveiled its new platform doubling down on anti-democracy conspiracy theories. While TOP is mobilizing and engaging voters ahead of the 2022 midterm elections, which could have broad implications across the state like races for governor and attorney general, Brianna emphasized the even broader impact of local organizing wins.
"Our theory of change is about linking the fate of Black folks and Latinos as the pathway to transforming Texas and transforming this country," Brianna continued. "If we win something around legal reform, for instance—which is a fight that we've been involved in Harris County, for quite some time—we won bail reform on misdemeanor charges. So, that means that 4 million people instantly get to take advantage of not being locked up."
Florida Rising is empowering organizers and redirecting resources to address government failings and shift the balance of power across the state.
As a strategic matter, TOP focuses on a few of the "most densely populated counties" in the state with large Black and Latino communities, including Dallas, Harris, Fort Bend, and Bear counties. It's worth noting that each of these counties are the size of some entire so-called battleground states.
In the second half of the conversation, we check in with Dwight Bullard, Senior Advisor at Florida Rising, while he was en route to the state capitol in Jacksonville.
Earlier this year, amidst redistricting battle happening in the state legislature and the fight against a "racist" map forced through by Governor Ron DeSantis, Black lawmakers led a protest on the Florida House floor in opposition to the newly adopted maps. The DeSantis maps were seen as a blatant power grab by some with the potential to give his party a broad advantage in the 2024 election.
As a result of the merger of two leading Florida organizations, Organize Florida and the New Florida Majority, Florida Rising engages in 13 counties across the state. The organization hopes to become a political "home" for folks who feel the existing political system does not work for them.
"We are the largest independent political organization within the state of Florida," Dwight said. And really just trying to ultimately become a political home for folks who feel a sense of disenfranchisement, both from their own lived experience in working in a two-party system. But more importantly for people who are oftentimes disengaged from the political process."
Dwight says his organization is constantly experimenting and exploring what works best when engaging communities in target areas, while also looking at the bigger picture of protecting and expanding Democracy beyond any singular candidate or institution.
"We have to center people first," Dwight said. "And understanding that for your everyday lived experience, something is going on in your world that you ultimately want to change for the better, or just change deliberately. That simple intervention is how we want people to onboard themselves to the notion of politics."
In this season of As The South Votes, Scalawag and Anoa Changa are teaming back up to talk about what's working, what's not, and what lessons Southern organizers have learned in their efforts to make the region we love a more just place.
While the county might remain an uphill battle for Republicans, North Carolina as a whole is a political toss-up.
For all the debate on how young voters will show up in 2022, there's a mismatch between campaigns to engage them and their experiences organizing for reproductive justice on the ground.
Groups that employ continued, year-round civic engagement in the South walk us through the connection between electoral power and creating real opportunities for our communities to thrive.