As our feeds become inundated with news that the Trump Administration wants to strip rights for immigrants, women, people of color, low-income communities, and those who are most disenfranchised, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed or helpless in our current political climate. But we know that organizing and the sustained efforts of activists – like in the case of Daniela Vargas, a young undocumented immigrant, who Immigration and Customs officials detained and later released – can make all the difference. That’s why we’ve teamed up with Latino Victory Project for a three-part video series called Building a #Resistencia Movement. We’ve partnered with leaders, experts, and legislators to bring young Latinos the tools they need to become strong local organizers.
“Our mission is to elect progressive Latino candidates and change the American political landscape so it better reflects our communities,” Cristóbal J. Alex, President of the Latino Victory Project told Remezcla. “We see Latinos empowering our local communities and showing up for allies in some of the most difficult and urgent fights all across the country. Our talented digital team realized that there was a space for us to channel this energy towards political change. Through these online trainings, we are giving Latinos free, accessible skills to do that. Ultimately, we want to see community leaders taking the next step to run for office, because they know best what their families and neighbors need. The #resistencia digital campaign is one critical piece to this effort. It allows us to meet folk where they are and really cultivate a base of potential progressive Latino candidates.”
We kicked off the series last month with a Facebook Live session on how to begin organizing. We spoke to veteran organizers Carmen Perez and Nelini Stamp about how to build coalitions, plan protests and rallies, and how to have those difficult conversations with family and friends who don’t share your views. (You can read more here.) This week, for our second installment, “Turning Activism into Policy,” we chatted with NYC Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito; Nevada State Senator Yvanna Cancela; and Jessica Morales Rocketto, the former Digital Organizing Director for Hillary for America.
Moderated by Remezcla contributor Andrew S. Vargas and Latino Victory’s Director of Communications Jess Torres, we chatted with women who have experience organizing and engaging with elected officials and know how to best channel organizing into policy. Here are some key takeaways from that conversation:
Start Small, But Stay Persistent
Senator Cancela says it doesn’t take much more than meeting friends over cocktails and looking up each of your elected representatives to get the wheels in motion. Morales Rocketto suggests getting a small group of friends and attending community meetings and town halls – but don’t just stop there.
“You want to make sure [elected officials] feel pressure everywhere,” she said. “You want to make sure they feel the pressure via phone call, so [with you] five friends call that office every single day and tell them you want to be a sanctuary city. Then, you want to tweet at them… You should make a Facebook event, promote it with your friends. Invite all your friends. Send it over email. Send it over text message, and you know the most foolproof way of organizing is to get in the car and go pick up your friends and bring them with you, then they can’t flake out.
Bring them to that local meeting and then make sure that you take a picture. Make sure that you tweet it from your Twitter account. Make sure that you take a picture. Make sure that you tweet it from your Twitter account. Make sure you ask your friends to retweet it. That’s totally helpful when you’re an organizer, like really that’s all it takes. And then you keep doing it and showing up and those folks will start to recognize you and they’ll know that you come with a crew.”
Find What Best Works For You
Many strategies can get elected officials to listen and take action. NYC Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito explains that “signing petitions does make a difference, showing up at your council member’s office with other like-minded people makes a difference, making phone calls makes a difference.” She looks at all these things to gauge what issues people are passionate about and what her office needs to take action on. But the path won’t be the same for every organizer. “People need to find out what is most comfortable for them, and which ways they want to engage and join other organizations or coalitions that are advocating that point of view,” she added.
Empower People By Sharing Their Stories
Senator Cancela, who previously worked with immigrant workers, knows that oftentimes, those who are most vulnerable feel they aren’t able to voice their opinions. But you can help them get their stories out there.
“So the most important thing would be to tell those stories to elected officials, to have politicians come and visit workers in their homes to see what it’s like to live as housekeeper in Las Vegas, to talk about what changes changes to the Affordable Care Act mean to a diabetic born in Las Vegas,” she said. “And these stories, in my opinion, are so powerful because they are undeniable. You cannot forget what it was like to sit in that home or to have that conversation or to experience that emotion. And I think that’s why we’ve seen so much success within the immigrant’s rights movement, because we have more and more people who are empowered and unafraid to tell their stories.”
But how do we get these stories out there? Senator Cancela suggests these three things:
- Practice: You can’t properly tell these stories without practice. “You have to be able to tell what is probably a really long, emotional, and compelling story in a short format. Because the same way that we read in 140 characters on Twitter, we process things with short attention spans,” she said.
