We started Rights & Democracy in 2015 as a multi-issue and multi-tactical grassroots organizing and movement building project in Vermont and New Hampshire.
Many of us had been part of the many exciting single-issue and single constituency organizing efforts that have made progress, but have not been able to realize their goals because of the larger issues of who is holding political power. We often felt like we were fighting for social justice while having one, or even two, arms tied behind our backs. We started by asking how we could build enough people power to win and our goal became to use all the tools in social change toolbox to build a powerful peoples’ movement for political and economic transformation. The idea of a “whole movement” approach is to aim to be comprehensive in our undertaking of realizing change, by making something first possible, then creating a political mandate around a policy, winning the policy, and then implementing it making it a reality.
We see ourselves as working in an exciting historical period where we can draw from the best practices of traditional labor, political and community organizing and leadership development methods from Alinksy, Ganz, People’s Action, Center For Popular Democracy, Momentum, and potential candidate training programs such as the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. We also believe there is much to learn from the extraordinarily successful distributed organizing tactics used by Black Lives Matter, Indivisible, Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign, Our Revolution, and the Women’s March. These movement organizations give us a glimpse of what is possible, but we also know that no one has quite figured out a strategy for the successful political transformation on the left which is why the right wing establishment is in power nationally and in the vast majority of state houses in this country.
So we know we have our work cut out for us. Reactionary forces have exploited cultural resentment, racial anxiety, and racism to pit Americans against one another, maintain corporate dominance, and perpetuate structural inequality.
Our organizing opportunity lies in political education, shifting the public narrative, and building an agenda that directly confronts racial animus and divisive politics by promoting interdependence, dismantling systems of structural oppression, and building an economy that puts people and the planet before profits. We believe the way we do that is build durable, long-lasting grassroots movement organizations and infrastructure that is invested in this for the long haul. RAD is exploring how to do this with our partners in two rural states for the sake of our communities, but also consciously situated in a national movement where we can receive and share lessons with the broader movement.
In both Vermont and New Hampshire, this started by receiving grants to pay for field canvassers on issue campaigns as a way to get off the ground. However, our goal from the start was an approach of building grassroots organization that used a full range of tactics for social change.
One of our founding leaders who best exemplifies this approach is Mari Cordes, a nurse and long-time Vermont labor leader and social justice activist who spoke at our public launch in 2015. Mari’s work has spanned from gathering signatures on petitions, to writing letters to the editor in local newspapers, to building a local organizing team with her neighbors to build organization in her community, to holding public forums to discuss the issues in her community, to running for local office of state representative, to leading statewide rallies, to helping lead caravans of RAD members to Washington DC to participate in civil disobedience protests to raise attention to the impacts of the GOP’s attacks on Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security with their efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and push through their tax scam.
A Multi-Tactical Approach:
- Developing a mass database to communicate with thousands of supporters and small donor contributing members.
- Demonstrating capacity to mobilize hundreds and even thousands for statewide actions.
- Advancing a people’s platform of issue fights on the local, state and national level.
- Building grassroots organization with statewide leadership, local grassroots Chapters, local organizing team, issue campaign committees and member leaders throughout both states.
- Supporting the development of hundreds of leaders with political education, the understanding of structural oppression, organizing skills and continued mentorship.
- Having a leadership ladder in the organization that goes all the way up to being trained to run for office and hold elected office. Work with our partners to build a broad candidate recruitment and education program. Work to impact elections at every level, that builds independent political power and resources for support and accountability for elected officials who represent the movement.
- Creating an organizational culture for funding our movement, with leaders and major donors in our community understanding the necessity for sustaining contributions.
- Using a wide range of communication tactics to advance our movement in the broader public narrative and create movement media infrastructure.
- Expanding our involvement in community building, arts and culture to advance our vision and begin creating the world we want to see locally.
- Playing a leadership role in advancing the larger grassroots movement, developing movement infrastructure with our organizational partners and allies. Along with working to do our part in creating a strong culture of solidarity.
A Multi-Issue Platform
Our issues are interconnected and interdependent. For example, let’s look at health. Right now we partner with different organizations that work on:
- Incremental health care reforms like Medicaid expansion.
- Defensive fights stopping GOP attacks to the ACA, Medicaid and Medicare.
- Pushing for universal primary care in Vermont.
- Pushing for family and medical leave insurance in Vermont and New Hampshire.
- Stopping the rate hikes of Vermont health insurance companies.
- Price controls for prescription drugs.
- Pushing for an improved Medicare-For-All national legislation.
- Pushing for increased funding for public health measures to address the opioid epidemic.
- Increase in mental health community services.
- Ending the drug war and system of mass incarceration.
- Pushing for safe injection sites and more public health measures to deal with misuse of drugs.
- Stopping toxins from being put into our food and the environment.
- Pushing for clean water systems.
- Stopping climate change and ecological crisis from the use of fossil fuels and destruction of the environment.
For us, all of this huge list could at fall under the need for a Health Care Justice Movement because it’s all interconnected and if you really want to have healthy communities, a huge factor is the social determinants of health. The impact of poverty, racism and structural oppression means that you cannot have a just health system in an unjust society. So in a very real way health justice is directly tied to economic, environmental, racial, gender, and all forms of social justice.
Also, on the Dark Side we have seen our opponents move an agenda against us that is attacking everything you can imagine from health care, workers, children, seniors, immigrants, Muslims, women, the environment, net neutrality, and the list goes on. It wasn’t an accident that we find ourselves where we are today.
Reactionary forces have exploited cultural resentment, racial anxiety and racism to pit people against one another, maintain corporate dominance and perpetuate structural inequality. These right-wing forces have been implementing a forty-plus-year, long-term plan which centers on using “dog whistle politics” to seize power on local school and select boards, city councils, state houses and now, every major branch of the federal government. They have used their majority in state houses to consolidate their power and radically erode local control through preemption, voter suppression and gerrymandering.
Our organizing opportunity lies in multiracial bridge building, political education, narrative shifting and building an agenda that directly confronts racial animus and divisive politics by promoting interdependence and an economy that puts people and the planet first.
A primary goal of RAD is providing a contribution of lessons on building new transformative models that can success, particularly in rural communities.
Article by our incoming VT Board Chair Alison Nihart