- Use different methods: Use social media, write a letter, make a phone call to get these stories out in as many ways as possible. But also remember that the story will change depending on the medium.
- Ask others for support: Cancela suggests asking your friends to help you spread these messages. Have them retweet or share your posts. “Simple thing like that amplify your message,” she said.
Make Your Elected Official Care About Your Issues
Senator Cancela’s gone from organizing to serving in office. As an organizer, she focused on a set of issues that she advocated for. But as a senator, she has to balance the concerns of her community. “Sometimes the organizing world [doesn’t] realize how much politicians have to balance,” she said. “So our job as organizers is to make sure that the issues we care about become the heaviest as electeds are doing their balancing. In order to be heavy, you have to be loud, hiwhc means that you have to do things in coalition, and probably [what] I’ve identified as being one of the most important is making sure that as we’re organizing, we’re really highlighting the constituents that are bringing those issues forward.”
Leave Something Behind With Your Elected Official
As Senator Cancela pointed out, elected officials balance a lot of things at once. So when you meet with them, you want to make sure they remember the issues you brought forward. “You know, one tip I always wanna give people is that you want to make sure you leave something behind when you engage with your legislators,” Morales Rocketto said. “So when they’re talking about all these different issues, they are thinking about how many phone calls did I get, to a lesser extent, how many tweets or social media mentions did I get. As the Speaker said, petitions are really important, but if you go and meet at a town hall or go to an office, you want to leave behind a letter or talking points or something that when you’re not there, they can still remember the things you want.”
Become a Staffer or Volunteer
As a former staffer for Hillary for America, Morales Rocketto used what she learned as an organizer to inform Hillary Clinton about the issues that mattered to the Latino community. “Being a staffer can be so influential – maybe even more than people realize,” she said. “As you help your elected official figure out what issues are rising to the top for their constituents, the staffer is really the person who is helping say, ‘You know we’ve got all of these phone calls or we’re hearing from all these groups.’ So they can, you know, help balance the scales a little bit on a particular issue.
“As a staffer myself, I have helped provide my own lived experience for the candidate when they haven’t necessarily had that. So as Latina working for Hillary Clinton, I was part of a number of Latinos and Latinas who were saying, you know, this is really important to us, this is really important to our community. So you not only provide a really important perspective, but you can also help be a squeaky wheel for the folks on the other side.”
Volunteers are also important roles that can serve a similar purpose. Morales Rocketto says that taking the leap may seem scary, but that if you join a campaign as a volunteer, you’ll get the training that you need to go out there and talk to people, most of whom will be supporters.
Hold Elected Officials Accountable
Through town hall meetings across the country, the constituents remind officials that they cannot based their decisions without input from the community – something Speaker Mark-Viverito calls necessary. “One of the things we have a responsibility to do, as electeds, is to come and educate our communities and inform our constituents about the positions we’re taking or about the deliberations we’re making, and that doesn’t happen,” she said.
“And I think we’ve been seeing a lot obviously in these town hall meetings where the constituents are trying to remind their representatives ‘We’re the one that voted for you.’ So I think, again, the power of the base and the power of people saying, ‘No, no, no, you gotta report to us. You gotta explain to us what it is that you’re thinking about and who you’re having conversations with and why you’re making the decisions you’re making.’ So the sense of accountability, which runs both ways, I have to be accountable to those that I represent and be reminded by those that I represent about their concerns, and not making decision in a vacuum, which is sometimes what happens when you isolate yourself.”
Encourage Organizers to Run
Ultimately, as Latino Victory Project’s Alex said, we want to see more Latinos elected. But this presents challenges, especially for women. “The reality is that for women, it’s very different,” Speaker Mark-Viverito said. “The stories and the anecdotes and statistics is that women usually have to be recruited to consider running for office. It’s not something that has come naturally, and that’s happened to me, too. I was an activist in my community, I was serving on my community board, I was organizing rallies. Someone saw the potential in me and said, ‘You really should think about this.’
And that’s where I took the lead, but obviously the experience I gained on the ground, of being vocal in my community, of being involved in actions, helping organize forums on issues that all helped the experience. People need to connect with others and connect to issues on the ground that matter, have opportunity to really express your voice and your position on things. And we have to nurture that in others.”